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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Australian Public Service Commission

Australian Public Service Commission

CHAIR ( Senator Paterson ): The committee will now resume, and I welcome Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service—that's a mouthful!

Senator Cash: Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: I also welcome the Hon. John Lloyd, the Australian Public Service Commissioner, and officers of the Australian Public Service Commission. I draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised, which will be incorporated in the Hansard.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

(a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

CHAIR: Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirement of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document. The committee has set 6 July 2018 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I don't, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Mr Lloyd, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Lloyd : No, thank you.

Senator MARTIN: Commissioner, are you familiar with the government's stated intention to decentralise non-policy government public service roles into the regional areas?

Mr Lloyd : Yes, I am aware of some activity in that area.

Senator MARTIN: Was the APSC consulted about providing input into this government decentralisation program?

Mr Lloyd : We were involved in some consultation, as I recall it. Yes, it's a decision of government, and we are always alerted to the conditions and arrangements that apply to staffing through these processes.

Senator MARTIN: What was the APSC's input into that program? Did you help develop the criteria against which relocations would be judged?

Mr Lloyd : It is some time ago; I'd have to take it on notice. I anticipate that we were consulted and involved, but I would have to take that on notice. The exact role of what we were doing, what we were consulted about—I've got some briefing notes here and, if you can bear with me, I'll turn them up. As I say, it was some time ago. Ministers and departments have been working through a structured process to look at entities and functions that might be suitable to moving to regional areas. However, decisions about possible locations are a matter for the government, and secretaries and agency heads would be responsible for implementing any such a decision. The conditions that apply to the staff will generally be contained in the enterprise agreement that applies to them, and of course there would be consultation with the staff as a decision is implemented.

Senator MARTIN: So, you're saying that the government makes those decisions on where any department is decentralised into the regional areas?

Mr Lloyd : Yes.

Senator MARTIN: Are you aware of the specific process, or is it—

Mr Lloyd : There is a process where, I think, possible relocations would be considered against a number of criteria. I must say I don't have any exposure to or expertise on that, so I can't help you a great deal. But the process is the responsibility of the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities in an administrative sense and of course regional development is playing a key role. We don't have a formal role in the decisions about who goes where. Where there's an impact on staff is where our role comes into play.

Senator MARTIN: Do you know how many Commonwealth public servants are based in Tasmania currently—and you may have to take this on notice—in comparison to, say, 2013?

Mr Lloyd : I'll have to take that on notice. We do keep track of course of the locations, state by state, of public servants, but I don't have at my disposal the number for Tasmania.

Senator MARTIN: Would you be aware that there's been a decrease in the number of Commonwealth public servants based in Tasmania?

Mr Lloyd : No, I wasn't aware of that. The numbers I know of are that the majority of public servants are located outside the ACT—it's about 62 per cent—but I just don't have a number for the state break-up at my disposal. I might see if one of my officers can help.

Ms Bull : Senator, I can tell you that, as of December 2017, the number of APS staff in Tasmania was 3,854. That represents 2.6 per cent of APS staff. I don't have in front of me, though, the data for the preceding periods.

Senator MARTIN: Are you aware of, or are you able to shed any light on, why, despite the decentralisation program, no new Public Service agencies or roles have been allocated to Tasmania?

Mr Lloyd : No, I can't.

Senator MARTIN: Will you be able to provide that information?

Mr Lloyd : It's not really a matter that the Public Service Commission, as I say, has any deliberative or determinative role in. It's a matter for the government. In an administrative sense, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development is the responsible agency. We, if you like, get involved in just ensuring that the staffing arrangements and processes are applied appropriately, according to enterprise agreements and other policies about relocation.

Senator McALLISTER: Mr Lloyd, you're appearing now in your capacity as the Australian Public Service Commissioner. You are aware that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has issued a response to an FOI request where it refused to release a number of documents on the grounds that the disclosure of the documents could reasonably be expected to prejudice the conduct of an investigation of a breach or possible breach of the law in a particular instance. Are you aware of the investigation that the decision-maker refers to in this letter?

Mr Lloyd : I have chosen not to comment, in response to that question, whether I am aware or not aware of an inquiry or investigation.

Senator McALLISTER: Mr Lloyd, the Senate has resolved that officers shall answer questions, and merely not wishing to is not a reason to fail to provide an answer. You need to answer questions in this forum. If you believe that there is a public interest in not answering the question, you need to present that public interest and you need to clearly state the harm to the public interest that would occur should the question be answered.

Mr Lloyd : In my previous appearance, as Parliamentary Service Commissioner, there was, I thought, indication that the minister claims public interest on behalf of the official. The reason why I have chosen not to make a comment one way or the other is that I'm very conscious of the provisions of the Public Service Act which empower me to investigate code-of-conduct allegations against secretaries or agency heads. The Merit Protection Commissioner has a similar role with respect to me. The sections of the act impose quite detailed provisions about the protection of information involved in conducting any inquiry or investigation. Particularly, it requires me, in doing one of those investigations, not to disclose the identity of either the complainant or the target of the complaint. There are some grounds on which that can be done—when a report is completed and the decision-maker, being me or the Merit Protection Commissioner, considers it in the public interest to disclose the identity of the parties involved, but that is not mandated. Given those provisions, that's the reason why I've adopted this answer.

Senator WONG: Mr Lloyd, with respect, you don't just get to decide not to answer a question before Senate estimates.

Mr Lloyd : Well—

Senator WONG: You don't. There have been other occasions where investigations have been disclosed to Senate committees. The facts of the investigation into Mr Quaedvlieg were public. We didn't go to content, and various senators, including me, asked questions of the Attorney-General's Department and Prime Minister and Cabinet. Those questions were asked and answered by senior public servants. We observed, appropriately, the due process and didn't ask questions about content. You don't just get to turn up here and tell senators, 'I'm not going to talk about it.' The Senate has made it very clear. I know it's embarrassing for you, but you don't have the option of simply saying, 'I'm not going to talk about it.' You're a statutory officer. You're required to attend Senate estimates. It is a reasonable question as to whether or not there is an investigation or an enquiry afoot.

Mr Lloyd : I don't know what else I can say. I've come to that position. I've been very mindful of the—

Senator WONG: But it's not up to you.

Mr Lloyd : I've been very mindful of the—

Senator WONG: It's not up to you The Senate has made it clear. The public interest immunity claim that can be made has not properly been made. Should you follow the process for doing so, you then have to refer it to Senator Cash—although there is an argument that, as the head of the agency, that shouldn't happen. I haven't actually clarified that yet with the Clerk. I will just read you this, which is a continuing order from the Senate—a resolution which the senators affirmed, I think, in 2009 and subsequently a couple of years ago:

A statement that information … is confidential … in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraphs (1) or (4)—

which are the relevant claims. In other words, just because it's confidential under your act does not entitle you to turn up here and refuse to answer that question. We again ask: are you aware of an investigation into you or your office?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, I think Mr Lloyd has set out the reasons why he believes it would not be in the public interest to answer the question.

Senator WONG: He hasn't even used the words 'public interest'. He's required to do it. You are required to uphold the resolutions of the Senate, Chair, and he's not even—

CHAIR: I certainly understood his answer to be explaining why he thought it wasn't.

Senator WONG: Well, I'm asking the minister: is there a claim being made?

CHAIR: I was going to suggest you direct your question to the minister.

Senator Cash: Senator Wong, at this point in time I would need to take on notice whether or not there's a claim. I don't have the grounds in front of me.

Senator WONG: Have you talked to Mr Lloyd about this already?

Senator Cash: I have not, no.

Senator WONG: Can you come back after you've done so? We would like the claim made and determined, and if not we want to proceed with the questions on this. This has been ongoing for some time. Mr Lloyd himself said he was aware of it, because he loves watching my interviews and commenting on them to people! It is a long story—a long history.

CHAIR: It is not that interesting—I can assure you.

Senator WONG: Just a public servant who reckons it's fine to make partisan comments—the bloke who's supposed to uphold the act and values of the Australian Public Service, but that's by the by, I suppose! He's well aware of this. It has been in the media for some days that the Prime Minister's department has refused to provide documents associated with the freedom of information request—not mine—on the basis that there is an ongoing investigation. So we are simply asking Mr Lloyd if he is aware of this investigation, and he is refusing to answer. Now, I can't see the senate taking too kindly to the breadth of the refusal. It is not even a specific 'I'm not going to say X or Y.' He is just saying 'I'm not commenting at all.' He doesn't get to do that.

Senator Cash: Perhaps Mr Lloyd could take on notice whether or not he is able to answer the question.

Senator WONG: He hasn't taken it on notice. He's already answered it. He hasn't taken that route, Minister. So I think he is not particularly competently trying to make a claim.

Senator Cash: To my knowledge, no claim has yet been made based on—

Senator WONG: I don't know. You ask him what he's actually trying to do. He's just refusing to answer the question.

CHAIR: As we have discussed, Senator Wong, it is up to the minister to make a claim, and the minister certainly hasn't made one yet. She has taken the question on notice, which is the appropriate resolution.

Senator WONG: No, she hasn't.

Senator Cash: No, I said I would take it—

Senator WONG: Can we try and do this a little bit more appropriately. With respect, the minister hasn't taken it on notice. She said maybe Mr Lloyd would like to take it on notice, to which I responded: 'But he didn't. He simply said no.'

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Wong, the minister can correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard her say 'I'll need to take that on notice'—

Senator Cash: as to whether or not there are any grounds, because my understanding at this point in time is that, unless I have missed what has been said, no claim for public interest immunity has been made. Hence, at this point in time, I have no comment.

Senator WONG: Can we have a private meeting?

CHAIR: We can, if you like. I'm very happy to have one. The committee will suspend for a moment.

Proceedings suspended from 14 : 51 to 15 : 00

CHAIR: The committee will now resume. Senator McAllister, would you like to resume your questions from earlier about a potential public interest immunity claim?

Senator McALLISTER: Mr Lloyd, I asked if you were aware of the investigation referred to in the PM&C letter responding to the FOI request. You said you weren't willing to comment on it. I wonder if you have a different answer to the one you provided earlier.

Mr Lloyd : I will take on notice the question as to whether there are grounds for me to make a PII claim.

Senator McALLISTER: Can you give us an indication of when you will provide a response to that question?

Mr Lloyd : No, I can't initially. It requires me to get advice. As I understand the PII arrangements, the claim is to be made by the minister, unless I am otherwise advised. So I have to get that advice. I will do that expeditiously, when this proceeding finishes. I will do it as quickly as I can.

Senator McALLISTER: Mr Lloyd, there are the things that you are entitled to do, and there are the things that you might sensibly choose to do as one of the country's most senior public servants. I am asking you to give some sort of commitment to the committee about resolving this expeditiously. There is, I think, a serious question on foot to which this committee wants answers. Namely, is there a breach of the law under investigation in relation to your office? I don't think delaying questioning or discussion of this is in the public interest, and I am asking you to provide some sort of commitment to the committee about the timing for any public interest immunity claim that you might make.

Mr Lloyd : I will do it as quick as I can. I have never sought a public interest immunity claim—

Senator McALLISTER: Today?

Mr Lloyd : I will do it as expeditiously and quickly as I can.

Senator McALLISTER: I'm looking for something more concrete.

Mr Lloyd : I can't give you anything more concrete.

Senator WONG: With respect, Mr Lloyd, you are very experienced officer. You are a very highly paid officer and you are a statutory officer. You have been appearing before Senate estimates for many years. These are not new procedures. The resolution I read from was the wording of the resolution from 2009. My recollection is that there was one prior to that, which might have had different wording. This has been nearly a decade on foot, and you are saying you have never thought about it before but you are going to rock up and say to an estimates committee, 'I'm not commenting'?

Mr Lloyd : I have never sought a PII claim before. Going back about 30 years, I suppose, of appearing before Senate committees, I've always tried to answer honestly and appropriately. When I've been asked to provide material, I have provided it as expeditiously as possible. If I can achieve it today, I will. When this proceeding concludes I will seek to get the advice as expeditiously as possible.

Senator WONG: Who are you getting advice from?

Mr Lloyd : I'll take advice from my legal team first. We may have to consult the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. As you alluded to, the FOI request involved them. They have a legal team as well. I will have to take advice quickly. I will do it as expeditiously as possible. I can't give you a blow-by-blow description of what's entailed, but you can be assured I will do it as quickly as possible.

Senator WONG: I don't actually think that's good enough, but we'll come back to that. Minister, are you making the claim, or is the officer?

Senator Cash: My understanding at this stage, based on what I have just heard from Mr Lloyd, is that he is taking it on notice as to whether or not he is able to make a claim, and hence his discussion just then with Senator McAllister.

Senator WONG: Okay. The relevant order, or resolution, says:

If a minister concludes that a statement … should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency—

et cetera, et cetera—

the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

So can we just be clear who's making it? Have you decided, under that paragraph, that—

Senator Cash: I don't think we're at that point yet, now that—

Senator WONG: People should actually think about these things if they're going to turn up to estimates and say, 'We refuse to answer.'

Senator Cash: I think at this point in time—

Senator WONG: It's not unreasonable that you should be asked to articulate.

Senator Cash: Mr Lloyd has confirmed his response to the committee that he will now take on notice whether or not there are grounds to make a public interest immunity claim. My understanding, based on what has just occurred in terms of the conversation between Mr Lloyd and Senator McAllister, is that he will do that as expeditiously as possible.

Senator WONG: No.

Senator McALLISTER: We don't accept that, for a start.

Senator WONG: Maybe we should all get the PII claim order out. This is the order, which operates as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

…   …   …

(b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state … the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest … and specify the harm … that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

Mr Lloyd's failed to do that. You're saying he's taking it on notice—

Senator Cash: My understanding is that he took that on notice.

Senator WONG: Well, after he was shepherded there. You then have to make your conclusion, under paragraph (3), as to whether it would be in the public interest to disclose—right?

Senator Cash: I wouldn't—

Senator WONG: Yes—

Senator Cash: No. I would say—

Senator WONG: unless you decide, under paragraph (8), that it is the head of the agency, because they're independent. I'm now asking you: are you going to make a decision under paragraph (3), or are you saying it's his?

Senator Cash: I don't think we're at that yet on the basis that Mr Lloyd is yet to determine whether or not there are grounds. If he had determined whether or not there are grounds then, yes, it would be referred to me, but at this point in time Mr Lloyd has taken it on notice. So we're awaiting the outcome of the answer to that question, which I understand—again, if I have heard it correctly—

Senator WONG: Why are you so worried about the fact of an investigation being disclosed?

Senator Cash: Again, I'm here as a representative minister. This is a question that you've posed to Mr Lloyd, and Mr Lloyd has taken it on notice.

Senator WONG: Your Prime Minister's own department has disclosed the fact of an investigation. Why are they—

Senator Cash: I'm not aware of an investigation.

CHAIR: I don't think that's right.

Senator WONG: No—the fact of an investigation.

CHAIR: I think there's speculation there could be an investigation.

Senator McALLISTER: No.

Senator WONG: No, no; that's not correct.

Senator McALLISTER: We haven't even got to asking whether Mr Lloyd is the subject of the investigation. Right now the question is: are you aware of such an investigation? That's the question.

CHAIR: Which has been taken on notice.

Senator WONG: That's where the committee is being told 'no comment'. It's not even 'Are you being investigated?' but 'Are you aware of any investigation?'

Senator McALLISTER: Into anyone!

CHAIR: Yes, and that's been taken on notice.

Senator WONG: Everyone's very paranoid over there—well, at least one person, I suspect.

Senator McALLISTER: The logic of your procedural argument, Minister, is that there's a sort of eight-step process in making a public interest immunity claim. The logic of yours is that, if every one of the eight steps were taken on notice, we could cycle through eight estimates hearings before we actually got to a conclusion about a public interest immunity claim.

Senator WONG: I think the Senate would deal it before that.

Senator McALLISTER: Senator Wong makes the point that the Senate would probably deal with that on the floor of the chamber well before we got to that point.

Senator WONG: Because otherwise you'd give them two years!

Senator McALLISTER: It really goes to my earlier question. You may be entitled to delay this process, but I really ask whether it is the right thing to do, given your obligations to the Australian public and to the parliament. I ask again: is it possible to provide some commitment, some reassurance, to the committee that we will be able to make progress on this line of questioning in the next 12 hours? Because the committee is here to deal with PM&C estimates today and tomorrow, and that is the relevant window when we should be dealing with these issues.

Mr Lloyd : Are you asking me?

Senator McALLISTER: I am asking you.

Mr Lloyd : We'll do it as expeditiously as possible. If I can do it in that time, you can be assured I will do it. I don't know what's involved in the process. I will do it as expeditiously as possible, and I hope I can meet the committee's timeline, and I'll do all I can to do that.

Senator McALLISTER: All right.

Senator WONG: Okay, so what are you refusing to answer—if you know about any investigation? Is that right?

Mr Lloyd : I beg your pardon?

Senator WONG: I'm just trying to clarify the terms of what you're refusing to answer today.

Mr Lloyd : I have taken on notice the questions where I can claim public interest immunity on the questions you have asked.

Senator WONG: I am asking: which questions are you seeking to take on notice? I would like us to be very specific about what questions you are asking to take on notice.

Mr Lloyd : Well, there has been a lot of going back and forth on this so, as I understand, the question is, is there an investigation underway, as referred to in media articles recently?

Senator McALLISTER: Actually, it's as referred to in the letter sent on 27 April by Prime Minister & Cabinet, by Peter Rush, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Government Branch.

Mr Lloyd : Thanks for clarifying; there has been a lot of toing and froing. With due respect, I have summarised what I think is the question, and I think we are on the same page; yes.

Senator WONG: Well then, I think the way we're going to do this is we're going to ask a range of questions, and you can indicate what your response is, Mr Lloyd.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you under investigation for breaking the law, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : I will take that on notice, on the same basis.

Senator WONG: Wow.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there anyone else that this investigation could possibly relate to?

Mr Lloyd : I will take that on notice. It follows from the previous answers.

Senator McALLISTER: It does, but it seems important to get the questions of interest on the record. Which of your actions, if any, are the subject of investigation?

Mr Lloyd : I will take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: What laws, if any, are you accused of breaching?

Mr Lloyd : I will take that on notice too.

Senator McALLISTER: Who is undertaking the investigation?

Mr Lloyd : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Can I ask this question: have you been interviewed at any time since the last estimates hearing in relation to an investigation under the Public Service Act?

Mr Lloyd : Have I been interviewed?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr Lloyd : By whom?

Senator WONG: Well, I am asking you.

Mr Lloyd : By whom? I haven't—

Senator WONG: Sorry, what's the answer? You haven't?

Mr Lloyd : I haven't been interviewed on any investigation at all.

Senator WONG: So now you are answering questions about this?

Mr Lloyd : Well, interviewed, I don't know what the—

Senator WONG: An interview, sorry; someone asking you questions about this—

Senator CASH: Not a media interview.

Senator WONG: No, no; not a media interview. Oh, that really says something about how much you like to think of yourself as a public figure, Mr Lloyd!

Mr Lloyd : I think that's unfair, Senator. I reject that smear against my approach.

CHAIR: Perhaps just be specific, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : I reject your inference about how I conduct myself.

Senator WONG: I've made clear I think you behave in a partisan manner and in a way that is inappropriate for your office, Mr Lloyd. I have been completely up-front about that. I'm not one of those who goes around behind the scenes; I have been utterly clear about that, in these hearings and in the media, because I think you are unfit to hold this office—and I have made that clear—because you are partisan, end of story.

Mr Lloyd : And I reject that.

Senator WONG: I don't think anybody watching these hearings over the last year would be in any doubt about my view about that, but that's not the question I'm asking. Have you been interviewed—

Mr Lloyd : I'll take that on notice.

Senator WONG: I haven't finished the question. Since the last estimates hearing, have you been interviewed by any person—not media—conducting an investigation, in relation to that investigation?

Mr Lloyd : I'll take that on—

Senator WONG: I'm not asking who the investigation pertains to. I'm asking whether you have been interviewed.

Mr Lloyd : I'll take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Even the minister answered that question. The minister answered that question in a fairly—

CHAIR: Senator Wong, as you know, Mr Lloyd is entitled to take it on notice.

Senator WONG: I'm just making the point that even Senator Cash answered the question about whether the AFP had interviewed her or her staff, and you're refusing to answer, Mr Lloyd.

Mr Lloyd : I'll take it on notice.

Senator WONG: You're taking it on notice. Can you answer anything?

Mr Lloyd : I'll take it on notice.

Senator WONG: You're going to take that on notice too?

Mr Lloyd : Senator, that's—

Senator WONG: Well, what can you answer?

Mr Lloyd : I don't know what the question is. I don't know what you're saying in the question. I have, as I have said, over 30 years or more, answered questions here honestly and appropriately—

Senator WONG: Well, that's questionable. That's disputed.

Mr Lloyd : and I take my responsibilities seriously.

Senator WONG: That's disputed.

Mr Lloyd : Well, I have a completely different attitude—

Senator WONG: Frankly, self-praise is no praise. My mother always taught me that.

Senator McALLISTER: What are the requirements for public servants who are under investigation in relation to breaches of the law in terms of their continuing ability to perform their duties? Would, ordinarily, a person under investigation stand down, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator McALLISTER: You don't know?

Senator WONG: What do you mean you don't know?

Mr Lloyd : I said, 'No.'

Senator McALLISTER: Under what circumstances would a person under investigation be asked to stand down?

Mr Lloyd : Dependent on the circumstances of the case—

Senator WONG: Mr Quaedvlieg was stood down. That's the most recent example—for a long time, in fact.

Mr Lloyd : I beg your pardon. I was trying to answer Senator McAllister.

Senator WONG: I'm just making the point that, when you said no, it wasn't correct. The most recent example publicly, and through Senate estimates—and I make no observation about the merit or otherwise of the findings—was Mr Quaedvlieg, who was stood down for a very long period of time. So I'm putting to you—following up Senator McAllister's question—that your answer 'no' is not correct, demonstrably.

Mr Lloyd : I disagree. Her question, as I recall, said 'ordinarily', or there was something of that nature in the question, and my view is no. I am empowered to investigate complaints against agency heads, and ordinarily they are not required to stand down. The obligation, the decision, to stand down would depend on the nature of the allegations.

Senator McALLISTER: So what is the threshold for people standing down?

Mr Lloyd : It is determined on a case-by-case basis but has regard to the nature of the allegations and the role of the person.

Senator McALLISTER: You're obviously actively involved in this. A core function of the Australian Public Service Commissioner is in fact to uphold high standards of integrity and conduct in the APS.

Mr Lloyd : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: What is the threshold at which somebody would be asked to stand down? You must be involved in making these assessments from time to time.

Mr Lloyd : Yes, and it's judged, as I say, on the circumstances of the case and the seriousness of it. Thankfully these sorts of cases are the exception. The Australian Public Service generally has high standards of conduct and behaviour, and you make a judgement—a judgement is made—on the nature of the allegations and the role of the official who the allegations are made against. There are no determinative precise thresholds. It's a matter of judgement in every case.

Senator McALLISTER: There must be some principles, though, and precedent that you rely on in making those assessments.

Mr Lloyd : I have just outlined the thoughts, the considerations which are germane to reaching this sort of decision. I don't think I have a great deal to add to it. We refer to things like the code of conduct that encapsulates commonsense, appropriate requirements for people to conduct themselves as public servants, our APS values and APS principles. Those things go into the background and inform a decision, whoever the decision-maker might be. I don't have much more to add than that.

Senator McALLISTER: But a breach of the law is something different. It goes beyond failing to comply with APS values, doesn't it? They are qualitatively different ideas?

Mr Lloyd : A breach of the law?

Senator McALLISTER: A breach of the law.

Mr Lloyd : There's no particular determinative standard. Allegations of a breach of the law again are made in varying circumstances. Public servants with few exceptions go about conscientiously observing and upholding the law. It's a requirement of their office.

Senator McALLISTER: What's the basis on which we ask people to stand down? Sometimes people are judged or assessed to have not committed any breach of any code or law, and they return to their roles; that's correct, isn't it?

Mr Lloyd : That can happen. As I say, there are no precise determinative rules. It's a judgement. You know that.

Senator McALLISTER: What's the public interest in having people stand down while they're under investigation? Why do we do that?

Mr Lloyd : Generally, I think it would be that the allegations—or the charges, often, if it gets to that stage—are serious and are seen to be serious and at odds with the role of the officer encharged or the APS values could be contrary to the legislation that they administer. There are all sorts of reasons, and it's a judgement call in every case.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, are you aware of the investigation that's referred to in Mr Rush's letter of 27 April?

Senator Cash: Other than what I've heard here today and what I saw in the media article, no, I'm not.

Senator McALLISTER: When Mr Rush is making his response, the request actually relates to a series of incidents that occurred during the period when you were the relevant minister. You didn't initiate any investigation into these issues when you were the minister?

Senator Cash: Senator McAllister, I'm not the beneficiary of the information that you have in front of you, but, in any event, the answer to the question is no. I want to clarify: I'm not the beneficiary of that, but the answer 'no' overrides the possession of the information.

Senator WONG: It is available on the website.

Senator McALLISTER: I have read out the document reference number previously: it's FOI2018/015. Do you want a copy?

Senator Cash: As I said, my answer to the question is no, that—

Senator WONG: Do you have a copy? I'm sorry.

Senator Cash: No, I don't.

Senator WONG: No. I actually was going to ask Mr Lloyd. Does anyone have a copy?

Mr Lloyd : No, I don't.

Senator WONG: Were you aware of this decision before it was made public?

Mr Lloyd : Aware of the decision? We were consulted, I think; I can take advice from my officers.

Senator WONG: Were you consulted in relation to Mr Rush's decision?

Ms Connell : I might ask Ms Crosthwaite who runs our FOI, but I certainly wasn't aware. I did see the decision, but the degree to which we were consulted, I'm unaware.

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Connell, are you saying that you were not consulted?

Ms Connell : I'm unaware whether we were consulted. I've asked Ms Crosthwaite to confirm that.

Ms Crosthwaite : We were not consulted.

Senator WONG: So, if I ask you again if you were aware of the investigation that's alluded to in the decision, what will your answer be?

Ms Connell : Who are you asking?

Senator WONG: Ms Connell.

Ms Connell : What was your question, Senator?

Senator WONG: Prior to today, were any of you aware of the investigations as referenced in the decision?

Ms Connell : No, I'm not aware of any investigation underway.

Ms Crosthwaite : No, I'm not aware.

Senator WONG: You saw the FOI decision?

Ms Crosthwaite : Yes.

Senator WONG: So you did become aware of the fact of this investigation as a consequence of that decision?

Ms Crosthwaite : I'm not aware of any investigation.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: Just to clarify, on page 3 of the determination, Mr Rush writes, 'In making this decision, I've had regard to the following material,' and he lists a series of bullet points. The final bullet point reads, 'Comments received from a third party.' Were you that third party, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : Comments received from a third party? I wasn't aware of or consulted on the decision of PM&C.

Senator McALLISTER: Were you consulted on the application prior to the decision?

Mr Lloyd : Application?

Senator McALLISTER: There was a freedom-of-information application and consultation was undertaken with a range of people. Is it your evidence you were not consulted in relation to the application?

Mr Lloyd : Yes. To the best of my recollection, I was not consulted.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, during the period when you were directly responsible for the APSC, these issues were discussed in this committee. Your evidence earlier was that you took no action to follow up any matters arising from the testimony here or the FOIs that were discussed here. In particular, I'm thinking about the discussion about whether it was appropriate for APSC resources to be utilised in preparing tailored information for the IPA. Did you ever seek any further information from Mr Lloyd or the agency about that issue?

Senator Cash: No, I did not.

Senator McALLISTER: Why not?

Senator Cash: On the basis it was a discussion at estimates where Mr Lloyd—and I would have to refresh myself on the details; I don't have the benefit of having the Hansard in front of me—denied the allegations that were put to him. My recollection is it was that.

Senator WONG: Which allegations?

Senator McALLISTER: I think it was accepted that the APSC provided a package of tailored information to the IPA.

Senator Cash: I would need to refresh myself on exactly what the discussions were at estimates. I just don't have that information in front of me.

Senator McALLISTER: But, either way, you took no action to investigate it?

Senator Cash: No, I did not.

Senator McALLISTER: This FOI request really relates to that same set of circumstances. In responding to it, there's discussion about an investigation. That investigation hasn't been raised with you prior to today?

Senator Cash: I only just got the FOI request, but the answer is that I don't believe so, no. Let me just read the FOI request before—

Senator WONG: The relevant paragraph is on page 3, about two-thirds of the way down. It says that, on documents 2 and 3:

I am satisfied that disclosure of the documents could reasonably be expected to prejudice the conduct of an investigation of a breach, or possible breach, of the law in a particular instance.

Senator Cash: Not that I'm aware of, no, and I do note that this email is dated 27 January. That was after Ms O'Dwyer was appointed as minister, so it may have gone to her.

Senator McALLISTER: The freedom of information request was made on that date?

Senator Cash: Correct—the email dated 27 January.

Senator McALLISTER: The documents in question, though, date from the period when you were the minister, I think, because they are in November and December last year.

Senator Cash: No, this request has not been raised with me.

Senator WONG: Sorry, who's the minister?

Senator Cash: It's the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister; it's Kelly O'Dwyer.

Senator WONG: So it's not Mr Laundy now?

Senator Cash: No, it's the Australian Public Service.

Senator WONG: Yes, I know, but you had it—variously, at times, it has been in the employment or the—

Senator Cash: Correct, but it's separate to, and Ms O'Dwyer is now the minister.

Senator WONG: She's the relevant minister for the purpose of the APSC.

Senator Cash: Correct.

Senator WONG: Are you repping her?

Senator Cash: Correct.

Senator WONG: When was it you, Minister? When you were employment minister.

Senator Cash: Up until December last year, correct, but as a separate portfolio.

Senator WONG: I know that. I think we had it with SMOS for a period when we were in government.

Senator McALLISTER: In making their FOI determination, the department's considered a range of grounds that might be utilised to prevent or exempt documents from release. They also have cited the possibility that disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice the impartial adjudication of a particular case. Do we know what the adjudication process is that is being referred to in the FOI? Do you know, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : No, you'll have to ask PM&C.

Senator McALLISTER: Well, no, I'm asking you: do you know?

Mr Lloyd : No, I don't know.

Senator McALLISTER: You don't know.

Senator WONG: While Senator McAllister is thinking about her next question—I'm not sure if this has been asked and answered—for the sake of clarity, I'd like to know whether or not Ms O'Dwyer was consulted in relation to this FOI decision.

Senator Cash: I'd need to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: You're going to take all of these on notice—let me just go through them. Was she or her office consulted? Was she or her office aware of the investigation which is referenced and, if so, when did she or her office become aware? Mr Lloyd, have you had any discussions with Ms O'Dwyer as the minister about the prospect, or the possibility—including to rule it out—of standing aside?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator WONG: And has there been any discussion with the APSC in relation to this investigation by her or her office?

Senator McALLISTER: Just coming back to this other grounds for exemption, which is that release of the documents could reasonably be expected to prejudice the impartial adjudication of a particular case, Minister, do you know about this?

Senator Cash: No, I do not.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you know which forum the case—

Senator Cash: No, I do not.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you taking that on notice, Minister?

Senator Cash: No, I do not.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you taking it on notice, or could you just tell us?

Senator Cash: I personally do not, no, but if you need me to take it on notice on behalf of Ms O'Dwyer, I can do that.

Senator McALLISTER: That would be appreciated. I would like to know what case the decision-maker is talking about, and what forum that case is being heard in. And I'd like to know whether the APSC or personnel within the APSC are a party to the case in any way. Mr Lloyd, have you spoken to the IPA about the investigation that is referred to in these documents?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator WONG: Have you spoken to anyone about that?

Mr Lloyd : No. I'm not commenting, as I said at the start.

Senator WONG: Well, no is an answer. So is it no comment or no?

Mr Lloyd : No comment.

Senator WONG: Third time.

CHAIR: If it may assist, I have been contacted by the Senate President, who said that he can come back to the committee to update us on the questions put to him about Mr Lloyd's capacity as the Parliamentary Service Commissioner. I might ask him to do that now, before the break at 3.45 pm. You can keep asking questions in the meantime, and he might join us just before the break at 3.45 pm, or, if you prefer, we can ask him to come at four o'clock, when we return from the break.

Senator McALLISTER: Chair, if the President is coming back to us, that would be useful. I just have some other questions. Mr Lloyd, when was the last time you had any contact with the Liberal Party's candidate for Mayo?

Mr Lloyd : The Liberal Party's candidate for Mayo, who is, I think, Ms Downer?

Senator McALLISTER: It is Ms Downer.

Mr Lloyd : I have never had contact with Ms Downer.

Senator McALLISTER: We just thought your relationship with the IPA might mean that you did know her. But you've had no contact; you've never met her?

Mr Lloyd : No. I don't think I've ever met her.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you use WhatsApp, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : I have WhatsApp. I very rarely use it. I have it on my personal phone. I don't have it on the work phone.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you a member of any WhatsApp groups or message threads with IPA board members or employees?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I just come back to the investigation referred to in the PM&C letter. Has the APSC engaged the Australian Government Solicitor or any other legal counsel in relation to this investigation?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator McALLISTER: No?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay.

Mr Lloyd : I have not engaged the Government Solicitor in any investigation.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry?

Mr Lloyd : I've not engaged the AGS on any investigation, to my recollection.

Senator WONG: When you said 'I' there, are you speaking—

Mr Lloyd : as Public Service Commissioner.

Senator McALLISTER: The last time we were here we talked about your ability or inability to search your email or inbox for material associated with any contact with the IPA. We had a bit of a discussion about what was or was not technically possible with the Outlook system. You ended up taking some questions on notice, and in answer to the question on notice 2 you said that one email was identified containing the word 'IPA' during the period 26 August 2016 to 25 February 2018. That was sent on 24 October 2017. The subject was 'PR for IPA'. What was that email about?

Mr Lloyd : I can answer that. It was the day after the October Senate estimates. I sent a brief one-sentence email.

Senator McALLISTER: It is quite incredible, isn't it?

Senator WONG: Wow! You really have front. Imagine the Public Service Commissioner sending it to a union—'PR for union'—and Senator Stoker asking these questions!

Senator McALLISTER: On the day after we had a discussion about whether it was appropriate for one of our most senior public servants to engage in a private dialogue with an entirely partisan group, you sent another email to that group. Why?

Mr Lloyd : Over the long period that I sit here, I often get subject to personal attacks. You take that on the chin, but you often become annoyed by it. You don't go away thinking, 'The senators have taken some personal attacks against me' and go away and not talk to anyone about it. I just felt annoyed by what had transpired, so, as I do with friends and colleagues, you explain how you're feeling. You're often asked, 'What did you think about it?'

Senator WONG: So, after you're asked questions at Senate estimates about what we regard as partisan contact with the IPA, you then send an email to—what, someone at the IPA?

Mr Lloyd : Yes.

Senator WONG: Complaining about it.

Mr Lloyd : I made observations.

Senator WONG: Well, tell us what the observations were.

Mr Lloyd : More publicity for the IPA, including page one in The Canberra Times, thanks to ALP questioning in estimates yesterday.

Senator WONG: Oh, gee, that's really non-partisan, isn't it!

Mr Lloyd : Well, it reflects my personal annoyance—

Senator WONG: Well, go and talk to a mate.

Mr Lloyd : at personal attacks.

CHAIR: It sounds like a statement of fact.

Mr Lloyd : It is a statement of fact.

CHAIR: There was a media article. It was on page one. It was about the IPA. I think that's a factual email.

Senator WONG: I just think you'd be better off not defending this bloke too much, Senator Paterson.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Wong. I'm conscious that we have the Senate President here, who's returned to update the committee.

Senator WONG: We'll come back on it. I'd like a copy of the email, and I also would like to know: the search appears—well, we'll come back on this. The search appears to have been done only for what was IPA in the subject line, which wasn't what was requested. So, I'd like to know who conducted the search. Maybe you can make sure that person comes to the table.

CHAIR: We welcome back the President of the Senate, Scott Ryan. Mr President, you have an update.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you. I can confirm that a search of office correspondence reveals nothing between my office and the Parliamentary Service Merit Service Commissioner since I took office on 13 November last year. We are continuing this to ensure that it is exhaustive, and I will advise the committee if the advice changes. I'm afraid I cannot speak to any contact that may have occurred with my predecessor.

With respect to the issue of privacy of information, it is my view that the provisions of the Public Service Act that were referred to earlier do not prevent the disclosure of this information to the Senate. This is discussed in some detail in chapter 2 of Odgers'Australian Senate Practice under the section 'Parliamentary privilege and statutory secrecy provisions'. I am not inclined to make a public interest immunity claim. I am not aware of sufficient facts to sustain such a claim. However, it is not simply for the minister, to whom I am analogous in this circumstance, to make such a claim. In this instance I refer to chapter 19 of Odgers' and the section entitled 'Statutory authorities and public interest immunity'. In my view it is within the purview of the commissioner—a statutory officer not subject to general direction—to make such a claim. Paragraph 8 of the Senate order of 13 May 2009 contemplates this approach. Such a claim eventually, of course, is a matter for the Senate itself.

Finally, with respect to the role of the Parliamentary Service Merit Protection Commissioner, this is a separate role to the APS Merit Protection Commissioner. To the best of my understanding and advice I have taken this afternoon, appreciating the desire of senators for my speedy response, I would expect any determination by the Parliamentary Service Merit Protection Commissioner that was relevant to or applied to the Parliamentary Service to be notified to the presiding officers, but I would not expect to be automatically informed of activity underway with respect to the APS code.

Senator WONG: Thank you for that, Mr President, and can I place on record our appreciation for your dealing with that issue so expeditiously and appropriately.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator WONG: Are we able to get a copy of that?

The PRESIDENT: I added a couple of thoughts.

Senator WONG: Yes, when your office can provide it. But you are declining to make a PII claim on Mr Lloyd's behalf?

The PRESIDENT: Yes. My view is that I'm not aware of sufficient facts to sustain a PII claim, looking at the order of 13 May 2009. But, as I said, I think it is well within the contemplation of the order and consistent with practice as outlined in chapter 19, I think it is, of Odgers' that a statutory officer can make such a claim.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. I have nothing further of the President.

CHAIR: Thank you. Thank you, Mr President. Are there further questions for the minister or Mr Lloyd under APSC?

Senator WONG: Yes.

CHAIR: In that case, we are due to break now, so we'll come back at four o'clock with further questions to APSC.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 44 to 16 : 01

CHAIR: The committee will now resume its examination of the Australian Public Service Commission. Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: Mr Lloyd, I'm asking for a copy of that email—the one that's referred to in question on notice No. 2 from the additional estimates. Thank you. It says: 'John, More publicity for the IPA, including page 1 of The Canberra Times, thanks to ALP questioning in estimates yesterday. Regards, John Lloyd PSM, Commissioner, Australian Public Service Commission.' Is this an email that relates to APSC work?

Mr Lloyd : It's a factual email about what transpired. I explained to you the background as to why I sent it.

Senator WONG: To Mr Roskam?

Senator McALLISTER: John Roskam is the addressee, is he?

Mr Lloyd : Yes.

Senator WONG: You really like emailing the IPA about the Labor Party, don't you, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : Not necessarily, no.

Senator WONG: I just find it extraordinary. It's pretty gobsmacking, actually, after all of the issues around you complaining about Labor senators, that, after more questions are asked, you then email what is—I mean, no-one reasonable would look at this and think this wasn't partisan.

Mr Lloyd : I disagree. As I explained to you, it reflected my annoyance after the completion of that October Senate estimates hearing, and it probably reflected sentiments I talked about to other people—in that email to Mr Roskam. It's a factual thing. It was—

Senator WONG: Hang on. Reflecting your annoyance doesn't make it less partisan. In fact, it probably makes it more so.

Mr Lloyd : I disagree.

Senator WONG: Don't you have someone else to talk to? If you're going to—

Mr Lloyd : As I said, I conveyed similar sentiments to other people.

Senator WONG: You've conveyed them to other people too?

Mr Lloyd : My friends and colleagues—of course. You don't just come to the Senate and go away and you don't talk about things.

Senator WONG: Sure—any members of the government?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator WONG: Any members of the Liberal Party?

Mr Lloyd : No. Well, I don't know who members of the Liberal Party are, amongst friends, but I—

Senator WONG: I'm sure you have a pretty good idea, mate.

Mr Lloyd : I'm saying I don't know what all my friends' political affiliations are.

Senator WONG: Okay. And you think, as the Public Service Commissioner and the statutory officer who's supposed to uphold the values of the APS—being non-partisan—this is a perfectly legitimate thing to do?

Mr Lloyd : Yes.

Senator WONG: Wow. You've got a funny idea of partisanship. Who did the search?

Mr Lloyd : I'm not sure. It was the only email found. I don't know who did it exactly.

Senator WONG: Mr Lloyd, there's a lot you don't know. You seem to be good at complaining to the IPA about the Labor Party but not very good at listening sometimes in here. I told you before the hearing that I would ask who did the search, and now you're saying you don't know. You've had 20 minutes to work that out.

Mr Lloyd : There was a global search of my—

Senator WONG: Who performed it?

Mr Lloyd : I will ask one of my senior officers.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Lloyd : Clare Kelly. Sorry, my executive officer. I shouldn't have mentioned her name.

Senator WONG: Is the executive officer here?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator WONG: I want to know what search she performed. Did she search for IPA only in the subject matter or in the email body as well?

Ms Connell : I took the opportunity in the break to check that.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I appreciate that. It is diligent.

Ms Connell : She did a global search on both subject, topic, and the substance of the emails.

Senator WONG: And this is all that came up for the period of time?

Ms Connell : Correct.

Senator WONG: Can I just remind you, Mr Lloyd, of your previous answer in relation to this question. I asked this question previously. I asked you about emails previously. On the last occasion, you said to me that you refused to answer, on the basis that it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources. Now you come to the committee and say there's only one email. On what basis did you previously assert to this committee that finding this email was an unreasonable diversion of resources?

Mr Lloyd : I don't have the benefit of what you're reading from.

Senator WONG: Can someone give it to him? It was his own answer. We had a long discussion last time, Mr Lloyd, where I suggested you do an Outlook search.

Mr Lloyd : My recollection, from previous exchanges, was that there was, as I understand it, a conversation at the last estimates about some searches we did. We felt they were extensive. We had problems with our servers, our system, for some way, where it was difficult to interrogate. That, I think, was the gist of the nature of those answers. But, if you can point me to them, I'll do the most I can to assist you.

Senator WONG: Can someone provide Mr Lloyd with his own answer, please? Could the committee please provide Mr Lloyd with his own answer?

Mr Lloyd : I took it on notice, I think.

Senator WONG: Mr Lloyd, if you don't have your previous answer here, I'm being fair to you.

Mr Lloyd : I'm answering—

Senator WONG: I'm asking that you be provided with the answer here.

Mr Lloyd : I don't know whether I'm looking at the same thing as you. I'm looking at question reference No. 2. Is that right?

Senator WONG: Yes, and you see that I'm referring to an earlier question on the same topic.

Mr Lloyd : Yes.

Senator WONG: I said:

You can't have it both ways, Mr Lloyd. You can't say on the one hand it is an unreasonable diversion of resources, but then on the other hand tell this committee, 'Actually, it is pretty irregular so there's not much.' They're inconsistent positions.

You previously told a Senate estimates committee you couldn't answer precisely this question, about how many emails to the IPA, because it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources, and now you've actually done what I suggested, which is do an Outlook search—and there is one email.

Mr Lloyd : There was one email, and I think I said I thought it would be irregular. But, as I recall, there was a lot of discussion at the last estimates about the fact that we did have some problems with our system of retrieving all the material that we wanted to. That was the gist, I think—the background to this conversation. But eventually it landed on the one email.

Senator WONG: I'll try to explain this. You've previously said, 'I can't answer that because to find it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources.' I say, 'Why don't you do an Outlook search?' which you do. You come back and there's one email. I'm saying to you: how could you possibly have told this committee you couldn't find emails because it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources when there was one email and one search and it was found? It looks to us like a continued refusal to cooperate with an estimates committee, and a very contemptuous approach, if I may say. It is not behaviour I would expect from anybody who appears here, certainly not from the APSC. You're a statutory officer, after all.

Mr Lloyd : I'm not sure what the question is there but I challenge the fact that it's a contemptuous approach. I took the question on notice at the end anyhow, and we've provided the answer.

Senator WONG: After you'd refused to answer previously.

Mr Lloyd : As I keep saying, at that proceeding there was a lot of discussion about some of the issues we were having with our system, and that was why I was cautious about answering your question, because I felt that that—

Senator WONG: No, you weren't cautious; you refused to—

Mr Lloyd : I was—

Senator WONG: No, Mr Lloyd, don't misstate your position.

CHAIR: Order! Senator Wong, Mr Lloyd is—

Senator WONG: He is not telling the truth. Mr Lloyd, you were not cautious; you refused to answer. Let's be clear: you were not cautious. In the previous answer to the question on notice you refused to answer on the basis it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources, so don't come in here now and try to gild the lily. That is what occurred. You say, 'No, we won't answer it because it's an unreasonable diversion of resources.' Then we have a long conversation where I say, 'Can't you use an Outlook search function?' which you then do and find one email. I'm saying to you: to this committee—certainly to the members this end—saying, 'It's an unreasonable diversion of resources; I'm not going to do it,' and then finally doing it and getting one email, after you do one search, looks to us like yours was a pretty contemptuous answer earlier in saying, 'I'm not doing it.' No?

Mr Lloyd : Is there a question there?

Senator WONG: Why did you refuse to answer the first time round?

Mr Lloyd : I'll go through it again. At that proceeding there was a lot of discussion about the operation of our system and the fact that we were having some difficulties on retrieval arrangements, as I understand it. We had the exchange about your request. I took it on notice. I was appropriately cautious about that matter because of the issues we were having with our system. I was appropriately cautious.

Senator WONG: No, that's not the answer you gave.

Mr Lloyd : That's how I recall it.

Senator WONG: You are mixing up the history. The earlier question that you refused to answer has been answered by way of an answer to a question on notice where you say, 'We're not going to answer this; it would be an unreasonable diversion of resources.' You then come to a hearing to justify that and make a whole range of assertions about the system. I say, 'Well, why don't you just do an Outlook search?' You then do it and you give us one email—and presumably it was a pretty quick search—and I'm saying to you: on what basis could you ever sustain refusing to answer that question before a Senate estimates committee on the basis that it was an unreasonable diversion of resources? The facts simply do not back your refusal in.

Mr Lloyd : I have a different view on those issues and I can go over it again, but that is my recollection. I took the matter on notice and I've answered it.

Senator WONG: Only after we've had to come back to about three or four estimates hearings to get the answer.

Mr Lloyd : No. That was the last estimates.

Senator WONG: Can someone please give him the earlier question on notice answer at some point. He keeps misanswering the question. I'll cede to Senator McAllister. I don't think we're getting very far.

Senator McALLISTER: I want to ask a final question about that email. You're obviously quite familiar with Mr Roskam. I assume you're former colleagues of a kind; is that correct?

Mr Lloyd : I did work at the IPA as a director at one stage.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you in contact with Mr Roskam very often?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator McALLISTER: Your organisation holds a lot of information about the Public Service, and one of your functions is to collate that information. You produce the State of the service report. It's information that's of interest to third parties—researchers and industry. What's the general approach to requests for access to information at the APSC?

Mr Lloyd : We assist where we can. The idea is that we hold information and we have various bodies and all sorts of areas—think tanks like the IPA, newspapers at times, universities and academics——interested in our information making requests at times. Where it's possible and is not an unreasonable call on resources, we try to provide the information that we can.

Senator McALLISTER: Can you step me through how that happens internally from a decision point of view. Someone writes, rings or emails and says, 'I'd like access to this kind of information.' What happens then?

Mr Lloyd : It depends on the level and nature of the request. If it comes to me, I will refer it to the appropriate group manager who has responsibility for the area about which information is sought. They would provide it, if it's straightforward. These days, of course, with data you have to be sure you are not disclosing identities of public servants or sensitive issues. We always run an eye over it from that point of view. It's just a process.

Senator McALLISTER: Would the request ordinarily come to you, Mr Lloyd?

Mr Lloyd : Not always. It can go to any of my executive officers. Requests for information don't always come to me.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there a general email inbox or something like that?

Mr Lloyd : I'm not sure. There possibly is.

Senator McALLISTER: Do you track it? Is it part of your correspondence tracking system, or do you log it in some other way?

Mr Lloyd : It is the responsibility of the group manager. They have a good sense as to what is more sensitive and might require consultation with Ms Connell or me. Some might be quite straightforward and they will respond to the request as they see fit.

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Connell, do you maintain a register of those requests for assistance that you receive?

Ms Connell : No, I don't personally. I don't think we have central tracking of each request.

Senator WONG: Do you have a log of contacts?

Ms Connell : Not a central log.

Senator WONG: How do you log communications?

Ms Connell : We have a correspondence tool. Ms Page, as head of corporate, could help me here. There is a central system that collects incoming and outgoing correspondence and ministerials.

Senator WONG: What is that called?

Ms Page : It is part of a workflow system. It's managed at group levels. Then there's also capacity for the system to be used at a whole-of-organisation level. We also fortnightly at our executive meetings put together a register of contacts, meetings, engagements and those sorts of things as well.

Senator WONG: You have just given evidence essentially about two logging processes. One is—sorry, I asked what it was called, but I didn't get a—

Senator McALLISTER: Is it a TRIM system?

Ms Page : We call it a workflow system.

Senator WONG: That is electronic, presumably?

Ms Page : That's right.

Senator WONG: What does that log?

Ms Page : That just logs formal correspondence that comes into the agency. It's not coordinated centrally; it's managed at group level. Different groups choose how best to do it to suit the executive that they are looking after. But there is certainly capacity for us to group that information at a whole-of-organisation level.

Senator WONG: So you can interrogate that? You can interrogate the system?

Ms Page : We could, yes.

Senator WONG: When you say 'formal correspondence' I assume that is email as well as written?

Ms Page : It is correspondence to which we would respond.

Senator WONG: You said 'formal correspondence that's part of the workflow system'. How do you want me to reference it?

Ms Page : Workflow, email and written material would fall into those—

Senator WONG: No, I'm trying to ask something different. You have a system that manages what you describe as formal correspondence; correct?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: Which is managed at a group level?

Ms Page : That's right.

Senator WONG: Which you said we can interrogate to find various pieces of information about who's asking us for what and how many requests and so forth. Correct?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: My first question was: how do you describe that system? I want to ask questions about it, so I thought we should know what you call it. What do you call it?

Ms Page : We call it a workflow system. At a group level they may well have their own name.

Senator WONG: Okay. Let's, for the purposes of this discussion, call it the workflow system. I'll come back to that. Then, on top of that, you said, 'We have a fortnightly meeting where we have a register of contacts.' Correct?

Ms Connell : Could I answer that, because I instigated that second system. That's a more informal system, when the executive get together. It's what meetings are coming up, who's presenting them, what forums, who's engaging with what, just so we know.

Senator WONG: Who records that?

Ms Connell : It's done fortnightly. It would be done through Clare's area—

Ms Page : coordinated through the secretariat of our executive committee meetings, but, again, with input from each of the groups.

Senator WONG: Right. But the record of that—and I take Ms Connell's point; that's a less formal process—would be in the minutes of the executive committee?

Ms Page : It forms part of the papers for the executive committee.

Senator WONG: Right. And is it entitled 'Register of contact'?

Ms Connell : It's called 'Stakeholder engagement'.

Senator WONG: Thank you. And is 'Stakeholder engagement' also able to be interrogated? Is that a data—

Ms Connell : It's a series of Word documents—

Senator WONG: so you can do a search.

Ms Connell : so you could look at the Word documents, yes.

Senator WONG: Can I just go back to workflow. When you said, Ms Page or Ms Connell, 'formal correspondence', I just want to be clear what we're talking about.

Ms Page : Senator, it would probably be better for me to take that on notice. I'm speaking from the perspective of how my group uses it and a couple of others that I know use it, but I would prefer to verify with my colleagues exactly how they use those systems themselves and provide that information to you on notice.

Senator WONG: Okay. So, you'll come back to me about what you meant when you said 'formal correspondence'. Correct?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: I'm not having a go; I'm just trying to—and that is, I suppose, the benchmark for which something is entered into the workflow system. Correct?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: Right. And that will record who's writing in or emailing in and what response is or has been recommended, which might be 'No reply'. Correct?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: It might be, 'Reply in this way,' or it might be, 'Ms Connell to reply' or 'Assistant—whatever your structure is, say someone more junior—to reply'. It's that kind of thing?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: Okay. And it's done by group?

Ms Page : Groups use their own systems. There's a shell system in place, but different groups I guess have their own arrangements that best suit the nature of queries and correspondence that they're receiving. But certainly centrally, for things that are referred from one person to another, there are systems through our executive assistants that keep track of those matters.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry; I don't understand that answer. Could you explain that again.

Ms Page : Sure. You mentioned previously there would be a record where things were passed from one to another—

Senator WONG: No, I was actually trying to clarify your evidence. You said, 'Here's the workflow system, this is what it does, and it's done on a group basis.' Correct?

Ms Page : Yes.

Senator WONG: So, Mr Lloyd—which group is he?

Ms Page : He's executive.

Senator WONG: Who manages the workflow system for the executive?

Ms Page : That would be done by his executive officer—

Senator WONG: which is the person who previously did the Outlook search?

Ms Page : That's right. It may be a correspondence register, or a variety of different things, that she uses to manage the material that comes in and out of Mr Lloyd's office.

Senator WONG: Is that person present?

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator WONG: She seems to be the only one who knows how to find your emails, Mr Lloyd.

Mr Lloyd : No, that's unfair, Senator. She's my executive officer—

Senator WONG: She was the only one after however many months who actually found the IPA email that I was asking for.

Mr Lloyd : She's the officer who does that—my executive officer. She's the appropriate person.

Senator WONG: Correct. I want to ask her some questions.

Mr Lloyd : She's not an SES officer. We can take the questions here—

Senator WONG: You can interrogate who's emailed, or who the writer is of the correspondence, as part of that system?

Ms Page : We'd have a record of who the correspondence was from.

Senator WONG: I wonder if you can tell me how many communications from Mr Roskam and how many communications from the IPA were logged—is that the correct phrase—or recorded through that process?

Ms Connell : Is there a time period, Senator?

Senator WONG: Yes. I don't want to get another unreasonable diversion of resources run-around. Perhaps the same time frame as the email search, 26 August 2016, 25 April 2018—actually make it to whatever: 21st.

Ms Connell : Just to clarify: we've taken on notice the nature of what is actually logged in the system across the groups.

Senator WONG: Just because I need to clarify—and, Ms Page, I'm not critical; I understand you're using a phrase that other people may apply differently—what she meant by formal correspondence—

Ms Connell : The nature of the holdings.

Senator WONG: But I'm also asking in respect of Mr Lloyd, what in that system—

Ms Connell : Correspondence to and from the IPA?

Senator WONG: And or Mr Roskam.

Ms Connell : Mr Roskam for that time period, okay.

Senator WONG: What about the CPSU as well?

Ms Connell : And the CPSU—same question?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Connell : Sorry, Senator, just clarifying: that was between Mr Lloyd and both parties?

Senator WONG: I understood your evidence to be that this system was done by a group, and Mr Lloyd is executive group. You're asking me: do I care about anybody else?

Ms Page : Yes. My response was more along the lines of: I've taken that down. Much correspondence comes into the commission, including from places like CPSU, that doesn't come through Mr Lloyd; it would come to group managers directly, so they would have correspondence systems or workflow systems that would track that information.

Senator WONG: I'm probably more interested in Mr Lloyd.

Ms Page : We'll take all that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Ms Connell and Mr Lloyd, in April, 2016, the APSC released Balancing the future: the Australian Public Service gender equality strategy—you'll remember that. One of the items was item 4, increased take-up of flexible work arrangements by men and women. One of the steps, as part of pursuing that objective, was reviewing the Maternity Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1973. We had questions recently about this on notice—question on notice 161—and you've provided an answer. This is a commitment to undertake this review made in April 2016, and we asked at the last estimates.

a. Has the APSC begun reviewing the Maternity Leave Act?

a) No.

b. When did this review begin?

b) It is yet to begin.

c. Has the review concluded?

c) No.

d. Who is conducting the review? Will it be done in-house by the APSC? Will any expert advice be drawn on? From who?

d) This is to be determined.

e. Has the review proposed any amendments to the Maternity Leave Act?

And perhaps even mildly humorously:

e) Refer to answer given in a).

It appears that exactly nothing has taken place in relation to the review of maternity leave act. I just wonder why that commitment was included in this report about gender equality, if there was actually no intention of doing anything about it.

Mr Lloyd : I can say that we are preparing advice for the minister about the review at this time.

Senator McALLISTER: When was that advice requested?

Mr Lloyd : I'm not sure whether it was requested or it's something we've generated ourselves.

Senator McALLISTER: After we asked the question.

Mr Lloyd : I don't know about that.

Senator McALLISTER: I'd like to know—

Mr Lloyd : I can just say that we are at the moment preparing advice to go to the minister about the review.

Senator McALLISTER: Right. So you can't tell me whether that was initiated at the request of the minister or on the initiative of the agency?

Mr Lloyd : I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Have you ever previously briefed the minister about progress on this initiative?

Mr Lloyd : I have to be careful here because we are not here to give details about advice that we give ministers.

Senator McALLISTER: No, but the process of briefing a minister is an appropriate subject of estimates questioning. I am not asking about the content; I am asking whether it has taken place.

Mr Lloyd : I will just seek some assistance from an officer who is more familiar with it and more across the detail than me.

Mr Spaccavento : The maternity leave act falls into my group's area of responsibility. Sorry, could you repeat the last question?

Senator McALLISTER: On how many occasions since this initiative was announced in 2016 have you briefed the minister about the review of the maternity leave act?

Mr Spaccavento : I would have to take that on notice; I can't recall.

Senator McALLISTER: Ever?

Mr Spaccavento : It has come up, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, do you recall being briefed about it when you were the minister?

Senator Cash: Discussions did occur in relation to that particular report, yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Can you explain why there was no progress between 2016 and 2018 on conducting the review?

Senator Cash: My understanding is they were undertaking a scoping study in relation to the act itself. But the APSC were consistently working on issues to do with gender equality. Other than that, I can't take you any further. I would need to refer to Ms O'Dwyer to see if any further action in the last six months has occurred.

Senator McALLISTER: How can you reconcile your statement that a scoping study was being undertaken with the answer provided by the APSC to question on notice 161, where the question is asked, 'Have you begun reviewing the maternity leave act?' and the answer is no? How can those two things be simultaneously true?

Mr Lloyd : The scoping review is looking at the dimensions of the problem. It is actually the government that decides that there will be a review conducted of the act, in what way, at what time and all that sort of thing. We're not at that stage.

Senator WONG: That is a 'black is white' answer. The question was: has the APSC begun reviewing the maternity leave act? The answer is no.

Mr Lloyd : That's right. We are considering scoping the issue. We did not conduct a review of the act.

Senator McALLISTER: What are the outputs from the scoping process?

Mr Lloyd : It's to look at the nature of the act and what has happened since 1973 and what some of the issues are which might warrant investigation and those types of matters.

Senator McALLISTER: I understand what theoretically the outputs might be, but I am asking: what actually have the outputs been, to date, from the scoping process described by Minister Cash?

Mr Lloyd : I will take that on notice. I don't know off the top of my head.

Senator McALLISTER: Papers, documents, briefings, workshops conducted internally, meetings with staff in the APS—any of that?

Mr Spaccavento : My recollection is that there may have been an internal informal issues paper or something of that nature. I would need to check my records, but that would be about as far as we have gone. We have been internally considering in an informal way the issues that exist with the current maternity leave act, but it hasn't progressed to a formal paper or a formal piece of work.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister Cash, did you ever receive a formal briefing about any of this?

Senator Cash: I would need to check, but I don't believe so.

Senator McALLISTER: So, for clarity, has Minister O'Dwyer asked for a briefing or an update about this action item?

Mr Lloyd : As I say, we are preparing advice. I would have to take that on notice and review my notes whether she has actually asked for it, but I as commissioner am of the view that it's timely to give her advice about the review.

Senator McALLISTER: Has she asked for advice about the strategy overall since being appointed?

Mr Lloyd : Of what?

Senator McALLISTER: We are presently talking about one item within the strategy. I am asking you whether Minister O'Dwyer has sought advice about Balancing the Future: the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy.

Mr Lloyd : I don't recall it, but I don't think so.

Senator McALLISTER: Can anyone else assist?

Ms Connell : I don’t believe so, but I might just check with Ms Crosthwaite in Employment Policy, whether she's aware of any requests. But I am not aware of any requests in the last six months—the answer is no.

Senator McALLISTER: My final question is about something completely separate. Your targets under outcome 1 include 'Building digital capability in the APS by partnering with the Digital Transformation Agency'. What actions do you foresee undertaking in relation to that target?

Ms Vine-Camp : We have been working with the Digital Transformation Agency to build capability in the senior public service. It is a three-year program. This year, as we come towards the end of the first financial year, we've been working with getting on board assistance, with specialised contractors, to run training programs to ensure that senior executives, particularly, understand the new world of digital.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I just ask you to clarify how far you have got with that? You said, 'we've been working with getting on board some assistance'—do you have the assistance on-board? Or where are we up to?

Ms Vine-Camp : Yes, we are finalising the tenders now in order to be able to start work on 1 July with those companies.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that finalising the tenders or the contracts?

Ms Vine-Camp : They're contracts, sorry. We've run the tender process.

Senator McALLISTER: You've run a tender process.

Ms Vine-Camp : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: And is that all of the actions that have been undertaken in relation to this initiative?

Ms Vine-Camp : No, they're not. We have actually also developed a suite of learning materials to be able to guide that—which we are providing to agencies—which would indicate how people need to be skilled in order to operate in the digital environment. Our learning centre has developed a module of training programs, in order to be able to outline what is required.

Senator McALLISTER: OK. So is that a set of competencies or a set of training materials, or both?

Ms Vine-Camp : They're learning competencies.

Senator McALLISTER: Competencies only, but no materials.

Ms Vine-Camp : The materials have also been developed.

Senator McALLISTER: In-house?

Ms Vine-Camp : In-house.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I ask you to provide on notice what actions you foresee undertaking in relation to this target in the coming financial year?

Ms Vine-Camp : Absolutely, we can do that.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you.

Senator STOKER: On a different topic, is domestic violence leave or assistance available for employees of the APS?

Mr Lloyd : Yes it is, Senator. We, like any responsible employer, have of course zero tolerance for domestic violence. We provide access to leave, paid leave, for victims of domestic violence, and that can be either personal and carers leave, or miscellaneous leave, and also we provide a range of other support—to direct them to counselling, if necessary; perhaps change mobile phones; change parking arrangements, if that's an issue; all those types of support—in addition to the leave. So there is an unambiguous, very strong commitment, as an employer, to providing utmost support to victims of domestic violence.

Senator STOKER: Do you have any data or information about how well those measures are working?

Mr Lloyd : No, I don't. I don't have any data.

Senator STOKER: Is there a process of collecting information about the services that are used by members of the APS?

Mr Lloyd : I'm not aware of that. One of the things I think we have to be very careful of here, of course, is that a domestic violence situation is a very sensitive, confidential issue. I've always, as an employer and also when I was on the tribunal, had the utmost care in protecting the confidentiality concerns of the victim and their family. But I don't think we collect any data on that, no.

Senator STOKER: Do you have any information about how the leave and assistance available within the APS compares to what's available in the private sector?

Mr Lloyd : There's a range; the whole spectrum, of course. I think we'd be at the upper end of the spectrum of being a responsible employer providing the utmost assistance. The Fair Work Commission, of course, has recently decided to establish five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave and then, following that decision, the government's committed to reflect that unpaid entitlement in the National Employment Standards.

Senator STOKER: Can I ask you about a different topic, please. Is the Australian Public Service Commission involved in the independent review of the APS that's been announced?

Mr Lloyd : Yes. I don't have the terms of reference in front of me, but the independent review of the APS will obviously consult with the Australian Public Service Commission. We will provide data that we have from our holdings about profiling the workforce and issues of that nature. I expect we will give them information about what we see as some of the future issues and how we make the Public Service fit for the future. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will consult with me about the handling of the final report. So we are involved, and I expect us to be quite closely involved as the review proceeds.

Senator STOKER: Can you give this committee more information on the people who are on the panel, and how they were selected?

Mr Lloyd : Yes, we could. I think the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has that information. We can ensure the committee gets that, either through ourselves or the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator STOKER: Do you know whether the members of the independent panel are receiving any remuneration for that work?

Mr Lloyd : You would have to ask the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that question.

Senator STOKER: Thank you, I will.

CHAIR: If there are no further questions for the Australian Public Service Commissioner, thank you very much for your time and your evidence today. When officers and senators are ready, the committee will move on to the Office for Women.


CHAIR: I welcome Senator Cash, in her capacity representing the Minister for Women. I welcome Ms Patricia Bergin, First Assistant Secretary, and officers from the Office for Women within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I don't, thank you.

CHAIR: Ms Bergin, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Bergin : No, thank you very much.

Senator MOORE: One of the things that we saw this year was a number of fact statements that came out with the budget, with indications about programs. One of the things that was talked about was the proposed economic statement that's going to come down in spring, I believe—almost like a fashion; the spring is going to bring it! I know that there's been money put aside in the contingency reserve for the economic security statement. Do we have any idea of how much is in that contingency reserve?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That's really a matter for government and covered by cabinet confidentiality.

Senator MOORE: So at this stage there's no indicative—

Ms Hatfield Dodds : But certainly the minister, Minister O'Dwyer, has publicly stated that she will be making a statement on women's economic security in the spring and has gone some way to giving an outline of the kinds of things that that statement might cover, including women having the economic capability and resilience to be able to make choices about their own lives, closing the gender gap—and closing the gap in participation rates as well as the gender pay gap—and looking at the gap in superannuation savings.

Senator MOORE: And they're the kinds of things that were indicated in the fact sheet. They should be quite simple, shouldn't they? You can get a lot of those done. On that basis, because it hasn't been released yet we can't get any idea of the money, but is the list of issues that was in the minister's fact sheet expected to be added to? Is it indicative? What's the status? Can we expect that the issues that were in the fact sheet will in fact be in the economic statement?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I think it would be reasonable to expect that the fact sheets and what we saw in the budget would be at least a platform and a frame for the economic statement going forward, but I would just note that it is in early stages of development at the moment.

Senator MOORE: When was the decision made to produce an economic statement? It is new, so when was that decision made?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Certainly the decision was made by the time the minister was speaking about it related to the budget. But it really is a matter for the government itself when that decision was taken. I don't know that we can give you a date. We could say certainly the decision was taken by the time we got to budget time.

Senator MOORE: Was the economic statement part of the budget process? In discussions in pulling it together, in the plan, was that part of the budget statement?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No, it wasn't. A decision was taken for Minister O'Dwyer to have an economic statement in spring of this year, but that was as far as the thinking and the planning went pre-budget.

Senator MOORE: Is the Office for Women going to be producing the economic statement?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes. We will be taking the lead on the production and development of the statement.

Senator MOORE: You will be taking the lead. As usual, you will have a number of people involved but the Office for Women will be taking the lead?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes.

Senator MOORE: When was the Office for Women advised that there would be an economic statement?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : In the period leading up to the budget.

Senator MOORE: We know there's going to be one. The Office for Women will be the lead. How will the statement interact with the workforce participation strategy and the action plans, which are already public? Will the government still release a separate updated action plan?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Which action plan are you referring to?

Senator MOORE: The workplace participation strategy and the action plans that go with that. Will that still be a separate exercise? Some of the issues you've listed that the minister indicated would be in the economic statement are very much linked to the workplace participation strategy.

Ms Bergin : Absolutely. Boosting women's workforce participation remains a central factor in women's economic security into the future. We are still working on the development of the next implementation plan under the Towards 2025 strategy.

Senator MOORE: In your work plan, when is that due?

Ms Bergin : It's a matter for government, but it's due roughly around the beginning of the financial year. The last one was produced in July 2017, for 2017-18. We expect it broadly around that time.

Senator MOORE: In your understanding, there still is the intent to have another action plan produced under that heading—

Ms Bergin : That's my understanding.

Senator MOORE: in July-August, if that goes to plan, and then the expectation is that the economic statement will come out in spring. My idea of spring is September-October, so that's the idea. And they may be linked, but they're still separate documents at this stage?

Ms Bergin : At this stage.

Senator MOORE: And the Office for Women are taking the lead on workplace participation?

Ms Bergin : Yes, that's correct.

Senator MOORE: And they're working with—I won't even pretend to know the right acronym—what used to be Employment.

Ms Bergin : Yes—the jobs portfolio.

Senator MOORE: With the economic statement, is there an expectation that there will be a form of consultation?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The matters around consultation are yet to be considered by government.

Senator MOORE: You can't say definitely, but I would expect that the Women's Alliances would be linked into that. If the Office for Women are doing it, the alliances are working with that process.

I know the economic statement is being formed at this stage, but will it track Australian women's economic security or just announce government policies? The fact sheets from the budget were very much just a list of policies. There wasn't any kind of tracking of process or looking at research that was done around women's economic security. It was: 'This is what we've done in this area.' At this stage, do you believe that the economic statement will be wider than a list of policies?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Again, it's impossible for us—and I apologise—for us to answer, just because it's at such an early stage of development at this point. Those are decisions that haven't been made yet.

Senator MOORE: The economic statement will be delivered by Minister O'Dwyer?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That's correct.

Senator MOORE: At this stage, is there any understanding about how that will be presented?

Ms Bergin : No.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Not at this stage, no.

Senator MOORE: This is actually leading on from that issue; it's around the budget fact sheets. There was one that looked at economic capability, women's safety and women's health. Generally, was there a gender analysis done of the 2018 budget?

Ms Bergin : In our roles for the Office for Women, we work across government in the development of new policy, working with other agencies as they analyse their new policy. We are not able to do that analysis ourselves across every new policy outlined, but we do certainly work closely on the major ones to ensure there's a gender focus where possible.

Senator MOORE: I know that you've read the National Foundation for Australian Women document, which we all look at when it comes out just after the budget. They said, under 'Materials produced': 'This analysis of how women benefited from this year's budget is not a gender based analysis; it's a listing of initiatives that may benefit women, minus any data.' Was any gender impact analysis conducted of the taxation measures in the 2018 budget? You said you looked at key areas, but I'd take that as you couldn't look at anything. Was there any gender analysis done of the tax plan?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That would be a question I think you'd have to direct to the Treasury portfolio.

Senator MOORE: Why would I not ask the Office for Women about a gender analysis? Ms Bergin just said to us the Office for Women couldn't look at everything, and we understand that. But I would have thought, looking at the major initiatives in this year's budget, that the tax plan—and it did have a fact sheet—was one that could be considered to be key. Was that one that you as the Office for Women considered, that you took a particular interest in, from the perspective of women?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The Office for Women itself wouldn't undertake that kind of analysis of a specific tax policy or tax proposals. That would sit with the Department of the Treasury. Certainly the office engages regularly with departments like the Treasury and the Department of Social Services and looks at distributional impacts and the impacts on women of policy options, but we have not done any analysis of the type you're talking about in terms of tax and gender analysis.

Senator McALLISTER: Dr Hatfield Dodds—are you a doctor or a professor?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I'm just a 'Ms'—merely a 'Ms'.

Senator McALLISTER: It's a perfectly fine honorific. Have you seen any analysis of that kind?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I haven't, but—

Ms Bergin : Certainly the effective marginal tax rate analysis is done, or would most properly be done, within the Treasury and with the Department of Social Services. It's appropriate that that's done in that sort of agency where they have that deep level of expertise.

Senator McALLISTER: Sure—and that's the evidence from Ms Hatfield Dodds. I'm just wondering if you have seen analysis of that kind as the Office for Women?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Are you talking specifically around the tax—

Senator McALLISTER: In relation to the Personal Income Tax Plan that was announced in the budget.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No, we haven't.

Senator McALLISTER: Previously, when we discussed this same issue this time last year, the advice provided by Office for Women was that you play a coordination function rather than—you are steering, not rowing, perhaps, in many instances. Why didn't you ask the Treasury to do that analysis?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : On the income tax package? I think that goes to the nature of advice that was provided to cabinet, so we just can't comment further on that. We can talk generally about how we steer the rowers. We're in constant conversation with the Treasury and other departments about the impact on women of policies and proposed policies. I think those detailed questions about the income tax package are best directed to the Treasury, but some of them will be covered by cabinet confidentiality.

Senator McALLISTER: Has your minister asked you for advice about the likely impact of that Personal Income Tax Plan on women?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Again, I think that goes to—

Senator McALLISTER: Either she or she hasn't. She's part of cabinet and she'd receive advice as part of that process, but I'm asking you specifically: has she asked you for advice on the impact of the Personal Income Tax Plan on women?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Certainly we discussed with Minister O'Dwyer the range of budget packages and initiatives in the budget with a view to potential and actual impacts on women, and that's a normal part of our regular meetings and our regular advice to the minister.

Senator McALLISTER: On the Personal Income Tax Plan—have you provided advice to the minister on the impact of that initiative on women?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I'm going to have to take that one on notice. I think that the answer to that question goes to the advice that PM&C would have given in a cabinet context, because that's a central package.

Senator MOORE: Actually, I don't agree. If you went into the detail of it, that would be talking about what was cabinet in confidence, but we have a long precedent that that type of questioning, that type of advice, is not covered by confidentiality in that sense. Certainly you can't tell us what kind of advice and what was said, but I think Senator McAllister's question, in terms of 'generally', was something that would fit within guidelines we've used in this committee for many years.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Generally, given Minister O'Dwyer has portfolio responsibilities in the Treasury as well, she would be more likely to seek that kind of advice directly from the Department of the Treasury, I would imagine.

Senator MOORE: It's just that Women's economic capability and leadership does talk particularly about the tax plan. Whilst it doesn't say, 'This is only for women,' it's clearly making positive statements about this particular plan and the impact on women. The photographs and the headings all indicate that this is a key area in the budget that the government believes is good for women. It is interesting, when it makes those statements, to see what the basis of those statements is. You're saying that, from the Office for Women's perspective, it wasn't work that you've done and those questions may well go to Treasury. We've gone through this so many times—modelling and stuff is done by Treasury; you look at policy advice and steer that kind of thing. It's just that to anyone who picked this up—and I'm sure that women in the network picked this us—this is a clear statement that the government's Personal Income Tax Plan will make personal income taxes lower, and the inference is that that will be particularly valuable for women. Questions about how many people will benefit from the new offset and how many will be women—you can't answer those questions?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No.

Senator MOORE: And you haven't done any gender disaggregated analysis of the tax offset? Perhaps we should ask Treasury?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes.

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator MOORE: And the same with the personal income tax. You said earlier you were unaware of any research that had been done in this space. The Australia Institute put some out in detail last week. They said that when the tax cuts are fully implemented, by their analysis—and that is up for discussion—around two-thirds of the benefits will go to men:

Men will get twice the tax cut in 2024-25 compared to women …

That is certainly not the implied message from the statement. Has the Office for Women been asked—or asked through the minister—how many women will be benefiting from this change, and what data led to that? You've not been asked that question by anyone?

Ms Bergin : No, we have not.

Senator MOORE: You said that you looked at some of the key areas. Did you provide any particular input into the development of the Personal Income Tax Plan?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : We were not involved with the technical part of the work. That really resided, as I understand it, with the Department of the Treasury, which is where those questions need to go.

Senator MOORE: The National Foundation for Australian Women noted in their Gender lens on the budget—another compulsory document after any budget exercise:

… the tax offset increases the effective marginal tax rate by 1.5% for taxpayers within the taper zone, which increases work disincentives for women and other low-income taxpayers.

Was the particular link about disincentives something that was looked at, generally speaking, by the Office for Women? It is not mentioned in the fact sheet.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Certainly the government has had a focus on incentives and pathways for women to return to work and to gain work. Under the women's workforce participation strategy, women's participation in the workforce is at a high-water mark of 60.5 per cent—I'm sure you're aware of that—and we're on track to meet the G20 commitment.

Senator MOORE: Yes. We just haven't worked out exactly how that G20— We're not going to go there again.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Of the 420,000 new jobs created, over half were taken up by women, and the government has also invested in more childcare places to go after, or to address, one of those structural barriers that prevent women from participating fully in the workforce.

Senator MOORE: In this fact sheet those things are all highlighted: the child-care package, the help for parents, the older workers—which are all key parts. But I take it, as with the same questions we've asked around the tax incentives, there's been no particular work done by Office for Women in that space? It's been looking at issues, but Treasury would be responsible for any of the data that's in here—is that a fair statement?

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: Was it the Office for Women that prepared the women's budget fact sheets? That was your responsibility?

Ms Bergin : We contributed to the content. It was produced as part of the Treasury's suite of documentation to support the budget.

Senator McALLISTER: Who provided the materials for the document that listed the Personal Income Tax Plan as a measure to support women?

Ms Bergin : That was provided from the Treasury.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you aware of any analysis that underpins the inclusion of that initiative on a list of initiatives that benefit women?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That is a question that really needs to go to the Treasury, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: Well, it's not really; it's about the state of awareness of the Office of Women in terms of gender analysis being undertaken in government. I am asking you whether you are aware, I will ask them and, in fact, I have put them on notice in writing that I intend to ask them about it, but I am asking you.

Ms Bergin : We are aware that they have looked at this issue in the context of the distributional impact. To what extent—we don't have visibility of the full extent of their advice and analysis.

Senator McALLISTER: Well, no-one does, but I suppose my concern is that there is publicly available analysis which has been undertaken that suggests that, when fully implemented, two-thirds of the benefits will flow to men—and yet this is an initiative being listed as being good for women. I am troubled by that. I'd happily see evidence that refuted it, but you are not aware of any such evidence.

Senator MOORE: Regarding the women's fact sheets, there is nothing in them that attempts to attribute any research or backing to the statements. They are statements about the budget, and how it is going to help women in different places. It is a formatted way of making this about women. Was the Office for Women consulted on how these should look, and what the key points would be that should go into them? That is, when you are looking at a particular marketing issue for women?

Ms Bergin : We contributed to that as part of the overall advice going into that.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the ongoing discussions, we won't be the only people looking for this; I imagine that women's alliances would now have some responsibility for looking at these issues, particularly the different groups that look at economic security and other areas. How does it work? When the budget comes out, these things would have been sent to all the alliances, in particular, because of their link with the whole women's consultation process: do they then consider the budget? For example, the economic Security4Women alliance—and that is still the title, isn't it?

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Will they have a job of work around looking at the budget? Certainly, this particular document has set out what the government believes are the key issues that are in the budget around economic security for women. Will the alliance then have a job of work, to do more work in that space, and to consider it?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The Office for Women doesn't specifically task them to do that work. But, certainly, it's well within the remit of the alliances to have a view on budget initiatives and to communicate those.

Senator MOORE: I know they have their overall work plan, which is negotiated at the start. I am wondering whether this post-budget issue is anything they take up in particular.

Ms Livingston : NFAW is a member of Equality Rights Alliance. To that extent, there is a connection between the Gender lens on the budget report and the work of the alliances. But they haven't been commissioned to or proposed a particular project as part of their work plans, to do additional analysis on top of what NFAW does.

Senator MOORE: When they meet, they share knowledge, so it could well be a discussion point in that place. It is just drilling down to see the kinds of things that have come out in these other pieces of research about whether this truly has a particular impact on women. I am not making any statement as to whether it does or not. With the particular programs that have been identified in this document, what is their impact on women? Whilst the women's safety and welfare fact sheet is clearly looking at women in particular, the fact sheets on economic capability and leadership are not only looking at women. Actually addressing the issues in that way, that would be a question for the alliances. I know Senator McAllister has done a lot of work on superannuation—that's one of her areas. We talked about this at the last estimates—about the minister's Press Club speech on International women's Day—and at that stage about the catch-up payments policy, which was one which was talked about in the text and also in some media coverage and how that will particularly benefit women. It was marketed clearly as an issue that will benefit women. I know the office hasn't done any, but do you know whether there has been any work done in which the office has been involved that has conducted distributional analysis of the benefits of that policy?

Ms Bergin : Not to my knowledge.

CHAIR: Senator Moore, can I just jump in there. Through no fault of yours, the committee is quite a bit behind and I know that Senator Rice and Senator Stoker have questions for the Office for Women as well. I'm just seeking your guidance on how much time you—

Senator MOORE: I'm happy to cede and then come back, if we have enough time.

Senator RICE: This is very much following on from the questions that Senator Moore has been asking. I apologise: I wasn't here for the beginning of Senator Moore's questions, so I may be repeating some of them. I gather that the Office for Women isn't aware of any modelling that has been done of the government's proposed personal income tax on post-tax income equality between men and women.

Ms Bergin : Not in detail, no.

Senator RICE: And, similarly, what analysis has been done through a gender lens by the Office for Women?

Ms Bergin : Our role in the development of the budget has been to work with agencies on a number of elements of packages that were being developed and, since that time, we've been looking at a number of the different areas such as safety, economic empowerment and leadership to see what the key elements impacting women are. And we're still in the process of, I think, deepening our understanding of some of those cross-cutting issues.

Senator RICE: So the statements that have been made are the limit of what you have done so far in terms that analysis through a gender lens.

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator RICE: So you haven't done any analysis. What further analysis are you intending on doing, if it's not quite completed?

Ms Bergin : We'll be doing a range of analysis to support the minister's spring statement.

Senator RICE: A range of analysis—can you be more specific? Would you be doing an analysis of the impact of the personal income tax cuts on women as compared to men?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That would depend on the minister's decisions about the shape of her economic security statement for women. We were saying earlier that that statement is in its extreme infancy and is yet to have a real shape and a framework put around it. We will be conducting policy thinking and analysis on the framework and elements of that economic statement when the minister has settled her mind on what she wants to put in it.

Senator MOORE: You'll be doing that?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Office for Women would be leading that work, I assume, as a division of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It may be that we would do some internally. Office for Women is not currently set up to do a lot of economic analysis, but we would be working with Treasury, the Department of Social Services or the department of jobs—

Senator MOORE: You're leading the group working around it?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That's right.

Senator MOORE: Just so I get this really clear: you yourselves do not do analysis.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No.

Senator RICE: And you won't be doing that analysis; you will be leading the group.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That's right.

Ms Bergin : That's our role.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : We'd be likely to pull together officers from across departments, which is potentially one way of doing that, or requesting another department to lead that work and we would be part of that process.

Senator RICE: In previous governments, there has been a very thorough and full analysis of the budget through a gender lens, hasn't there?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I understand that's true.

Senator RICE: So do you think that there is a case, given the work that the Office for Women has done—and you're saying you're not necessarily going to be dependent on the minister as to which bits you do—to reinstate a thorough analysis of the budget through a gender lens? Would it be useful to you?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That is definitely a matter of opinion, and the Office for Women's role is to support the government and the Minister for Women in the decisions that that government makes.

Senator RICE: But going back to the impact of the tax cuts, you don't know yet whether you are going to be asked to lead that analysis?

Senator Ruston: I am more than happy to take the questions that you have on notice, because obviously many of them are a matter for government and it is probably not the place of the agency to be answering them. But I am quite happy to take those on notice and see if we can get you some pretty speedy answers.

Senator RICE: What's the indication that's been given to you by the minister of what analysis the Office for Women is going to lead? At this stage you are not doing an analysis of the personal income tax cuts. That has not been advised to you at this stage?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : It hasn't, but I don't think you can read anything into that at this stage, just because we've only just begun to think about what the economic statement might even look like with the minister. So it's at such early stages I wouldn't have expected her to have tasked us in any particular way as yet.

Senator RICE: According to the most recent tax office data, about 70 per cent of the beneficiaries of the abolition of the 37 per cent marginal tax rate are going to be men and more than 75 per cent of the recipients of the full $7,255 tax cut will be men. Do you think, as the Office for Women, given the disparity between the impact of these tax cuts on men and women that this would be a useful analysis for you to undertake?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : It will be useful if the government wishes us to undertake it.

Senator RICE: Similarly, I want to ask about the services and what the impact of that reduction in revenue is going to be on services forgone with that reduction in revenue of well over $100 billion over the period of the government's tax plan. Without asking you your opinion, what about looking at services and the value of those services and the potential reduction in those services because of the revenue foregone?

Senator Ruston: Can I just clarify something here: are you saying there's a reduction in services? I wasn't aware there was any reduction in services, so maybe could you be a little more specific?

Senator RICE: It's a comparison. If you've got $200 billion more to spend in terms of the personal income tax and the corporate tax cuts, that gives you a lot more money to spend on services. Many of the social services are overwhelmingly benefiting women rather than men.

Senator Ruston: I suppose the clarification I am seeking from your question is that you've made this quantum leap about a reduction in services. No-one's said there's going to be any reduction in services; you've just extrapolated that out.

Senator RICE: I'm just extrapolating out that you are going to have about $200 billion less revenue to be spending through the combination of corporate tax cuts and personal income tax cuts. Surely, if you're going to have a budget, it is going to impact upon the level of services you can provide with that extra $200 billion.

Senator Ruston: I think that the government have been very clear about the fact that there is no reduction in services. Our budget is balanced in myriad different ways, so you can't just immediately jump to the conclusion that because you've got one thing over here you're somehow going to have a commensurate reduction in services that are directly going to impact on women. I'm quite happy to take on notice your question, but I think it's completely unfair to ask one agency to be making broad, general statements about the overall budget.

Senator RICE: The point I'm making is about the value of having an assessment of the impact of the budget in its broader sense, both in terms of the impact from, say, tax cuts or the impact it is going to have on services through a gender lens.

Senator Ruston: As the officials have said, a lot of this is a matter for Treasury, but the minister has yet to make her decision about the scope and what her statement is going to look like. There's a lot of work to be done before that statement is made and so many of these questions can't be answered. I'm happy to take them on notice, but I think we are prosecuting something where we don't have the information to be able to provide you with the answer.

Senator STOKER: I'm not sure who is best placed to answer my question, so I might let you decide who answers. The government has referred a number of times to the women's safety package. There was, I believe, a $100 million commitment made to it in 2015. Can you explain the range of initiatives that are covered by that package.

Ms Livingston : I just have a broad overview with me at the moment. The individual projects funded as part of the Women's Safety Package are being implemented across a wide range of portfolios. The Office for Women look more broadly across how that package has been rolled out, but we don't have any specific responsibilities ourselves. In terms of breaking down that package for you, $59 million of the $100 million was for support for practical and immediate action—so frontline services to keep women safe; an additional $36 million was for support and training for frontline services; and $5 million was part of a longer term measure to change the attitudes of young people to violence, and that included producing resources for teachers, parents and students around respectful relationships.

Senator STOKER: I believe there was another $100 million committed in 2016 to the third national action plan to reduce violence against women and children. Are you able to give me some detail about the actual initiatives that were part of that plan?

Ms Livingston : I can. Again, it will be at that high level of detail, I'm afraid. But I can do a breakdown for you. In terms of that $100 million, $15.3 million was for domestic violence frontline services; $14.5 million was set aside for activity related to revenge pornography and domestic violence research; $4.8 million was provided to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner around keeping women safe online; $18.5 million was allocated towards court based family violence support services; $6.2 million was allocated for family dispute resolution for vulnerable families experiencing domestic violence; $4.9 million was set aside to extend legal assistance pilots funded as part of the Women's Safety Package in 2015; $6.5 million was allocated to support Indigenous victims of family violence; and a further $18.5 million was set aside for reducing family violence more broadly in Indigenous communities.

Senator STOKER: Are you able to unpack for me in a little bit more detail what the $82.5 million for legal assistance services is delivering for the community?

Ms Livingston : There wasn't a figure for $82.5 million. There was $18.5 million for court based family violence support services and $18.5 million for reducing Indigenous family violence.

Senator STOKER: I beg your pardon; I must have heard wrongly. I had understood there was a figure of that magnitude for legal assistance services from the last budget.

Ms Livingston : That's right. The figures I've just read out to you are from the package of supports to support the third action plan, announced in 2016. But there was also a family violence package focused around the family law system announced in the last budget. That figure was around $65 million.

Senator STOKER: What was it for?

Ms Livingston : Attorney-General's would be best placed to help you with detailed questions. That figure was essentially funding set aside for community legal centres, which was prioritised for support for victims of family violence, as well as providing specialised support services within the family court system itself for victims of domestic violence. There was also a portion of funding to implement the parental management tribunal, I think it's called, which is intended to provide a much more expeditious and cost-effective way to resolve disputes in the family law system.

Senator STOKER: Are you able to provide the committee with more detail about what programs or activities are occurring to prevent and address image based abuse?

Ms Livingston : Yes, happy to do so. Again, it will be a bit of an overview of initiatives that have been run in other portfolios. This budget provides $14.2 million over four years to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, focused around making cyberspace safe for women. That includes a new investment of $4 million to implement a civil penalties regime, which will deter and penalise both individuals and websites that publish intimate images without consent. There'll be an additional $1.2 million to extend the eSafety Women program, which was originally funded as part of the 2015 package that you mentioned earlier, as well as $1.7 million to develop targeted resources around image based abuse. There was also additional funding provided through the third action plan for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to undertake a range of initiatives focused on making women safe online.

In addition to that, the Communications portfolio has developed legislation that's currently before the parliament. That legislation in the main seeks to establish the civil penalties regime that would be administered by the eSafety Commissioner. That would provide people who are concerned about tech-facilitated abuse or image based abuse with an ability to make complaints and to seek redress without going through the criminal justice system.

Senator STOKER: Can I turn to a different topic. I heard a reference earlier on to women's participation. Can you confirm for me the workforce participation rates of women at the present time?

Ms Livingston : Yes, happy to do so. The latest figures that we have on women's workforce participation are as at April this year, at which point in time women's workforce participation was at a record high of 60.5 per cent.

Senator STOKER: You said it's a record high. How does that compare to previous years?

Ms Livingston : I'm sorry, I would have to take that on notice.

Senator STOKER: That's okay. Can you outline what is in the Women's Workforce Participation Strategy and what the strategy is focusing on to try and increase greater participation of women?

Ms Livingston : The Towards 2025 strategy, as you would be aware, was released last year. It focuses on a number of key actions that are designed to coordinate government effort across several key areas that are known to act as structural barriers to women's workforce participation: things like improving access to flexible work; improving women's financial capability and security; and promoting women's access to growth areas of the economy, particularly STEM, but also improving women's access to entrepreneurship opportunities. That action plan also identified a number of priority cohorts where government would look to specific and concerted action to address their workforce barriers. These are groups of women who experience lower rates of workforce participation than the average and who also experience particular or higher barriers due to language difficulties or geography, for example. The strategy was accompanied by an implementation plan, which looked broadly across the Commonwealth government and outlined quite a number of activities that were underway or are due to be implemented in this financial year. If you're interested, I can give you a brief indication of where those projects are up to, but obviously the detail would sit with the portfolio agencies.

Senator STOKER: I might take it up with the portfolio agencies, if that's alright, in the interests of being efficient. Do you have any information or research that you've done that indicates what the benefits are to women individually and as a group, as a cohort, from increased workforce participation?

Ms Livingston : I would say that there's a substantial body of peer-reviewed evidence which goes to this issue. There's a very clear link between improving women's workforce participation and improving their economic security. So that's not only their take-home pay but also retirement incomes and the build-up of wealth for retirement. There's also strong evidence which links the participation of women in work and their economic security to broader social outcomes. Particularly around women's safety, it's a known preventative factor in terms of keeping women safe and giving them further options should they experience domestic violence, but I'm very happy to provide those details on notice.

Senator STOKER: Thank you, that'd be great. What role does workplace flexibility play in increasing workforce participation for women?

Ms Livingston : In Australia, women bear the disproportionate responsibility at the moment for caring for children, particularly young children, and it is the case that women, especially those with children of preschool age, do have lower rates of workforce participation compared to women without caring responsibilities—but, also men. We also know that women bear a disproportionate responsibility for caring for other people in their lives. This might include elderly relatives or people with disability. To that extent, the availability of flexible work can make a significant difference to women being able to get a foothold in the labour market, and there has been some research which suggests the availability of flexible work as being one of the main drivers of the substantial increase in women's workforce participation, particularly over the last two decades.

Senator STOKER: The last question I wanted to ask is: what role does the ParentsNext program play in helping mothers of young children in participating in the workforce?

Ms Livingston : The ParentsNext program received some substantial investment last budget, and I believe also in this current budget. It's administered by the Department of Jobs and Small Business. However, its primary aim is to provide pre-employment support particularly focused on parents of young children. Without going into too much of the detail, the objectives of that program are to support women who either are not participating at all in the labour market or might be at risk of their low levels of participation becoming entrenched because of substantial time spent outside the labour market. So, it's really designed to provide quite targeted and coordinated assistance, particularly to those cohorts.

Senator STOKER: How long has that program been in place?

Ms Livingston : I'd probably have to refer that one to the Department of Jobs and Small Business. It certainly was rolled out on a very wide scale through the last budget. I just can't recall, though, whether it had a smaller footprint before then, so I'd be happy to take that on notice.

Senator STOKER: And you may need to do the same with my next query, and that is: do you have any data on the effectiveness of the program?

Ms Livingston : That would be for the Department of Jobs and Small Business.

Senator STOKER: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: There are a lot to go on notice, but I just want to touch on a couple of areas before we go to WGEA. I asked you earlier about when you became aware that there was going to be an economic statement, and I really want to follow up on that. When did the Office for Women know that there was going to be an economic statement?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I think we would have known about that in the fortnight before budget.

Senator MOORE: And that was when it was clear what your role was going to be, or just—

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes.

Senator MOORE: That came later, but basically that's when you found out there was going to be one and it would be mentioned; it would be talked about.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes, and that we would play a lead role in supporting the minister in that.

Senator MOORE: I believe that the minister has announced there's going to be an internal review of the Office for Women. Has that been commissioned yet, or has it just been advised that it's going to happen?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No, that review has been commissioned. And not by the minister but by the department. It's an internal review. And it was—

Senator MOORE: I would have thought that the minister was the one who asked for the review, is that not right?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : No. The review decision was a decision taken by PM&C's executive board as an internal review, but, of course—

Senator MOORE: Is that a rolling kind of thing?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : with the minister knowing and endorsing it.

Senator MOORE: Is that a rolling thing that you do reviews of different parts of the department? What was the reason the Office for Women got chosen?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : I think there was an opportunity with a new head of the Office for Women starting in the last quarter of last year. And, at the same time across the public service there is the APS review—and PM&C can talk to that tomorrow—so there is a lot of thinking happening across the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about the changing context in which public service happens and how policy is developed. With Trish coming in new, and that change, it seemed a good time to see if we could focus on one part of the department.

Senator MOORE: That just a general review. Because it is an internal review, will there be terms of reference and the kinds of standard things that you expect from a review?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The review has utilised an external consultant. We have had Ernst & Young working with us since 6 March. They finish up with us by the middle of June.

Senator MOORE: Was that by tender, or just off the list—

Ms Hatfield Dodds : We went out—

Senator MOORE: Went out for tender?

Ms Bergin : That was taken from one of the panel arrangements.

Senator MOORE: It didn't go to tender. It was—

Ms Bergin : Not specifically, no.

Senator MOORE: How much is being dedicated to it?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The review and evaluation contract value is $469,990.

Senator MOORE: That's the full cost and the bulk of that has gone to Ernst & Young?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That's correct.

Senator MOORE: What's the time frame for the review?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : The review commenced on 6 March and it will finish—

Senator MOORE: At least it wasn't the 8th.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : We anticipate that the review will be wound up by the middle of June.

Senator MOORE: So by the end of this financial year?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : That's correct.

Senator MOORE: Was the funding from the Women's Leadership and Development Strategy funds or from out of general PM&C funds?

Ms Bergin : That was from the PM&C administrative funds.

Senator MOORE: Which is kind of central internal HR staff. So it didn't go to AusTender, because it was from an internal review and it was under the amount, so it went to Ernst & Young's. Has Ernst & Young's preliminary role finished now, or are they going to stay on to conduct the review? When you say internal will that involve some of the internal resources being part of the decision, like an internal audit, or not?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : EY have come in and have a team in the office working very closely with Office for Women staff and reporting to myself and to the secretary. It's very much a partnership approach where the idea is that they're bringing in some particular expertise, and we're aiming to build the capability and expertise of the Office for Women in some particular areas. Specifically, we are looking to move the Office for Women from being a more traditionally focused public service division, in terms of its operational structure and its processes, and shifting it to be able to be a bit more agile around issues that come up, so to have more of a project approach to issues. We will form and reform teams internally around particular projects that have a beginning, a middle and an end, and a clear outcome.

Senator MOORE: So it's a capacity development as well as a restructure?

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Ms Hatfield Dodds : But the intention and the actuality is not around reducing ASL or reducing funding; it is about recasting the office to be more effective in a contemporary environment.

Senator MOORE: That then goes to the PM&C board for consideration and then whatever happens beyond that?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Yes. I would anticipate that there will be a lot of insider learning coming out of this review that will be applied over time to the rest of the department.

Senator MOORE: Good. And is this something that happens to other parts of PM&C as well?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : Not yet.

Senator MOORE: So this is actually a first?

Ms Hatfield Dodds : As I understand it, yes—certainly in this way.

Senator MOORE: I've got a couple of questions on funding for women with disabilities and on grants. We talked at the last estimates about how the issues around disabilities were going to be integrated across the alliance network. I asked if there'd be a public announcement from the minister and Ms Bergin said, 'Yes, that will happen before the end of March.' You should never make those statements, Ms Bergin, because then I come back and say, 'I didn't see a public statement by the end of March.'

Ms Bergin : You are quite right: we are still working on that. It's well advanced. We've been dealing with DSS, looking across the disability alliances there. But we've also been working with Women with Disabilities to progress that.

Senator MOORE: Why has it taken so long? I don't wish to be making a judgement, but when we had this discussion at the last estimates you were very confident that a decision was going to be imminent.

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I pushed on that and the idea was that it would be done by the end of March. Now we're at the middle of May—

Ms Bergin : We are.

Senator MOORE: and it still hasn't happened yet. You know there is a lot of agitation around this.

Ms Bergin : Yes, we do.

Senator MOORE: This is something that needs to happen. My understanding is the alliances are very keen to be involved.

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Has there been a particular reason for the delay?

Ms Bergin : It is largely administrative. As I say, one of the key things we were wanting to do was to work with the Department of Social Services to understand that this would not be duplicating other expenditure across this area. It has taken us a long time to do that, and I agree that that's disappointing.

Senator MOORE: And so when the public statement comes out it will have attached to it some detail about how it's going to operate, costings and all those kind of things? It will be a complete package?

Ms Bergin : Yes.

Senator MOORE: Will it be by the end of this financial year?

Ms Bergin : That is our hope and expectation.

Senator MOORE: On the Women's Leadership and Development Strategy grants, according to our reporting page which we study intimately before we come here, no new grants have been made since July 2017. Is that correct? It shocked me a bit.

Ms Bergin : Could you repeat the question, please?

Senator MOORE: This is about the Women's Leadership and Development Strategy grants. When we looked at the grant page, which we go to to see the distribution, apart from the funding to the alliances, we see no new grants actually acquitted since July 2017.

Ms Livingston : There are a number of multiyear projects that are running across this financial year which would have been captured in past reporting. In terms of new grants awarded this financial—

Senator MOORE: We had the ground round in January.

Ms Livingston : That's right.

Senator MOORE: It was highly publicised. It was novel because it hadn't happened in that way before and genuinely there was a lot of excitement around that grant round. My understanding is that that has not been completed, that those January grants have not been acquitted.

Ms Livingston : We have completed the assessment process of the grants round and also undertaken a full financial viability and risk assessment for shortlisted applicants.

Senator MOORE: Are they under some sort of privacy agreement such that they're not supposed to talk about it while that's going on?

Ms Livingston : We are in the process now of negotiating funding agreements. As soon as they have been executed, we will be in a position to provide an update to the committee on the outcomes of the grants round.

Senator MOORE: So it's been 3½ months and we haven't got a decision. I know there's no such thing as a standard time, but that does seem to me to be a particularly long time, particularly when we all went out together before Christmas to say, 'Hey, this is your chance to come in here.' I know I went out and told a lot of organisations that. Have you had any feedback from people saying they're concerned about how long it's taking? Maybe they're too scared. They might think they might miss out if they whinge.

Ms Livingston : Not to my knowledge, but I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: How many of the applications met the grant criteria?

Ms Livingston : I don't have that detail on hand; I would be happy to take it on notice—

Senator MOORE: Take it on notice.

Ms Livingston : but my strong recollection is that it wasn't many.

Senator MOORE: There have been no agreements entered into. We're still at the preliminary stage of checking out people, so nothing has happened?

Ms Livingston : We're still negotiating a funding agreement.

Senator MOORE: Is the hope that it will be done by the end of the financial year?

Ms Livingston : Certainly we're doing everything—

Senator MOORE: In terms of the sequence of how it flows, I would have thought that it was very important that it was done by the end of the financial year.

Ms Livingston : We are looking to have those done by the end of financial year.

Senator MOORE: The grant guidelines said, 'The expected commencement date for the granting activities is early 2018.' Given that we're almost halfway through the year, when do you expect activities will actually commence?

Ms Livingston : We will be looking for activities to commence as soon as possible after execution. I should just clarify that the grant opportunity related to funding for this financial year but also the next two financial years, so part of our negotiation with successful applicants will be around the appropriate phasing of that money and what constitutes—

Senator MOORE: So there will likely be some flexibility? You talk to people who put in grants—

Ms Livingston : That's right, yes.

Senator MOORE: Do you know how many people actually put applications in?

Ms Livingston : It was in the realm of about 150 applications, but I'm happy to provide a precise number on notice.

Senator MOORE: That would be lovely if you could get that on notice. I think time has beaten me, so the rest will go on notice. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: If there are no further questions for the Office for Women, I thank you very much for your evidence.