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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
21/05/2018
Estimates
PARLIAMENT
Department of the Senate

Department of the Senate

[09:05]

CHAIR: I welcome the President of the Senate, Senator the Honourable Scott Ryan, the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Richard Pye, and officers of the Department of the Senate. I thank the department for providing updated information on Senate committee activity, which has been circulated to the committee. I also wish to take this time to acknowledge that this will be Mr Hallett's last appearance before estimates before his retirement. On behalf of the committee, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge your longstanding and distinguished service in very senior leadership roles in the public service, including at the AEC, at the office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, and, most importantly, to the parliament. Mr President, do you wish to make an opening statement?

The PRESIDENT: No.

CHAIR: Mr Pye, do you wish to make a statement?

Mr Pye : No, thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: On behalf of opposition senators, Mr Hallett, can I also extend our thanks to you for all of your service. I know that our people enjoy working with you, and we're very grateful for all that you've done for the parliament and in support of senators in our role here. Thank you.

Mr Hallett : Thank you, senators.

Senator KITCHING: Can I start with the Cyber Security Operations Centre. I am looking at Budget Paper No. 2, page 162—

The PRESIDENT: Sorry, I don't mean to interrupt—I think this is DPS, rather than the Department of the Senate. The DPS stuff will be later—those budget figures.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, but I am asking in Department of the Senate.

The PRESIDENT: Sure.

Senator KITCHING: Was the appropriation sought by the parliament or was it provided by the executive government? Firstly, I will start with you, Mr President. Can you confirm what consultation occurred with you prior to this appropriation being made?

The PRESIDENT: I will get the record double-checked. I think this was a submission made by myself and the Speaker.

Senator KITCHING: So it was sought by the parliament?

The PRESIDENT: Can I just take some advice on what I should go into with respect to budget process?

Senator KITCHING: Yes, sure.

The PRESIDENT: That, I understand, if it is the measure I think you are referring to—and I'll have my office check it while they're listening—was a submission by the President and Speaker. It was an appropriation following that.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. The Usher of the Black Rod sits on the security management board, is that correct?

The PRESIDENT: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Was this matter discussed by the security management board?

Mr Hallett : Yes, it was. It has been. We are regularly briefed by the chief information officer of DPS at our meetings, and this matter has been considered at various SMB meetings.

Senator KITCHING: Was it discussed often?

Mr Hallett : At the risk of splitting hairs, I would say it was discussed regularly. The report of the chief information officer is a standing item, because, as we know, security is more than fences. The proposal to do this was discussed by the security management board, and once the budget was tabled in budget week, we were advised it had in fact been funded by government.

Senator KITCHING: Did the SMB have a role in seeking the request for funding?

Mr Hallett : No, not really. I'd suggest that that was an initiative of the Department of Parliamentary Services. The security management board, which, as you know, under the Parliamentary Service Act, has a watching brief on all security matters to provide advice to the presiding officers, was kept informed of the fact that this was proposed and that in the end it had been successful.

Senator KITCHING: Are you aware of how the $9 million figure—I'm looking over the forward estimates—was calculated?

Mr Hallett : No, I'm not.

Senator KITCHING: I do have further questions on that but they are more appropriate for DPS. I will come back to them when we are doing DPS.

I want to ask about a function in the President's courtyard. Mr President, as you will be aware I put some questions on notice about this. There were a number of complaints from senators and their staff because the event was on a sitting day and it was disruptive. Would you be surprised to learn that the noise from this event was audible in the Senate chamber?

The PRESIDENT: I did speak to a couple of senators, who did not speak to me, because—not having been to many functions in that courtyard—it was louder than I expected. I was in the chamber. I would not describe it the way you did, but it was definitely audible to some nearby offices, and I did apologise to those senators, and I've taken measures subsequently. It's just one of those things I had not thought of.

Senator KITCHING: How many people attended the function?

The PRESIDENT: I'm not sure if that was one of the questions answered on notice.

Senator KITCHING: I think in QONs 770 and 771—there was no attendance list, but just approximately how many people were there?

The PRESIDENT: I would guess about 100, but that would be a very rough guess. I'll give it some thought.

Senator KITCHING: Did you have an expectation that was lower than 100?

The PRESIDENT: I thought it'd be smaller than it was.

Senator KITCHING: On the guest list: if there are a substantial number of guests present in the President's courtyard—which is very proximate to the chamber—and there is no guest list obtained, is that seen to be a security risk?

The PRESIDENT: Let's put what this was, as I've explained on notice. This was a function of former coalition staff members, and the venue that I offered them to use was in fact my courtyard. I think there have been other functions in this building which similar networks of former employees have held, whether it be in a courtyard of the building or elsewhere. Given that I knew the organisers, while I did not keep an attendance list, I knew that was the group that was being invited. I was quite confident in the arrangements put in place. But, as I said previously, probably slightly more attended than I expected.

Senator KITCHING: Were the organisers former—

The PRESIDENT: There is a group that has a couple of people that informally organise functions for former coalition staff.

Senator KITCHING: Did your office know who was allowed to enter the President's courtyard?

The PRESIDENT: I knew that members of that group had been invited, and my staff were working with the people who were putting it together. I can't say I personally knew every person who attended, but I knew a great number because I've been around the building for a while.

Senator KITCHING: Can any senator use the President's courtyard?

The PRESIDENT: As I've always understood, half of the courtyard—what's called the President's courtyard—is generally allowed to be used by the Deputy President. The other half is used by the President. When there are significant functions—it might be the Department of the Senate Christmas party or a group function we had recently, Senator Kitching, you will remember, for interns—

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

The PRESIDENT: who have been in the program for two decades—sometimes both will be used, but there aren't that many functions. But the way it was put to me when I started here was that half of it is unofficially allowed to be used by the Deputy President, and the other half is used by the President.

Senator KITCHING: I will move to the refurb of suite SG95. When were works in suite SG95 completed in order for the suite to be occupied?

Mr Hallett : They were completed at the end of March, as I think we foreshadowed at the last hearing. The Canberra based staff of that particular senator moved in in early April. Now that parliament's back, the senator is in that suite.

Senator KITCHING: So late March?

Mr Hallett : Yes, that's correct.

Senator KITCHING: Are there any outstanding works to be completed?

Mr Hallett : We had a meeting with the senator and his staff—I think during budget week—to do what are known as defects. My understanding is that a couple of minor matters were raised by the senator and his staff, which is completely usual in these sorts of circumstances, and they're being addressed by DPS.

Senator KITCHING: So that's going along smoothly?

Mr Hallett : It's completed, apart from addressing the defects, which I understand DPS are onto already.

Senator KITCHING: When was the suite handed over to the Department of the Senate ready to be occupied? That was in late March?

Mr Hallett : That's correct. It was handed over in late March. We then installed furniture, because, as you are probably aware, we are rolling out a furniture program, and there was some particular furniture for this suite to meet needs. Once the furniture was installed, we advised the senator and his staff that they could take occupation of it, and they did so.

Senator KITCHING: In fact, we were commenting on our way up here that there are far more standing desks than the last—

Mr Hallett : Yes. They're very popular. A number of senators have asked for them, and, where possible, we have ordered them and supplied them.

CHAIR: Personally, I think it's a fad and it will pass, but—

Senator KITCHING: I will ask about the Australian National University flooding. I'm looking at additional estimates question on notice No. 2, which related to the flooding of the Chifley Library at the ANU, and it says:

The Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Clerk of the Senate and the Parliamentary Librarian have written to the university Librarian, Ms Missingham, offering to provide or copy any relevant material to assist in restoring the university's collection.

Has any response been received from the ANU or, perhaps, particularly from Ms Missingham?

Mr Hallett : Yes, Ms Missingham did respond to the correspondence from the parliamentary heads.

Senator KITCHING: We are helping? Is there any need to help?

Mr Hallett : My understanding is that when she needs assistance, we will provide it. The first issue for the university librarian was, obviously, the cleaning up and taking stock of what could be used and what was ruined. Mr Pye and his colleagues have let it be known that we're ready to help if we can.

Mr Pye : I might add to that. The university has established a committee that's going to oversee the restoration of the collection to the extent that's possible. We're coordinating our efforts through to the Parliamentary Librarian, who will be here a bit later this morning with DPS. I think the documents we're most likely to be able to provide that they're interested in will be a copy of the Parliamentary Papers series, which is the collection of significant documents that have been tabled in the parliament from 1901 forward. But, as I say, the consultation between the university and the parliament will be through the librarian.

Senator KITCHING: We all love a library.

The PRESIDENT: We do indeed.

Senator KITCHING: Mr Pye, can I have an update on the progress on the information technology upgrades, and, in particular, are there any projects that were slated for completion in the first half of 2018 that will not be completed on that time line?

Mr Pye : In the last estimates, we talked about the live programs for estimates hearings, and that is probably the main one to mention. We were hoping to have that rolled out for this round of estimates, but it will be the next round of estimates that it's rolled out for. We're doing some final finessing, I guess, of the details for that system. The people that DPS had doing the technical work moved on to other greener fields, so we're just waiting for some new resources to come in to finalise the work on that.

Senator KITCHING: How many FTEs is that? Some people have resigned have they?

Mr Pye : There has been a bit of movement in the IT staff in DPS, including some of the people who were doing work on that.

Senator KITCHING: On that, there's a new CIO, is that correct? Do I have a memory from last estimates that—

Mr Pye : A new CIO was appointed towards the end of last year.

Senator KITCHING: Some people who worked in that part of that division have moved on?

Mr Pye : I don't think any more than the usual sort of turnover. IT staff are in great demand around the city, I think, is the issue there.

Senator KITCHING: This is a personal gripe of mine: in the information technology upgrades, are we getting better mobile phone reception? I know the chair's very supportive of this line of questioning.

The PRESIDENT: That can be discussed at length with DPS as well. Is that reception in the building you're referring to?

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

CHAIR: All senators and building occupants are interested in this.

The PRESIDENT: We can talk about that with DPS if you'd like, but feel free to ask the Department of the Senate too. I'm sure everyone has their experiences.

Mr Pye : I think having better mobile phone reception is a good thing.

Senator KITCHING: Very nicely answered.

CHAIR: That sounds like a policy observation, Mr Pye. Are there any further questions for the Department of the Senate? If there are no further questions, I thank you very much for your evidence this morning, and we'll now move to the Parliamentary Budget Office.