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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Department of Home Affairs

Department of Home Affairs


CHAIR: I now call the Department of Home Affairs in relation to cross-portfolio, corporate and general matters, but specifically relating to program 1.4, 'IMA offshore management'. From the committee's point of view, it would be best if we deal with outcome 1, which is cross-portfolio, and program 1.4 in the same bundle. Welcome, Mr Pezzullo. You are here by yourself for cross-portfolio?

Mr Pezzullo : I will probably handle this on my own, but I think I will be joined shortly.

CHAIR: Senator Watt.

Senator WATT: My initial questions concern some answers to questions on notice that were only provided last night, and they relate to questions I was asking at the last estimates session about Minister Dutton's personal intervention to grant visas to one or more people who entered Australia advising Border Force staff that they were intending to work as au pairs. Ultimately visas were granted to those people to stay in Australia despite them saying that they would work in breach of the visa they had applied for and been given. You are familiar with the answers that have been provided to those questions on notice?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator WATT: As I said, they were only provided late yesterday. Why did it take so long for us to receive those responses well past the due date and just before this hearing?

Mr Pezzullo : I suspect it was a function of having to engage in consultation on all of the questions; not just that one. I think that one had 27 subparts, from memory, and there were a number of others in the bundle. They all require very careful thought, research and consultation because they often have impacts and implications for persons who are outside of the department.

Senator WATT: Did that consultation include consultation with the minister and his office?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, as it always does, as is well understood across both sides of politics.

Senator WATT: Did the responses to these questions go to the minister's office for review or clearance prior to being tabled?

Mr Pezzullo : All answers, in accordance to practice that goes back to time immemorial, are always run by the minister's office, yes.

Senator WATT: What date were the draft answers to these questions provided to the minister's office?

Mr Pezzullo : I have no idea. I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator WATT: Can you take that on notice, please. Do you know how long the draft answers spent in the minister's office?

Mr Pezzullo : I have idea. I'll take that on notice.

Senator WATT: When were the draft answers given back to the department?

Mr Pezzullo : Two very helpful officers have just volunteered themselves.

Senator WATT: They must think that you're not capable of answering these questions on your own, Mr Pezzullo.

Mr Pezzullo : Shall we ask that question?

Senator WATT: I thought you said you were. Ms Golightly and Ms Dunn, I don't know if you heard the questions that I've been asking—

Mr Pezzullo : Even if they do know, I'd like to review the answers to the questions. You're asking about when drafts were finalised.

Senator WATT: When were drafts provided to the minister's office, and when were the draft answers, with or without amendments, returned to the department?

Mr Pezzullo : The answer to the latter question is, I suspect, very recently, because we would not have held onto them. I'll take both questions on notice.

Senator WATT: I'm remembering now that this is all about the fact that you took a very large number of questions on notice—

Mr Pezzullo : Apparently with 27 subparts, I'm told.

Senator WATT: It's unlike you to take things on notice, Mr Pezzullo. Is there any reason that you're so keen to take questions about Minister Dutton's actions here on notice?

Mr Pezzullo : Anything that relates to the opinions or views—I also took on notice questions about his views about crime in Melbourne, just as a matter of etiquette and good practice. If it refers to the view, attitude, decision or action taken by a minister, I think it's always preferable to take that on notice and allow the minister to reflect on the matter and provide an answer.

Senator WATT: Did the minister's office—

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, Senator, I'm not sure that it's rare for me to take questions on notice. I'm asked a lot of questions, and I think we provide a lot back to the committee on notice. Whether it is my officers or me taking them on notice, I haven't done the statistical analysis. But I think if the imputation is that this is about the only time I've ever done it, I think that would be wrong.

Senator WATT: No, I said it's unlike you.

Mr Pezzullo : Unlike me? I do it as required.

Senator WATT: You seem to pride yourself on answering questions.

Mr Pezzullo : I do it as required.

Senator WATT: Did the minister's office ask for any of the draft responses that were provided to them to be edited in any way before they were tabled to the committee?

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know. I'd have to check and come back to you on notice.

Senator WATT: In doing so, can you advise which ones were edited.

Mr Pezzullo : I'll look at the matter in general and respond on notice.

Senator WATT: I'm also interested in the specifics. In answering on notice, can you advise which of those draft answers were edited by the minister's office before returning to the department.

Mr Pezzullo : I'll take that on notice.

Senator WATT: Could you also take on notice what changes were made and the original draft responses that had been provided to the minister's office.

Mr Pezzullo : I hadn't thought of that as an approach. Are you asking me whether changes were made, or to provide to this committee the original drafts, the 'track changes' versions and the finals?

Senator WATT: Both. I'd like to see the draft answers that were provided by the department to the minister's office and I'd like to see the changes that were made.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm not sure in the history of estimates if that's ever been done.

Senator KIM CARR: No, it's been done before, Mr Pezzullo.

Mr Pezzullo : Has it?

Senator KIM CARR: There is a history of departmental process here—

Mr Pezzullo : I'll take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: so I don't think there'd be any difficulty for you to provide that information.

Mr Pezzullo : It certainly would exist because you have the track changes function on any document.

Senator KIM CARR: And you'll be able to tell us exactly the day on which they were delivered to the minister's office and the day on which they came out of the minister's office.

Mr Pezzullo : Our systems allow that to occur.

CHAIR: Mr Pezzullo, you'd be careful, of course, on matters of advice to government—

Mr Pezzullo : Indeed.

Senator KIM CARR: This is not advice to government.

CHAIR: Senator Carr, if you'd stop interfering when I'm trying to—

Senator KIM CARR: Interfere.

CHAIR: make a helpful suggestion to the minister on whether there is a matter for public interest immunity, which there clearly often is in giving advice to ministers.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm able to take the question on notice and to consult with the minister, because he himself may wish to reflect on the nature of what information we provide back to the committee. So I'll take it all on notice. I was making an obiter dictum comment about—I hadn't thought about that as a way of gaining access to the department's original drafts. But Senator Carr is reminding me that it's happened before.

Senator KIM CARR: Of course.

CHAIR: No doubt it happened when Senator Carr was minister, once upon a time, years ago.

Senator WATT: Leaving aside what changes may have been made to these draft answers, do you know whether changes were made or requested by the minister's office?

Mr Pezzullo : I think I said when you asked me a virtually identical question that I didn't know, but I said I would take it on notice.

Senator WATT: How often does the minister's office ask for changes to be made to draft answers to questions on notice?

Mr Pezzullo : Statistically, I wouldn't know.

Senator WATT: Is it common practice?

Mr Pezzullo : I will consult with my officers who coordinate this and they might give me a sense of whether it's frequent, infrequent, often or not often, and I'll come back to you on notice.

Senator WATT: Did you, personally, review the draft responses to these questions before they were provided to the committee?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator WATT: So they were prepared by officers in the department—

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator WATT: were sent to the minister's office for clearance, came back to the department and you didn't see them at any point in that cycle.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. I can answer this definitively because I know what my practice is. My practice is, unless it's a matter in relation to which I have personal knowledge or where the department's reputation is critically involved, it is very rare. And I can answer this with certainty. It is very rare for me to review responses to what we know in the trade as QONs, and I delegate that authority to my senior officers.

Senator WATT: One of the questions I asked was, 'Who within the department was first contacted, in relation to these cases?' The answer you provided was that it was the departmental liaison officer in the minister's office.

Mr Pezzullo : Which one was it?

Senator WATT: The answer to question No. 7. And you referred back to that in No. 23 as well.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, indeed.

Senator WATT: What happened was that one or more au pairs entered the country, revealed to Border Force—

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know that they're au pairs or not au pairs.

Senator WATT: Okay. One or more people entered the country—

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, two persons.

Senator WATT: and advised Border Force officers that despite the restrictions on their visa saying they can't work they intended to work as au pairs. At the end of a long chain of events, Minister Dutton personally intervened to grant them a visa, to allow them to come in rather than to send them back home. The first person in the department to know about this was the departmental liaison officer in the minister's office.

Mr Pezzullo : What does answer No. 7 refer to, Ms Golightly?

Ms Golightly : The request for the submission to the minister, not the granting of the visa—

Senator WATT: Does that mean, with departmental liaison officers, most of their work involves processing requests made from personnel within the minister's office?

Mr Pezzullo : And acting as a conduit between his office and the department, yes, including conveying requests, ensuring that they're followed up and then moving the paper through—

Senator WATT: So departmental liaison officers in the minister's office conveyed a request from the minister's office for advice on whether to grant this person or people a visa.

Mr Pezzullo : For a submission—

Ms Golightly : For a submission from the department.

Senator WATT: Who requested the departmental liaison officer to seek that submission?

Mr Pezzullo : It would have to be a member of the minister's office, I assume.

Ms Golightly : Yes.

Senator WATT: It wasn't the minister; it was a member of the minister's office.

Ms Golightly : I don't have that detail.

Mr Pezzullo : It's a singular entity, as far as we're concerned.

Senator WATT: It's an important distinction.

Mr Pezzullo : I understand that.

Senator WATT: Can you take on notice whether it was the minister or the minister's office who requested the preparation of that?

Mr Pezzullo : And that, as you well know, would be a matter, then, for the minister to reflect upon and answer as he sees fit. He's responsible, for the operation of his office, not me or the department.

Senator WATT: Are you happy for me to keep going, here, Chair?

CHAIR: No, I have some questions. Mr Pezzullo, do you keep statistics of the number of questions on notice taken by your department—seeing we're dealing with you—at the last estimates? And do you have any statistics about the cost in time of your officers in answering questions on notice—most of which, I suggest, are never even looked at by the person that's asked them, apart from me.

Mr Pezzullo : We certainly would have data on how many questions we've taken on notice and how many we've prepared and responded to. That's just a matter of tabulating that. We don't keep a running tally of the imputed cost, the FTE involved, but it probably wouldn't be impossible to calculate. You calculate it, making reasonable assumptions such as: we've taken 1,000 questions on notice; they have got X number of parts. On average it would take an office an hour to draft, an hour to review, and hour to clear it, I suppose. We don't have the running tally but I'm saying it wouldn't be an impossible task to calculate the number.

CHAIR: Can I put on notice a question for you to advise how many questions on notice were taken at the last hearing and if there is an estimate of the cost to officers' time? I ask that on the basis that no cost is too much to answer legitimate questions of parliamentarians genuinely seeking information, but my experience is that very few of the questions are ever looked at again by those who asked them.

Mr Pezzullo : We will take that on notice.

CHAIR: This whole question raises something I wondered about for some time now. Originally when estimates started, the only person to answer questions at estimates was the minister, and the minister would, on occasions, refer that to an adviser—a public servant sitting near him—who would get the answer and very often the minister would respond using the information. Over the years, this practice had grown up that senators ask public servants—usually senior public servants, but there have been attempts to get junior public servants to answer questions. I just wonder, are you aware, as an experienced secretary, on what the procedures are and under what rules you operate when you and your senior staff, and, in fact, any staff, actually answer questions? Or is it still the formality that the minister takes all questions and, at the minister's discretion, refers some for direct responses by senior public servants or whether there are any written procedures within your organisation or within the government about that?

Mr Pezzullo : I should—in both the spirit but also the letter of your question—perhaps see if the minister wishes to address that point. But I'm happy to venture both a factual answer but an opinion as well if I may be allowed?

Senator Seselja: I couldn't claim to have been here long enough to properly answer that question.

Mr Pezzullo : I think it was 1980, the first appearance of estimates committees.

Senator Seselja: In 1980 I was three years old, so I'm not in a position to know, but I can look back through the history books. Short of that, I will defer to Mr Pezzullo.

Mr Pezzullo : I was in Year 11 at school, but I didn't have a very exciting school experience so I used to listen to estimates as early as that! The strict answer to your question is there's a resolution of this place that, in express terms, refers to senators asking questions of officials, who may refer, as you know—you summarised the resolution at the opening of each proceeding—questions to the minister where matters of political argumentation, matters of the government's policy program, or if the advocacy of policy is involved. And officials—and there's a long established precedent that's taken to mean the secretary or an officer that the secretary asks or delegates the task of answering the question. As you say, generally it's senior officers. But I take the view that all questions other than those that ministers should respond to, because they are really about the political argument or the policy merits of the matter, are really questions directed to me. Then I will decide how they are dispersed or, indeed, whether I answer them. But the resolution of the Senate is quite clear—it does expressly talk about the committee asking questions of officials. You're right, Senator, that is an evolution of practice. In the early eighties it was certainly the case that ministers were, principally, the respondents.

CHAIR: When I first started asking questions at estimates, which was in the early 1990s, questions could only be directed to the minister. The ministers at the time, in the Hawke and Keating governments, actually insisted on that. Sometimes they'd answer and sometimes they wouldn't. Rarely would they refer them to public servants.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, I recall those days.

CHAIR: But I'm just wondering, Mr Pezzullo—and this question goes to you as secretary of this department—you're not answerable to the Senate, are you? You're answerable to your minister. Is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : I work in the executive.


Mr Pezzullo : So I head a department of state established under section 64 of the Constitution and referred to in the Administrative Arrangements Orders accordingly. I am overseen by a minister who is appointed, equally, under section 64 of the Constitution, and the Ministers of State Act, who, in turn, is answerable to the parliament. It's the minister who is answerable to the parliament, either the lower house or the upper house. And our attendance here is to scrutinise our expenditures—our estimates; hence the title. I suspect over the years the notion of what an estimate is has expanded.

CHAIR: I'm conscious of that. But I'm just wondering what your specific obligation is with your terms of employment. If one house of the parliament directs you to do something, in what—but perhaps I should be asking this of the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department.

Mr Pezzullo : I think the legal position is well understood and, indeed, I think there might be some Odger's Senate Practice on this, and possibly even some associated commentary in the House Practice as well. We are not answerable, in that sense, directly to the Senate. The representative of the government in each house of parliament is the relevant minister, or, in this case, a senator minister who represents a minister in the other place. So I'm not answerable to anyone here, per se. But a resolution of the Senate—which the government has, if you like, agreed to comply with—is that we come along here and answer your questions, and, on the occasions where the Senate committee in question has felt it necessary to do so, because we're not answering to your satisfaction or you're seeking documents that, for instance, the government doesn't wish to yield, it's taken off to the floor of the Senate. And it's the minister who then is censured.

CHAIR: Yes. But one house of the parliament really has no direct control over public servants who are agents of the government of the day, whoever it should be.

Mr Pezzullo : Correct. That is absolutely right.

CHAIR: In relation to the questions which Senator Carr, or Senator Watt, quite rightly raised: whose are the questions? Whose are the answers? The suggestion is that the minister changes your answer—well, what I'm really trying to ascertain is whether the answer is yours or the minister's.

Mr Pezzullo : It is always the department's answer, and it's the practice—and it's been the practice in every department that I've ever worked in, under both sides of politics—that ministerial officers are given the opportunity to be consulted.

CHAIR: I'm not talking about ministerial officers; I mean who actually is answering the question?

Mr Pezzullo : Me. It's the department.

CHAIR: My understanding was that it was the minister, not the department.

Mr Pezzullo : By resolution of the Senate—and this was murky for a number of years. My own preference, if I can express one, is that we should go back to the old days where ministers directly answered on programs of the administration. But the practice has evolved, and as a result of the resolution of this place in—

CHAIR: But a resolution of the Senate isn't a resolution of the parliament, of course.

Mr Pezzullo : It's a resolution of the relevant house.

Senator KIM CARR: These are Senate estimates.

Mr Pezzullo : These are Senate estimates, and it's the Senate that determines its own procedures.

CHAIR: But the Senate has no control over individual public servants, I would have thought.

Mr Pezzullo : Correct. So we comply—we conform voluntarily—because the government asks us to be here, in effect.

CHAIR: Yes. But, again, the answers, I understood, always were the minister's answers, provided by a department of individual officers. I mean, when you table answers to written questions on notice—

Mr Pezzullo : They are from the department or the agency in question.

CHAIR: Not from the minister?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

CHAIR: That was not my understanding. Okay. That's my time anyhow. Senator Watt.

Senator WATT: Just sticking with this matter, what you said in the previous questioning was that it was a member of the minister's office who asked the DLO to seek a brief.

Senator KIM CARR: Can I just clarify that? Was it a DLO or a liaison officer—or is that the same thing in your parlance?

CHAIR: DLO is departmental liaison officer.

Senator KIM CARR: Is it the same thing?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

CHAIR: Does DLO stand for departmental liaison officer?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator WATT: So that was a member of the department who was seconded to the minister's office who was asked by the minister's office to request a brief from the department to provide advice on whether the minister should intervene to grant this person or these people a visa after they had entered the country and said that they would be in breach of their visa. That's correct?

Mr Pezzullo : Ms Golightly can illuminate the committee on this point.

Ms Golightly : The submission that goes to the minister is a submission that outlines the options that the minister has under the migration law.

Senator WATT: Sure, and it was options in response to a request for ministerial intervention, effectively to allow this person to stay in the country?

Ms Golightly : It was in response to a request from the minister or the minister's office to provide a submission which outlined his options in the case.

Senator WATT: Following a request for ministerial intervention?

Ms Golightly : By means of the minister requesting, he's looking for what his options are to intervene or not intervene and, if he did intervene, what was available to him.

Senator WATT: In the last estimates, I asked a series of questions to try to establish who it was who contacted the minister's office on behalf of this person who'd breached their visa entry conditions and which led to the preparation of this submission. The answers that we received last night said that this issue of who contacted the minister's office is not a matter for the department. That seems a pretty poor response given a departmental liaison officer has been involved in this process.

CHAIR: What's the question?

Senator WATT: Why haven't you answered that question? Why is it not a matter for the department?

Mr Pezzullo : Well, a liaison officer is a liaison between the office and the department. The office is contacted by many stakeholders and has contacts that the department may or may not be advised of, be aware of, be notified of, and it's none of our business unless the minister or his staff choose to make it our business.

Senator WATT: In preparing the answers to these questions, did anyone ask the departmental liaison officer who it was who contacted the minister's office about this person who breached their visa conditions?

Mr Pezzullo : That wouldn't be relevant, because whether it's in his or her field of knowledge is not the issue. The issue is—and this goes back, I think, to where the chairman might have been leading to—answering questions directly, we convey them to you, as departmental answers, and we say, 'We've been advised by the minister or his office either to advise that person X contacted the office, they're not willing to answer that, they don't know, it's not pertinent,' and then that is a matter between the committee and the minister.

Senator WATT: Did the minister or the minister's office tell the department to not answer that question?

Mr Pezzullo : No, but it's not pertinent, because I don't answer for who contacts the minister's office, who the minister engages with, who his staff engage with, and it's not for me to answer that. You need to ask him directly. You can ask the minister through this minister—

Senator WATT: That's what I'm about to do.

Mr Pezzullo : and he will choose whether or not to respond.

Senator WATT: Minister, it sounds like it's your job to ask the minister and his office.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm not saying it's your job, Minister. It's whether you wish to take the matter forward.

Senator WATT: I'm asking you, Minister, to contact Minister Dutton or his office to assist the committee to advise who it was who contacted the minister's office seeking ministerial intervention to allow this person to stay in the country in breach of their visa conditions.

Senator Seselja: I will take the question on notice.

Senator WATT: There's no reason you couldn't answer that question, is there? I'm not saying you have the answer now—

CHAIR: Do we want to know which union has been into your office giving you advice—

Senator WATT: That's fine.

CHAIR: or which individuals?

Senator WATT: I'm not a minister, but that's fine.

CHAIR: If you follow the Privileges Committee determinations on this, senators—which includes ministers—are very, very careful of who knows who they speak to. And that is as it should be.

Mr Pezzullo : I will take the question on notice.

Senator WATT: Why is it that over several months now no-one has been able to get an answer to this question about who it was contacted the minister's office? We keep coming up against walls when we ask about it in estimates. I'm aware that there have been legal proceedings—

CHAIR: What's the question?

Senator WATT: I've already asked my question, but I'm trying to explain it.

CHAIR: Okay. Can you get an answer?

Senator WATT: We asked questions at estimates. We got stonewalled. Journalists have lodged freedom-of-information requests seeking documents, which have been repeatedly denied. They've taken legal action to try to get this question answered. Why is Minister Dutton trying so hard to hide who it was who asked his office to let this person stay and work as an au pair?

CHAIR: I am sure Senator Seselja will take that on notice.

Senator Seselja: I don't accept the premise of the question.

Senator WATT: You would have probably seen media reports that have suggested that the person who contacted Minister Dutton or his office was a friend of Minister Dutton or a donor to him or the Liberal Party. Is that correct?

CHAIR: Someone from GetUp! perhaps?

Senator Seselja: I don't know.

Senator WATT: You will take that on notice?

Senator Seselja: I'm happy to take it on notice.

Senator WATT: That's all we're trying to establish here.

CHAIR: What's the question?

Senator WATT: Would you let me ask it? That's all we're trying to establish here—whether the person who contacted the minister or his office on behalf of this person who'd illegally entered the country had a direct personal relationship with the minister or the Liberal Party. That's all we want to know.

CHAIR: The minister said he would take the question on notice. Keeping on asking the same question with unfounded allegations is not going to get the minister to change his—

Senator WATT: I'm not making allegations.

CHAIR: answer, which is that he'll take it on notice.

Senator WATT: You get very touchy every time we ask about these things as well.

CHAIR: If you have some other questions, please ask them.

Senator WATT: It would be extremely unusual, would it not, for someone to enter Australia illegally, to falsely enter on a tourist visa with no work rights with the actual intention to work, be detained at the airport and not be sent back home? That would be unusual, would it not?

Mr Pezzullo : We would positively try to prevent that from happening. In other words, we don't want anyone coming here either on the wrong visa or seeking to act in a manner contrary to the visa.

Senator WATT: Yet what happened here was that as a result of Minister Dutton's personal intervention—

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know—

Senator WATT: this person was allowed to stay.

Mr Pezzullo : You say that that's what happened.

Senator WATT: Everyone knows that. Come on! Everyone knows that.

CHAIR: Not everybody—you allege that.

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know that.

CHAIR: I don't know that and Mr Pezzullo doesn't know it.

Senator WATT: Your answers to the questions on notice confirm that this person or people were granted visas to stay in Australia following the minister's personal intervention. That is a statement of fact and it is in your own answers.

Mr Pezzullo : As we've made clear, the conditions under which they were allowed to stay here were conditions that were attached to the visa that was granted to them.

Senator WATT: But what you have said is that you act positively to prevent—

Mr Pezzullo : Absolutely.

Senator WATT: people remaining in the country after—

Mr Pezzullo : Or, indeed, not to get the visa in the first place. So, if we detect an intention to act contrary to the visa that's been applied for, our first preference is always to not grant it in the first place. If the visa's been granted and they have gotten through our checks and balances, it is to interdict their travel. If they arrive, it's to interdict their entry and otherwise to determine the legality or the lawfulness of their stay here at the border point.

Senator WATT: Yet, despite that disposition and approach from the department in this case, people were allowed to stay after a phone call was made to the minister's office and him personally intervening.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm not sure about the causality there. The relevant persons, as I understand it, are now here lawfully or were here lawfully. Correct?

Ms Golightly : Yes.

Senator WATT: I should mention in passing that, on the legal proceedings that I talked about before that have been undertaken by journalists seeking documents, the department has spent more than $10,000—

CHAIR: Is this a question?

Senator WATT: Is it correct that the department has spent more than $10,000 trying to prevent the release of these documents that are being sought by the media?

Mr Pezzullo : I think that's, on its face, clearly apparent from our subanswer 19.

Senator WATT: Right. And my last question is—

Senator KIM CARR: Is that the total amount?

Mr Pezzullo : As of the date of publication—

Senator KIM CARR: What is it now?

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know that we have spent anymore in the last few days, but we will check on the currency of that number.

Senator WATT: Just to wrap this section up, what eventually happened was that a submission was provided to the minister to enable him to make a decision as to whether to let this person stay in the country. In your answers to the questions on notice, Mr Pezzullo, you have said that you didn't get a copy of that brief.

CHAIR: What's the question?

Mr Pezzullo : No, I'm not sure that I said that.

Senator WATT: That was certainly how I read your answers.

Mr Pezzullo : I said at the time—because I know this as a matter of fact—that I generally receive information copies post facto.

Senator WATT: Yes, I remember you saying that. I refer you to your answers 9 and 10. Last time around I asked, 'Were you involved in preparing, reviewing or approving any brief that went to the minister on this matter?' You said, 'Personally, no.'

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator WATT: You went on to say: 'It didn't go through me. Every brief that is given to the minister is copied to me.' I asked, 'So you got a copy of this brief?' You took that on notice, and the answer is no. So you did not get a copy of that brief?

Mr Pezzullo : So what am I saying no to? The system is set so that the secretary can see whatever he likes, obviously. Whether they are printed off, put in my office or put in my tray for me to tick, it is just a matter of my staff making a judgement about the flow of information going into my office.

Senator WATT: But your answers to these questions on notice say that you did not receive a copy of that brief—

Mr Pezzullo : So in this case, because Ms Golightly's area tends to generate so many submissions—Ms Golightly, you're a very busy officer—my officers in my own personal office would have said, 'He doesn't need to see this one,' I suppose.

Senator WATT: Is it normal for you not to receive a copy of a brief about a minister personally intervening to approve someone's visa?

Mr Pezzullo : When we—

CHAIR: Hold on, Mr Pezzullo. You can answer that after the break. We have gone long over—

Senator WATT: That was my last question.

CHAIR: There have been a lot of last questions and short notices.

Senator WATT: That was my last question.

CHAIR: We will break now. I just remind the committee that this hearing concludes at 12.30 today. The committee has another inquiry this afternoon it has to deal with. We have yet to start on outcome 1 and 1.4. You can give the answer when we return.

Pr oceedings suspended from 10:53 to 11:10

CHAIR: I declare resumed the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's further inquiry into the budget estimates for 2018-19. We start with Mr Pezzullo answering a question—

Senator KIM CARR: There was a question that Senator Watt—

CHAIR: I've just said that. We'll start with Mr Pezzullo answering the question from Senator Watt.

Mr Pezzullo : Senator Watt, the volume of submissions in the area of ministerial interventions and ministerial decisions—non-delegable or non-compellable decisions that are in his rights or his powers under the act—amounts to about 4,000 or so per annum—in the relevant year, so that would be close to trend. The settings on our internal information system are set so that they're not routinely given to me. Otherwise I'd just be reading them all day.

Senator WATT: Okay. So a copy of this brief was not provided to you?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator WATT: And that's not unusual?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator WATT: Okay. We've got copies of the submissions that were provided to the minister in both of these matters, which I'm happy to table for the committee to review, and I note—

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, are these documents that have been released through some discovery process or otherwise?

Senator WATT: My understanding is that they've been obtained through FOI.

Mr Pezzullo : Ms Golightly, does this relate to redacted documentation?

Ms Golightly : Yes.

Senator WATT: Yes, it's redacted documentation. I should say we have no interest in revealing—

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, I'm just checking whether I need to get the police commissioner back to make an instant on-the-fly referral.

Senator WATT: Sure.

CHAIR: I usually don't allow documents to be tabled unless they are sourced.

Mr Pezzullo : But I am assured by the senator that he has a properly obtained document that's been provided under FOI.

Senator PRATT: It's stamped as such.

Senator WATT: It's stamped.

CHAIR: Senator Watt, you indicated you could make copies available to the committee and, I assume, to Mr Pezzullo so he knows what you're talking about.

Senator WATT: Sure. There's a submission dated 1 November 2015 to the minister, addressing one of the requests for intervention. I note that the submission states that there are clear indications that a particular person who's arrived in Australia—

Mr Pezzullo : I've got the submission to hand. If you could assist me by taking me to the particular—

CHAIR: Have you got the document that Senator Watt is talking about?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator WATT: Paragraph 8 states that there's a clear indication that a particular person unnamed, or redacted, is intending to work in Australia and thus the grant of a visitor visa is of high risk. But, despite that, the minister personally intervened to grant this visa.

Mr Pezzullo : On the face of the released document—as long as we're looking at the same document—it looks as if he's agreed to intervene in order to grant the relevant visa to the person—name redacted. Your question contains a statement of fact.

Senator WATT: Yes. He's agreed to intervene, notwithstanding the department's advice that there are clear indications that granting that visa is of high risk.

Mr Pezzullo : He was so advised, it seems, if you go to paragraph 8.

Senator WATT: Yes. These documents have just been handed to me, so I might, before I do properly table them, just absolutely guarantee that they're in a state fit to be tabled, but they are documents that have been released by the department under the FOI Act. Okay; I'll leave it at that.

CHAIR: Let me clarify: you say you have a copy of this document, Mr Pezzullo?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, I do—well, I'm making the assumption that, if Senator Watt refers to an FOI released document, and there is a particular signature or signification put on these documents, and I'm assuming he has the same document that I have—

CHAIR: Could I get the secretariat staff to get a copy of your document then, so that we can distribute—

Mr Pezzullo : Mr Chairman, would you mind if we did it the other way round?

Senator WATT: It's probably better to do it the other way round, yes.

CHAIR: Could we get that?

Mr Pezzullo : Could we get it from the senator?

Senator WATT: I've only got one copy, and I should say: there is a second submission, dated 17 June 2015, because of course there were two incidents—

Mr Pezzullo : Two cases.

Senator WATT: where these visas were granted.

Mr Pezzullo : There are two cases?

Ms Golightly : Two cases.

Mr Pezzullo : There are two cases.

Senator WATT: Do we know whether they involve the same person, or is it not possible to say?

Mr Pezzullo : It's not possible—well, are they different people?

Ms Golightly : They are different.

CHAIR: Can one of you show your documents to the other one, just to get a confirmation that they are the same documents?

Mr Pezzullo : Could I invite Senator Watt to take the lead?

Senator WATT: Sure. Why don't I pass over to Senator Carr and he can ask other questions while we do that.

CHAIR: Okay; Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Pezzullo, I would refer you to a speech that you gave on 17 July 2018, to—

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, Senator—I'm just making the assumption that the officers can examine those documents without having to assist me with answering the questions I suspect you're about to ask, so they can go to the rear of the room. Thank you.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Pezzullo, I would like to refer to a speech that you gave on 17 July 2018, at the fourth Australian Security Summit, in which you state:

… as a consequence of our tightening of scrutiny, and our enhanced detection capabilities, the permanent migration program—as the government reported last week—resulted in 162,400 permanent arrivals. That is down by 21,000 compared to the year before.

Is that an accurate quotation?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. It's an accurate quotation, and it's an accurate statement of the facts.

Senator KIM CARR: On 29 July, Fairfax media reported that the cut in the total migration program would cost the budget $500 million a year. Is that an accurate figure?

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know. The Treasury is responsible for calculating the fiscal impacts of the delivery of the migration program.

Senator KIM CARR: Is there not a process of discussion between your department and the Treasury on that matter?

Mr Pezzullo : I'm sure there is, and they get data, including unpublished data, and they use that to arrive at their conclusions, but you'll need to ask the Treasury how they come to those—

Senator KIM CARR: Sure, but the question I'm asking you is: were you not engaged with the preparation of that material? I understand there was a briefing prepared by Treasury that calculates the contribution of individual migration to government revenue.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: You were engaged—

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. There are two different things, potentially, at play here. In April of this year, my department, the Department of Home Affairs, and the Treasury jointly issued a publication, which you may be referring to, called, from memory, 'Shaping a nation: immigration in Australia', or words to that effect, and it has a section or a chapter—I can't quite recall which—that talks about the contribution of individual migrants, particularly those who arrive with skills, who are job-ready and who contribute to the revenue base immediately, subject of course to going straight into work, which is the whole aim. Then Treasury, which is responsible for macroeconomic policy, derives some conclusions from that. It talks about the general macroeconomic benefit that migration affords the nation. Then, just to round that off, the document also talks about the externalities that are created by ill-distributed or poorly-distributed migration patterns. So you have to have regard to impact on infrastructure, cities and regions. So that document that I think you are referring to is a publication jointly put out by the two departments in April.

Senator KIM CARR: So, based on that joint document, can you confirm that the $500 million a year effect of a reduction of 21,000 people is accurate?

Mr Pezzullo : No, I can't personally. It's a joint publication, true, but that side of the macro calculations is strictly a matter for the Treasury. Yes, they do consult with us. They draw data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, they draw data from my immigration data teams and then they calculate what are called first order fiscal effects, which are twofold. One is the revenue receipts offset by welfare and other payments on the family side. Then they come to a net view about what the impact is on the budget, and that is strictly a matter for the Treasury.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you been advised, other than through the Fairfax report, of the impact of a reduction in the permanent migration program of 21,000—having an impact on the federal budget of $500 million a year?

Mr Pezzullo : Not me personally, but I can't exclude the possibility—

Senator KIM CARR: I am not asking you whether or not you got a letter at home; I'm asking you on behalf of the department whether the department has been advised of the impact of a reduction in the permanent migration program of 21,000—having an impact on the federal budget of $500 million a year?

Mr Pezzullo : It's possible that that's been the subject of discussion between my officers in both the data and financial areas and the Treasury.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you confirm if there are any officers—

Mr Pezzullo : No, I'd have to check. I will take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Is that a difficult process to identify?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Can it be done today? We've got an hour or so to go.

Mr Pezzullo : Possibly. If I can do it in the next hour and nine minutes, I will.

Senator KIM CARR: I would have thought that an officer here might be able to make that call: 'Have you been advised that the $500 million is accurate?'

Mr Pezzullo : We've got a good team out the back, out of sight, and I am sure that they are making those calls as we speak.

Senator KIM CARR: You say that the reason the numbers are down by 21,000 compared to last year is the tightening of scrutiny.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: That's not the only reason, though, is it?

Mr Pezzullo : It most certainly is. Scrutiny in all senses of the word—quality of application; genuineness of qualifications stated; whether the job opportunity that's described is a real one—quite apart from the more traditionally understood screening measures around identity, health and character. Our systems, particularly since the injection of considerable resources in 2015-16 to detect fraud, identity issues, character, criminality and terror risks, have increased, as has our ability to detect the genuineness or otherwise of claims made by applicants.

Senator KIM CARR: Are there any other factors that relate to the reduction? Is there, for instance, an increasing in waiting times for processing of applications?

Mr Pezzullo : Not in and of itself, except insofar as, as our systems have improved, particularly since the injection—which I think we might have discussed in these proceedings, and I'll correct the record if that's not so. In 2015 a very significant investment was made in what is known as our visa risk assessment program, the VRA. As that program throws up what we call in the trade 'more hits', they individually have to be resolved by officers, because obviously our decisions have to be administratively sound, reasonable, proportionate and, of course, lawful. So is more time spent on a greater number of problematic applications? Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: How many of the 194,000 people in Australia on bridging visas are currently waiting for the department to process their visa applications?

Mr Pezzullo : All of them, because the definition of being on a bridging visa is that you are bridged until a determination—

Senator KIM CARR: Has the time for processing those applications increased?

Mr Pezzullo : Logically, the answer would have to be yes. I might ask Ms Golightly, if she has sorted out her documents from Senator Watt, to rejoin me. But it is the case that—and you are now asking about bridging as distinct from permanent visa decisions—as we scrutinise them more intensively, I assume that the times have extended, yes. I'm not going to be apologetic about that, I have to say. Ms Golightly on the facts of processing times? I think the first question was about permanent, but now the more recent question was bridging.

Ms Golightly : Yes, the time has increased for the reasons the secretary was just giving but also—

Senator KIM CARR: How much has it increased by? What's the factor?

Ms Golightly : I'd have to get that for you, but I was about to note that one of the other reasons that people are on bridging visas is that, while they are going through their review, appeal and court processes, the time—

Senator KIM CARR: So is there an increase in appeal processes?

Ms Golightly : There is a greater number.

Senator KIM CARR: What's the factor there?

Ms Golightly : I'd have to get that for you.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Time's short and I probably need to move this more quickly. Abul Rizvi is a former deputy secretary of the department. He was throughout my time here a very distinguished officer. I've dealt with him for many years. You'd agree he is a distinguished former officer?

Mr Pezzullo : He is a distinguished former senior officer of what was then the immigration department and a very accomplished public servant.

Senator KIM CARR: He's made a number of comments. An article reported he:

… said the increase in bridging visas was "astonishing and is indicative of a system in serious trouble (in both efficiency and integrity terms)".

Rizvi said the increase could be caused by longer processing times for employer-sponsored visas, spouses coming to Australia to apply for family visas onshore, students applying for temporary graduate visas or onshore asylum applications.

Rizvi said the reduction in migration is not illusory because although the increase in bridging visas "will have some upwards impact on net migration", net migration will fall due to deeper cuts in other areas.

CHAIR: Your question is?

Senator KIM CARR: If you'll let me finish—

CHAIR: Your 10 minutes is long overdue. I thought you might be finished. I'll let you finish this, and then we'll—

Senator KIM CARR: I would finish a lot more company if it weren't your useless interventions.

CHAIR: We'll go to someone else after you've finished this question.

Senator KIM CARR: He warned the 12,500 reduction in skilled visas is likely to be "even bigger than the headline figures suggest" because New Zealanders already resident in Australia on skilled independent subclass 189 visas who apply to remain now count as permanent migrants.

Rizvi said references to the "integrity" of the system were "largely a furphy to avoid Dutton being seen to be contradicting [treasurer Scott] Morrison on the benefits to migration".

CHAIR: What's your question?

Senator KIM CARR: Is Mr Rizvi correct?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Why?

Mr Pezzullo : It's going to take a little bit of time to answer the question, so I'll seek advice from the chairman.

CHAIR: No, we'll come back to that. Senator Carr's time has long finished. I was being generous, thinking he might be just about finished.

Senator KIM CARR: We will come back.

CHAIR: That's what I just said. We will come back to you and to Mr Pezzullo.

On the numbers of migrants coming into Australia and the document that you and the Treasury have been involved in: does that contain work on how to better distribute around Australia those immigrants who do come to Australia but seem to the outside observer to end up in Sydney and Melbourne, making both cities bigger, more pushed for infrastructure and all the other things that have been mentioned?

Mr Pezzullo : It's a factual and empirical document that doesn't in and of itself contain policy recommendations. It wasn't a document of the government and it didn't have suggestions for government policymaking per se. But, reading the document closely—and I can speak on behalf of former Secretary Fraser, who of course retired just the other day, but he and I oversaw the production of the document; it's not our job to put out public recommendations for government action and then just leave it on the record—you could infer from the document that we prepared that there are, as I described to Senator Carr earlier, both macro benefits from migration that contribute to economic prosperity and what the economists call externalities, or second- and third-order costs, sometimes unintended, of a program otherwise delivered for other purposes.

And that does include analysis of the—I won't call it—maldistribution. I haven't got the document in front of me but certainly the document does make reference to the uneven distribution of migration settlement that does have impacts outside of direct fiscal impacts in relation to issues such as congestion, urban pressures, environmental effects and the like.

CHAIR: So, apart from that, has the department been asked to do any work on—I'll use the term, although you can't—'maldistribution' of migrant intake?

Mr Pezzullo : I think the better way to answer the question is to refer—and I'll have to get the specific references on notice—to comments that I know have been made, because I've obviously been watching the discussions closely, by ministers Tudge and Dutton and I think the Prime Minister himself saying we are looking at the question of regional distribution. But I would want to check the phrasing of their public utterances and come back to you notice.

CHAIR: My question was: has the department been asked to do any work on that, without asking you to tell me what work it is?

Mr Pezzullo : Ministers have indicated that they're looking at that issue, and you can take it from me that the department is providing that support to the ministers' interest in the area.

CHAIR: In a free and democratic country like Australia, we can't confine people to a certain area of Australia. But are there any programs that can encourage migrants to move to places other than Sydney and Melbourne? I understand the Skilled Migration Program, if it's sponsored, might do that, but is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : You're absolutely right, in terms of the Constitution and legal issue around compulsion. We don't compel people as to where they reside except insofar as when a person is not a citizen and is here under conditions set by a visa. There are—I wouldn't call it compulsion—requirements put on certain permanent migrants, particularly those who come in under the regional scheme under the permanent migration program, and those who are nominated by states and territories, by definition, other than New South Wales and Victoria where those two cities are located. And as part of the condition of the visa you come to work in a skilled occupation under a sponsored arrangement which is either regional or state based, away from Sydney and Melbourne, and you are expected to abide by the conditions of your visa. There is some evidence in the literature that suggests that once a family, for instance, or a skilled migrant, their partner and perhaps dependants settle in an area, just through behavioural and economic factors, they start to put down roots and so on and so forth. You would say there are behavioural levers—perhaps that is too strong a word—but certainly there are behavioural factors at play here. You're right, at the moment, the way the Migration Act is currently expressed, there is no power of direction, as it were, to where you will reside.

CHAIR: In those visas that do allow permanent migration in specific parts of the country, what resources does the department allocate to enforcing those visa requirements? Because there have been suggestions that people come in, stay there for a little while and then move on.

Mr Pezzullo : The way the act is expressed at the moment—this answers your question about resources—is not within power to say, 'Well, you came in under a particular visa, which was regionally nominated or state-sponsored but, the day after, you packed up and moved to Sydney or Melbourne.' As the act is currently expressed, there is no power to either seek enforcement or to seek compliance with those requirements. That said, there is evidence—I alluded to the literature—that people come into the non-metropolitan areas, start to put down roots—

CHAIR: I'm conscious of that, but are you saying—

Mr Pezzullo : but those ties have been made.

CHAIR: that if that person ignores the condition of the visa which is specifically issued on the basis that the person will stay—let's say—in a regional area, that there's no ability to cancel the visa?

Mr Pezzullo : You're a permanent resident at that point, and it would be outside of power to direct that person to live in a particular part of Australia.

CHAIR: So it's a toothless tiger; it's a false policy that—

Mr Pezzullo : I wouldn't say it is false. Because I'm responding as the head of the department, not through the minister, but directly to this committee, I will make absolutely certain of my answer. So, Ms de Veau, can you come forward and whisper in my shell-like ear. For permanent residents, the act—temporary is different; there are stronger conditions around temporary—as expressed, does not give my officers the power to go and say, 'Hey, you're meant to be living in such and such a town. Please go back.'

CHAIR: Could you indicate which visas—it may well be on notice—do in fact have, as a condition of granting, some reference to working and living in regional areas? Then, could I ask you, Minister, once that information is available, if you could refer to the minister: is it the government's intention to actually make those conditions enforceable so that the underlying principle of not having everyone come to Sydney and Melbourne is in some way advanced?

Senator SESELJA: I'll refer to the department in a moment for the first part of the question but, on that part, I'm very happy to take that on notice, Chair.

Mr Pezzullo : In relation to the first part of the question, I think I'm right in saying it's the only visa with the strict enforceable conditions, but I will check and give you an answer on notice. The safe haven enterprise temporary protection visas for illegal maritime arrivals does require—and it's enforceable, because you lose your temporary protected status under a shared so-called Safe Haven Enterprise Visa—you to live in a regional area nominated by the states and territories for five years, during which time you have to meet certain work and study conditions. At the end of which—and Ms Golightly may have the numbers of how many SHEV visas she has on her books—you may apply for permanent residency. That was a law passed in December of 2014.

CHAIR: My question on resources—

Mr Pezzullo : There may be others, so I'll check.

CHAIR: My question earlier was on resources allocated by the department to enforce those and make sure that they are being honoured—if you could take on notice just what resources are applied to that. Also, what evidence is there of investigations that have been made; and has any enforcement action been taken in that one area that we know of, where the government does have the power to do that? Could I also get you, perhaps, to take on notice an indication of what regions people on safe haven visas have actually settled in.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. We can answer that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Rizvi's comments were that the system was in serious trouble.

Mr Pezzullo : I don't agree—and you read out most of his headline observations and findings—and I stand by what I said.

He's a distinguished former colleague. Well, not a colleague of mine—I wasn't in the department—but certainly a distinguished former public servant. If memory serves, he left the department in 2007. You may not be familiar with these arrangements. I'm happy to arrange for a briefing for him. He's a close and astute observer of matters of immigration. We have significantly overhauled the screening system. So, for him to say that the screening that is undertaken doesn't require these activities to be undertaken or shouldn't result in these results regrettably probably reflects being out of awareness of what's been happening in the department over about a decade. Most of the major changes in the screening area commenced after some research that we launched in 2014. I wasn't satisfied when I was first appointed to the department that its intelligence trade craft practice or system was anywhere near adequate or capable. This is where I take most exception; not with him—he's an astute observer of these things—but I certainly don't agree with his findings and his conclusions.

The intelligence screening that was done was very antiquated. It was based on a watch-list method. As long as ASIO and AFP knew that you were likely to be a bad person, you were denied a visa. There was no predictive modelling of any kind of contemporary nature. Therefore, if I can just conclude, the assumption that he draws from practice until the mid-2000s and extrapolating forward—that you don't need to achieve these results because of the so-called screening requirement—misses the fact that we've been building since his time in the department a very sophisticated screening system that is, in fact, picking up—

Senator KIM CARR: He actually says more than that. He says—

Mr Pezzullo : He does, I know.

Senator KIM CARR: much more than that. He says:

... caused by longer processing times for employer-sponsored visas, spouses coming to Australia to apply for family visas onshore, students applying for temporary graduate visas or onshore asylum applications.

He goes on to say:

... the increase in bridging visas "will have some upwards impact on net migration" ...

and so on. He then goes on to warn that the 12,500 reduction in skilled visas is likely to be 'even bigger than the headline figures' and says that the integrity measures were 'largely a furphy to avoid Dutton being seen to be contradicting Treasurer Scott Morrison—

Mr Pezzullo : Again, I stress: his contention that it's a furphy, and he's written in other commentaries and blogs with similar language, is—how shall I put this—an easy way for him to underpin the argument that he wishes to make, which is that, for reasons to do with trying to suppress the overall level of migration for all sorts of reasons, I anticipate we're using security as, if you will, a convenient measure. I'm saying (a) that's not true; (b) the security that was in place in the department at the time of his employment was inadequate—certainly in this complex, riskier environment; and (c) it leads to the greater evaluation and scrutiny of all of the classes of visas that you've listed, which means that officers spend more time on the problematic applications, which regrettably, Senator, means that previously, including the time when he was the deputy secretary of the department, people got in with that lack of scrutiny, or the lighter scrutiny, and they are here among us now.

Senator KIM CARR: I see.

Mr Pezzullo : Therefore, yes, we are taking longer to scrutinise. That's not to say that all the applications are problematic, but we're finding more that are because of our better systems. You can't dismiss the integrity and security question and delink it from the processing efficiency, productivity and time question—and Ms Golightly can, in fact, talk about the increase in productivity, if she wishes—because they're connected.

Senator KIM CARR: What about Mr Pearson, the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who says that the government is 'effectively throttling back the rate of migration by stealth'? He said:

We know that processing times have slowed right down, we know that visa application costs and the cost of [employer] sponsorships have gone up and the government has reduced the number of eligible occupations ...

Isn't it the case that you were actually pursuing these matters for political reasons?

Mr Pezzullo : I'm an administrator, Senator.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, of course. At what point were you advised that you had to pursue the reduction in the number of migrants coming to Australia?

Mr Pezzullo : We're not pursuing a reduction in the number of migrants coming to Australia. We are scrutinising the applications that we're receiving, we're scrutinising the claims that have been made about things like qualifications, character issues, legitimacy of the job—

Senator KIM CARR: I've heard your argument on that. At any point during the financial year 2017-18 did the minister or the minister's office ask the department to slow down the processing of visas in the total migration program?

Mr Pezzullo : No, because through some excellent work done in Ms Golightly's group to increase productivity, to reallocate where the work is done and to apply better technology, the rate at which we are finalising visas, in an aggregate sense, has not slowed down at all. The processing time for visas where more problematic cases are being discovered at the application stage and more scrutiny is applied to those visas at the application stage, resulting in refusals going up fairly dramatically, it has to be said—

Senator KIM CARR: Let's just go through it, then. Has the minister or any minister in the government with portfolio responsibilities to the department sought further scrutiny on the temporary work visa program?

Mr Pezzullo : All visas have been the subject of greater scrutiny since 2014-15. You can go through—

Senator KIM CARR: Exactly. Who initiated those changes?

Mr Pezzullo : It was initially under Mr Morrison, particularly with the merger of Immigration, Customs and Border Protection, and then it was formalised under Mr Dutton in 2015-16.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. You're saying that's across the board?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. Every single class and subclass is given a greater degree of scrutiny than has ever been the case, including when Mr Rizvi was the deputy secretary of the department.

Senator KIM CARR: Why, then, were the changes only reflected in this year's numbers?

Mr Pezzullo : The changes in terms of the capped program?

Senator KIM CARR: The 21,000 drop compared to the year before—that's from this year, is it not?

Mr Pezzullo : Our finalisations—that is to say, the number of visas that we've considered—has remained constant. Our decisions have remained constant, and that's through increased productivity in Ms Golightly's group. But our refusals have gone up dramatically.

Senator KIM CARR: From what point?

Mr Pezzullo : Principally, we started hitting our stride in 2016-17. This has been our most effective year in detecting fraud and other matters that I referred to earlier.

Senator KIM CARR: How do you account for it occurring this year and not in the previous year, given that you said the advice from government occurred much earlier?

Mr Pezzullo : That's right. In 2014-15 the then immigration minister said, in perhaps the first discussion that he and I had when I was appointed secretary, beyond OSB, he was concerned about the lack of proper scrutiny, in his mind. Mr Dutton became the minister at the end of that year. We did some field tests and some modelling through 2014-15. The Turnbull government, after a year of trialling new technologies, then afforded us a considerable uplift in intelligence capability in 2016-17. I think I may have made mention of that earlier—the visa risk assessment system. That's a four-year program and we're halfway through it. It started to detect problematic applications—and I don't want to use that to spread it across—

Senator KIM CARR: I'm just interested to know: why did the ceiling remain unchanged if these things were occurring?

Mr Pezzullo : Because in the government's view—my job here is not to advocate for the government's policy at any one time, but to explain it—if you can find 190,000 high-quality applications that meet all the increased hurdles and tests, that's what we want you to achieve as a cap. If you can't find that many, then they are not to be processed positively.

Senator KIM CARR: Ms Golightly, are you able to assist the secretary? When did the Treasury advise you of the effect on the budget of $500 million?

Mr Pezzullo : The variation.

Ms Golightly : I can't add anything to what the secretary's already said.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. Have we got anyone in the department who can add anything?

Mr Pezzullo : Possibly. I suspect some calls are being made, Senator, given your interest in trying to get that information out. But no-one's come forward with a note passed up.

Senator KIM CARR: No-one's come forward a note. I won't be surprised if they're having difficulty finding that information.

Mr Pezzullo : We want to be meticulous in checking.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, indeed. You'll be particularly meticulous at about 20 to 1, I would have thought.

CHAIR: Leave the insults for back in the union meetings, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: When will the full report for the 2017-18 total migration program be released?

Mr Pezzullo : We have a publication that states that. I think the minister's office has itself put out some advice on this, have they not?

Ms Golightly : The minister has discussed the overall figure, but the report itself—

Mr Pezzullo : How far away is that report?

Ms Golightly : I'd have to just quickly check.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry? When will that be released.

Ms Golightly : I'd have to check that for you.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. I'm particularly interested in the day you expect it to be released.

Ms Golightly : I'll see if I can find out.

Mr Pezzullo : I can't imagine it'd be that far off.

Senator KIM CARR: It shouldn't be too difficult to find either, I wouldn't have thought.

Mr Pezzullo : We'll get back to you.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Have you had many other representations from employer groups about the cuts in migration numbers?

Mr Pezzullo : No. I'm not sure that—

Senator KIM CARR: Apart from ACCI?

Mr Pezzullo : I've seen ACCI. I can't recall anything being stated by the BCA.

Senator KIM CARR: AIG?

Mr Pezzullo : I think Mr Innes Willox might have made some comments, but I'd have to check.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. I'm wondering if you can tell me the third-country resettlement from Manus and Nauru—what progress have you made on that matter?

Mr Pezzullo : Our principal program is the US resettlement program, where, across the two locations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, we're in the high 300s, almost at 400. But I'll get Ms Geddes and other colleagues to come forward.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry, which countries are they?

Mr Pezzullo : Across PNG and Nauru, I think, to the US we've had almost 400 persons resettled. But Ms Geddes has the numbers.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure.

Mr Pezzullo : I think what I said was that the US program is the principal program.

Ms Geddes : To date, 371 refugees have resettled in the US.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Mr Dutton made some comments to The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 1 August. He approached countries—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and even New Zealand—and they're not interested in taking people from Manus and Nauru. Is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, did Mr Dutton make those comments?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, that's what I'm told. Is that right?

Mr Pezzullo : Did he make comments in response to—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, reported on 1 August. Is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : I've not seen what Mr Dutton said. I know that Mr Shorten nominated a number of countries.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I know Mr Shorten made some comments, but I'm interested in—

Mr Pezzullo : It hadn't come into—

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Dutton had made these comments.

Mr Pezzullo : my consciousness that Mr Dutton had—

Senator KIM CARR: I see.

Mr Pezzullo : He does a lot of media and I don't necessarily see all of his media.

Senator PRATT: [inaudible] on the public record but you're not.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm sure you don't read everything the minister says, but I would have thought your media monitoring would—

CHAIR: Just hang on a sec. We have Labor senators accusing Mr Pezzullo of not reading a newspaper thing. That's an unfair criticism and it should not happen.

Senator PRATT: That's not what I said.

CHAIR: Unfortunately, public servants can't respond to the insults that are sometimes directed to them. So I have to try and make sure that my colleagues don't exceed the bounds when dealing with public servants.

Senator KIM CARR: All right. I'm refer directly to Mr Dutton's comments published in The Daily Telegraph, which I thought was almost compulsory reading in the—

Mr Pezzullo : We don't set compulsory reading, Senator, I can assure you.

Senator KIM CARR: It used to be The Australian but I'm hearing that's lost a bit of favour since they were not able to predict as accurately as they once were—

CHAIR: Do you have a question?

Senator KIM CARR: Are you aware that on 1 August The Daily Telegraph published remarks of the minister saying that the government had approached Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and even New Zealand and that they weren't interested in taking refugees from Manus and Nauru?

CHAIR: So the question is: are you aware?

Mr Pezzullo : And the answer is: no. I wasn't aware that Mr Dutton had so responded.

CHAIR: No, okay. Next question?

Senator KIM CARR: Has the department's media monitoring not picked this up?

Mr Pezzullo : They're excellent. It's whether their secretary can keep up with their very high production rate.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Pezzullo : They've got an excellent media team.

Senator KIM CARR: The reason I raise this question is that in the past the department has claimed public interest immunity on providing details to this committee about conversations with these particular countries. I'm wondering: are you sticking with the public interest immunity assertion now that the minister's revealed these details?

Mr Pezzullo : It's the minister who makes the claim of public interest immunity. He is, as the minister of the Crown, placed to judge what is and isn't in the public interest.

Senator PRATT: I think he's made a judgement just to speak when it suits him.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm just wondering whether the—

Mr Pezzullo : Well, in my experience—

Senator KIM CARR: I would ask you to take this on notice.

CHAIR: These are not questions for Mr Pezzullo. If you want to ask them, ask them of Senator Seselja.

Senator KIM CARR: I don't want to be unkind to the assistant minister, but it's the department that's been advising this committee that the minister's made the assertion of public interest immunity.

Mr Pezzullo : That's a true statement.

Senator KIM CARR: That's correct?

Mr Pezzullo : That's a true statement. There is public interest immunity pertaining to Operation Sovereign Borders.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right. I'm asking you: will you now seek from the minister clarification as to whether or not the public interest immunity still applies, given that he himself has breached those undertakings by revealing this information? I take it he's done so without your knowledge.

CHAIR: That's a question for Senator Seselja. Will you find out if the minister is claiming public interest immunity? Next question.

Mr Pezzullo : Maybe he suspended the immunity claim.

Senator KIM CARR: What was the answer, Senator?

Senator Seselja: I'm happy to take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much.

Mr Pezzullo : Maybe it was suspended for those few moments.

Senator KIM CARR: Can I assume, Mr Pezzullo, that this breach of the public interest immunity—

Mr Pezzullo : It can't be a breach, because he's the one who was—

Senator KIM CARR: Well, exactly. The point is he's no longer—

Mr Pezzullo : I would breach it.

Senator KIM CARR: seeking to uphold the public interest immunity, because he himself—

CHAIR: What's the question to Mr Pezzullo?

Senator KIM CARR: has chosen to reveal this top-secret information.

Mr Pezzullo : That's a matter for the minister.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Pezzullo : Other officers—

Senator KIM CARR: I take it he's done so without your agreement.

Mr Pezzullo : No. You're drawing far too long an inferential bow.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. So you weren't consulted about it?

Mr Pezzullo : He doesn't—he's—

Senator KIM CARR: The department was consulted about the matter?

Mr Pezzullo : He is entitled to—he's well briefed on any range of issues, and he makes his own judgements.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. Well, I'd ask—

CHAIR: Senator Carr, you keep asking questions, and then when—

Senator KIM CARR: Well, I'd ask the assistant minister—

CHAIR: Hang on. Then, when Mr Pezzullo answers them, you cut him off mid-sentence.

Senator KIM CARR: Well, because—

CHAIR: If you ask the question, please do the officer the courtesy of listening to the answer to the question you have asked.

Senator KIM CARR: Can I ask the assistant minister: when were discussions held with Japan?

Senator Seselja: I will take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: When were discussions held with South Korea, with Taiwan, with Canada and with New Zealand in regard to taking refugees from Manus and Nauru?

Senator Seselja: I will take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: What were the dates that those conversations occurred, and what other discussions have there been in regard to third country resettlement arrangements entered into by the government?

Senator Seselja: I will also take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Mr Secretary, has the department been engaged in any further conversations in regard to 'regular discussions with a number of countries regarding third country options'?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: There have been?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you able to indicate which countries they are?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator KIM CARR: Why is that?

Mr Pezzullo : Public interest immunity.

Senator KIM CARR: Public interest immunity. On whose advice is the public interest immunity?

Mr Pezzullo : The minister is the person who makes the claim, and he's advised in this case by my department in consultation with our partners on this question, who are the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. Could you just clarify something for me, because there are two words being used here. One is 'negotiating', and another one is 'discussions'.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Is there any difference between negotiations and discussions?

Mr Pezzullo : I think I've given evidence on this before, either in October 2017 or perhaps in May 2018. I just want to refer to that, because I don't want to contradict that earlier evidence. But, consistent with that evidence, I think the answer is yes. You enter into discussions to see if a party's interested in the matter at all. If they say, 'Look, maybe some other time,' or, 'It's not consistent with our policy or priorities,' then those discussions break off and you don't go back.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Pezzullo : But if another party says, 'Well, actually, perhaps there's something that we can do here which is of mutual benefit'—something that might assist us with issues around border protection or immigration, for instance, to take one example—or if a party says, 'We'd like to do this just to assist a good ally,' then you proceed down the path towards the negotiation.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Pezzullo, in the comments in The Telegraph, the minister also asserted that the Leader of the Opposition had been advised of the third country resettlement discussions during a briefing by the department—when, of course, you'll be able to confirm that the department has refused to provide that information to the opposition. Can you confirm that: have they refused to provide that information?

Senator Seselja: Are you able to just read the quote for us, Senator Carr?

Senator KIM CARR: Would you like me to refer you to the article? I already have.

Senator Seselja: Sure.

Senator KIM CARR: I suggest that you could get an officer to hand it up to you, they'll give that to you. Has the department provided that information at a briefing?

Mr Pezzullo : I'm not sure precisely what—

Senator KIM CARR: Is it the case that the department has refused to provide that information to the opposition?

CHAIR: Hang on, Senator Carr: are you going to give that article to the officer, who will give it to Mr Pezzullo?

Senator KIM CARR: I've said the department can quite happily have it handed up. I'm reading from this copy of the article myself. I would like to know: has the department refused to provide that information to the opposition?

Mr Pezzullo : I'll need to check the records, because we take very careful records of the periodic briefings that are given, ordinarily to the shadow minister and/or his staff. Whether those briefings have canvassed either third-country and/or those specific countries is a matter that I'll need to check on the record.

Senator KIM CARR: That's a fair enough response, because I take it you're not physically present all the briefings, but—

Mr Pezzullo : I sometimes am, but on other occasions I'm not.

Senator KIM CARR: It's been put to me that the department has said that this information is not available to Mr Neumann. I'm just wondering: is that correct?

CHAIR: Who has put that to you?

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Neumann has put that to me. Mr Pezzullo, is that correct or not?

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, Senator; I'm just trying to look for the relevant quote, where Mr Dutton has or hasn't said what the opposition has been briefed on.

CHAIR: Could you identify that, Senator Carr? It looks like Mr Pezzullo has his own copy of the article—is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : I have an article headed: 'Japan, South Korea, Taiwan sink Bill Shorten's asylum seeker plan'.

Senator KIM CARR: No, it's: 'Bill still all at sea on refugees'. It's 1 August 2018.

Mr Pezzullo : In The Daily Telegraph?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Pezzullo : Perhaps it's just a different heading—yes, I've got that quote.

Senator KIM CARR: It says that Mr Dutton said 'the government had already approached the countries on Mr Shorten’s list. The fact is Mr Shorten hasn’t even asked for a briefing' and he said he'd recognise that the countries are just plucked at random.

CHAIR: What's the question to Mr Pezzullo?

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Neumann has advised me that when the opposition has actually sought information from the department on these matters, the department has refused to provide that information to the opposition. I'm asking: is that correct?

Mr Pezzullo : Thank you, and I understand the context fully now: As I said in my previous answer, I would want to check the record. I'm not at all suggesting that you haven't been accurately advised. I just want to check the record as to what my officers have recorded, both what was asked by the opposition in those briefings and what was tendered to them in response. And in saying that, I don't wish for there to be any negative or adverse inference drawn as to what the shadow minister has or hasn't advised you. I just want to check my own records.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Can I turn to an email you sent to SES staff on 10 July. I take it you write regularly to senior SES staff, do you?

Mr Pezzullo : Fairly regularly, yes—to set out expectations or to update them on leadership appointments, or to update them on the publication of, for instance, key departmental documents.

Senator KIM CARR: The one on 10 July is a 1,900-word piece of correspondence.

Mr Pezzullo : Apparently so.

CHAIR: Are you familiar with it?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes; I wrote every word myself.

CHAIR: I'm pleased to hear that. What prompted you to write this particular correspondence?

Mr Pezzullo : In the immediate sense, with the launch, after seven or so months, of the existence of Home Affairs and the commencement of the financial year and the launch of a document described as the blueprint for the further development of Home Affairs, which is a publication that went out generally to staff, the letter in question to SES was related to that document and set out my expectations of them as leaders, both in terms of prosecuting the agenda or the strategy set out in that document and, more generally, about what I expected from them as leaders in terms of achieving results, and doing so in a way that grew their capability, particularly their people, and that achieved results in accordance with government policy directions.

Senator KIM CARR: How many people are in the SES and would receive this correspondence?

Mr Pezzullo : Over 100, but I'll need to get the numbers.

Senator KIM CARR: Of them, how many people would not be in their normal roles, would be in acting positions, do you think?

Mr Pezzullo : Relatively few, because we've had a number of vacancies filled in recent times, but I'd have to get the exact numbers for you.

Senator KIM CARR: At the date of 10 July, I'm told, there were about 40. Would that be right? Maybe it was a bit earlier than that.

Mr Pezzullo : I don't think it was that high. In terms of acting?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Pezzullo : I don't think it was that high. I'll have to get the records.

Senator KIM CARR: I will correct the record. On 21 May, I'm told, there were 40 acting.

Mr Pezzullo : That's quite possible.

Senator KIM CARR: Forty per cent were in acting roles.

Mr Pezzullo : It would not be 40 per cent. Whether or not it was 40 slots, it would not be 40 per cent. We've recently concluded a number of what we term 'bulk rounds', and a number of positions have been filled.

Senator KIM CARR: The blueprint for Home Affairs—is it possible to get that on notice?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. I'd be delighted to table it for the committee.

CHAIR: Senator Carr, I might come back to you. That seems a convenient place.

Senator KIM CARR: There is one matter I want to raise.

CHAIR: I will come back to you.

Senator WATT: Can I just check whether we had an answer from the department about the tabling of those documents earlier, Chair?

CHAIR: Yes, you can check.

Mr Pezzullo : The FOI documents?

Senator WATT: Yes, the FOI documents.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm sure. They look the same but I'm sure—

Senator WATT: I think it was just to confirm that we were talking about the same documents and there was no issue in tabling them.

Mr Pezzullo : I think we were. Ms Scholten, do we know? We're talking about the same documents, are we not?

Ms Golightly : The copies are not exactly the same.

Senator KIM CARR: What's 1.4?

Ms Golightly : The paragraph which the questioning was referring to is as you read out.

Mr Pezzullo : But why wouldn't they be the same?

Senator KIM CARR: So they've changed their priority order?

Mr Pezzullo : I can't imagine Senator Watt would have modified it in any way.

Ms Golightly : There are some annotations.

Senator WATT: Sorry?

Ms Golightly : There are some minor annotations on the copies that you had, Senator.

Mr Pezzullo : Could they be Senator Watt's scrawl? We've had that before with—

Senator WATT: I can tell you they aren't.

Mr Pezzullo : But we've had it before, where Senator McKim gave up a document with his tactical notes on the—

Senator WATT: That's the difference between Labor and the Greens—or one of the differences.

Mr Pezzullo : Has Senator Watt committed the same atrocity?

Ms Golightly : I don't know who—

CHAIR: Has that clarified that?

Senator WATT: Yes. I'm happy enough to table those documents. I might just grab them back, though, if that's okay.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. Just going back to my questions previously, in my previous 10 minutes, about the distribution of new immigrants to Australia, you indicated that Treasury looks at the macro benefits. Are those macro benefits to Australia as a whole, which I assume 'macro' means, or is it looking at the macro benefits to Sydney and Melbourne and perhaps New South Wales and Victoria?

Mr Pezzullo : That's really a question better directed to the Treasury, but I think it's generally acknowledged that most of their modelling relates to the general economy. I can state this directly, because we co-authored the publication with them: the benefits in question, in the publication of April 2018, were national benefits, such as labour productivity, labour participation—these are national aggregate measures—nominal GDP growth, real GDP growth, GDP per capita. I'll check and see if they had state-by-state breakdowns, but my recollection of the document—it's some months since we put it out—was at the national level.

CHAIR: I may have asked this of you previously, but are there any figures on the cost to state governments of the introduction of new people to Australia? There are macrobenefits, I understand—from the document you were referring to, and I can appreciate that in any case—but they sometimes come at a cost not to the federal government but to the state governments, who have to—

Mr Pezzullo : And councils as well.

CHAIR: Indeed.

Mr Pezzullo : There is actually data. There is quite a foundational and indeed seminal report of the Productivity Commission of September 2016, if memory serves me correctly. It looked at all the literature up until that point—and obviously some of this data needs to be updated. The Productivity Commission built on the work of the Treasury and Immigration, as it then was, to look at those national macrobenefits that I spoke of—productivity, GDP et cetera. They also drew on research, for instance, by—and you'll have to forgive me if I get the acronym wrong—the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics and various other parts of government and then broke down the economic externalities, including in relation to things like congestion. There are various measures whereby you can model things like time spent in motor vehicles whilst you are commuting, and they impute—I'm not an economist, so I will get this wrong in the detail but generally right enough to not be misleading you—the economic loss spent, the pollution costs, the need to upgrade roads and the impact potentially on housing. So the Productivity Commission report of 2016—which was called something like 'The impact of immigration intakes' or similar words—is probably the seminal document in the field. I would certainly commend that report to this committee.

Senator WATT: I want to very quickly clarify that the two documents that I am tabling are two submissions that the department provided to the minister as to his decision to personally intervene to grant these visas.

Mr Pezzullo : As released under FOI, as we advised.

Senator WATT: Yes. And to be clear, there are two annotations that your departmental officers have helpfully picked up. In the submission dated 17 June 2015, paragraph 11, has been circled. That was not on the original document, is what I am advised.

Mr Pezzullo : I can't understand how that could be the case. I hope there hasn't been some sharp word processing going on somewhere. How can that be the case?

Senator WATT: It may have been made after the documents were released under FOI—I don't know. The second submission is dated 1 November 2015. It is my annotation, and it is to paragraph 8. It is to highlight the point that the department's advice was that the grant of a visitor visa in this case is of high risk.

Mr Pezzullo : This one highlighted that fact?

Senator WATT: I underlined that fact.

Mr Pezzullo : Oh, I'm sorry.

Senator WATT: Those two annotations were made, I understand, after the documents were released.

Mr Pezzullo : So it's not as good as Senator McKim writing—

Senator WATT: I'm not in the habit of revealing my tactical notes. But I am tabling those documents with those two annotations.

Mr Pezzullo : Thank you. I really do appreciate that. It just concerned me that they appeared to be at variance. But that is now clear.

Senator KIM CARR: I will put a whole series of questions on notice with regard to this address to the senior officers, but there's one thing that really does disturb me, and that is that the report of 26 July 2018 referred to the speech that I spoke of earlier, where it said: 'Don't dismantle us—Home Affairs chief message to ALP'.

Mr Pezzullo : Oh, this is Ms Riordan's erroneous story.

Senator KIM CARR: I would like to give you an opportunity—

Mr Pezzullo : I appreciate that opportunity.

Senator KIM CARR: I'd like to know whether or not you regard it as appropriate for a senior officer to be offering advice to the opposition about machinery of government matters.

Mr Pezzullo : Of course not; it would be entirely inappropriate to do so publicly. You're a close reader of my speeches, it would seem. The speech actually goes back to the discussion we had earlier on Mr Rizvi's interventions. It clearly states that however you structure the government doesn't matter but, as a program, if you dismantle and disconnect immigration, border and intelligence checking systems, you'll see the sorts of results in terms of loss of public confidence and concern about migration that you're seeing in other areas of the world. I'm entitled to make that observation as the secretary of this department; it is not particularly contentious, I would have thought. And those arrangements were put in place under Mr Morrison's initial direction and then, of course, Mr Dutton followed through by merging Immigration, Customs and Border Protection, in machinery terms so I'm just reflecting on stated policy of the day. How a future government arranges that program is up to them. What I am saying is if you don't link immigration intelligence systems, you are looking, potentially, to introduce risk into the confidence around our migration program. And the journalist did not check that with me. She has a habit of doing this. She is wrong. My speech was not about Home Affairs, the construction of machinery-of-government arrangements or otherwise. It was about the function, not the structure, of those programs. And if she had checked with me, I would have given her that answer but, as I said, she tends to do this.

Senator KIM CARR: On the face of it, I would personally regard it as totally inappropriate.

Mr Pezzullo : Absolutely. I am going to pile on with the same level of ferocity on that same concern. I would be appalled and that is why I would never do it. And the journalist should, frankly, have checked with me personally. And frankly, I am not going to accept 'it was my subeditor' or the person who wrote the headline because it was the lead in the story; it was completely erroneous. I really do thank you for the opportunity because I do agree with you that any advice about administrative arrangements should always be tendered privately.

Senator KIM CARR: We have to be very clear about the distinction between the Public Service and the political supervision of the political system.

Mr Pezzullo : Absolutely. We're in ferocious agreement.

Senator KIM CARR: We've had other matters on this. You've written to me what you are saying, I appreciate, in the past, where we've found—

Mr Pezzullo : There was a website, I think.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right, a website issue which you did write to us and I do acknowledge—

Mr Pezzullo : The impartiality of the Public Service is a great national asset.

Senator KIM CARR: Absolutely.

Mr Pezzullo : The ability to serve both sides of politics and to transition, literally on night of the election, if you look at what's happening around the world in various respects, is an absolute national asset.

Senator KIM CARR: It is of profound significance to this country.

Mr Pezzullo : I agree fully. Can I turn to a matter in which perhaps we won't be in such fierce agreement. On the question of the Chief Medical Officer and the Surgeon-General, how long has it taken for the recruitment process?

Mr Pezzullo : Regrettably, it took longer than I would have hoped but I'm delighted to say that we have a very distinguished occupant of the role. I'd have to check exactly how many months it took. It certainly took longer than I would have hoped but, frankly, the trade-off was ensuring that we got a quality field and a quality candidate.

Senator KIM CARR: When was the short list provided to the minister?

Mr Pezzullo : It was not the minister's appointment.

Senator KIM CARR: Sorry, it's not a ministerial appointment?

Mr Pezzullo : It has nothing to do with the minister.

Senator KIM CARR: So it had nothing to do with the minister in any way?

Mr Pezzullo : It was my appointment, in consultation with the Commissioner of Border Force because, while he is technically under the Public Service Act an employee of the department, he also performs the function of ABF surgeon-general so of course I consulted with my close colleague Commissioner Outram.

Senator KIM CARR: So has the Chief Medical Officer met with the minister?

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know. He may have. I would have to check.

Senator KIM CARR: I understand it is Dr Goodna, who has experience in rural health?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Does he have experience working with people such as refugees?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, directly.

Senator KIM CARR: What's the nature of that experience?

Mr Pezzullo : If Dr Gogna is available, I would be very happy for him to come forward so he can talk about his own experience. Essentially, it is in the field of emergency management.

Senator KIM CARR: Is Dr Gogna available?

Mr Pezzullo : I'm happy for Dr Gogna to attend, yes. He happens to be nearby, I believe.

Senator KIM CARR: He'll have to get used to this sooner or later.

Mr Pezzullo : Again, we're in fierce agreement, Senator, so I don't see what the concern is on the part of others.

Senator PRATT: We have questions directly for him if he's available.

Mr Pezzullo : I kind of figured that.

Senator KIM CARR: We're going through that now.

Mr Pezzullo : Perhaps you can start with your line of questioning. But, if you're going to ask about his own qualifications—

Senator KIM CARR: Sure, but you can handle that.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes—rural and emergency management. He's worked, I think, in a contracted capacity—in fact, in a detention environment, has he not, Ms Moy?

Ms Moy : That's correct. Dr Gogna does have experience working in South-East Asia and Christmas Island, and he has worked in emergency management in the forces.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Is he here?

Ms Moy : He is coming.

CHAIR: Could I just remind all committee members and the officers that we are finishing.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, I understand that.

CHAIR: We have a hard marker in 10 minutes.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. How do that experience and those qualifications compare to his predecessor?

Mr Pezzullo : It's a difference range of experience. Dr Brayley's qualifications, as we've previously discussed, are a matter of public record, so I'm not breaching any personal confidence. Dr Gogna, welcome. I'm going to give you a hit-out for eight or nine minutes.

Senator KIM CARR: This is a very brief introduction. Welcome to the Senate estimates committee

Mr Pezzullo : This is just to get a feel for the field. I'll just conclude my answer, Dr Gogna, and then you might as well have a trot. Dr Brayley came out of the psychiatry and psychology field and had a different set of professional experiences. But now Dr Gogna can describe his own professional history.

Dr Gogna : Hello. I am a GP. I've trained in rural medicine. I originally qualified from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. I emigrated to Australia in 1997 and took up a post doing relief work for rural GPs for six months. Then I became a principal of a practice in rural Western Australia. I served there for approximately eight years as the solo doctor, building up the practice. I set up another branch practice and then expanded that rural service. I sat as the vice-chairman for the rural workforce agency in Western Australia, I sat on the AMA council in Western Australia. I was involved in the National Rural Reference Group for the AMA. Then, as my career progressed, in around 2005 I left to do a Master of Business Administration at the University of Western Australia. After concluding my MBA, I became a medical officer in the military. I served as a medical officer with the Special Air Service Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan. I've also worked in Papua New Guinea and South-East Asian corridors.

During my time as the vice-chairman of the rural workforce agency, I was very acutely aware of all the different shortages of rural doctors. Christmas Island was one of those areas that I'd always looked upon as a place to do further remote work. In 2012, I became the area medical director on Christmas Island. That was a very sad time in that we saw a significant number of capsized boats and multiple people losing their lives. I was directly involved with resuscitation of people on Customs vessels. I was directly in charge of mass casualty responses on Christmas Island during that time.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. I welcome you to the committee's hearings.

Dr Gogna : Most recently, I've worked as director of medical services for Queensland Health for the past four years.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Have you had a chance to look at the Queensland coroner's findings from the inquest into the death of Hamid Khazaei?

Dr Gogna : I've looked at the previous documented evidence. I've also seen what the coroner's findings are, but we're still working our way through those. Obviously we take every coronial finding very seriously, so it's still a matter of great debate within the department.

Senator KIM CARR: When can we expect an official response from the department?

Ms Moy : In terms of the response, as Dr Gogna mentioned, we're working our way through the recommendations. Some of those recommendations had already had acknowledgement from the coroner in regard to evidence showing changes in health services within Papua New Guinea. We would expect that they'll be considered over the coming month or so, and then government will provide their response to those.

Senator KIM CARR: There was a recent court case, I understand, just last Thursday. A further case—

Dr Gogna : Another coronial case you spoke about?

Senator KIM CARR: Is that first one you've had to deal with, personally?

Dr Gogna : I've been involved with other coronial cases with Queensland Health, so I'm well aware of the coronial process. We want to engage very closely with the coroner, so we share all information and any progress. On the previous coronial case you mentioned, there were interim findings, we had a review internally and there has already been stepwise progress to achieve those. Previously at the inquest, Dr Mark Parrish, who is the regional medical director of IHMS, intimated that they had already put in quite significant processes to safeguard people with sepsis. Obviously we have a significant sepsis within our own health network.

Senator KIM CARR: What's your impression of the capacity of medical service providers on Nauru?

Dr Gogna : I look at the volume and the numbers of medical practitioners. I've been a rural and regional doctor, only until recently practicing in emergency departments in regional areas. It's very well staffed. There are significant assets there. There's near-patient pathology. There's expertise in specialists. It's something that the Australian government should be proud of.

Senator KIM CARR: You don't think it could be improved?

Dr Gogna : It's like everything. I think health care in regional and rural areas could certainly be improved. If you make a direct comparison, the services we're providing in Nauru outstrip what we're providing in some of our own rural and regional areas.

CHAIR: Absolutely.

Senator KIM CARR: There was a case last week with regard to court decisions about the transfer of a dangerously sick girl from Nauru to Australia after, I understand, officials in fact failed to block the move, saying she wasn't seriously sick. Are you familiar with that case?

Mr Pezzullo : Failed?

Senator KIM CARR: That's what the report I have here says. It was published in Crikey this morning.

Mr Pezzullo : Oh, Crikey.

Senator KIM CARR: A distinguished journal of record, you'd have to agree, wouldn't you, Mr Pezzullo?

CHAIR: We've no time for humour here.

Senator KIM CARR: The Federal Court, it's reported here, has been directed 'to bring a dangerously sick girl from Nauru to Australia, after immigration representatives failed to block the move over claims she was not seriously sick.' Was that one of the matters you had to deal with, Dr Gogna?

Dr Gogna : It's a matter I have not dealt with. Just to elaborate very slightly—

Senator KIM CARR: It says, 'Justice Alan Robertson ordered last Thursday that an adolescent girl be transferred for urgent medical care in Sydney'.

Dr Gogna : The department's edicts on having urgent medical care, life or limb and sight disabilities is they will be transferred to the most appropriate care as soon as possible. In my short time with the department, that's all I've witnessed—that commitment to quality of medical care.

Senator KIM CARR: There have been 'a dozen similar, failed attempts from the government to block the transfer of sick and suicidal children throughout the year,' it's reported.

CHAIR: Is there a question?

Senator KIM CARR: Would you agree? Would you agree that there have been a dozen attempts that have failed because of court actions in Australia?

Mr Pezzullo : I assume at this point you're now reading not from His Honour's findings but from the interpretation of that well-known journal of repute, as you referred to it, Crikey. Are we in fierce agreement on that point, Senator?

Senator KIM CARR: Well, I'm just—

Mr Pezzullo : You're making it up?

Senator KIM CARR: No, it's a statement of fact.

CHAIR: You're quoting Crikey.

Senator KIM CARR: This is a report that appeared in this morning's publication. There have been a dozen cases in which the department has sought to block transfers to Australia of seriously injured or seriously sick people, and the courts have overruled the department.

Mr Pezzullo : We would never do that. I'm trying to establish whether it was His Honour who found that to be the case.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm referring directly to the report.

Mr Pezzullo : We're not going to—

Senator KIM CARR: This is following Justice Alan Robinson ordered last Thursday the case of an adolescent girl.

CHAIR: Mr Pezzullo is asking are those the judge's words or Crikey's?

Senator KIM CARR: I've indicated to you: I've read directly from the report.

CHAIR: From Crikey?

Senator KIM CARR: From Crikey.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm not going to—

Senator KIM CARR: I've asked the question.

Mr Pezzullo : I'm not going to edify—

Senator KIM CARR: Have there been a dozen cases in which the courts have overruled the department—

Mr Pezzullo : Courts make decisions. When they make their decisions, we of course comply with the orders brought down by their honours. How that's spun, interpreted by Crikey, is—if that's what you want me to discuss, I will.

Senator KIM CARR: No, I'm not asking you about that; I'm asking you a direct question. Have there been a dozen cases in which the courts have overruled the department's attempts to block people being transferred back to Australia for medical treatment?

Mr Pezzullo : There have been a number of cases where their honours have issued directions, and we of course have complied.

Senator KIM CARR: Is that the case—there have been 12 occasions that have occurred?

Mr Pezzullo : Ms de Veau, is it a dozen?

Senator PRATT: Can I perhaps ask Dr Gogna: is there ever an instance in which it is acceptable to deny medical treatment because of a bureaucratic process?

Dr Gogna : No. I think the clinical merits outweigh, and we're finding again and again in this position that the clinical aspects are being respected and that people who require urgent health are receiving urgent health. If they need life-saving health, then they'll be taken to the most appropriate—

Senator PRATT: Let's just be clear: someone—

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Doctor. I'm afraid that completes—

Senator PRATT: Chair, I did have a couple of further questions.

CHAIR: Senator Pratt, as you well know, I've said a number of times today: we have a hard marker at 12.30, because this committee has to meet again at 1.30 for a hearing into another matter. Any other questions will have to be put on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Couldn't find the information—what a surprise!

CHAIR: Can I complete the—

Senator KIM CARR: Couldn't find the information about Treasury telling the department of a $500 million hit on the budget.

CHAIR: You're out of order, Senator Carr, and, as usual, you accuse wrongly public servants who can't respond to your insults in a most inappropriate and unprofessional manner—

Senator KIM CARR: Very unprofessional: can't find the information.

CHAIR: Senator Carr, your conduct with public servants—

Senator KIM CARR: Unbecoming; yes, I know.

CHAIR: No, it's just completely unfair. It's the bullying sorts of comments that you're always complaining about others doing.

Senator KIM CARR: This is where we mention trade unions, right?

CHAIR: Just before we complete, I thank everyone for attending today. I particularly, on behalf of the committee, welcome, you Dr Gogna. Your CV seems to be amazing, and the department is—

Senator PRATT: Chair, if you're going to continue this, I did actually have questions—

CHAIR: very fortunate in getting your services. Welcome, and congratulations, Mr Pezzullo, on your appointment. Thanks to Hansard and the committee secretariat. I close this Senate estimates committee hearing, and the committee will again meet in an hour to deal with another inquiry.

Committee adjourned at 12:32