Title Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Database Estimates Committees
Date 08-02-2016
Committee Name Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Page 7
System Id committees/estimate/06e2d3df-3fe5-4bce-b155-8e43d929d5ea/0001

Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee - 08/02/2016 - Estimates - IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION PORTFOLIO


In Attendance

Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC, Attorney-General

Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment, Minister for Women

Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Mr Michael Pezzullo, Secretary, Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Mr Roman Quaedvlieg APM, Commissioner, Australian Border Force

Mr Jim Williams, Acting Deputy Secretary, Visa and Citizenship Services

Ms Rachel Noble PSM, Deputy Secretary, Policy Group

Mr Peter Vardos PSM, Deputy Secretary, Client Services Decision Support Review

Mr Michael Outram APM, Deputy Commissioner, Operations

Dr Jill Charker, Deputy Secretary, Corporate, Chief Operating Officer

Ms Cindy Briscoe   , Deputy Commissioner, Support

Ms .Maria Fernandez, Deputy Secretary, Intelligence and Capability

Jenet Connell, Deputy Secretary, Strategic Reform

Major General Andrew Bottrell CSC, Commander, Joint Agency Task Force

Ms Maree Bridger, First Assistant Secretary, Executive Division

Ms, Rachael Spalding, First Assistant Secretary, Strategic Policy and Planning Division

Mr Ben Evans, Assistant Secretary, Strategy Branch

Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Immigration and Citizenship Policy

Ms Linda Geddes, First Assistant Secretary, Traveller, Customs and Industry Policy Division

Mr Lachlan Colquhoun, First Assistant Secretary, International Division

Ms Charlotte Tressler, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division

First Assistant Secretary, People Change and Reform

Ms Paula Goodwin, Acting First Assistant Secretary, People Division

Mr Steven Groves, Chief Finance Officer

Ms Philipa De Veau, General Counsel

Mr Stephen Hayward, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Integrity, Security and Assurance Division (Chief Risk Office/Chief Audit Executive)

Ms Karen Harfield, First Assistant Secretary, Intelligence Division

Mr Randall Brugeaud, Chief Information Officer, ICT Division

Mr Michael Milford AM, First Assistant Secretary, Major Capability Division

Mr Paul Cross, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Identity and Biometrics Division

Ms Christine Dacey, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Visa and Citizenship Management

Mr Kruno Kukoc, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee and Humanitarian Visa Management

Ms Peta Dunn, First Assistant Secretary, Community Protection

Mr Phil Thurbon, First Assistant Secretary, Digital Transformation and Channels Division

Mr Stephen Allen, Assistant Commissioner, Border Management

Mr Peter Docwra, Assistant Commissioner, Border Force Capability

Ms Cheryl-anne Moy, First Assistant Secretary, Children, Community and Settlement Services

Mr Ben Wright, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Detention Services

Mr Stephen Alexander, Acting Commander, Maritime Border Command

Mr Clive Murray, Assistant Commissioner, Strategic Border Command

Mr Anthony Seebach, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Investigations

Dr John Brayley, Chief Medical Officer/Surgeon General Australian Border Force

Committee met at 09:03

CHAIR ( Senator Ian Macdonald ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred the particulars of the proposed expenditure for the portfolios of Attorney-General's, and Immigration and Border Protection, and other related documents, to the committee for investigation.

These are additional budget proceedings, and agencies to be heard during today's estimates are from Immigration and Border Protection. We have set Friday, 8 April as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. The committee has decided that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by the close of business on 19 February.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public. This includes answers to questions on notice. Witnesses know that, in giving evidence to the committee, they are protected by parliamentary privilege and all that that entails. It is a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. If witnesses need any help with any of the rules governing Senate estimates hearings, please see the secretariat.

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, pp 124-125)

In 1999, the Senate, by resolution, endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations or financial positions of the departments and agencies which are seeking funds in estimates are relevant questions for the purpose of estimates committee hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has the discretion to withhold details or explanations from parliament or its committees unless parliament has expressly provided otherwise. The Senate has resolved that an officer should not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy, but shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how the policies were adopted. I particularly draw the attention of the witnesses to an order of the Senate specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. 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 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that would result from the disclosure.

We have had a request from the media to film proceedings in the room. I assume that colleagues and witnesses have no particular objection. That is approved.

I indicate that the rules of the Senate require that while any senator has any questions that they want an answer to we continue with those questions until they are answered. This does mean, unfortunately, that sometimes the suggested times on the program are not followed. I am required to continue on any particular section until all questions have been asked, regardless of the time. I encourage my colleagues to try and keep to those guidelines of time, so that we can get through every aspect that senators have indicated they have a desire to question.

A number of agencies have been advised that they will not be required, and those that have been required are agencies that individual senators have indicated they would like to ask questions of. I am going to adopt my normal practice of sharing the time fairly by going from senator to senator for 10 minutes at a time, but we will keep coming back so that every senator has the opportunity to ask all the questions that they need.

I welcome the Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and also Mr Quaedvlieg, Mr Pezzullo and your staff and colleagues. Minister, would you or any of your senior officers like to make an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I will not, but I understand that the secretary and the commissioner do.

Mr Pezzullo : Thank you, chair. I should like to make a general opening statement covering a number of matters of significance that are likely to arise during the course of the day. I should like to begin with an overview of the situation regarding Operation Sovereign Borders, in light of the decision brought down last week, on 3 February, by the High Court of Australia, in the case known as M68. During my tenure as secretary, since October 2014, we have maintained the integrity of our maritime borders, with no illegal maritime ventures having reached our shores during that time. Over that time the High Court of Australia has upheld the legal foundations of both turn back and take back maritime operations, in a case brought down in January 2015, as well as regional processing in the case known as M68, brought down earlier this month.

People smugglers and those seeking to employ their services should be in no doubt whatsoever that the government means what it says regarding how this nation deals with illegal maritime arrivals. If you attempt to come to Australia by illegal maritime means, you will be turned around or taken back. If you are rescued at sea, you will be safely turned around and the most that you might hope for is to be taken to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for the purposes of being assessed and processed for potential settlement outside Australia or return to your country of origin. You will never settle in Australia. To those waiting in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, seeking to come to Australia by illegal maritime means, and who listen very carefully to what is said by ministers and senior officials, let me be very clear: The path is shut, with no exceptions.

Regrettably, some think that if they wait this state of affairs will change. The government has given very clear instructions to me in this matter: The policy will not change and the department has to gear its efforts and allocates is resources accordingly.

The department is well seized of the need to find durable solutions for all who are the victims of exploitative people smugglers, those on Manus Island and Nauru and those in Australia, who, having arrived by illegal maritime means, are now not eligible for permanent settlement and further, in some cases, may not be owed protection at all. No amount of moral lecturing by those who seem not to comprehend the negative consequences of an open-borders policy will bring forth those solutions. There is no compassion in giving people false hope. All that can be done is being done. I speak here of quiet diplomacy in relation to developing options for possible third-country settlement, and the quiet persuasion of those not owed protection to go home.

With regard to transferees and refugees in regional processing centres, the department will continue to ensure that adequate medical services are provided to those who require them. Transferees and refugees temporarily in Australia for medical treatment or accompanying those in need of treatment will be returned to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, as the case applies, at the conclusion of their treatment, noting that determinations on this will be made on a case-by-case basis. As the Prime Minister, the minister and others have said, we will exercise appropriate discretion and compassion, but we will do so quietly. Avoidance of fanfare and gesture is crucial, lest others be encouraged to game opportunities to get to Australia or to remain here.

I cannot stress strongly enough to this committee the imperative that I and my officers face in measuring everything that we say very carefully, such that our words cannot be twisted by those people smugglers who would seek to convince their so-called clients that Australian policy is becoming more accommodative. Yielding to emotional gestures in this area of public administration simply reduces the margin for discretionary action which is able to be employed by those who are actually charged with dealing with the problem.

I turn now to immigration detention assurance. The commissioner will speak in more detail in a moment about reforms to detention operations that he has set in train. My role as secretary is to support him in those endeavours and to ensure that the department maintains an independent internal assurance function in relation to detention operations. As I have previously advised this committee, we have in place a separate, independent team, which is headed by a senior executive service officer, which provides advice on the management and performance of the immigration detention function. This team also supports an independent child protection panel, which advises me as secretary on issues pertaining to the wellbeing and protection of children in our care.

Acknowledging the significant value of external and independent feedback in critically examining our operations, we have continued to build positive relationships with external oversight bodies to improve the way in which we deliver our services. In this regard, we have received valuable advice from the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Australian Information Commissioner, the Australian Red Cross and others.

I turn now to reform of the department. As senators would be aware, from 1 July 2015 our mission changed fundamentally, with the amalgamation of the nation's immigration, citizenship, customs, border protection and maritime security functions and the establishment of the new integrated department and the Australian Border Force as its enforcement arm. Today, our new departmental mission is to protect Australia's border and to manage the movement of people and goods across it. Our role is to manage our nation's border processes by which we oversee the flow of people and goods to and from our nation. In other words, we are Australia's gateway to the world and the world's gateway to Australia. On occasions, we will need to act as gatekeepers and, as necessary, protect the border by all lawful means. However, the daily operating mode of the department will be to act as the open conduit of Australia's engagement with the world around us for the purposes of trade, travel or migration. The amalgamation of immigration and customs has been successfully accomplished, while the department has continued to manage growing volumes in terms of trade, travel and migration. To take but one example: in January 2016, the month just past, we assessed more than 100,000 visitor visa applications ahead of Chinese New Year celebrations—the first time we have ever cracked 100,000 for that period and an increase of 17 per cent on the same month in 2015. A noteworthy point to draw to attention is that 83 per cent of these applications were processed well within five working days, which is our service delivery standard. This and other praiseworthy accomplishments are a testament to the men and women of the department and the ABF. I should like to pay tribute to our staff, who every day successfully deliver immigration and customs functions for the nation while keeping us safe through their work at the border.

Reform integration activities are, however, ongoing. We are committed to building one culture and one organisation, an objective which includes continuing to consolidate and streamline functions across the portfolio. Our integration reforms are large and complex. They affect around 14,000 staff across the portfolio, as well as our financial, legal, infrastructure, technology and organisational policies and processes. The department continues to improve its internal service delivery by developing a range of initiatives designed to improve the efficiency of back-of-house services, and integration has enabled efficiencies to be made through the removal of duplication and through improved business practices. As a result of these efforts, savings over the forward estimates period will be $270 million, comprising a return to government of $200 million and a departmental reinvestment fund of $70 million for ongoing reform. By the end of this financial year, it is our expectation that the bulk of the integration effort would have been completed, with the exception of some core elements such as full IT integration and property consolidation, which, due to inherent complexities, will necessarily require additional time and investment.

We are also scoping our major reforms into the future beyond the end of the financial year. To this end, I have dedicated senior resources to defining, managing and communicating our future operating model over the next 10 years. This will support our investment decisions and guide our capabilities to ensure that we can respond quickly to the volatile external environment in which we work. I will report on these reform efforts in future appearances before this committee. In the meantime, however, I might briefly lay out the reform task for the committee. In a highly connected global environment we will need to encourage increasingly seamless cross-border movement. A new flow model of the Australian border is already emerging in the form of our increasing capacity to deal with rapidly growing volumes of visitors, migrants and goods, trendlines which will only continue to increase as the world shrinks and Australia's global linkages broaden and deepen. Our ability to achieve this in the future will be crucially dependent on our best asset—which is our people—being supported by ever-improving capabilities such as real-time data fusion, enhanced information sharing with intelligence and law enforcement partners, biometrics, intelligence-based targeting at high-risk border movements and quick response interdiction. Such capabilities will increasingly allow us to minimise our interventions in relation to lower risk border movements and to concentrate our efforts where they can make the most difference in terms of enforcing our laws, protecting our community and helping to ensure our nation's security.

I conclude with some remarks on our enterprise agreement. We are keen to develop an enterprise agreement that delivers the greatest benefits to the largest number of employees and one which also recognises the challenging nature of our reform and integration environment, our increasing operational demands and, of course, our budgetary constraints. The previous offer, which was rejected late last year, was developed with a view to keeping employee reductions to an absolute minimum over the life of the agreement to ensure that we had sufficient resources to carry out our duties as set by government. To make the previous offer affordable a reduction of 184 employees would have been required over the life of that agreement. The unavoidable reality is that a larger pay increase will now require more employee reductions. I am keen, as is the commissioner, to ensure that these reductions are kept to an absolute minimum. Bargaining has recommenced and I trust that we can bring this matter to a prompt resolution.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Pezzullo. I understand that you have copies of that for us which you can deliver after the commissioner has given his opening statement. Commissioner Quaedvlieg?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Thank you, chair. With the committee's indulgence I also have a short statement of about seven to eight minutes. I will read that out and then I am happy to table a copy for the committee. It has now been seven months since the establishment of the Australian Border Force. I explained to the committee in October last year that the ABF's operational remit is an amalgamation of the operational functions of the former Customs Service and the former immigration department. I outlined some of the ABF's operational priorities at that time. Good progress against those operational priorities is being made. On the back of record drug seizures of 7.3 tonnes last year, the ABF continues to make significant detections of major drugs, predominantly methamphetamine, otherwise known as ice, at Australia's border. For example, only last month, in a joint operation with the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales police service, we seized 500 kilograms of methamphetamine and precursor chemicals arriving in three sea cargo containers from China into Port Botany. The size of this seizure illustrates the continuing threat of methamphetamine importation to Australia's community.

Another example is the work of our counter-terrorist unit teams across Australia's international airports. We have increased the number of CTU officers from 80 to 100. Their primary role is to assist security and intelligence agencies by monitoring and intercepting persons from travelling to unlawfully participate in foreign conflicts, and to manage those persons seeking to return to Australia from conflict arenas. In the first seven months of this financial year, our CTU officers have spoken to and assessed almost 110,000 inbound and outbound passengers, resulting in 315 off-loads; they have recorded 1,100 outcomes from those actions, including referrals to security and intelligence partners and the collection of intelligence; and they have detected more than $3 million in undeclared currency.

I will outline more detailed progress against ABF operational priorities to the committee as the year advances. However, I want to use the remainder of this opportunity to briefly update the committee on a number of organisational reforms which I made reference to during last October's hearings and which the secretary alluded to in his opening comments.

On immigration detention, the committee may recall the ABF's assumption of responsibility for the management of onshore immigration detention facilities on 1 July last year. It is our assessment that the network of detention facilities, processes and general operations was not appropriate to optimally manage the changing cohort and new complexities arising from the 2,000 detainees we have responsibility for in our onshore detention network at any given point in time. We have therefore embarked on a substantial remediation program to improve the security, safety and amenity of these operations. Deputy Commissioner of Operations Michael Outram can provide more detail of this comprehensive reform program. However, I will provide some examples of the improvement program to give the committee a sense of the scale of the improvements.

We are conducting a review and a remediation program to improve the safety, security and amenity of all physical facilities. We have instituted compulsory training courses for ABF officers working at detention centres, which incorporate input and delivery from NGOs and oversight bodies such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention, and the Child Protection Panel. All detention operating policies and practices are being comprehensively overhauled and rewritten. We are developing new risk assessment tools and alternative community monitoring mechanisms with a view to using held detention as a last resort and reducing the number of detainees in the network. We have newly appointed specialist superintendents at our detention centres onshore as the single point of accountability, reporting ultimately to the deputy commissioner of operations. We have introduced a national decision-making model for placement of detainees across the national network, and we are working closely with our service providers—primarily Serco and IHMS—to improve standards in the delivery of security, medical and recreational services across the entire network.

So we are on an improvement path, but much is still left to be done in this area, which is inherently challenging, as is evidenced by the disturbance at the North West Point facility on Christmas Island in November last year. While we regained control of that facility within 36 hours, our review of the circumstances leading up to the disturbance recommended a number of improvements in security operations at the centre, all of which are in the process of being implemented.

I will now turn to our maritime capabilities. The last few months have seen the ABF complete the establishment of our maritime patrol fleet. In December we completed the build and commissioning program for our new Cape class fleet, with the eighth and final vessel coming into service. These purpose-built vessels, constructed in Fremantle, provide us with superior range, speed, endurance, passenger-carrying capacity and state-of-the-art communications in the execution of our maritime duties. In conjunction with the completion of our large hull vessel, the Ocean Shield, and a full complement of aerial surveillance assets, we now operate the largest and most capable maritime surveillance and response fleet Australian civilian authorities have ever fielded—one which is able to be deployed rapidly and efficiently from the new ABF berthing facility and marine base, which we recently opened at the East Arm Wharf in Darwin. Working in partnership with Defence, under the auspices of ABF's Maritime Border Command, we have achieved substantial operational successes in Australia's maritime domain, both in Operation Sovereign Borders, encountering illegal maritime people-smuggling, and against other civilian maritime threats, particularly illegal foreign fishing, where we have undertaken a number of successful disruption missions.

I now turn to airports. In the first six months of this financial year, we have processed more than 20 million passengers through Australia's airports, confirming our forecast of continued and substantial growth in passenger volumes. The recent Christmas period, for example, saw a record 3½ million passengers arrive and depart across our border. In response to this volume challenge, we are both injecting additional processing officers into the airports and implementing technological solutions for improved, seamless, automated processing of passengers.

This financial year, in the first six months, we have recruited an additional 225 officers to undertake front-line operational work in our airports. All have been trained in airport processing and will be directed to undertake this work as required. We have also invested heavily in the installation of smart gates. At Sydney Airport, for example, working in partnership with the Sydney Airport Corporation, we have just completed the installation of the largest bank of automated departure smart gates existing anywhere in the world. At the outbound departure point at this airport, an outbound passenger will see a line of 24 smart gates in sequence, which can read both e-chip and non-e-chip passports for self-help passenger processing. These gates are operating at a cycle rate of 25 seconds—that is the throughput rate for a passenger—and, for the month of January, they cleared more than half a million passengers at Sydney Airport without a hitch. The gates are now being actively installed in Brisbane and Melbourne airports, and by the end of this calendar year we will have over 90 outbound smart gates across our airport network.

I will turn to workforce. We continue to invest in developing the capability of the ABF's 6,000 strong workforce. Some examples: since 1 July, six Border Force officer training courses have commenced, and several of those officers have already graduated from the ABF College as the first cohort of ABF officers who are able to be flexibly deployed across both Customs and Immigration functions. We are rolling out mobile devices to our front-line officers to enable them to upload and download data in the field, as opposed to them being tethered to their office desks. We are harnessing and building specialist teams to focus on border related enforcement activities. Some examples are Taskforce Cadena, to combat the exploitation of working holiday makers, and Operation Balneary, which is focused on the removal of unlawful noncitizens from the community.

Finally I turn to collaboration. No ABF activity happens without collaboration with international and domestic partners, industry and the public. We have an active international engagement program. Our recent signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Thailand office of narcotics control to share intelligence on the movement of drugs across international borders, particularly from South-East Asia, and operational collaboration with Papua New Guinea to combat to illegal fishing and indentured labour in the regional fishing industry are two examples of this engagement.

Domestically, we have strong partnerships with enforcement agencies, with 37 ABF officers out posted to policing entities, task forces and joint operations. An illustration of the effectiveness of these arrangements is a taskforce which has achieved the cancellation or refusal of the visas of 64 organised crime figures, predominantly outlaw motorcycle gang members, impacting the Australian community through their involvement in serious and organised crime. Leveraging our visa compliance powers, many of those persons have already been removed from Australia, while the remainder are on a removal pathway.

Finally, our collaboration with industry for the improvement of facilitation of trade and travel is one of our most profound reform programs. I briefly mentioned advances in traveller facilitation when I spoke of our airport reforms, and certainly our collaboration with the aviation industry is vital to that reform. However, one of the most fundamental reform programs ever undertaken in trade facilitation in Australia is our Trusted Trader program. Sometimes referred to as an authorised economic operator program, or AEO, it is a trust based system which allows accredited reputable traders to benefit from low-touch, seamless and economically advantageous preferential treatment in the facilitation of imports and exports across the border. The Australian Trusted Trader program, which we launched in July last year with a pilot project of four industry participants, has now grown to 22 participants. Through this pilot we are at the cusp of accrediting Australia's first ever trusted trader who will shortly enjoy the benefits of this evolution in Australia's border trade clearance. The ATT project will grow to approximately 1,000 traders, representing 30 per cent of Australia's two-way trade by 2020.

I conclude by thanking the committee for allowing me to place on record this short statement highlighting the progress of the ABF in the first seven months of operation. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thanks, Commissioner Quaedvlieg. Thanks very much, gentlemen, for those opening statements; hopefully they will obviate some of the questions we may have had.

Can I just say, on behalf the committee, and indeed on behalf the people of Australia—I am sure I can do that—thanks very much to the officers from both your areas. The Customs and Border Protection people at times put themselves in danger for our safety and, although many of us only see them at the border posts, we know a lot goes on behind. We thank them very much for everything they do, Commissioner.

Secretary, I say the same to your people. They have a very, very difficult job to do in managing and making decisions, decisions that at times are very, very difficult ones in relation to immigration. I might say that all the committee would not always agree with everything they do, and certainly some of the committee do not agree with the actual policies they are required to implement, but, that notwithstanding, the committee as a whole, appreciates the work that those people do in very difficult circumstances.

Having said that, those statements are very useful. They are getting longer and longer every time, though, which prevents the committee from asking questions they are interested in. I just refer to the committee. The first section we have in the program is Australian Border Force. It is normal with that we question those opening statements, but if we do that will cover the whole program and we are not really going to get through them in order. I leave it to you whether you want to question the opening statements now or at 11:45 as was listed, or whether you want to go straight on to Australian Border Force or whether you want to do it the other way. I am happy either way.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you, Mr Chairman. You are correct. These statements are becoming longer and longer. It is now half an hour into proceedings and we are yet to ask a question. The officers have gone to a fair bit of trouble preparing these statements; the least we can do is follow them up. To facilitate that, could we actually have a copy of them?

CHAIR: We are getting a copy.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, presumably that will take a little while longer again.

CHAIR: No, I think they all have them.

Senator KIM CARR: Do they? I am pleased. Perhaps I could start with one matter—

CHAIR: Just let me be clear on that.

Senator KIM CARR: No, my intention is to pursue the matters that have been raised in these statements.

CHAIR: Okay, as long as we just understand, though, that will cover the whole of the program and so the program is not going to be terribly useful.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, that is right. As we know, the published program was a guide, nothing more.

CHAIR: Yes. All right, over to you, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: I would like to actually start by saying that they were quite long and lengthy statements but they have not covered some matters which I would have thought the department might wish to comment on.

Mr Pezzullo, there is a very serious matter—namely, the leaking of National Security Committee documents from your department. Lateline on 4 February published what it reported to be a very detailed—in fact, it would appear to have copies of a national security document. It may well be in draft form but it was nonetheless a national security document being prepared for the National Security Committee of Cabinet, marked 'Protected', 'Sensitive' and 'Cabinet'. It is reported that neither the minister, nor his staff, nor the Prime Minister, had actually viewed the document. Can you confirm that that is correct?

Mr Pezzullo : I can confirm that a document that was being prepared within the department, at that stage of its preparation, for circulation amongst other departments, and discussion with other departments and agencies, appears certainly—judging by the material that has been published by the ABC—to be in the hands of persons not authorised to have that document. As a consequence, the matter has been referred to the Federal Police as a potential criminal breach. That is point one.

On point two, I can confirm that the document at the point in time of its creation—because we can obviously judge the version of the document that the ABC appears to have—was internal to the bureaucracy and had not been sent to ministers or their staff. That includes the Prime Minister and his staff and my minister and his staff.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. The matter, as you say, has been referred to the AFP. Can you tell me the date on which that referral occurred?

Mr Pezzullo : I think it would have been the day after the disclosure. That would be Friday.

Senator KIM CARR: The fifth of February?

Mr Pezzullo : That would be the fifth, yes. I think the disclosure occurred in the latter part of the fourth, which was last Thursday. As I recall, it was Lateline, so that is later in the evening. Obviously, in discussions with our counterparts—including our colleagues in the Department of Social Services, who are conjoined in this effort—we decided that it was our duty and obligation as secretaries and as senior officers to make such a referral. So that happened on the Friday.

Senator KIM CARR: When did you discover that the document had in fact been leaked?

Mr Pezzullo : In terms of my personal knowledge of it, when one of my staff drew my attention to—if not to the program itself, then to the preview of the program that afternoon. I might just ask Deputy Secretary Noble, who has carriage of this matter within the department to perhaps refresh my memory as to when she told me.

Ms Noble : Yes, that is correct. Lateline had put some inquiries into our minister's office on Thursday night, so our minister's office called me to ask if we knew what document Lateline possibly had. That was at about 6.30 on Thursday night. Then I called the secretary almost immediately.

Senator KIM CARR: There are reports that Fairfax have also got the document. Is there a separate AFP inquiry into that leak?

Mr Pezzullo : As best as we can ascertain—and it will be for the investigative authorities to look into this further—the document that is on the web appears to be the same document. When other outlets say that they 'have obtained' said document, it is not clear if they are reporting off the document that they found on the web or if they have a separate copy of it.

Senator KIM CARR: I see.

Mr Pezzullo : In any event, I am sure the Federal Police would take it as an omnibus referral that pertains to the same document, irrespective of which media outlet purports to have it.

Senator KIM CARR: It may well be that they are simply referring to the website document.

Mr Pezzullo : I cannot be sure, but there appears to be a single document that has been regrettably disclosed in an unauthorised fashion.

Senator KIM CARR: Who initiated the preparation of the document?

Mr Pezzullo : Senator, I am not really at liberty to go into a lot of detail, simply because to do so would necessitate the canvassing of matters internal to the cabinet by definition, because on its face it is obviously a document being prepared for the National Security Committee of Cabinet. Suffice to say that the document itself makes reference to its status as a so-called comeback pursuant to an earlier decision of the NSC. There is no point denying that, because that is apparent on the face of the document.

Senator KIM CARR: It is stated, yes.

Mr Pezzullo : It is stated, but beyond that I am not really prepared to go into much detail.

Senator KIM CARR: How many departmental officers had access to the document?

Mr Pezzullo : That is not in my personal knowledge. In any event, to the extent that we have undertaken preliminary inquiries—how many people saw it, who created it, on whose system was it and who transmitted it—those are really now properly matters to be laid before the Federal Police.

Senator KIM CARR: You mentioned the Department of Social Services. Would any other agencies have access to the document?

Mr Pezzullo : At the point in time that that document was created, it was created for the purposes of discussion with other agencies. Ms Noble will correct me and refresh me. She briefed me in detail over the weekend. That document went out to a number of other agencies in what we describe in the business as a 'pre-exposure draft'.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you able to tell me which agencies received the pre-exposure draft?

Mr Pezzullo : I might take that on notice, only from the point of view of wishing to consult with colleagues in the Federal Police about their level of comfort.

Senator KIM CARR: I am interested to know whether all attention should be focused on your department.

Mr Pezzullo : It certainly shouldn't be. That would be unfair to the officers involved. This is not an aspersion; I know that you are seeking to assist by giving me the opportunity to indicate that officers from other departments had access to it. I can confirm that that is the case. As to whether it was a dozen agencies, eight, 10 or 15, I might just defer on that matter to the investigation that is now on foot.

Senator KIM CARR: I notice that the minister and his office have denied having any access to the document, not having seen the document.

Mr Pezzullo : I can confirm that. That is right.

Senator KIM CARR: So they did not see a draft? There were no briefing papers sent up?

Mr Pezzullo : No. We do not do briefing papers in that sense. We do submissions, and there were no submissions sent to the minister or his advisers.

Senator KIM CARR: And no-one in the minister's office was aware of the construction of the document?

Mr Pezzullo : I do not think you can draw that conclusion. Without wishing to canvass the detailed and specific instructions given to us by either the cabinet or one of its committees: on its face, it is obvious that there had been an instruction given to the minister through cabinet committee processes and then in turn the minister passed that instruction onto his department, as you well know, to prepare the document. There would have been an awareness that this was a task, as it were, or homework, as it were, for the committee.

Senator KIM CARR: But there must have been some conversation following that cabinet committee instruction. It is a come back document, as you say. There must have been cut some conversation with the minister's office about the preparation of the document.

Mr Pezzullo : If you are now asking me about conversations—as opposed to briefings, submissions or notes—I cannot rule out, nor could you reasonably expect me to rule out, discussions over the telephone or other oral discussions. You asked me earlier about the transmission of documents to the minister. I can confirm that the minister has not seen, and did not see at the time, the document in question—nor had his staff. As to whether members of Ms Noble's policy group engaged with members of the minister's staff to get maybe a bit more precision or a sense of the nature of the task, I certainly could not rule that out and that would be just in the ordinary course.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. Ms Noble, can you assist me in that matter? What was the level of communication with the minister's office?

Ms Noble : Since the leak, we have obviously asked our staff to go through their recollections about any engagement with the minister's office either in writing or verbally. Only very recently, on 27 January, can anyone recall having a conversation with one of the minister's advisers. That was principally about the process: when we expected to be able to provide the document and what the time frames were.

Senator KIM CARR: So you can confirm: there was nothing in writing in regard to the preparation of this material prior to the 27th, in which there was a conversation about the process for the preparation of the document.

Ms Noble : That is correct, based on our ability to work through this with all of our staff so far.

Senator KIM CARR: That is the best information at this point.

Ms Noble : That is right.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. Thank you very much. How long do these leak inquiries take, as a rule?

Mr Pezzullo : In my experience, this is a matter for the investigative agency, which is the federal police at the federal level. It is variable and it is really something that perhaps needs to be canvassed with the Australian Federal Police.

Senator KIM CARR: But we cannot expect an answer soon, can we?

Mr Pezzullo : You are operating to a criminal standard of proof. It is a serious breach of relevant provisions of the Crimes Act and, potentially, other acts of parliament. It is criminal and people could go to jail, so I presume that they will take the time they need to ensure that everything is done appropriately.

Senator KIM CARR: We will return to this matter at the next estimates round. Can I ask you about another matter that I thought you would have canvassed in your statement. That is, the matter relating to the MV Portland.

Mr Pezzullo : But you are inviting me to make longer statements here.

Senator KIM CARR: I am always happy to listen to the information that you have to provide, as you know.

Mr Pezzullo : Thank you.

Senator KIM CARR: The question has arisen in relation to MV Portland and the Australia crew there who were removed from the Alcoa plant in Portland. I understand the department is familiar with this incident?

Mr Pezzullo : I have got a broad awareness of it. I might ask the commissioner if he is across the matter of the MV Portland in more detail.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I have a broad awareness of it as well.

Senator KIM CARR: The Australian crew was removed from the vessel on 13 January and replaced with a foreign crew—that is, seven Indian nationals, as I understand it—at 1 am in the morning, escorted by about 30 security guards. I am interested to know what the role of the department was in that operation.

Mr Pezzullo : I might see if the commissioner has any awareness of any ABF involvement, in the first instance.

Mr Quaedvlieg : As far as I am aware, the Australian Border Force had no involvement in that particular incident.

Senator KIM CARR: The department surely had a role in regard to the visa arrangements for the Indian crew, though. Would that be a fair conclusion to draw?

Mr Pezzullo : We might take it on notice through the course of the day, but, without drilling into the details, it certainly would be the case that any competent authority would be able to reach into the department on the visa side to ascertain the bona fides—whether someone has a right to be in Australia or the right to transit through Australia. That is certainly the role that the department would play. I am sorry I do not have the recall in my mind; I did not prepare on this particular matter. I do apologise. I just need to remind myself as to which jurisdiction was being exercised here, and then perhaps we could take it from there. Perhaps you could lay out the matters of concern.

Senator KIM CARR: The crew that had been on board the MV Portland were all Australian citizens and they had all been cleared by customs and immigration officials to depart Australia for anticipated voyages to Singapore. My concern is that, on being forcibly removed and abandoned at the Alcoa wharf, those Australian citizens arriving back in Australia have not been cleared or authorised by customs and immigration to re-enter Australia. Is that the case?

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, Australian citizens?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Pezzullo : They cannot be barred from re-entry.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, but they normally have to go through some customs procedure.

Mr Pezzullo : All Australians, irrespective of how you—

Senator KIM CARR: How does that occur?

Mr Pezzullo : Irrespective of how you depart and return, everyone is lawfully obligated to go through a customs clearance, that is for sure. But there is no question of your visa status, because, by definition, you are a citizen.

Senator KIM CARR: Is there a question around whether or not customs had a responsibility that has not been fulfilled in regard to the Australian crew who were removed from the vessel?

Mr Quaedvlieg : I would doubt that. I am not familiar with the exact details of the incident that you are referring to, but all persons coming back through what we perceive as the primary line need a level of clearance. Whether that was done on a face-to-passport match or through some other method, I cannot tell you, in relation to this incident. I will have to take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Will there be any record of these Australian citizens re-entering Australia?

Mr Quaedvlieg : There should be, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: But there will not be, if they have not been cleared.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I do not know. As I said, I am not familiar with the incident and I will need to take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Perhaps you can tell me this: were the Australian crew registered as having re-entered Australia?

Mr Quaedvlieg : I think that question is identical to the one you posed just previously. I cannot answer that question.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. I am asking a very specific question: is there a record to show that that crew—

Mr Pezzullo : I think the best course is to take it on notice. Given it is relatively early in proceedings, if it is acceptable to you, chair, we will try to clear that up through the course of the day.

Senator KIM CARR: In terms of the crew that were put on the vessel, what visa arrangements were made for those people?

Mr Pezzullo : I think that follows on. We have taken the question on notice, as it were, through the day. If we cannot get answers to your satisfaction through the course of the day, we might need to take it on notice more formally.

Senator KIM CARR: Of course, I appreciate that.

Mr Pezzullo : We will take on notice two questions: the border clearance of the Australian citizens—

Senator KIM CARR: And the exit arrangements for the foreign crew.

Mr Pezzullo : And their visa standard.

Senator KIM CARR: Particularly whether or not they had Maritime Crew visas at the relevant time.

Mr Pezzullo : Subject to being able to come back to you through the course of the day—and if it is acceptable to the committee, through you, chair—we will try and acquit that through the day.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. I will follow those through.

Mr Pezzullo : Just to be clear: the vessel's name was the MV Portland?

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

CHAIR: Mr Pezzullo, you mentioned visas for Chinese immigrants with a five-day turnaround.

Mr Pezzullo : Or less than five days.

CHAIR: What is the five days?

Mr Pezzullo : That is the service delivery standard that we aspire to. You make your visa application, it is assessed, and you are granted a visa within five days of fewer.

CHAIR: Does that apply to other Asian countries as well? Is five days the average?

Mr Pezzullo : I think it is pretty general. I might ask Mr Williams to come and assist. He is the acting deputy for our visa group. The point I was making in my statement was that in this past month of January is the first time that we had cracked 100,000 applications granted. 83 per cent of those 100,000, so 83,000, were granted within five days. I might ask Mr Williams to elaborate.

Mr Williams : The service standard is split for different countries, depending on perception of risk. Generally speaking, for higher risk countries it is up to 30 days. China is actually one of those countries, although we far exceed that service standard. It is very much an outer standard.

CHAIR: So even though they are a high-risk country, you are still doing it within five days?

Mr Williams : We were able to do it much quicker. That is the case with China.

Mr Pezzullo : We are very practised at it.

CHAIR: Well done. I know it is a policy decision, not the department's decision, that we have visas for certain countries but not others, but it is, as you know, a constant source of annoyance to China and some other Asian countries about the—

Mr Pezzullo : Just to be clear for the record, Australia has a universal visa system for all countries—even New Zealanders travelling here under trans-Tasman travel arrangements have a nominal visa. The question of how you can expedite things like online lodgement and how you can expedite the paperwork to give it a very light-touch visa, is what we are constantly working on, including with China. This government made announcements last year in terms of streamlining visa processes for our Chinese visitors, and those reforms are in train.

CHAIR: Again, I realise these are policy questions, but over Christmas I was on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, and I am always amazed that you need no visa to get into French New Caledonia or Vanuatu or other South Pacific nations, but clearly we do not reciprocate with any of them coming to Australia.

Mr Pezzullo : It has been a longstanding and indeed bipartisan position, going right back to the establishment of the department in 1945, that we have always had visas. The trick in the modern age is how do you ensure that those visas can be applied for quickly, expeditiously, increasingly through digital forms and increasingly through what we refer to as a light-touch approach.

CHAIR: Is the application fee for a visa the same everywhere in the world?

Mr Pezzullo : No. There are differences according to the type of visa. I might ask Mr Williams to elaborate.

Mr Williams : That is right. For a general visitor visa the fee is the same everywhere.

CHAIR: What is it?

Mr Williams : I think it is $130, but I will double check. There are some other visa categories which do not attract fee. For example, for an electronic travel authority there is a $20 fee to do it online.

CHAIR: What is an electronic travel authority?

Mr Williams : That is a visa that is available for certain countries where there is a totally electronic process, and the visa is done quite quickly online.

CHAIR: Would the Chinese applications be one of the $20 ones.

Mr Williams : No, they are a general visitor visa, with the $130 fee that I mentioned.

CHAIR: Does the visa and passport section of the department operate at a profit? Or don't you have a budget for that within the department?

Mr Williams : We have a budget within the department for it. The fees that are collected go straight to the Treasury—to consolidated revenue.

CHAIR: But you do not keep a notebook of how much your wages and equipment costs and how much you recover?

Mr Pezzullo : We do. We can account for both our outlays and the fees coming into the Treasury and to other areas.

CHAIR: Do you operate at a profit, to use a crass term?

Mr Pezzullo : We collect more fees than our expenses are.

CHAIR: I will not ask the details of that. Commissioner, in relation to people smugglers, at this committee's hearing last week on another inquiry it was revealed that a Bangladeshi man paid US$1,000 to a people smuggler, which we then ascertained was about four times the average annual income in Bangladesh. So it was quite a substantial sum of money paid by someone to a people smuggler. I think this was evidence given by Amnesty International. Are you able to tell me, without breaching any confidences, what the range of money is, as far as you are aware, that is paid to people smugglers for illegal entry into Australia? Do you have some figures?

Mr Quaedvlieg : I can give you a generic answer. The price of a people-smuggling voyage, if you will, does suffer from elasticity. Its econometrics are pretty much the same as with any product or service. During mid-2013, when there were a significant number of SIEV ventures to Australia and many thousands of asylum seekers, the price of a voyage from Indonesia to Australia was in the vicinity of US$10,000. Since the Operation Sovereign Borders model has been put in place, that price has dropped significantly. People smugglers are struggling to find customers, and therefore the price drops. We are seeing fares being offered as low as US$2,000. I was not familiar with the example you just gave,

CHAIR: It was evidence given by Amnesty, I think. If not it was the Law Council.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I accept that. There is a price range in those two parameters.

CHAIR: Although its $1,000, according to Google that is four times the average annual income for a Bangladeshi. In Australian terms, it is probably $300,000. Is your information relatively recent, without again going into any details which might impact—

Mr Quaedvlieg : Yes, it is.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Pezzullo, can I turn to the second page of your opening statement, where you say:

No amount of moral lecturing by those who seem not to comprehend the negative consequences of an open borders policy will bring forth those solutions …Avoidance of fanfare and gesture is crucial … Yielding to emotional gestures in this area of public administration simply reduces the margin for discretionary action.

You are referring to the premiers there, are you not?

Mr Pezzullo : No, not specifically at all. It is a statement made generally, with general application.

Senator KIM CARR: So the premiers' statements over the weekend would not fit into that category?

Mr Pezzullo : It is for others to judge whether they fit in or do not fit in.

Senator KIM CARR: Who did you have in mind?

Mr Pezzullo : I did not have anyone particularly in mind.

Senator KIM CARR: It was just a generalised statement, was it?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. A policy position, if it is based on universal principles, has to be articulated universally, not dependent on the waxing and waning of commentary in social media and all the rest of it. If you have, as the Prime Minister described it yesterday, a policy that is tough—and indeed, to paraphrase him further, one that sometimes cannot really be described, in parts, other than as harsh—it has to be applied universally. The moment you have a chink of light, the moment you give someone a clue as to how to game the system, you will put people's lives in danger.

Senator KIM CARR: The Premier of Victoria's letter has received considerable publicity. What is the department's response to that?

Mr Pezzullo : It is a letter from the Premier of state of our federation to the Prime Minister. The department does it not has its own view on it. The department applies government policy.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the government's response to that?

Mr Pezzullo : Prime Minister was asked about that yesterday, I think. My minister has made a commentary on it. The point that they have both made is identical with the thrust of my opening statement, which is that the more this is talked about publicly, the tougher we have to be in articulating the resolute of the logic of Operation Sovereign Borders. It takes away any capacity, subject to case-by-case determination, to come to practical arrangements in particular cases where that is applicable.

Senator KIM CARR: Are you saying it reduces your discretion?

Mr Pezzullo : Completely.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the process for the returning of the 270 asylum seekers currently in Australia to Nauru?

Mr Pezzullo : I will ask to be joined by Deputy Commissioner Briscoe. Ms Moy can join me as well. We will go through a process, which is always ongoing, of taking advice in the first instance from medical practitioners. They will advise us on the primary medical issue, that is to say the issue that saw the persons in question brought to Australia. Depending on how their care and recuperation is going—in some cases they have illnesses that are very serious and do not have any early prospect of resolution, while in other cases they are fit and well—in terms of the primary medical condition that saw them brought here, we will work through those in a staged fashion. It is an ongoing process. They will not be, does not need to be and should not be a bulk determination.

What has changed is that with the bringing down of the decision known as M68 the department is on a very clear legal footing that it is able to return persons. Whilst those proceedings were on foot the minister of the day had decided to enter into a voluntary self-obligation to not return such persons, and a number of persons were part of those undertakings as they were joined to the case. That now has been lifted. Beyond that I am not going to go into the specifics of individual cases, firstly because they are all going to be intrinsically private, and secondly because I do not want to pre-empt the legal and operational processes that we now need to go through other than to say that a single bulk determination that says, 'The High Court has brought down its; you all have to leave in one plane load' is not appropriate, because of the different stages of recovery of some of these folks, and it is not sensible. It will not be pursued in those terms.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you have any estimate of when these returns will occur?

Mr Pezzullo : They will necessarily be staged, because they are conditions based, based on a case-by-case consideration primarily, as I said, of the medical condition that saw the persons repatriated to Australia for care. In some cases, and I will check with the deputy commissioner and with Ms Moy, we are talking about cancer or all sorts of long running illnesses. In other cases there may have been an acute injury which at that time could not have been dealt with on Nauru, but has now been dealt with. As we improve the medical facilities on Nauru, with the agreement of the Nauru government and in support of their role as the processing authority, there will be less and less opportunity and requirement to repatriate people to Australia. I might pause there and just ask the deputy commissioner perhaps to add to my answer.

Ms Briscoe : This secretary has pretty much covered it. There are a range of reasons that people were brought to Australia. In many cases their medical care continues. For some, we have indications from a medical provider that some will need more than six months' medical treatment. As the secretary mentioned, it varies in each case.

Senator KIM CARR: Is after six months what you are thinking?

Ms Briscoe : There are a range of cases. Some people may be fit to travel soon, and for others the time may be greater than six months.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the earliest time at which you will expect to see people being returned?

Mr Pezzullo : I think it is best if we keep our counsel on that, simply because those questions are both for decision makers who are delegates. They have delegated authority and do not really need any nudging from me in an open hearing. They will make their decisions in due course.

In trying to answer your question as best I can: in some cases, if the medical treatment has been attended to, the court case has come down and the need for the undertaking to some extent has been, shall we say, 'eliminated' because the court has found in favour of the executive on this, it is possible—if we just work through that logic without identifying cases—that some people, by definition, are ready to go within days, because their treatment has been attended to and the only thing that was holding them back was the commitment the executive had given to the court not to return persons until it had concluded its deliberations. In some cases it might be weeks, in other cases it might be months and, regrettably, in some cases it might be for reasons to do with very long-term and indeed potentially terminal illnesses. Some folks, I suspect, will be here for quite a while. It is all dependent on their medical condition.

Senator KIM CARR: An article in The Age on 4 February quotes Mr Garfield Prowse as informing the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration:

The department continues to work closely with the government of Nauru regarding the welfare of children, …


… the department "takes steps" to ensure all school-aged children in any form of detention were enrolled in school.

I am wondering if you can provide the committee with specific details on how the department works with the Nauruan government with regard to the welfare of children?

Mr Pezzullo : We are talking here about the children who are in Nauru, who are the subject of schooling and—

Senator KIM CARR: They would not be the ones in Australia, so they would be the ones in Nauru—

Mr Pezzullo : I am just being clear because we have moved from one category to another. I might ask Ms Moy to address that question. Mr Prowse does work for Ms Moy. I did see a media report to the effect of what you have just said. I do not know what the context of his remarks were, but Ms Moy might be able to add more.

Ms Moy : With regard to education in Nauru: the department does work closely with the government of Nauru which, obviously, as a sovereign nation has the lead on education. We also work very closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which funds up to $3.2 million per annum under the Nauru Department of Education strategy. So there is quite an amount of Australian aid on the DFAT side, which you could talk to them about in more detail.

But in terms of the Department of Immigration we have been working with the Department of Education in Nauru in enhancement of the school infrastructure, building eight new classrooms. That is approximately $9 million. That is estimated to be completed by the end of April 2016. We work with Nauru, supporting them by providing school counsellors and by providing 11 teachers through the Brisbane Catholic Education Office. At the beginning of each school year, and more broadly in terms of strategy, the government of Nauru talks to us about what plans they have in terms of the numbers of children, the ages of the children and the education direction. We also assist with the University of New England, which has a campus in Nauru, as well as the University of the South Pacific. So there is quite an amount of work done at all five schools, from the primary through to the secondary and then into the tertiary and vocational areas.

Senator KIM CARR: How many children who were placed on Nauru as detainees, or in families of detainees, are not attending school?

Ms Moy : There are a number of children who do not attend school. The numbers who are attending school at the moment are very similar to the numbers who attended in the educational facility which was in the regional processing centre. The numbers have not changed dramatically.

Senator KIM CARR: What percentage is that?

Ms Moy : I will pull that percentage out for you. The number of children who are attending school really does relate to parental involvement. The five counsellors who are provided do work with both the schools and the parents. They assist the parents in engaging with the school and therefore assisting the children. But at the end of the day, parental responsibility is difficult. I will get that information for you, if you will just bear with me for a moment.

No, I do not have the actual percentage but I will get that for you during the course of the day.

Senator KIM CARR: What is the number then?

Ms Moy : I do not think I have the number either. I did have the numbers in a previous brief.

Senator KIM CARR: You may find it in your notes.

Ms Moy : I will find it and give it to you.

Senator KIM CARR: Does that include preschool children?

Ms Moy : Yes, it does—from age 4.

Senator KIM CARR: So it is one category. Thank you.

Ms Moy : It is from age 4. The compulsory schooling in Nauru does not commence till age 7.

Senator KIM CARR: Is it a significant number not attending?

Ms Moy : I would say it is probably about 50 per cent, yes, but I will get the exact number for you.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. I asked about schooling but I also asked about the welfare of children. How does the department work with the Nauruan government with regard to the welfare of children.

Ms Moy : In terms of the welfare of children, other than the educational facilities, there are also our service providers, Connect Settlement Services, who work with the children and the families who are refugees who have settled. There is also Broadspectrum, who work within the RPC3. The programs and facilities that are provided for children, in terms of activities and co-educational activities in the RPC3, are equivalent to preschool activities within Australia for the younger children. Older children who should be at school are encouraged to go to school. Other than that, there are also the medical facilities that are provided. There is the child protection unit, which has been stood up by the Department of Home Affairs in Nauru, and also the gender violence unit. The gender violence unit and the child protection unit work together in the Department of Home Affairs. We provide support primarily in terms of funding to the child protection unit and the gender violence unit, which operates 24/7, offering counselling to refugees, transferees and all Nauruans.

Senator KIM CARR: I think the general public would have been shocked by the reports of sexual violence that arose in the High Court case proceedings. The rape of an infant was one matter that was given particular attention. How satisfactory do you think our efforts are, as the Commonwealth of Australia through the Department of Immigration, in protecting the welfare of children on Nauru?

Ms Moy : Sorry; the rape of an infant?

Senator KIM CARR: A five-year-old.

Mr Pezzullo : At this point it is probably worth making a few comments about that because that was concerning. It was not a case known to us. Ms Moy personally, at my direction, followed up with the medical practitioner. Ms Moy has some interesting information to put before the Senate. It would be very helpful indeed for advocates and those who are very passionately engaged in this issue to get their facts right, because it does create an unnecessarily adverse—

Senator KIM CARR: Are you saying the claim of the rape of a five-year-old was untrue?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, in some cases it is not what it seems. In some cases, upon further investigation, it is often a matter that has been previously looked at.

Senator KIM CARR: I am more than happy to—

CHAIR: Senator, your time has finished, but, as it turns out, I was going to pursue that line in any case. Senator O'Sullivan can have this, but I am going to pinch a couple of his minutes. Can you give us those details, Ms Moy? I chair the committee where we have all the advocates before us on various cases, and they are all allegations. I always ask which have been proved. Perhaps in that general context you can indicate to me. We see a lot of media reports and advocacy groups making allegations. How many of them have been proved? How many do we know are real?

Mr Pezzullo : I will ask Ms Moy to answer in a way that attempts not to identify the child. Could you go through the analysis that you did late last week, Ms Moy?

Ms Moy : It was quite a concern to read in the paper or hear on 7.30of the rape of a five-year-old child. We have not had any allegations of the rape of a five-year-old child or the rape of a child at all prior to that. I did contact the paediatrician from the Royal Children's Hospital in Sydney to discuss with her the case and to try to identify the child for our purposes to ensure that we had all of the information we could. I am very keen not to give detail that will even identify this child to themselves if they were listening to information in the media. The child was not five. The allegation was of a sexual assault by another child who was about two years older, which was a physical skin to skin contact. It was not allegation of rape by the child. The child is more than double the age of five, without identifying how old the child is. All allegations against a child are terrible, and we do not condone any assault or alleged assault of a child. The issue had been brought to our attention at the time. The case was investigated by Mr Moss in his report. It had also been investigated by the child protection panel. The child protection panel's investigation determined that the department's responses to the actions were correct. The allegations were raised by the parent. At the time that the allegations were raised, support services were wrapped around the family, both medical and welfare and counselling. The child was moved to Australia for further treatment in terms of counselling within a month of the incident, I think it was. The child is now living in the community with his family.

CHAIR: Where?

Ms Moy : In New South Wales. He remains in Australia. In respect of the treatment that the child is receiving, I think we would all say that the Royal Children's Hospital is world class. He is receiving treatment that we would consider appropriate. We hope to be able to have the child not damaged at all by being identified as being the person who is being spoken about in the media.

Mr Pezzullo : In other words, no rape of a five-year-old child occurred, even on the word of the concerned doctor, once we cross referenced it. The doctor has done the right thing and came back to Ms Moy very promptly late last week. As I understand it, she was uncertain as to how the media reporting, through some process of transformation, had turned the matter that she had raised into a rape of a five-year-old child.

CHAIR: No doubt that factual report will get the same headlines as the allegation, but that is not a question for you, Mr Pezzullo.

Mr Pezzullo : Somehow I doubt it.

Ms Moy : I should have mentioned that the paediatrician that I spoke to, the doctor involved, did not say that child was five, and did not necessarily say that the child was raped.

CHAIR: As your officers would know from long experience, allegations are quite outlandish. Was the attacker a local Nauruan or someone who was in detention themselves?

Ms Moy : It was not a Nauruan. It was a child transferee within the regional processing centre.

CHAIR: I will not go any further, as it might identify people. Could I go back to some other things that you were talking to Senator Carr about. In relation to the teachers and counsellors that you mentioned and the about 50 per cent who are not attending school, is it because their parents will not let them?

Ms Moy : I could not speak for the parents. I know that we have undertaken a lot of work with parents to ensure that they understand the schooling system in Nauru. It could be different from their previous experiences. The work that is undertaken by the school counsellors is to ensure that the children are comfortable at the school and integrate and understand the customs, learn the language of Nauru, who use both Nauruan and English, and also to work with the parents to help them understand how their children can progress through Nauruan schooling whilst they are in Nauru.

CHAIR: About how many children in detention centres are of school age?

Mr Pezzullo : While Ms Moy looks for those facts, it is also important to recall that on Nauru there is no closed detention anymore. It is an open centre, by decision of the Nauruan government. The centre has switched its operating mode to being more of a hostel, for want of a better word, where you go about your business during the day, whether it is going to school or elsewhere, but then you come back at night where you can get a meal, a bed and a shower, then the next day you start again. It is what is called an open centre. There are no detainees.

CHAIR: I do not need you to be precise. You will not be held to it. I am just trying to get and idea of the scale.

Ms Moy : In relation to the age of refugee and transferee children on Nauru, there would be around 50 who are of school age.

CHAIR: Do you have any idea of the school-age population of Nauruans?

Ms Moy : No. I would have to take that on notice.

Mr Pezzullo : The size of the cohort?

Ms Moy : We could find that out during the day.

CHAIR: Would it be 1,000?

Mr Pezzullo : The population of Nauru is around 8,000. I guess we could work it out, depending on their demographic split. I think it is best if we take it on notice.

CHAIR: How many teachers does Australia provide to the schools in Nauru? You said they provide Brisbane tuition teachers to all children attending Nauruan schools, not just to the transferees?

Ms Moy : That is correct. All children are enrolled in Nauruan schools. There are five Nauruan schools.

CHAIR: These teachers would be teaching Nauruan kids as well.

Ms Moy : They are teaching and assisting. They mentor and assist and sometimes teach as well. They mentor and assist the Nauruan teachers and assist with the development of curriculum and pedagogy more broadly.

CHAIR: And there are a total of five Australian-trained teachers in Nauru?

Ms Moy : There are 11 teachers and five school counsellors. The school counsellors are the liaison between the parents, teachers and children. Eleven teachers are dedicated to the educational side.

CHAIR: Do you have any idea of how many teachers there are in Nauru? I am interested in that.

Ms Moy : I can find that out for you.

Mr Pezzullo : If it assists the committee, to answer both Senator Carr's earlier question and yours, we will come back through the course of the day with the size of the overall school population, which will answer your question, and also the number of teachers. That will give you a sense—

CHAIR: I just want to get a sense of the size of the contribution—

Mr Pezzullo : We will also establish the correct number, whether it is 50 per cent or lower, of those not attending school for whatever reason. I am not sure that we will be able to fully break down the reasons. It might be worth coming back with a breakdown, probably not after the morning tea break but perhaps in the early afternoon.

CHAIR: Is the official language of Nauru or pidgin or something else?

Mr Pezzullo : They certainly speak very good English. I am not sure what the official language is.

CHAIR: What do they teach at school as the main language? That is what I am getting at.

Mr Pezzullo : I am advised by my colleagues at the table that it is English.

CHAIR: Rather than pidgin.

Mr Pezzullo : Their standard of English is very good in the meetings that I have been in. I do not know if they speak anything else.

Ms Moy : They speak Nauruan at schools, as well.

CHAIR: Is Nauruan a sort of pidgin English?

Ms Moy : It would be considered Nauruan language.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I want to go back specifically to the allegation about this child and then in a more general sense. Who made the allegation? I know the answer to my own question, but I want to open a line of questioning. Who made the allegation in the open forum of the media that it was a five-year-old boy who had been raped?

Mr Pezzullo : As Ms Moy made clear earlier, it was a matter that was confidentially reported some time ago. She might quickly go over those details again. As you might recall from earlier proceedings, it was looked at by Mr Philip Moss, the former Integrity Commissioner, who did a report for me almost a year and half ago. It is an old case, if I can use that term.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: But this allegation—

Mr Pezzullo : When we got to the child's identity, Ms Moy was very properly being not ambiguous, but certainly imprecise and cautious in some respects. When we established that the media reporting as recently as last—

CHAIR: Senator O'Sullivan's question was, who made the allegation that it was a five-year-old?

Mr Pezzullo : We would have to go back and look at the media articles that reported—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: The media talks about a paediatrician named Karen Zwi.

Mr Pezzullo : We are certainly in touch with the doctor who made the claim. I think that is the doctor's name. But as Ms Moy made clear, the facts that she has related to us are no different from—I expect, unless the case is not as I understand it to be—those she briefed the media on, and there is no five-year-old child. It is a figment.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So the paediatrician, Karen Zwi, has briefed the media with a—

Mr Pezzullo : I do not know that, but if she is referenced in quotes—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: She is quoted in the media, saying she is concerned by the state of this five-year-old child.

Mr Pezzullo : If she is referenced in quotes I assume that she has spoken—

Ms Moy : Sorry, Dr Zwi did not identify the child as being five-years-old.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: She is attached within an article. The point of the article is that the paediatrician is concerned about a five-year-old child having been raped and returned to detention. That is the context of the article. There is only one child in the article and only one paediatrician in the article. I am trying to get to: does the paediatrician suggest that whatever briefing or engagement she had with the media did not include reference to a five-year-old child?

Mr Pezzullo : Without disclosing too many confidences—we are trying to dance on the head of a pin here—I think that is essentially what—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So the media is—

Mr Pezzullo : She has briefed the department that she does not understand how the reference to a five-year-old emerged. I am trying to be as fair to the doctor as I can. Is that what she conveyed to you, Ms Moy?

Ms Moy : That is correct.

Mr Pezzullo : So that is what she has conveyed to us.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: As you would appreciate, these things are simply not helpful. They are repeated in the Senate. I sit and listen to a diatribe of these allegations every day, and if they are completely unfounded it completely grounds the arguments made by some advocates for these people.

Mr Pezzullo : I would go further: it is getting to a point where there is advocacy parading as journalism. That is actually deleterious to a sensible discussion about these matters, and that was more the point that I was going to in my opening statement when Senator Carr asked what I had in mind. I think we have gone beyond journalism when you have certain segments of the media undertaking, essentially, pamphleteering of an almost political nature. In that context, the facts just get bent and it is completely unacceptable.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I imagine your department, quite properly, monitors the performance of the House of Representatives and the Senate also?

Mr Pezzullo : We do not monitor its performance, I can assure you.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Sorry, not performance.

Mr Pezzullo : We certainly observe proceedings, yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: You would often hear allegations made under privilege, particularly in the Senate. When you hear the details of those allegations, do you find that they do not fit with any case that you might know of?

Mr Pezzullo : In fairness to senators who might be reliant on the accuracy, ethics and standards of journalism of our reporters, it is open to any senator—including in these proceedings and others. You do not need any authority from the department. If they see an allegation it is perfectly within the rights of a senator to raise it. My concern is about the original reporting; if it is so skewed then of course that is going to be—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: That is bad enough, but if we have senators in my Senate who do not spend one minute looking at the integrity of a statement they are going to make that is of serious concern to me. Recently in the Senate, in relation to this matter, I heard cries at our government: 'You allow children to be raped and you are going to return them into that environment.' It is fair to say that that is not true.

Mr Pezzullo : I make no comment on what senators say. In terms of the allegation that my department is somehow complicit in overseeing a regime where children are raped and then returned to a brutal regime of detention, I reject that utterly. It is for the Senate to deal with how it behaves and how individual senators behave; it is not for officials to make comment on.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So you would agree with the statement that there is no evidence whatsoever, anywhere in your scope of knowledge, that would support the allegation that a five-year-old child was raped either in the time frame of the allegation or at any other time in detention while they have been in the care of—

Mr Pezzullo : That is correct, because we have checked with the person who is concerned, and she is concerned from the point of view of being in a position of having good faith concerns when she identified the identity of the child in question. Again, I just want to be cautious and imprecise. It did not stack up with what was reported in the media at all.

CHAIR: And it was investigated by Mr Moss a couple of years ago.

Mr Pezzullo : And subsequently—and I will check this in detail—it was even investigated through police investigation.

CHAIR: Thank you all. We will now take a short break.

Proceedin gs suspended from 10:30 to 10 : 46

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pezzullo, could you inform us as to whether there have been any transfers of persons form Australia back to Nauru in the last seven days?

Mr Pezzullo : I will need to take this element on notice. I am very confident that there has been no transfer back of persons who were somehow connected to adjoin to the M68 proceedings—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The 267?

Mr Pezzullo : The persons joined with the plaintiff known as M68 have not been returned. Whether there have been other transfers just in the ordinary course of persons not joined to those proceedings I will take on, as it were, quick notice—that is to say, I do not need a lot of time to check. But the two deputy commissioners for support and operations can perhaps assist me with that, and if they do not know straightaway then we will take it on notice.

Mr Outram : No, there have not been any returns to Nauru in the last week.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many people are in Australia who are considered to be transferees, either from Nauru or from Manus, who are not part of the M68 case, in addition to the 267 people?

Mr Pezzullo : To answer the question I will need to also probably reflect on the M80 proceedings that pertain to Manus. Does that go to your question as well? I will take some advice from Ms Briscoe. Perhaps persons who are transferees in Australia from either Manus or Nauru, who are not joined to either M68 or M80—I think that is the best way to couch that answer.

Ms Briscoe : I have total numbers, but I do not have the breakdown right at hand of those not part of those proceedings. We will get that very quickly for you.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is great. Can we have the total number you have for now?

Ms Briscoe : The total number from Nauru in Australia is 295. It is a combination of 280 transferees and 16 refugees. And from Manus it is 36—34 transferees and two refugees. They are the total number in Australia.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. And you will get the breakdown for us.

Ms Briscoe : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thanks very much. Mr Pezzullo, I was hoping that the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brayley, could come to the table, if he is around.

Mr Pezzullo : Perhaps you could ask me the question and I will decide which of my officers give answers.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would like to ask about his role in terms of—

Mr Pezzullo : About his role? Yes, I would be delighted if Dr Brayley were to join us. I might just very briefly initiate the answer and then pass to Dr Brayley. Once it became apparent to the commissioner and I that we probably needed to strengthen our health advice—our medical services support advice and practice—we took a decision last year to create a single chief medical officer for the entire department. There previously had been CMOs, as they are called, who specifically focused on detention health, to take one example, or visa related health issues—all the systems pertaining to the health checking of prospective migrants and visitors to Australia. We thought the area required more senior attention and indeed attention by a highly qualified specialist Senior Executive Service officer. So, we went through a recruitment process, and Dr Brayley was appointed pursuant to that process. But if it pleases the committee and it pleases you, Senator, I might hand over to Dr Brayley.

Dr Brayley : I might just spend 30 seconds introducing myself, because this is my first appearance before the committee as the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and as the first Surgeon General of the Australian Border Force I advise the secretary and the commissioner directly. I hold a bachelor of medicine, a bachelor of surgery and a master of health services management. I am a fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and hold an academic status appointment as associate professor of health management at Flinders University, Adelaide. I previously held the statutory role of chief adviser of psychiatry in South Australia to the Minister for Mental Health, along with the role of director of mental health in the state's Department of Health, and for seven years I served as South Australia's public advocate for people with mental illness, intellectual disability, brain injury and dementia, as well as undertaking a public guardian function. So, that is my background. I am overseeing a coordinated clinical governance function in the department and can talk more about the establishment of the division that I am leading, if you would like to hear more about that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. I am interested in what you have seen in your short time in this role thus far in terms of the medical conditions of children being held in immigration detention.

Dr Brayley : That is a subset I guess of observations of medical conditions in general, and the services that the department contracts through IHMS. So, I might start there. There are the general impressions that I can make, in the time I have been in the role, and then there is the question of specific quality measures. Ultimately I wish to establish a clinical governance framework for dealing with complaints, reviews, detailed performance analysis and best practice standards. My general impression of the health services has been very positive—of the skilled clinicians I have met. They know their patients and have an interest in their clinical situation and care. For example, recently I was visiting Wickham Point and we went through a number of specific cases that had been raised by the AHRC, with both physical and mental health issues. And the clinicians were attending to issues. They knew their patients and the therapy that would be required in referrals that might need to be done. The delivery of care is in excellent facilities. I know you asked about children and adolescents, but the Manus Island facility, which is perhaps the newest, is an excellent purpose-built facility. The support for the care comes through the parent organisation, International SOS, and I have visited their call centre, where they have access to specialists. The same sort of support we might have when we are traveling or that mining companies get in dealing with care in remote facilities is being provided. Having said that, quality can always be improved. There are mental health teams at the sites with clinicians who have child and adolescent skills, psychologists or nurses who have those backgrounds visiting, and, for example, a child psychiatrist. The question I was asking and looking at during the Wickham Point visit was: what extra mental health services could be provided? Was there sufficient in light of the recommendations that the paediatricians made through the AHRC? And I was looking at what plans could be put in place to increase access if required to local child and adolescent mental health services.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I understand there are service contracts with IHMS in order to deliver those services. I want to ask a question about the ongoing impacts on the mental health of children of the detention itself. The children are already suffering stress, anxiety, depression as many of the clinicians have identified and as is borne out in evidence given to the department. Is it acceptable that children remain in that environment? I want to know whether it is that environment that is impacting on their mental health in such a negative way.

Dr Brayley : I can give you some more specific information about the mental health of children in detention.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That would be great.

Mr Pezzullo : Whilst Dr Brayley finds his notes, obviously his appointment is testament to the fact that we are focused on these issues. The commissioner and I were keen to have in an internal sense a very senior clinician who could help us interpret all the various claims including by those who have got differing motives in this area. Dr Brayley does a terrific job helping us sort through highly technical matters that we do not have any particular expertise in. The question of the ongoing detention of persons of course is a clinical matter, an operational matter and a policy matter, so I would ask Dr Bradley to limit himself to answering in relation to the clinical dimension.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: All I am asking, from a medical perspective, is whether keeping a child in detention when detention is harming them is acceptable.

Dr Brayley : This information is in the context of the government and the department's concerted efforts to remove children from detention, from very large numbers to smaller numbers. But even, for example, at Wickham Point between the time that that AHRC and I were there, there were fewer children in Wickham Point. The scientific evidence is that detention affects the mental state of children. It is deleterious and for that reason wherever possible children should not be in detention. That has been measured a number of different ways. We have seen some tools that the Australian Human Rights Commission used and that paediatricians used. We carefully looked at their use of those tools. I have sought extra advice. There are some nuances about how things can be done but essentially that analysis was a robust analysis on consideration.

Our department uses the strength and difficulties questionnaire, which is a questionnaire commonly used in mental health in Australia as part of the national minimum dataset. That has been applied to children and their parents onshore and also there are some preliminary initial results for transferee children in Nauru. I should just quickly mention what the strength and difficulties questionnaire is. This was decided before I arrived in the department but I think it was an excellent choice. It is a brief behavioural screening questionnaire about three to 16-year-olds. There are several different versions that are available but it basically has 25 items: emotional symptoms, five items; conduct problems, five items; hyperactivity inattention, five items; peer relationship problems, five items; and pro-social behaviour, five items. So one is looking at pro-social behaviour strengths and the others are the difficulties that are added up to provide information about the person's level of difficulty. For those below the age of 11, the strength and difficulties questionnaire is completed by parents but it can be asked directly of older children.

The summary is—I am not reading from the full report—of 45 children at a number of different centres in Brisbane in four different onshore centres. Forty-five parents completed the parent version of the strength and difficulties questionnaire and 67 per cent scored their child in the abnormal category. Eighteen children between 11 to 17 years completed the self-report version of the strength and difficulties questionnaire. Of the total difficulties score, 33 per cent scored in that abnormal category and 22 per cent in the borderline category, so at the children's self scoring, 33 per cent; at the parents scoring, 67 per cent. I have inquired about the significance of that difference but it is quite well recognised that parents will identify problems in their children that children themselves will not identify.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is understandable.

Dr Brayley : Some early initial results for transferee children in Nauru is similar with 71 per cent of parents scoring their child in the abnormal category, and 16 per cent of the children scoring themselves in the abnormal category or 25 per cent in the borderline category.

Mr Pezzullo : I should add, it is for all of those reasons based on scientific inquiry and based on an understanding of the literature that it is the government's policy that it will do whatever possible within the ambit of the policy to get children out of detention. Those who are repatriated to Nauru do not go back to detention; it is an open centre. The handful that are left in Australia, as we have covered in previous proceedings and might even revert back to through the course of the day, is now in single digits. We are working as carefully as we can with relevant families to try to come up with arrangements where, even if one or both parents have to be held in detention for security concerns, which the department is well briefed about as is the minister, accommodative arrangements are put in place so that the children are outside of detention. Mr Dutton has made it very clear to both myself and to the commissioner that wherever possible he wishes to see children out of detention, and we are proceeding accordingly.

The question of having any children in detention of course is a factual matter that needs to be determined on each case. If you had a standard policy, as I intimated earlier, that no child would ever go into detention irrespective of how they got here, that would just open the door for many more to arrive. We have had that experiment conducted in our country and we know how many children went into detention as a result. These are very delicate balances and I hope Dr Brayley has given this committee some confidence and assurance that we are actually not taking a lay view but quite a detailed clinical and specialised view of these matters as well.

Senator KIM CARR: Turning to the Save the Children issue. On 15 January a report was released by the government that actually vindicated the staff of any wrongdoing, saying that there was no evidence that they had acted outside of their duties. Would you agree with that assessment?

Mr Pezzullo : Are you referring to the original Moss review?

Senator KIM CARR: On 15 January this year.

Mr Pezzullo : I think you are referring to the document prepared by Associate Professor Doogan. In a report to me he certainly found that there was no basis for having any concerns about the conduct of the staff, such as would have caused them to have been terminated, in terms of their employment, in the way that they were terminated.

Senator KIM CARR: What action are you taking now?

Mr Pezzullo : We are working through those issues basically with Save the Children directly, but also in some cases with appointed legal representatives. We need to understand the extent to which there is, in direct legal terms, a liability as opposed to, if I might use this phrase, the vibe of the thing. That is a matter for lawyers to work through. They are diligently doing so and I do not propose to comment in too much detail on those proceedings. The matter is in the capable hands of Dr Charker, our chief operating office, who also oversees our legal function. I might ask Dr Charker to give the committee a general update on the state of proceedings.

Dr Charker : I am entirely in agreement and in accordance with the secretary's initial comments there. We have accepted all the recommendations of the Doogan review and we have been implementing them progressively. We are quite well advanced in much of that work. In particular, we have been engaging very actively with Save the Children Australia and former SCA staff, through their legal representatives. Again, we are trying to aim to settle their claims as expeditiously as we possibly can.

The department has engaged with the government of Nauru to have the removal orders revoked. We have also developed a standard operating procedure to ensure that in the future we obtain legal advice before invoking the relevant contract clause allowing the department to require a service provider to remove staff from the provision of services.

As I said, we are well progressed so far. We remain absolutely committed to ongoing cooperation with Save the Children, and of course the legal representatives of those former employees who are impacted. We are negotiating any potential settlement of the claims, as indicated, as quickly as we can, in a manner that is consistent with our obligations under the Commonwealth Legal Services Directions.

Senator KIM CARR: Can you remind me what the claim is?

Dr Charker : There are several claims with which we are dealing. Due of course to legal in confidence matters I cannot go into the details of those claims, but I would simply note that there is a claim being made with regard to Save the Children itself in a corporate capacity, and there are claims with regard to the affected former SCA staff, which are being managed in turn through their legal representative.

Senator KIM CARR: This is claims for compensation?

Dr Charker : These are claims for various outcomes, of which compensation may be a part.

Mr Pezzullo : If I could add, I do not think it would be prejudicial to future legal proceedings, because even the redacted version of the Doogan report makes it very clear that on the basis of the allegations that were originally the trigger point for this matter, the allegations that had come from a field report prepared by contractors who—and I will use paraphrasing quotation marks here—that Save the Children staff were acting as much as advocates and in some cases even further, 'coaching, inducing or encouraging transferees to potentially self-harm' so that they would get favourable—

Senator KIM CARR: This is the alleged intelligence report?

Mr Pezzullo : It is more than alleged. It is a document that does exist.

Senator KIM CARR: I say alleged, ironically, that it is an intelligence report.

Mr Pezzullo : I see. Very droll. I missed the ironic reference. Moss did a more general review of our delivery of services on Nauru, pursuant to how we handled allegations of harm, child abuse and the like. We have canvassed the Moss report many times before this committee. He recommended that this matter in particular be looked at from the point of view of how the department handled—including in terms of its advice to then Minister Morrison—the decisions that it took in terms of the execution of certain clauses under the contract to, as it were, have these staff members removed. Was that done in a manner that was procedurally fair? Were they afforded natural justice? Did they have a chance to respond to these claims that they had been 'coaching transferees to self-harm'. And to the point of a claim—again without being particular about what is likely to be involved, because that goes to future proceedings around potential liability—it is in that general area of how the staff were treated from the point of view of natural justice and how their rights were potentially infringed from that point of view.

Senator KIM CARR: The minister also made a number of statements at the time, so it was not just a question of the department's—

Mr Pezzullo : I am sorry, which minister?

Senator KIM CARR: Minister Morrison.

Mr Pezzullo : As I recall it, I would need to look at the transcript, and I think he might have been asked subsequently. As I recall it I was head of customs at the time. He made some comments that he was concerned about the allegations and that he had asked his department to deal with those allegations in an appropriate manner.

Senator KIM CARR: I take it the minister has rung the affected people and offered his apology?

Mr Pezzullo : I hope he has not, because I would not counsel him to do that, frankly.

Senator KIM CARR: Why not?

Mr Pezzullo : This is a matter for the department. It is the department that handled the original—you say in an ironic tone—'intelligence report'. It was the department, as both Moss and Duggan subsequently make clear, who are concerned about an increasing level of dysfunctionality in the relationship. There was no trust essentially, and at the point of this information being received the department decided—it is quite clear from the two reviews that have been done into this matter—to move to have the services of the staff members in particular terminated in the sense that they were no longer required. So this is a matter for the department to deal with, and if there is any statement of regret or remorse or indeed apology, that will be something that I will give contemplation to.

Senator KIM CARR: The department—not you—was comprehensively wrong. It made allegations which directly affected people's reputations and had people deported, based on incorrect information.

Mr Pezzullo : And in those circumstances it is a matter for the department—

Senator KIM CARR: Surely the people concerned are entitled to at least an apology.

Mr Pezzullo : They might well be, and when you have these matters where you are trying to establish liability in particular terms it is sometimes the case that not only is compensation involved but also some sort of appropriate statement of redress is involved. I am not going to pre-empt that, notwithstanding my respect these proceedings and my attempt to be as comprehensive as I can in my answers. And that is a decision in the end that I will take as the leader—I was not at the time—of the department which is the corporate entity that is the subject of these proceedings. It is not the minister—the present one or the previous one.

Senator KIM CARR: Given that you have maintained this argument that various people have been advocating on behalf of detainees, this actually lead to a situation where this level—

Mr Pezzullo : I am not sure I have maintained a position on that, I have just observed the fact that there are people who are very passionate about this issue who advocate.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. But it can lead to conclusions which are incorrect, which is clearly the case with regard to the Save the Children staff. The allegation was that these contractors had acted unethically, improperly, mischievously and dishonestly, and they lost their jobs as a consequence and were deported. And it was demonstrated that that whole line of inquiry was wrong. To what extent does the department's attitude towards advocates affect these types of situations?

Mr Pezzullo : I am sorry; I am not trying to be obtuse, but I do not understand the last part.

Senator KIM CARR: My question relates to whether or not people wanted to see Save the Children employees in a certain light. It gave credibility to an intelligence report which was clearly wrong.

Mr Pezzullo : I understand the logic. I think that is demonstrably able to be counted by the fact that for good or ill Save the Children were appointed initially as the key service provider in the general area—and I would have to get the scope clear from Ms Briscoe and her staff—of the provision of welfare services and counselling and the like. And I think they were engaged to do other things as well. So any sense that the department has some inbuilt bias against service providers who might also, in a small 'a' sense, act as advocates is demonstrably false, because otherwise we would not have been in a relationship with Save the Children.

The comment—I think it was a comment more than a question, but I will try to think of it as a question—that you made towards the end relates to whether the relationship had gotten to a point where members of my department—in a period before I took up the secretaryship, at least, so I am going off second-hand knowledge—in a sense wanted to see these members of Save the Children in a negative light and whether they wanted to believe, as it were, a field report that had come in saying, in paraphrase, 'I have reason to believe that these Save the Children staff are going beyond care and welfare and are coaching the asylum seekers, coaching transferees and in some cases almost encouraging them to self-harm.' I reject that there is a culture, if you like, of not working with SCA, because clearly we do. In those circumstances—irrespective of what was in the mind of any decision maker who sought their removal or who sought the termination of their employment, executing various clauses in the contract—the best course is always not to act off any emotion in any event, if that is the question you are asking me.

Essentially Doogan's findings boil down to this: employ procedural fairness, put the claim, put the allegation, and say to the affected party or potentially affected party, 'It is alleged that you are encouraging people to self-harm; what say you?' That is standard. It has nothing to do with our attitude towards advocates for asylum seekers or, if you like, the culture of my department as it was then or the culture now. It goes to sound administrative decision making and sound administrative practice. If you employ—without dragging it out, because one of the issues involved in administrative processes is that they can take an inordinate length of time—and if you give a person a right to be heard and a right to provide a response, either individually or through their corporate entity, I think the essential lesson for me as secretary—and no doubt the commissioner will join me in this—out of the Doogan review is: follow due process and be completely dispassionate, and the room for error is accordingly reduced.

I am not sure if that is an answer to your question, but I think you are trying to ask me about the attitude of persons at the time who were employed by the department before I was its secretary.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Pezzullo, I sat through the evidence from those personnel that were dismissed from Save the Children, and they detailed the way in which they were treated. In your inquiries, will you be examining the actions of officers of the department on Nauru and in Australia to ascertain whether or not there was fault on their part—administrative fault within departmental officers' actions—in the way in which these personnel from Save the Children were treated?

Mr Pezzullo : Essentially, in relation to Dr Charker's answer, that is exactly in a sense what we are doing now by establishing in quite precise terms what the basis for any legitimate claim might be. We have to have a view of own liability—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, of course you do.

Mr Pezzullo : because otherwise why would you ever close out a matter rather than saying 'I'll see you in court'? So of course we will have regard to those matters.

Senator KIM CARR: What action would be anticipated to be taken against officers that have been in breach of standard Public Service procedure, as you have outlined, about duty of care, about natural justice and about proper procedures to establish whether or not people get treated fairly within the Australian Public Service.

Mr Pezzullo : I understand the question. I will take advice from Dr Charker, who has an even stronger level of comfort than I have here, because she joined the department even after I did, so she is completely removed from these matters. She both oversees our legal function and advises me on the extent to which our officers follow due process. If there is cause for me to have a look at—and I think you are going out to the question of individual conduct rather than, if you like, corporate conduct—

Senator KIM CARR: Policy.

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry?

Senator KIM CARR: It is distinct from policy.

Mr Pezzullo : Corporate conduct. The department executes its functions as a corporate entity, and officers who are delegated with certain authorities exercise that authority not capriciously and off their own back; they exercise their authority in the name of the department. If that is all disposed of in the one action, which would be my preference, through coming to terms—and I do not want to speculate about the detail—then that will be dealt with. If, during the course of that resolution phase, Dr Charker or anyone else wishes to draw to my attention the fact that further action needs to be taken of a more specific character then of course I will consider it. But at this stage what I am contemplating this matter to be is a resolution of how the corporate entity, known as my department, dealt with this matter.

Senator KIM CARR: In regard to the regional partners and possible resettlement of people that are currently on Nauru and are there as a result of Australian government actions, what actual countries have been approached?

Mr Pezzullo : Beyond the occasional and episodic references made to such matters by both my minister and other ministers, including the foreign minister, I do not know that I am in a position, without referring back to ministers, to volunteer to you a conclusive list or an exclusive list, as it were, of the countries that have been approached. By definition, if there are discussions on foot which are at a particularly delicate state or stage and we have given assurances about confidentiality, I would not name those countries anyway.

CHAIR: So you will take it on notice?

Mr Pezzullo : I think this is one case where I need to refer to a minister and also to take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you.

CHAIR: There was a report in The Australian newspaper, I think it was, that the number of incidents of self-harm had dropped dramatically. Can you give me the source of that? What are the facts about that?

Mr Pezzullo : I am happy to speak to facts. Deputy Commissioner Briscoe, assisted by perhaps Ms Moy, can assist. Ms Moy in particular might have a more granular view of the level of self-harm incident reports that have been received.

Ms Briscoe : Can I just clarify: are you referring to offshore Nauru or onshore?

CHAIR: Well, tell me about them all. There was a report in The Australian, which unfortunately I have not brought with me, although I thought I had, but again I would rather get the actual facts of the matter rather than rely on any newspaper report, even in a paper as authoritative as The Australian.

Mr Wright : In terms of actual self-harm statistics, from January 2015 through to June 2015 there were 55 reported cases. In the second half of the year there were 47 reported cases.

CHAIR: And that is in Nauru?

Mr Wright : Correct.

CHAIR: What about Manus? Do have statistics on that too?

Mr Wright : Yes. For Manus for the same time period, from January to June 2015, there were 24 reports of self-harm, and in the last six months there were 16 reports.

CHAIR: And what about internally, within Australia domestically, from people who are—

Mr Outram : In the year from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015 there were 597 actual cases of self-harm. In the first six months of this financial year there were 245. So it is from around 600 at the moment trending to about 500.

CHAIR: Each incident of self-harm is fully investigated by someone, I assume.

Mr Pezzullo : It does vary. Reports of self-harm which occur within either Manus or Nauru are principally a matter for the local authorities. We do assist, because we provide services there of a medical and other character. Incidents of self-harm within the immigration detention network that is under the operational supervision of the commissioner are assessed by Australian authorities. Perhaps the commissioner or his officers might want to speak about the onshore network first.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I will defer shortly to the deputy commissioner of operations, but the answer to your question here is yes. Whenever there is an actual self-harm or an attempted self-harm, the first respondent normally is our Serco workforce within the centres. They are then assisted in terms of resolution of the patient through the IHMS service providers and then aftercare et cetera—investigating the causal factors. Any welfare that needs to be wrapped around the detainee is then a joint decision, including both contract service providers, ABF staff and departmental case managers.

CHAIR: Someone has kindly given me the newspaper report. It says that in the three months after the ban on family members that was implemented in September, there has been a dramatic fall in self-inflicted injuries—coming down to zero, I understand. Is that accurate? This is reported in the—

Mr Pezzullo : We will check that. It sounds broadly right, but we will take it on notice and come back to you.

CHAIR: The figures in Nauru are 55 and 47—that is for which periods?

Mr Wright : The 55 was from January 2015 through to June 2015. The 47 was from July 2015 through to December 2015.

CHAIR: Can you tell me what those figures are from September 2015 through until the end of December?

Mr Wright : Twelve. There were zero reported for the month of December.

CHAIR: And 12 for October and November?

Mr Wright : There were three in September, seven in October and two in November.

CHAIR: Are there any broad statistics on whether the self-harm is done by older people or younger people, men or women?

Mr Pezzullo : I am sure we would have that data. It might be useful both to get that data and to remind ourselves what was published by The Australian and try to reverse engineer the numbers they seem to be working on.

Senator KIM CARR: You should go to the source. Ask them what they provided The Australian.

Mr Pezzullo : We might just look at the article first. We are sort of boxing at shadows.

Senator KIM CARR: It might just save you a bit of time, that's all.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You may want to take this on notice as well. Given what appears to be, from the numbers you have just read out, significantly more instances of self-harm at domestic detention centres than on Manus or Nauru, would you like to provide the committee with a ratio? What proportion of self-harm relative to the number of detainees is there in each of those three locations?

Mr Pezzullo : We will need to take that on notice. You need to do it on a ratio basis because the absolute numbers are different.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I understand. That is why I suggested you might like to take it on notice.

Mr Pezzullo : We will take it on notice.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: My question is not necessarily directly related to self-harm. Have you noticed over time that there is trending with behaviour? For example, as the result of certain incidents or events, or a collection of incidents or events, we have had to react in a particular way that might seem to be favourable to the people in detention. Have you seen evidence of any trend in mental care with that?

Mr Pezzullo : I am sorry. I missed the first part of your question.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I am looking at behavioural trending. I see it often with my grandchildren. If an event occurs and they think that is favourable to them, does a bit of a trend run through the trainees, self-harm being an example? If someone harms themselves and they are airlifted the next day to Australia, where they have an honest but mistaken belief that their chance at permanent residency is increased—have you picked up on any trending? I am not necessarily seeking a scientific answer; I am just asking—

Mr Pezzullo : Just building on what the officer previously advised, the trend is heading in a positive direction, in the sense that in the month of December for the first time in everyone's recollection the number was down to zero. If you look at the months preceding, it is all downwards. Both anecdotally and logically, when you change policy in this area, you can effect behaviour. I am conscious of the exchange and the discussion that Senator Carr and I just had about the different inducements and motivations that people have. It is always hard to unpick that and you would not want to generalise.

This certainly has become clear to my officers, and the data does bear it out—and in response to Senator Macdonald, I think you will see whatever graph or chart we provide bears this out as well—when the minister gave certain directions to limit the number of returnees to an absolute minimum. Obviously, he takes advice and we discuss these matters, but it was done by the department essentially from a humanitarian impulse. If a child, an adolescent or a family member is sick, it helps in the convalescence to have one or two intimate relatives there—obviously, a mother with a small child or a father with a small child.

But there is the practice of larger family groups being repatriated. Again, I want to be very careful in my words here because everyone's motivation is different and it is hard, ultimately, to get down to what is in someone's psychological state of mind. But, logically, if one person is sick but you have several family members, including intimate family members and, in some cases, aunties, uncles and cousins, you potentially do have a circumstance arise where perverse outcomes can manifest whereby people think, 'It's regrettable that Johnny has got sick, but we are all going to Australia.' I am speaking anecdotally here—you invited me to answer you in those terms, so I will—but word gets out that that is a way of coming to Australia. To some extent, the proof in the pudding is then being joined to High Court cases, which is the kind of the next step in the process to, as it were, try to hook yourself into a permanent outcome.

That is completely understandable at one level. No-one is suggesting for a moment that if a policy and an administrative arrangement provides, if you like, incentives for people to behave in particular ways, who can ever really critique them? It is no secret—breaking news, hold the front pages—most people on Manus and Nauru want to come to Australia. They want to live in a circumstance where they are going to have a better life and that is what they thought they were purchasing when they parted with their $5,000 or $10,000 to the smugglers. Is it a surprise then that, perversely, some people might be motivated—and I am not casting any specific aspersions in relation to any individual, particularly when your child is sick.

As a parent myself, I know you can be beside yourself and you want to do whatever you can to get the situation remedied. But when other members of the family have to come along as well and then they are joined into legal proceedings, you would have a little suspicion that it is possible, only possible—and this is a working hypothesis based on theory of human behaviour—that some people might see that as an opportunity to also advance the possibility of securing a migration outcome; of course they are not being cynical about the child's heath. Hold the front pages if that is stunning news, but that is what I think might well be going on in some cases, yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I want to come back to something that may have been asked and answered—if it has been, please just tell me that I have been absent from the room, and I will refresh my knowledge from the Hansard. With respect to the remaining children in custody, there has been this tremendous reduction in the number of children in custody—

Mr Pezzullo : In detention, Senator.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: in detention, sorry, over a period of time. Of the children who remain, is there a percentage of them whose release from detention may have as much to do with circumstances of a guardian or a parent as opposed to them themselves?

Mr Pezzullo : It is nearly always exclusively a function of family relationships—absolutely. Perhaps there might be one or two—the commissioner will correct me—but I cannot think of too many cases where there is an adverse security, law enforcement or significant behavioural concern about the child themselves; it is nearly invariably the case—and I think we are down to seven or eight, Commissioner?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Eight.

Mr Pezzullo : where there is a difficulty associated with either mum or dad, or in some cases both—uncertainty about identity, including in the circumstance where identity has to be established for security and other grounds; known, or strongly suspected, law enforcement concerns about previous behaviour, and, in some cases, sometimes violent behaviour, where matters are still being resolved. I think, if I remember rightly, Commissioner, there is one case, for instance, of an unacquitted murder allegation. I did answer this previously, but I will just give you the quick summary: Mr Dutton has made it very clear, as indeed had Mr Morrison as minister before him and I suspect ministers before them, that, wherever possible, to try to come up with an arrangement, which obviously has to be, ideally, undertaken with the consent of the family, to have the children, and maybe one of the carers—or, if both parents have to remain in detention, maybe a family member or some kind of sponsor—manage their care in a vicinity close to detention, so that they can then have visitation and the rest of it. But, wherever possible, get the children out. Perhaps the commissioner might wish to add to that, but that is the general policy that we are applying.

Mr Quaedvlieg : Just to reiterate the point: where we have offered a permutation of a model where children can be released into the community under the care of one of the parents or guardians, there have been occasions where a family unit has elected not to take up that option and remain in detention as a family unit.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I think that was my time.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, then Senator Leyonhjelm—for a short period time, he tells me—and then Senator Carr.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would just like to continue with some of my questions to Dr Brayley, if he could come back to the table. We got cut off.

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, did you say Dr Brayley?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, please. I had not finished before my time had run out earlier.

Mr Pezzullo : If it is the same line of questioning, I will ask the doctor to return.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have these health assessments that you went through—and thank you for outlining them. My question goes to: what type of advice is given before somebody is transferred back to Nauru or Manus Island? We know that people come to Australia on medical advice that they need assistance in some way, or as part of a family cohort because one of the individuals within the family unit needs assistance. What advice do you give, if any, before an individual is transferred back offshore?

Dr Brayley : Generally the advice would be sought from me in specific instances. The treating clinicians would determine whether a person is fit to fly, they have had their treatment, they have been discharged from hospital. I know that with the work that my colleague Cheryl-anne Moy will be doing, she will be engaging me in that process.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is there a form that says: this person is fit for return to Nauru—tick? How does the process actually work?

Dr Brayley : There is written advice that I could—

Mr Pezzullo : I should say, at this point, that, in combination, the two deputy commissioners have control of the overall process, because these persons are temporarily within our jurisdiction. I might just ask the two deputy commissioners, and they can flip a coin as to who wants to go first. The clinical element, whilst critical, is not all encompassing.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am actually only interested in the clinical element at this stage.

Mr Pezzullo : Then we will limit ourselves to the clinical side. But you asked about who makes the decision. It is taken on advice, but the doctors are not the decision makers about the actual logistics of things like safety on the aircraft, whether there is a degree of potential non-compliant or violent behaviour and the like. They are also factors that go into the decision to repatriate. But if you are asking exclusively about clinical matters, the doctor will continue his answer.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. Is there a form on which you have to agree that somebody, in relation to medical issues, is fit for return to Nauru or Manus Island?

Dr Brayley : There is not a particular role where I have to agree. In my short time in the department I have been involved in many people's situations, but that has actually been transfer to Australia, and those people have been getting treatment and therapy. I have not been involved in the return decision at this point, but I expect that I will be consulted about those decisions.

Mr Pezzullo : But that is a function, as I stated earlier, that as long as M68 was on foot, the minister entered into undertakings not to return such persons. Dr Brayley joined us subsequent to that decision. We have not been returning persons who are joined to the case—and most of them are, for reasons I specified earlier. They all seem to come here for both medical treatment and legal advice. As we now ramp up the process of return, as discussed earlier, on a case-by-case basis, the clinical dimension will obviously be critical. But so will those other dimensions that I talked about earlier, without going into the specific techniques and tactics that we would employ. But the overall policy is as I stated in my opening statement: everyone will go back in due course—and. Dr Brayley and his staff, as well as our contracted medical specialists, will be involved in those decisions. So this is a prospective role that he is going to be doing.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will an individual be returned if the doctor's advice is that they should not be?

Mr Wright : Could I just put in: you cannot process—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Hang on: I would just like an answer to that question first, if I could.

Mr Pezzullo : I would need and would want to understand the basis of the concern. If the doctor is misadvised as to the level of medical support that is going to be available on Nauru, where they do not necessarily have the full visibility, I will ask Dr Brayley to engage with that clinician. It is very hard for me as secretary overseeing—and I will just speak in broad terms here. We have one project underway, which is in two stages: a $26 million upgrade to the Nauru hospital, which will be a gift by the Australian public to Nauru, with paediatric, cancer, CT, obstetrics and other services. I, as the person responsible for ensuring that the policy is enacted and there is value for money in how we deliver those services, would want to very, very closely understand why the doctor in question does not think that the equivalent services would be provided, especially when the original illness or injury has been dealt with. In those circumstances I would ask Dr Brayley, as both the Chief Medical Officer and the Surgeon General of our department and the Border Force, to engage with the issue and ensure that all requisite services are available on the ground.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pezzullo, let me just be very clear: there is no doctor's veto on the return of people to Nauru?

Mr Pezzullo : Doctors always provide advice, and you act on that advice. As you know—perhaps you know, perhaps you do not know—we all go to hospitals and we are seen by three or four different doctors. Between them they are a bit like lawyers at times: They have five or six different opinions. So my job is to ensure—and I am not medically qualified—that I have people who work for me who directly understand the policy and the overall parameters in which we are operating, who can then advise me, clinically, to say, 'I have looked at this. On balance, the appropriate care can be provided on Nauru. They are going back.'

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Dr Brayley, do you have any evidence to show that sending back children who are displaying signs of anxiety and stress about the return to Nauru would damage them even further?

Dr Brayley : I think this is where, as cases are considered by the department, situations will be referred to me. I can look at those. If I need to get further child psychiatry advice, I could obtain that as well. The question will relate to individuals and whatever trauma they may have experienced and the nature of that trauma, and it would not be possible to make a blanket comment because of people's different situations.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are there cases you have come across thus far in your role where your advice would be that sending an individual to Nauru would create further harm?

Dr Brayley : There are cases of people with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression where these questions would need to be carefully considered. I have not considered that particular question because it is all so new and recent since the High Court brought down its decision on Wednesday, and I have not been asked to consider that question in relation to individuals.

Mr Pezzullo : Mr Dutton has made it very clear that the advice that he has provided to this department is to ensure that the policy is applied, but is done so on a case-by-case determination intrinsic to that position and intrinsic to the minister's direct guidance to me as a secretary and to the staff who work in support of this program, both in the department and in the ABF, and we will exercise discretion sensibly. For the reasons I articulated in my opening statement, we are not going to sit in this committee—and I am not suggesting for one moment that this is what you are seeking for us to do—but, if you think that our answers are slightly lacking in precision, it is because we want to deal with these matters in strict confidentiality, partly due to medical privacy but also to ensure that people who might be a lot more cynical than you are not sitting there thinking, 'Ah, this is how I'll stay in Australia.' It might surprise you and it might shock you, but I am sorry to say that people do think like that. I find it repugnant, myself, and I do not impugn the motive of any parliamentarian in that regard, but there are others who behave in that fashion.

We will make sensible, empathetic and compassionate decisions based on information placed before us. In some cases, the depression, stress or anxiety relate to the original matters that they witnessed in their countries of origin. I have been very open this morning, and the minister has been open and others have been open, that prolonged periods of detention are in no one's interest, and Dr Brayley laid out some of the clinical evidence that supports that thesis. We certainly do not have a policy, as is repugnantly reported in some of the advocacy around this—including by journalistic outlets that actually do not engaged in journalism, but rather in advocacy—that somehow we have got an implicitly stated policy that effectively amounts to me saying to Dr Brayley, 'Go hard, go harsh, and don't be compassionate.' I reject that out of hand; it is repugnant. We will make decisions carefully and in confidence—not in the glare of publicity.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Dr Brayley, do you believe you have the authority to stop somebody who would be damaged by being transferred to Nauru from being sent?

Dr Brayley : My role has a clinical governance authority over the standards and quality of the health services delivered. I also have to give health advice to the secretary and to the commissioner that might affect broader policy issues. The secretary will get clear health advice from me, but, as I say, my accountability is the quality of the health service delivery and the giving of advice. I am not the decision maker in this regard.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you know how many of the children of the group of 90, who are currently part of the 267 cohort, are displaying signs of depression, anxiety or have other long-term medical issues that they are here in Australia for?

Dr Brayley : I am aware of specific cases where there is a need for paediatric follow-up, child and adolescent mental health service follow-up, and people continuing to get treatment either through IHMS or referral to the local hospital or clinic. How that might relate to the question we are discussing now in terms of whether these are long-term, severe conditions or other conditions that will respond quickly to specialist treatment, for example—I cannot tell you that breakdown.

Mr Pezzullo : Senator, if we take that on notice, we might be able to give you—in a way that obviously does not identify individuals; and I know that you are always sensitive to that as well—a further and better answer on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That would be helpful, thank you. Dr Brayley, in your medical view, for a child that is suffering anxiety and PTSD and has displayed signs of self-harm, is Nauru an appropriate place for that child to be sent?

Dr Brayley : What we can say is that, for a child with those conditions, being in detention is not the right place for a child, and every step needs to be taken to remove a child from detention. The question about the broader policy issues for refugees and transferees on Nauru, the open centre arrangements, how life is operating there, need to be broadly considered by the department, taking into account the health advice that comes up through the practitioners and the advice that I am asked to give when there is a question about interpreting it or further opinions required.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I know you have not been in the role for an awfully long time, but obviously the issue of children in detention is as hotly debated now as it has ever been. Paediatricians have gone on the record and said that the developmental issue, particularly for babies in detention, is something of severe concern—not being able to go through those normal stages of learning to crawl, learning to walk, even just the sheer environment that they have been put in. Mothers have talked about not being up to put their children down. How does a child learn how to crawl when the camp in Nauru is covered in white rock? I have been there; I have seen it—that is exactly what it is. Are those issues by paediatricians being put to you, or do you have a plan in place to go through those cases that are coming up over and over again, particularly for babies born into these environments?

Dr Brayley : Some of the particular cases involving developmental delay have been put to me, which is one of the reasons that I have seen it as important for children to have access to a multidisciplinary team, because not all of these issues of combination of developmental delay and anxiety can be dealt with, say, by a psychologist or a psychiatrist. It may be necessary to have an occupational therapist or a speech pathologist involved to address that. So those questions about developmental delay were raised in the AHRC report, because as well as using a psychiatric instrument there was a paediatric instrument that was used. That then affects the sort of care that is provided while children are still in detention. But of course it is a further driver for moving children to community detention.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young. Dr Brayley, just to be clear, you do not act as a clinician; you do not see people yourself personally, do you? It is all advice on reports of others?

Dr Brayley : Yes, that is right. I have a health administrative role, so I need to interpret the advice that is given and sometimes get other sources of opinion. I occasionally have met asylum seekers and refugees in different circumstances or sat in on interviews—

CHAIR: As part of your job?

Dr Brayley : As part of my job, but I have not actually conducted the interview or provided the clinical care myself.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I would like to return to the issue of the numbers of children in detention. Late last year in a meeting with the Prime Minister, it was explained to a number of the crossbench that quite a number of the children in detention are there because their parents are, as you explained earlier, subject to a negative security assessment or for other reasons. It has been decided that they need to remain in detention, but also often only one parent is subject to that determination and that there is nothing to prevent a second parent and the child leaving, but they just refuse to do so.

Mr Pezzullo : That tends to be our experience, yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: The suggestion was made to the Prime Minister at the time: why aren't they compelled to leave detention, if it is agreed—and this is an if—that the detention environment is not optimum for the child and perhaps not for the other parent? They may in fact be better off if they are compelled to leave detention and benefit from it, irrespective of their wishes. The Prime Minister said that he would seek advice on that. I am just wondering whether he has sought advice and, even if he has not, whether you have a view on that.

Mr Pezzullo : On both fronts, I am going to be very cursory in my response for exactly the same reasons as I have been cautious about other answers. If I signal anything in these proceedings, Senator—they are watched intently. There just seem to be people who make not a living but certainly spend their whole lives watching these sorts of proceedings and parsing every single word that ministers and senior officials say. That leads to behavioural responses, and I am not going to be in a position where I am accountable or responsible for something that does not need to occur.

Suffice to say, I am aware of the meeting that you refer to. I am aware of the point that you raise, because it was conveyed to me and it is something that has been the subject of response back to the government. I am going to leave it there. So you raised the point. The PM said he was going to take advice. He has.

CHAIR: This committee is saying: tell us the pros in favour of forcing parents to split; and what would be the arguments for and against so that—I am not asking you what advice you would be giving the Prime Minister—

Mr Pezzullo : Understood, Chair. But, given that the numbers of children in detention are so dramatically reduced, there are so few people left in this circumstance that they are very easily self-identified but also identified by persons around them that it is difficult to speak in the hypothetical without, in a sense, speaking to them through these proceedings. Suffice to say, any attempt to forcibly remove someone would only be done with the best interest of each and every one of the parties. It is a dramatic step—a very dramatic step. I am not suggesting for a moment that it is something that you would either rule in or out. It is something that you would want to weigh very, very carefully. There are pros and cons.

If the children are being exposed—and I need to be very careful here, because there are literally so few children in this circumstance—to harm, that is a factor. If their development is being constrained, that is a factor. If their rights and their individual entitlements are being somehow affected, that is a factor. But, against that, you try to keep families together. It would be better if they took, through their own consent, a decision to leave. That would be far better than any forcible removal.

CHAIR: Thank you. Sorry, Senator Leyonhjelm—your questions.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Thank you, Chair. I will change the subject to the Australian Trusted Trader. Has that been asked before—

Mr Pezzullo : It was mentioned in the commissioner's opening statement. The commissioner is also the Comptroller-General of Customs and it is perhaps something that he is best placed to respond to once you have asked your question.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I wonder if you could fairly briefly explain what the obligations of an Australian trusted trader are. What are the grounds by which they become an Australian trusted trader?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Yes. I am joined at the table by First Assistant Secretary Linda Geddes, who has control over the program. In the broad, the way I described it in my opening statement is a trusted trader program—or an AEO program as it is otherwise known around the world—is one of trust. We ask the trusted trader to go through an accreditation process, and that is quite a rigorous process in terms of assuring us that it has knowledge of its supply chains and it can assure us that those supply chains are not vulnerable to criminal or other exploitation. After a period of rigorous examination, it is a self-accreditation process in the first instance. We then check that accreditation process. If we believe that further investigation is required for that accreditation, we will do so, but at some point or other along that sequence, presuming all the criteria have been met, someone will be accredited as a trusted trader. They will then be allowed to operate with less touch by the border authorities—facilitated trade, if you will—and various other preferences that Ms Geddes can explain to you.

However, occasionally we do need to assure ourselves that the original basis of the accreditation is still valid, and that requires an audit and compliance program that sits over the top of the Trusted Trader Program. That is normally done in partnership in collaboration with the trusted trader entity or can also come in the form of a random audit. There is also the option for an accredited trusted trader to self-disclose that it does not believe that it any longer meets the criteria of a trusted trader and to suspend its own accreditation until such time that it remediates where it thinks its vulnerability is in the supply chain. Alternatively, through our intelligence and enforcement audit and compliance activities we identify that the accreditation is in question. We will engage with the partner. We will point out where we think the vulnerability is and we will give the entity and opportunity to remediate that in order for it to retain its accredited status. That is it in the broad in terms of principles. I will ask Ms Geddes if she has anything to add.

Ms Geddes : I have nothing further to add unless you have specific questions.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I think Mr Quaedvlieg has answered where I was going with this, which is: if in a random audit something were identified as not meeting the criteria, what would be the consequences for the trader?

Ms Geddes : The consequences would be more working with the industry partner to try to rectify that issue as early as possible rather than something that is stick-like.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Is there a significant incentive for traders in general—importers and exporters—to become trusted traders? What are the incentives that would induce them to join the program?

Ms Geddes : This year, from 1 July we are in the pilot year, which is designing and developing the program. We are working with industry on a range of benefits to a fully accredited trusted trader. That could be anything from streamlined reporting to duty deferral to the light-touch experience that the commissioner talked about. We are continuing to build those benefits. The other thing that we are working through is mutual recognition with other programs overseas so our exporters can tap into the benefits of other countries. So there are a range of benefits that would appeal to industry to be part of the Trusted Trader Program.

Mr Quaedvlieg : To add to that answer: there is both a direct monetised benefit and an indirect monetised benefit. In terms of the indirect, the ability for entities to trade with less interference at the border leads to greater trade movements across the border and ultimately leads to the bottom line and adds to Australia's economic prosperity. But there is also direct monetised benefit. For example, one of the benefits is for entities to be able to aggregate their reporting at the end of a period. That reduces significant administrative burden. As Ms Geddes mentioned, there is also the issue of deferral of duty. That essentially means that an entity can acquit its duty on imports at the end of a period, which in turn leads them to be able to use that capital for other investments in the firm. So there are both direct and indirect monetised benefits.

Senator LEYONHJELM: You have an aspiration of quite a high number of firms joining the program. Does the feedback suggest that that is realistically achievable?

Mr Quaedvlieg : There are various perspectives on whether all of the benefits are achievable by all entities. We want to make the Trusted Trader Program available for small, medium and large enterprises. Some will obviously benefit to a greater degree; some of the larger enterprises with high-volume transactions who do not then have to acquit this single import consignment reporting and can defer duty are obviously going to be greater beneficiaries. But we do not want to make that exclusive to the large entities. We want to make sure that the program is all-inclusive. I have to say, though, that in the broad the Trusted Trader Program is receiving a lot of positive commentary in industry. There is a queue of entities to join the pilot, if you will. Our intent, as I mentioned in my opening statement, is by 2020 to have 1,000 or so entities under this umbrella. That amounts to 30 per cent of our import and export trade. So there are great aspirations and a lot of enthusiasm, but not everyone is going to be happy about it.

Senator LEYONHJELM: All right.

CHAIR: Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: I was asking about the question of discussions with regional partners and possible resettlement countries. Mr Pezzullo, you said you would take on notice the status of negotiations with other countries. Have there been any discussions with the UNHCR?

Mr Pezzullo : We are always in discussions with the peak body for refugees on all sorts of matters.

Senator KIM CARR: I am specifically concerned about finding third-country resettlement options for the people that are on Nauru.

Mr Pezzullo : There have been discussions on foot about what durable solutions for persons in regional processing look like, and they have been on foot for a very long time—indeed, going back to the days of the so-called Malaysia Solution under the Gillard government and subsequently—because, one way or another, whatever third party arrangements are arrived at need to have some kind of involvement, passive or otherwise, and endorsement, active or otherwise, from the UNHCR, because, of course, they administer the convention overall. So have there been discussions about all manner of matters concerning the finding of durable solutions? Absolutely.

Senator KIM CARR: I was more interested in contemporary discussions rather than historic ones. Perhaps you can enlighten me about contemporary conversations.

Mr Pezzullo : They are ongoing. They reach back in time, they are always on foot and they extend into the future.

Senator KIM CARR: When was the last time there was a conversation with the UNHCR about finding third-country resettlement options for people who are on Nauru?

Mr Pezzullo : Those discussions are ongoing. We have senior representatives in Geneva. We are asked. On occasions, we proffer. We are asked about things like: 'With the High Court decision known as M68, what does that portend?' Our officers have a positive, constructive and open engagement with UNHCR. Obviously, they operate—

Senator KIM CARR: Can you tell me the date at which these conversations last took place?

Mr Pezzullo : I will take it on notice. We have diplomatic representatives in Geneva who are accredited to the UNHCR. They are not doing their job if they do not have daily discussions—

Senator KIM CARR: Daily, you say?

Mr Pezzullo : They are not doing their job if they are not in constant discussions, but I will look at the precise question you have asked me on notice. I will parse it down to exactly what you have asked and take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you. What is the current status of the resettlement of 12,000 Syrian refugees?

Mr Pezzullo : I will ask Mr Vardos, who is the appointed deputy secretary who is running the program. Essentially, there are two groups that we are working with. Sorry, the commissioner's capability with social media is distracting me at the moment! We are working with two groups—those who are directly referred to us by UNHCR and then other prospective persons who will come here under sponsored arrangements under our humanitarian arrangements. But I will ask Mr Vardos to just break that down for you, Senator, and to also update you on progress.

Mr Vardos : We are running on two tracks. There are grants being made to persons who are coming under the regular refugee and humanitarian program, and there are 13,750 in the current program year in total, of which 4,850 have been earmarked for Syrians and Iraqis affected by the Syrian conflict. In parallel with that, there is this supplementary initiative announced in September last year to bring in an additional 12,000 persons. So those programs are running in parallel. The 4,850 will be delivered by 30 June, because it is a program-year commitment, and the 12,000 will run in parallel over this year and subsequent years. As of the end of January, our staff have interviewed and 'assessed in' as being basically eligible for a visa 7,416 persons. Of those, 324 have been granted visas under the base program—that is, the annual refugee and humanitarian program—and a further 200 have been granted visas under the Syria initiative.

Senator KIM CARR: Of those 200, how many are actually in the country?

Mr Vardos : Senator, 26 have arrived in country. There are a range of factors that impact on travel. We have no direct control over when visa recipients travel to Australia. There has always, traditionally, been a time lag between grant and arrival.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure. So, of the 12,000 offer, 26 have arrived. Do you have any sense of when the others will be arriving?

Mr Vardos : The 12,000 initiative, as I have indicated, is additional to the annual program—so we have to deliver the 4,850 by 30 June. Now, it is the minister's prerogative as to how many places, if any, in next year's refugee and humanitarian program are allocated to Syrians and refugees. But the 12,000 runs in parallel, over the top of those annual ones.

Senator KIM CARR: That is right. It is an additional number, is it not?

Mr Vardos : It is additional.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. So in total we are talking about 16,000.

Mr Vardos : Well, in the current programming, you could extrapolate and say 12,000 additional, however long that takes, plus the 4,850. In the next program year, there may well be another specific allocation within the regular program—and the year after that. So the government has made forward commitments under the refugee and humanitarian program for the next two program years in total, but the component parts of those next two programs have yet to be finalised.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: We were told originally that most of them would be resettled by the end of the financial year.

Mr Pezzullo : I am sorry to have to repeat myself from earlier incarnations. Sometimes headlines and sometimes interpretations of words are not the actual decision—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Words from the minister's mouth?

Mr Pezzullo : No. Well, I was standing next to him, so maybe I heard something differently. But the 12,000 program does extend over multiple financial years. It is a function of the security checking, the identity checking and then, moving to the more logistical matters that Mr Vardos has drawn attention to, organising flights et cetera. So the program will be delivered as and when is appropriate. It will extend certainly beyond this financial year; I can give you that absolute, confirmatory answer. Whether it has to extend much beyond that is really a function of our processing. Security checks are paramount. Identity checks are paramount. We are not going to resile from those, and there will be no-one getting in under the radar who has not been checked.

Senator KIM CARR: So how many years will it take you to secure the 12,000 additional places?

Mr Vardos : It is not possible to predict how long that will take. Our posts in Amman, Jordan; in Beirut, Lebanon; and in Ankara, Turkey are where the principal interviewing and processing takes place and, supported by our post in Dubai, are all working at full capacity. We have sent additional staff. We have occupied all additional offices. So we are operating at full capacity. I just cannot predict how long it will take to deliver the 12,000 on top of the annual program that may be determined by government.

Senator KIM CARR: Do you have any staff in Syria?

Mr Vardos : No.

Mr Pezzullo : We do not need them to be there for these purposes. They work from our principal regional headquarters in Dubai and then they are deployed across Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other places.

Senator KIM CARR: Have you had any additional funding for the administration of these 12,000?

Mr Pezzullo : I will just check with Mr Vardos. I do recall some funding being allocated, but whether that was in the administered program for the benefits subsequently—

Mr Vardos : There have been estimates put forward. I would have to defer to the chief finance officer to give you the details, Senator. On a whole-of-government basis, our component part is upfront. The real serious costs are incurred post arrival with the range of benefits.

Senator KIM CARR: Sure. They are agreed settlement costs, but what does it cost for the processing? Given that we have had 26 people—

Mr Pezzullo : We will ask Mr Groves. He is always very keen in estimates proceedings to actually speak to budget figures.

Mr Groves : We received funding—it was announced as part of the announcement—through the MYEFO and additional estimates process. Immigration itself received additional resources of $33.8 million. Currently that is scheduled over the 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years. The costing itself was a whole-of-government costing, and there are a number of other agencies that contribute to that process. What I have told you is just our component.

Senator KIM CARR: So the $33 million is anticipated to be spent over a two-year period?

Mr Groves : As reflected in the current additional estimates, yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Of course if the program runs beyond 2017 you will be requiring additional moneys.

Mr Groves : Additional moneys or we would be looking to potentially move some of that funding.

Mr Pezzullo : Rephrasing would be more likely.

Senator KIM CARR: I see. How many additional staff does that bring?

Mr Groves : I do not have that information with me. I do not think it was significant. I think it was only 15 or 20, but I will take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: So where is the $33 million spent?

Mr Groves : A lot of that is on administered expenses overseas to support the processes and a lot of the checking that needs to be done in the processing. The actual ASL was small, but I would have to check.

Senator KIM CARR: Have additional staff been engaged?

Mr Vardos : We have supplemented our existing posted resources. These are people who go on three-year postings to the region. We have supplemented those resources with short-term missions, which can last a matter of months or a matter of weeks. It is subject to a range of factors, including availability of office accommodation. We are not the only ones who occupy those offices.

Senator KIM CARR: How many staff have been reallocated on a short-term basis?

Mr Vardos : I would have to take that on notice. I was looking for that figure before I came to the table, and I do not actually have it.

Mr Pezzullo : We will take it on notice.

Mr Vardos : Someone else may have it, but I do not.

Mr Pezzullo : We will take it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: Are they new people or have they been reassigned from existing—

Mr Vardos : They are existing departmental staff who are experienced decision makers. They could be working in any number of areas. They are people who are competent in the art of refugee interviewing and decision making.

Senator KIM CARR: Has there been any impact on the department's capacity to undertake core functions?

Mr Vardos : No.

Senator KIM CARR: So these are people who are surplus to requirements, are they?

Mr Vardos : No, they are not surplus to requirements; they are taken from other positions and there are backfilling arrangements. There are a range of measures that can be put in place. Yes, a gap is created when you draw someone out to allocate them to a special task, as we have on hand at the moment, and operational areas that are affected put their own arrangements in place through higher duties or other arrangements to backfill.

Senator KIM CARR: So 26 people have arrived and you have issued visas to 220. How many applications have been assessed?

Mr Vardos : As I mentioned, we have screened in or assessed in 7,416 persons as of the end of January. They are effectively in the pipeline waiting for health, character and security clearances.

Senator KIM CARR: Over what period of time were those 7½ thousand applications assessed?

Mr Vardos : Since the initiative was commenced in September last year. I came on board towards the end of September, and some work had been done. But you could effectively say that, since the government made its announcement in September last year, the department has cranked up and interviewed 7,416 persons.

Senator KIM CARR: Of which you have only issued 200 visas.

Mr Vardos : In addition to the 324 under the base program, they are allocated either to the base program—the 4,850 which need to be delivered by 30 June—or the Syrian initiative.

Senator KIM CARR: Either way you look at that, you have a very high number of people being interviewed and a very low number of visas being issued.

Mr Vardos : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: Why is that?

Mr Vardos : The security checking processes are comprehensive, they are meticulous, there is no exception and there are no shortcuts. It is the security-checking process that has effectively delayed us in granting visas, but the visas are starting to flow.

Senator KIM CARR: How many applications have been rejected?

Mr Vardos : Off the top of my head I could not tell you how many have been rejected, but what I can say to you is that if there is an issue that arises in respect of an applicant that we cannot resolve in the short term we deprioritise that application and then move on to the next person. So it does not necessarily mean that someone is rejected. It just means that they are deprioritised until the issue can be resolved.

Senator KIM CARR: The commentary in the media has been around families. Are you looking at any fighters?

Mr Pezzullo : Fighters?

Senator KIM CARR: Fighters. People engaged in the civil war itself.

Mr Pezzullo : They are certainly not coming here.

Senator KIM CARR: Have any of the applications come from people who have been engaged directly in the military conflict?

Mr Vardos : I cannot answer that question without delving into the individual decisions around the 7,416. But the secretary is right. If there are any issues relating to any security, or indeed character or criminality issues as well, they will not get a visa.

Senator KIM CARR: Of the 7½ thousand applications you have processed, 222 visas suggests to me that a very high number of people have a problem with their applications.

Mr Vardos : I would not deduce that. It is just a slow process as we work through. Our security checking processes involve both Commonwealth agencies—the ones you would expect—and international partners.

Senator KIM CARR: Other governments?

Mr Vardos : Other governments.

Senator KIM CARR: Who tell you they have a security problem?

Mr Vardos : They will tell us if a person we are interviewing has come to their attention, for whatever reason.

Senator KIM CARR: So it is predominantly on security grounds that these applications are not being processed?

Mr Vardos : No, I cannot confirm that. It could be a whole range of reasons. It could be health reasons. It could be character reasons.

Senator KIM CARR: On what categorisation have you not proceeded with their applications?

Mr Vardos : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: I would like to know whether it is health reasons, security reasons or character reasons—in other words, they are criminals, I presume.

Mr Pezzullo : To foreshadow an element of the response we will give on notice, with the change of our departmental arrangements, and particularly with the establishment of an enhanced intelligence function, including more officers cleared to see more highly sensitive material, and able to share that, including with international partners, we have put in place in terms of our nation's history probably the most rigorous security screening process since we established the department in 1945. That includes biometric checking and identity checking, including through classified data sources that I am not in a position to go into any detail about, with foreign governments. As a result of that heightened and more intensive scrutiny, the processes that have to be established to undertake that, particularly with foreign governments, were put in place late last year by Mr Vardos and his colleagues. That might have caused a lag of some period of time. But as those clearances come through we will be able to grant more visas. The bottom line is that we make no apology for undertaking even closer scrutiny of folks coming from one of the most violent conflicts on the face of the earth. So we will give you a breakdown. We will give it to you in aggregate terms so as not to identify individuals, and we will do it on notice.

Senator KIM CARR: In regard to the recent commentary about lessons learnt from Lebanon, given the civil war in Lebanon, which led to a similar—

Mr Pezzullo : The lessons learned? In relation to the unauthorised disclosure—cabinet submission.

Senator KIM CARR: If you wish to go to the specific document. Has the department undertaken any study of the lessons learnt from the civil war in Lebanon, which had many similar patterns to it that we are seeing in Syria?

Mr Pezzullo : Not in my time as secretary have we commissioned original research. I know, because I have had cause to ask for a literature review and search to be undertaken from what happened in the 1970s with that particular program. We have had the benefit of some of the research available to us rather purposes. But it also informs Mr Vardos's work.

Senator KIM CARR: Given the level of foreign involvement in that engagement, surely there are lessons to be learnt from that?

Mr Pezzullo : Absolutely, Senator. The key lessons relate to screening. In the 1970s, just on very basic issues around computer checking and the sharing of databases, just the technology was so different in any event, and perhaps there are colleagues in the department whose institutional memories go back that far. So that is one set of lessons.

We are in a different world, but also we are in a different world from the point of view of the sequencing. Mr Vardos talked about an initial screening in, which deals with the prima facie claims that a person might have. What is the nature of their persecution? Are they in a persecuted minority in an area where previously there might have been tolerance? There might have been cohabitation. Now, because of the vile actions of Daesh and other violent terrorist groups, they are in a position where a return is not feasible. So that checking is done, but then it is sequenced, as Mr Vardos said, with identity checking—because just because someone says they are a particular individual does not mean they are—health checks, security checks and character checks. It is the sequencing of those checks that is being done in this program in probably the most comprehensive fashion we have ever undertaken. Certainly, relative to that program in the seventies, it would be unrecognisable. The nature of the checking would be unrecognisable to ministers and officials who might have had an involvement in that program.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: Can I just finish on this. In terms of the question on notice—

CHAIR: We will come back to you later.

Senator KIM CARR: It is a simple question: can you provide information about where the officers have been transferred from to take on this additional work?

Mr Vardos : Okay.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Just to tidy up this general issue, would it be fair to say that the department has thought through very, very thoroughly all the issues involved with processing refugees from Syria?

Mr Pezzullo : Yes, I believe we have.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And do you believe you are not only in tune with government policy but alive to perhaps some of the public awareness around, specifically, bringing refugees from Syria?

Mr Pezzullo : We understand that there is a high level of public interest in the matter, and obviously we follow the public debate. But obviously, as creatures of the executive, our job is to execute the policy of the day as given to us by the government. But I will not insult your intelligence. Of course we are aware of the debate that is in the community at large, but our specific marching orders come from the government of the day, and we are executing its policy to the letter.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I imagine that you are paying a very, very high order of attention to see that we do not have any infiltration of this cohort of refugees by individuals whose behaviour may well not be in the national interests of Australia.

Mr Pezzullo : I can assure you that we are alive to many security and other risks. Terrorism is certainly one of them and a very high profile one. There have been instances, regrettably, already in Europe where it is apparent that those that we are confronting in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, are using migration flows for their own purposes. That is not to say that it is particularly prevalent or it is particularly predominant amongst the groups moving, but one or two are all you need. So, yes, we are alive to the possibility of terrorists attempting to get through by this means. We are also, of course, alive to other factors—criminality, character issues, health issues. The establishing of someone's identity in and of itself might not be portentous of criminality or terrorism, but, because someone has a false identity, that is a flag itself. So there are a range of flags that we are concerned about, but certainly infiltration by Daesh or other Islamist fighters is very high on our priority for screening, yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I also assume that our people, the people involved in this due process, are in close and collaborative contact with other allied nations—can I use that term?—as they process their tentative refugees also.

Mr Pezzullo : Yes. And I can assure you in terms of both the Commonwealth and state and territory authorities that we work very collaboratively. It would be no secret—and there is no point making a secret of this—that we obviously work very closely with ASIO, who are probably our principal partner in this regard. That is not, if you like, an incidental or minor transactional engagement on occasion. It is deep. It is structured. It is very intense. I do not want to particularise it, because that goes to the nature of ASIO's capabilities, which I should not and indeed do not wish to talk about in public.

We also work very closely with like-minded immigration and border authorities, who are all going through the same kinds of checks. We swap notes. We swap information as to methodology, as to which screening techniques are working and which perhaps are not so useful. We also engage with other elements of the intelligence and national security community, yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I imagine nobody is putting pressure on your department to condense this work. It has been suggested that this would all be done somehow in this calendar year.

Mr Pezzullo : Far from it, Senator. In fact, we take our instructions from the government, so we are—how shall I put this?—immune from media and other pressure. We frankly do not care. I do not want to be disrespectful, but there are people who live in a world of commentary and social media and whatever—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I know some of them.

Mr Pezzullo : and then we just turn up to work and do our jobs. The government is—

Senator KIM CARR: You do not create any of the public commentary or provide advice to the media or try to channel any of this information, do you, Mr Pezzullo?

Mr Pezzullo : I would not even know how to begin. Our job is to give effect to the government's policy. The government have been very clear. Far from there being 'any pressure to condense'—I think that was your phrase—the government have been very clear. Yes, they wish to be compassionate and extend the humanitarian hand of assistance that has been spoken about by both the former Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister as well as others such as my minister and Foreign Minister Bishop, who was at a conference recently where humanitarian pledges were made. Yes, we are going to deliver it, but we are not going to compromise security. The government have been very clear that they expect those twin imperatives to be met.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Good. I would not have anticipated anything else. Can I take you back to your opening statement, where we talked about the messaging. It is very important, and from someone as senior as you it is a very powerful message to the smugglers. Beyond this exercise, where you get an opportunity to comment publicly about how our government will not—how resilient we are with respect to the policy—

Senator KIM CARR: Here we go. Here we go.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: do you engage in any—

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, Senator, I am being provoked by Senator Carr.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Yes, he does that to me also.

Senator KIM CARR: I am fascinated by this answer.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do you also engage in programs offshore, for example, at a more international level to make sure that our message is well and truly out there in this world where the propensity for this is much higher?

Mr Pezzullo : Indeed we do. Perhaps I might draw to your attention that the relevant officers will be here for the segment on Operation Sovereign Borders, if you wish to pursue the detail. I do apologise to the chair; we have jumped around a bit, but—

CHAIR: No, it has nothing to do with you.

Mr Pezzullo : I can only answer the questions that I am—

CHAIR: It is for the committee to deal with your opening statements, and we are still doing that.

Mr Pezzullo : To assist Senator O'Sullivan: the details might be best interrogated under Operation Sovereign Borders. But in general terms, as we have explained to this committee before and as has been laid out in our budget papers and the like—and also as explained by Generals Campbell and Bottrell as the two commanders, previous and current, of Operation Sovereign Borders—yes, we use a variety of social media and other strategic communications avenues, as they are called. We do not engage, as we have explained before, in domestic marketing, as it were, or advertising in the domestic jurisdiction. Our focus is on the overseas jurisdictions, and obviously we use a variety of techniques, some of which are known in the trade as free media.

So, when a government position is re-articulated or a statement of resolve is reinforced, we will ensure that, through social media, the web and dedicated internet channels, that message is certainly projected. Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Dutton are the principal spokespersons for the government, but obviously Minister Bishop and others play a key role. But, beyond the projection, as it were, of statements of government policy, we also have more structured communications—pamphlets, internet pages and other means. Some of the detail I am just seeking to recall, but maybe when General Bottrell and his staff are here we can get into a level of detail that might be of interest to the committee.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I will leave the balance of my questions about that program until then. I want to ask a more general question that still relates but relates to broader topics. Do you find that when individual advocates or advocacy groups go about plying their trade, where the information that they put out there is either patently false or holds out hope and promise, that makes the job more difficult in terms of the messaging? Do you find that the audience—being the smugglers—get a conflicted view of what is coming out of Australia; that they might encourage them to box on and that there is hope yet?

Mr Pezzullo : It is certainly a vibrant area of discussion in any democracy—and you have seen this in Europe as well. People have very different deeply held views and, in some cases, very passionately held views. In those circumstances, is it the case that the public debate or public commentary can sometimes go down paths that do not have much of a connection to the truth or to facts? Yes, that is certainly the case. I suppose in fairness to them some of the advocates would argue that about government operations too.

In that environment of passionate, intense and rather interactive messaging, some groups say close the borders, other groups say open the borders and other groups say this, that or the other. Whether there is a court case on, whether there is a change of minister, or as we have seen in the past a change of Prime Minister, is it the case that exploitative smugglers—I do not put any of the good-hearted persons of faith and passionate ideology on this issue in this category as they have their own reasons for pursuing these debates and that is to be set aside—and cynical transnational criminals in today's internet age are very savvy about following developments in a way that did not really apply even in the late 1990s or early 2000s period when the so-called Pacific Solution was in the ascendency? Certainly it would be a space age away from what happened with the outflow from Indochina, for instance, in the seventies or eighties.

Today, you have professional human trafficking and people smuggling syndicates who treat human beings as commodities and they will absolutely give people false hope on any pretence. I think the premise of your question relates to the activities of so-called advocates. It could be something like 'Don't worry there is no way this government policy will sustain a judgement of the High Court'—to take an example—and that will be put about as a marketing opportunity. I alluded before to the communications program, where we get feedback though field surveys and through both qualitative and quantitative surveys which we have talked about in these proceedings over the years. We are happy to resume that discussion when Operation Sovereign Borders is on. We saw references to—and I will use quotes here because it relates to the comments that were put about rather than my lack of respect for the office holder—'Morrison has gone. There's been a change of minister. The Australian policy has changed.' So they did not have another run at that. Some people who perhaps are a bit more cautious say, 'Well hang on. I want to wait and see.' Others say, 'Okay, this is my chance to get to Australia.' Similarly, we saw it in the change of prime ministers and again that all gets deflated. Mr Turnbull made it very clear that his policy is as strong and as resolved as previous policy. He has reiterated that in previous days. Then you see court cases and so on and so forth.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: The burden of my question is just slightly different—and thank you, that was a very useful response. I want to set aside those advocates who may hold an honest but mistaken belief and put them in a category—for example, an advocate who thinks that a five-year-old was raped and that we are about to return them when in fact it was untrue; as opposed to an advocate who knows it is untrue and may well have invented the statement. We have seen this in campaigns about environmental management, from the animal liberation movement, the anti-abortion movement and so on. These are people who are prepared to join with lawbreakers and to say whatever they need to say to create an environment that is meant to persuade people to do things that they think will take them to their ends. My question is: are you alive to the potential of that? Do we have settings in place—I am not looking for the detail—that might help us monitor that sort of behaviour?

Mr Pezzullo : If there are any issues around the breaking of laws, that would be a matter for other agencies. Irrespective of the stridency of the advocacy or its, on occasion, very loose connection to reality and truth—on occasion we are aware there is distortion of facts about which we know the truth—we take all claims very seriously. I think we have a record, and I would say this about my predecessors as well, of taking all allegations in good faith. Sometimes they come to us from parliamentarians. Sometimes they come to us from issue-specific groups, such as refugee action groups. Other times they come to us from doctors—we talked about one such example earlier today. My preference is to take, at least on initial blush, all allegations, all statements of concern and all statements of criticism as if they have been made in good faith. If it subsequently comes to light that a matter has been fabricated, then obviously, depending on whether laws have been broken or not, action can be taken. But our starting point is to take all allegations as being, until proven otherwise, factual and made in good faith.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do you think there will come a time when it is important for us to resist this behaviour, this propaganda that is put out there? I have discussions with very decent Australians who have a view about stopping the boats but who, for their own reasons, are ignorant of the 1,200 lives—men, women and children—lost on the high seas. You might note that there is never a mention of that by anybody who continues to resist our policy of stopping the boats. But when you share that with ordinary folk, they are surprised by the numbers. When you engage with them on it, they really start to contemplate it differently. Do you think there will come a time when we should—you should—start to set in place a program to make sure that all Australians have an opportunity to be informed of all the facts as they go about their daily lives and consider these issues about refugees, arrival of boats and so on?

Mr Pezzullo : At the risk of threatening even longer opening statements, I would contend that our role is principally to support the government of the day. These are sensitive, delicate matters of public policy that are the subject of different views that can be contested within our vibrant democracy. In the end it is for those at the most senior levels of the governance of our nation, the parliamentarians, to debate and resolve these matters. All we can do in that context is support that process.

Estimates is one forum in which we are a little bit more visible and observable than might otherwise be the case—and bring on 11 pm is all I can say from that point of view. We deal in and provide factual reports. We are not ourselves advocates; we do not have a policy bias; we work for the government of the day to implements its policy after we have given the government advice. Is there more we can do in, say, our annual report or in other statements to put out more facts about, for example, as you heard this morning, the level of care provided and the attention given to clinical governance matters? Yes, perhaps we can intensify our efforts and that might further assist in the debate—and it is a debate. It is one of the top two or three issues that tends to dominate public commentary at any one time, and that is understandable. But our job is not to be active participants in a public debate but to support the government of the day and, on occasion—such as in these sorts of proceedings—to answer questions to the best of our ability. I am sorry I cannot give a more detailed answer than that. But that is the nature of our democracy and that is our role in it.

Proceedings suspended from 12 : 45 to 13 : 48

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Pezzullo, last week we heard that the government had an undertaking that no person from the group involved with the 267—the High Court case—would be removed without 72 hours notice being given. Does that commitment still stand? Has any notification been given? And how will that work, if people are going to be sent back in groups or individually?

Mr Pezzullo : The undertakings have been entered into by the minister on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is not his intention to withdraw those undertakings at this point, because the undertakings related to the case that was on foot. Obviously that case has now been disposed of. But his instructions are that the undertakings remain on foot, and that is the basis upon which we are proceedings. I think I stated before the break, but I will just restate it, that, simply from the point of view of the medical conditions that are involved, the state of treatment that people are undergoing, their recovery from procedures and the like, it was never in contemplation and nor is it in contemplation that there would be, as it were, a mass lift of persons, whether they are joined to the proceedings or not. The fact that they are joined adds an additional legal step, but to answer your question about how the process will now unfold, assessments will be made about their care. Some of that was discussed earlier, before the break, when Dr Brayley was at the table. Advise will be taken, noting that the services on Nauru are being enhanced, including through a multistage enhancement to the hospital and health services there, the deployment of additional staff and the like.

So, this is never a static question, and if some of the multidisciplinary assistance that Dr Brayley was speaking of earlier can be provided efficiently and effectively on Nauru then that will be a factor in decision making—some of the multidisciplinary medical care and attention that he referred to. So we literally are now at the point of working through each and every case: has the original ailment, for want of a better word, been treated? If the treatment is still on foot, how long will that reasonably take? And then, if there are no other factors to take into consideration, including some of those questions of anxiety and stress that were mentioned earlier, once those factors are all taken into account then the legal position is enlivened. And at that point we have not settled a final view, because these matters no doubt arose in the minds of some of the representatives of not just the plaintiff but others after the emphatic decision of the court. They have been kind of thinking about their own position. So, we are in respectful discussions with a number of parties about what we are willing to accommodate.

But I go back to what I said before the break: the ultimate policy objective has to be delivered. All persons, when they are fit to travel, will be sent back to Nauru. That is both policy and law. And then, within that, individual determinations will be made on a compassionate and empathetic basis.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could I ask about the 37 babies who have been born here? They are connected to the broader group of 267. What type of assessment will be made as to whether it is appropriate to send those babies to Nauru?

Mr Pezzullo : I have not looked at each case myself, but there are members of staff as well as our contracted service providers who know of the cases in detail. These are the babies who were born here, so obviously they were not repatriated to Australia; they have been born here subsequent to the mother and possibly the father coming here for treatment. If there is no reason to delay their return because of the health of, say, a sibling—which might have been the original cause of repatriation—the health of mum or the health of another extended family member who might be here in Australia—and if they themselves do not have any medical condition that we would otherwise treat in Australia, then the assessment will be that they will go back as a family unit, noting, and this is the point I was making before the break, that the question of care medical services and medical support is a dynamic one. The government has authorised us, and we are currently partway through, a multistage redevelopment of the Nauru hospital and health clinic. Deputy Commissioner Briscoe and her staff will have details.

So, that would feature in any consideration, because obviously if you have a capacity to provide early childhood services or postnatal services on island that maybe did not exist six months ago then you would make a different decision now about whether a baby is going to go back. If those services are further enhanced and built upon in months to come, then the decision-making criteria will change again. I do not mean to provide a lengthier answer than I absolutely have to. I am just trying to convey to you that it is a dynamic decision-making environment. As the services improve, more children can go back more expeditiously.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Out of the 267 people, if that court case had not been on foot, and the undertaking of the 72 hours waiting for the case to resolve, how many of those people do you understand would have already been transferred back to Nauru?

Mr Pezzullo : I might need to take some advice. The other way to look at the question and to derive the answer is: of those who were subject only to the 72-hour period—the block, as it were—how many were ready to be returned the morning after the court case? I am struggling to recall. I think it is in the order of a fifth to a quarter. If Ms Briscoe has that information, she will give it to you now, otherwise we will take it on notice.

Ms Briscoe : What I can add to that is that this changes on a daily basis. It is related to the fit-to-travel assessments that are regularly done and updated. If the number were 100 today, it could be different tomorrow. That could be as a result of further medical advice, as a result of an appointment being scheduled or moved so that the person needs to remain here to attend an appointment. So that number does change on a daily basis.

Mr Pezzullo : Senator, we will take the question on notice, because, as an objective fact, if we take the morning-after test—I mean in the sense of the morning after the court judgement—we will come back in a way that does not breach privacy, and I do not think this would, with the aggregated number of those who potentially were fit to fly or return on that day, subject only to the fact that the Commonwealth is, if you like, binding itself not to do so because of the ongoing application of the minister's undertaking. So perhaps the best way to answer the question is on notice and in those terms, if that is acceptable.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. Yes, that would be. It sounds as though it was a relatively small number in terms of percentage, from what Ms Briscoe has outlined already.

Mr Pezzullo : We will come back to you on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can we have an updated figure on the number of people in Nauru, including a breakdown of men, women and children?

Mr Pezzullo : In total?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In total.

Mr Pezzullo : While Ms Briscoe goes to her spreadsheet, you are asking both for transferees who are not yet determined to be refugees, as well as refugees, in total—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Mr Pezzullo : split between those two categories, and then, as best as we have it, men, women and children?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Ms Briscoe : For Nauru, the highlight numbers—as I am trying to find the detail—are 840 refugees and 357 transferees.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So 840 refugees—people who have been processed and found to be refugees?

Ms Briscoe : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And 357 transferees?

Ms Briscoe : That is correct.

Mr Pezzullo : Just to confirm with the deputy commissioner that both those numbers then are exclusive of anyone who is in Australia for medical treatment. Senator, your question is about on-island, as best as we can advise you today?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes.

Ms Briscoe : I might see if one of my colleagues has those numbers handy—the breakdown.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am going to ask the same question for Mannus.

Ms Briscoe : I can give you the highlight numbers while I am getting the detail: refugees, 472 and transferees, 404, for Manus.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And you are looking for the figures for the number of men, women and children on Nauru?

Ms Briscoe : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you. Maybe while you are looking for those I will ask Mr Pezzullo—

Mr Pezzullo : I can be the gap filler.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, thank you. There were 840 people found to be refugees—they are people who have been assessed—and Ms Briscoe has told us 357 transferees. What happened to the commitment to have everybody processed within the end of that particular week in October? Why have we still got 357 people who have not had their claims finalised?

Mr Pezzullo : That is principally a matter that would need to be answered by the authorities within the government of Nauru. They conduct the assessment and we provide support to them, as was painstakingly laid out before the court in the High Court case, so we do have officers who assist. I would not want to speak for the government of Nauru, nor do I care to speculate. Perhaps there is a capacity issue. They made a judgement about the throughput of processing, and it is a remarkable achievement, albeit from a rapid start with the resumption of regional processing. You could argue that they have done extraordinarily well to, out of 1,200 persons—and I am just using round numbers here—have 840 assessed as refugees.

I do recall, at least towards the back of my mind, that there was a commitment that some of their officials might have given that they would in good faith and with best endeavours try to get everyone through the system. You are right, I think, they did say by the end of a particular week—I am not disputing that, of course—but if the government of Nauru wishes to provide any further information to this Senate through engagement with us, then we will take that on notice. Off the top of my head I do not have an answer, and nor would I care to speculate.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I must admit that I find it a little extraordinary that you are making decisions as a government about negotiating third country resettlement, trying to work out where people can go and who will take them, and yet you have no information. I am sorry, but it feels like there is disinterest in why 357 people still have not even had their claims assessed. They have been there for nearly two and a half years.

Mr Pezzullo : I can assure you that there is no lack of interest—perhaps it is just the long morning. I understand the point, Senator. I will see if Ms Briscoe has any further particulars.

Ms Briscoe : While I do not have exact numbers, of that 357 there will be quite a number that have had their initial determination made, and they will be going through some sort of appeal process. There will be some that have not received their hand down because they are part of a family where family members are in Australia for medical treatment.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have we got the break down?

Ms Briscoe : It is coming.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: We were also going to get the specifics in relation to the Nauru and Manus people who are here in Australia who fall outside of the—

Ms Briscoe : Oh, yes. I have that number. The number from Nauru who were not subject to M68 is 62, and the number from Manus that are not involved in the M80 proceedings is 12.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many of those women who are still here in Australia are subject to medical treatment because of a sexual assault or abuse?

Ms Briscoe : I do not have that. I will take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Someone must be able to get that today, surely.

Mr Pezzullo : We would have to break the data down, Senator. If we can do it today, we will.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Could I ask that the data include alleged sexual assault, as this is where it has been established that there is evidence of sexual assault.

Mr Pezzullo : Indeed, Senator. We will look at it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: My question is about the medical transfer of those people who doctors have sent here because of the results, not just people who have said they have been raped and therefore they have jumped on a plane.

Mr Pezzullo : We will dig into the data through the course of the afternoon.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

Senator LINES: I wanted to ask you some questions about Perth Airport. What amount is spent by the ABF at Perth international airport annually?

Mr Pezzullo : The amount spent in terms of salaries and expenses?

Senator LINES: Yes, the whole kit and caboodle.

Mr Pezzullo : The uniformed officers work directly for the commissioner so I might defer to him. I would be slightly surprised if he had the information immediately front of mind but he might be able to take it on notice.

Senator LINES: Have you got APS staff there who are not in uniform?

Mr Pezzullo : All the staff at our airports work either directly for the commissioner as uniformed officers or they are seconded to the regional command that is overseen by the commissioner. I might ask him to open the batting.

Senator LINES: I just want to make sure we are covering off on everyone.

Mr Quaedvlieg : The secretary is correct: I do not have that figure to hand. It will take some calculation. It is not something that we, in the ordinary course of our performance monitoring, measure as in airport by airport. We will undertake our best endeavours to take that question on notice and respond to you before the due date.

Senator LINES: You understand that it is all staff I am asking for?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Understood.

Mr Pezzullo : We can respond, because we have what is called a blended workforce. Even if a non-uniformed officer whose, if you like, home is the department, the data can be sliced and diced such that it is one single workforce unit called the Perth Airport.

Senator LINES: Great; thank you. What amount is collected in Passenger Movement Charges at Perth international airport annually?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Again, it is a question I will take a notice, unless the chief financial officer has that information to hand in his pack. I am sure he is readily looking at that now, but I do not have an answer to hand.

Mr Groves : Sorry to be an anticlimax, but we do not track Passenger Movement Charge collections by airport. All Passenger Movement Charges are collected by airlines and normally as part of the ticket price et cetera

Senator LINES: Can you track it by airlines that land and depart from Perth?

Mr Groves : No, we do not track it by that.

Senator LINES: You have no idea?

Mr Groves : We could probably do a rough calculation based on movements through the airport and on the Passenger Movement Charge, being the $55 per departure. Certainly we could do that but we do not track the collections per se.

Senator LINES: Your estimate will do. We understand that since the recent upgrades to Perth Airport there are now 16 outbound immigration counters.

Mr Pezzullo : Again, I will defer to the commissioner.

Mr Quaedvlieg : It sounds right, but before I commit to that on Hansard I will take the caveat that I will check it and I will correct it in due course.

Senator LINES: Does someone in the room have the answer?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Potentially; I will see if they do.

Senator LINES: That leads me to my next point, which is in relation to answers to a question on notice—and I am referring here to No. 2075—which shows the outbound control point is staffed by between one and six officers with an average of three throughout the day.

Mr Quaedvlieg : Without looking at the rosters, I cannot confirm that one way or another.

Senator LINES: That is what you gave us to question on notice 2075.

Mr Quaedvlieg : That is quite possible. The thing to understand with airport operations is that they are dynamic. Airline schedules change. They concertina and spread out. That answer was probably correct in the context of the time it was given. Whether that is still valid today, I just do not know.

Senator LINES: Given that you cannot give me any other answer, let's assume the answer to question on notice 2075 was that the outbound control point is staffed with between one and six officers with an average of three throughout the day.

Mr Quaedvlieg : Yes.

Senator LINES: Is this contrary to the agreement between ABF and Perth Airport prior to the expansion of the international terminal?

Mr Quaedvlieg : I can answer that question. There is no agreement per se between Perth Airport and the Australian Border Force, although having said that—as an aside—I recently had discussions with the now-departed Perth Airport CEO, Brad Geatches. He was trialling a new compact arrangement, if you will, with service providers in and around the airport in terms of how we can better provide quality to passenger facilitation. We were going to embark on a pilot program. Whether that still holds for the current CEO, I do not know.

In terms of performance measures, though, at that key performance indicator level, we do have a national standard that we clear passengers at a certain percentage of a certain period of time. What I can say to you is that in terms of Perth Airport, comparative to the rest of the network, not only do we hit that standard but also we over-perform.

Senator LINES: In a pilot program, would staffing of outbound immigration counters be one of the matters that you would settle between ABF and Perth Airport?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Absolutely, although we need to be careful that that is not the only metric in terms of performance success. As I mentioned, applying a simply numeric model to airport operations is inherently dangerous because of the scheduling effect I spoke about before. Brad Geatches and I spoke about how we could not dispense with numeric performance indicators altogether but how we could deliver a better passenger experience, which went not just to the speed at which passengers were facilitated. I often make the point that the customs and immigration functions at airports are just one part of a very complex ecosystem. Measuring the success of passenger facilitation on one part of the ecosystem in a very linear way, as you have just described, does not actually go to improving the monitoring or the quality of the performance. So 'yes' is the short answer. It is a consideration, but it is a very complex environment that we need to do better at in terms of the way we partner with airports.

Senator LINES: Typically, I have not made any comment about the broad operation of Perth Airport.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I understand that.

Senator LINES: I am simply seeking the outbound numbers. When you say 'compact arrangements', I have two questions: what do you mean by that? And, secondly, you mentioned a numeric key performance indicator. Are those numbers publicly available, and can they be made available to the committee?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Yes, they are. On your first question, it is not just the metrics in terms of how fast, in what period of time and how well passengers are processed from the time they turn up at the outward control point or, for that matter, at the inbound control point. For example, one of the things that we discussed was the embedding of an Australian Border Force supervisor in a central operational cell at Perth Airport. So the airport operator is going to run an actual command centre. The agreement that I struck with the CEO was to place a supervisor in that command centre so that as we have undulations of passenger flows, depending on schedule inconsistencies and concertina effects—which I mentioned earlier—we could then respond with more agility and bring in workers from outside the airport flexibly. They could surge to periods of peak processing and then they could ebb away and attend to other duties. The compact is around a whole better partnership with Perth Airport. In respect of your second question—

Senator LINES: Let me do a follow-up there. Has this discussion between you and the former CEO of the airport and your agreement to run a pilot program arisen because Perth Airport has not been satisfied with the service provided by the ABF?

Mr Quaedvlieg : No, that was not how it was couched to me. In my normal stakeholder engagement I meet with all the airport CEOs, including the Perth Airport CEO. We have discussions at a high level in relation to how we are partnering at the airport and we were thinking creatively about how we could do things better.

Senator LINES: Why did this need arise to run a pilot program? Obviously something was not quite tweaked—

Mr Quaedvlieg : No, no, not at all. Brad Geatches was quite progressive. He thought he would try something that he had seen globally. He wanted to make Perth Airport one of the most competitive airports in Australia and he sought my assistance with that. I am willing to experiment and move away from what are pure numeric indicators to something that is a bit more quality assured.

Senator LINES: Are the numeric KPIs publicly available?

Mr Quaedvlieg : Yes, they are. They are more formally applied to the inbound. There is a 92 per cent target rate for passengers being cleared in half an hour. That is from the time the airport door breaches to the time they clear the line. The outbound is a little bit less formal. I think it is around about the 14- or 15-minute mark. We are looking at ways that we can measure the throughput from a passenger turning up at the portal to the outbound departure point—in some airports that is like a hoarding and a doorway—to the point they clear the primary line. At the moment, in the main, we measure that manually by having supervisors do test cases as passengers move through, but with the advent of technology—I will give you an example of that: a lot of airports are wrapping a wi-fi system around certain parts of the airport. We can leverage off the wi-fi system to record passengers going through that portal and measure them as they go out, so we have data that helps us measure that a little bit better and then obviously adjust our performance.

Senator LINES: Why are the average wait time statistics measured differently, as you just described, in relation to inward and outbound ABF control points?

Mr Quaedvlieg : It is a legacy of the ability of airport operators to measure accurately the time that an aircraft door is opened on arrival at an aerobridge, whereas in reverse, on the outward control point, we are reliant on passengers turning up, checking in and coming into an outbound departure point. There is no natural measure point other than introducing the electronic technology that I mentioned.

Senator LINES: Given that ground staff respond to the knock from flight crew, you would think they would be able to measure when the door opens.

Mr Quaedvlieg : If that is correct then that is why it is easier to measure the inbound timings. Just to qualify that, with the complexities now arising in the aviation industry—taking Sydney Airport as an example—there are many airlines now, because of scheduling and the curfews, that are arriving off terminal, so the aircraft doors are breached a long, long way away at another setting, and the measurement starts at that point. It takes time to transport those people into the primary terminal for clearance. It is an example of why it is unreliable to rely solely on metrics in terms of the old standards.

Senator LINES: Is a true that Customs at Perth airport have been reduced to the point that you are dependent on staff doing overtime?

Mr Quaedvlieg : No, that is not true. In fact, Western Australia was one of our first regional commands under the Border Force when we stood it up that was permitted to adopt a flexible deployment model. As I mentioned before, if there is a requirement to surge into an airport because suddenly we have peak arrivals that we were not planning for our regional commander has a capacity to draw on existing staff in the broader Perth metro region to surge in. Yes, absolutely, from time to time all around the network, where we have to supplement using overtime we will. That is a very valid workforce performance.

Senator LINES: Can you have a look at the overtime proportionately between Perth airport and your other airports.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I can. Would you like that answer on notice?

Senator LINES: Yes. Senator Macdonald, I would like to go to bargaining.

Mr Quaedvlieg : That is the secretary.

Senator LINES: I have put this on the public record at these committees before, but I am advising that my partner is an organiser with the federal public sector.

Mr Pezzullo : Thank you.

CHAIR: I am not sure where bargaining comes in the program.

Senator LINES: It is Border Force bargaining.

CHAIR: Fine, then it comes in Border Force.

Senator LINES: I understand the department has finalised the proposal to go out to a second staff ballot after approval or input from APSC. You have a second agreement ready to go.

Mr Pezzullo : Certainly. We have re-engaged on bargaining after the voting down of the first offer. I might ask Dr Charker, who is both the deputy secretary of our corporate group and the Chief Operating Officer of both the department and the ABF, to advise you as to where the proceedings are at. She is leading our negotiating team. So I might just ask her to advise you as to where the proceedings are at.

Dr Charker : The secretary is correct. We are at those final stages, if you like, of finalising the second offer. We have not yet fully finalised every single last element of it, because we recommenced a period of bargaining last week, and there are, as you would expect, issues that have cropped up during that period and also things that we have put on the table for consideration by the bargaining representatives that we are still working through at this point. But clearly our intention is to work expeditiously in this space to give our staff the opportunity to vote on the second offer.

Senator LINES: And I understand that in the first ballot there was a 91 per cent no vote from an 82 per cent participation?

Dr Charker : That is correct.

Senator LINES: I just want to talk about the surge team—I think that is how you refer to it. There have been a lot of media reports about the department deploying the surge team during key points of industrial action. What has the cost of deploying the surge team to cover the industrial action been?

Mr Pezzullo : The chief operating officer might have that information; otherwise, the CFO might. Dr Charker?

Dr Charker : I would have to take the cost of that on notice, and we could certainly aim to do that. It is somewhat complex to calculate, but we certainly can do that. I would simply note that having a surge team in and of itself is operationally not unusual and that the particular industrial events that you refer to are one of a number of possible types of operational incidents or situations which could arise which would then necessitate using a surge team.

Senator LINES: I am particularly interested in relation to the surge team to understand the full cost. For example, if we use Perth, I understand that members of the surge team were flown to Perth. I would like to know what their down time was, so the periods that they actually worked as opposed to the periods that they were sitting in an office. Where do you normally sit them when you are waiting to deploy them?

Dr Charker : That will depend, as you have alluded to, on where they have been sourced from. Where it is practical to do so we may source surge staff into, for example, an airport from another facility which may be in the same location geographically, in which case you would expect travel costs to be proportionally less. However, in other instances they may have been sourced from other locations—for example, national office—so we will take that on notice. To the second part of the question about the proportion of time actually working: I am not sure whether we have data which are at a level as granular as that, but when we seek to provide a response to your question we will aim to look at that and provide as full a response as we can.

Senator LINES: Do surge team members go on a roster?

Dr Charker : They may, depending again on the particularities of the industrial action with which we were dealing with last year. Some industrial action may only be for a short period, perhaps a day; others may be for a more protracted period. It would very much depend on that. It would also depend on the nature of normal operations in, for example, an airport which currently operates in a roster environment, and therefore surge staff would similarly potentially also need to operate in a similar environment.

Senator LINES: In relation to the industrial action, who would have made the decision to fly members to various airports? Where is that decision made?

Mr Pezzullo : The commissioner and I jointly signed off on our operational strategy to deal with protected industrial action, so within the framework of our leadership we gave authority to both the chief operating officer, who deals with the legal and industrial issues, and, through the commissioner, to the deputy commissioner for operations, who deals with daily deployment. You ask, 'Who decided?' We made a decision that—obviously on a cost-effective basis; obviously we do not want to burn a budget that we do not otherwise have to—with a reasonable use of resources that can be justified, if it was required to fly staff members in from interstate, the deputy commissioner was so authorised. The commissioner may want to elaborate on the criteria for that. But obviously, if it could be done, as Dr Charker alluded to, by redeploying a multiskilled and multidisciplinary team, say—in the case of, I think, the question you are asking about Perth—within the greater Perth region, then yes, under the Border Force model. This would not have been possible prior to the integration of Immigration and Customs. We are doing it not for reasons to do with dealing with industrial action; we are just doing it because it is good common-sense corporate practice.

Senator LINES: I am talking particularly about—

Mr Pezzullo : I understand, but what I am saying is that as we multiskill our teams we are actually giving teams—not for the reason of dealing with PIA, although it has a beneficial consequence in that regard—

Senator LINES: What is PIA?

Mr Pezzullo : Protected industrial action—sorry.

Senator LINES: Right.

Mr Pezzullo : So if you are a former Customs officer, to take one example, who has traditionally worked on the waterfront and you are particularly skilled in that regard but you want to broaden out your career and take on other opportunities, we are training staff across multiple modes. So therefore you might well be qualified to work at an airport and, frankly, if it is cheaper to deploy someone within Perth from, say, the waterfront to the airport then that is what we will do. But I might just ask the commissioner, perhaps, to take—

CHAIR: Senator Lines, you are well over your time. I assume there is a fair bit more to go on this, is there?

Senator LINES: Yes.

CHAIR: Okay, well, we will come back to you later.

Senator LINES: Thanks, Senator Macdonald.

Mr Pezzullo : My apologies to the commissioner: I just got it to a point where he was—

Senator LINES: He was just going to answer the tail end of my question.

CHAIR: Was he—okay—

Mr Pezzullo : Sorry, Chair, I do not mean to be disrespectful at all. I have been chastised by the commissioner once already today for 'over priming'.

Senator LINES: This was in relation to the tactics.

Mr Quaedvlieg : Would you like me to complete the answer?

CHAIR: Yes, if it is an answer to a question already asked.

Mr Quaedvlieg : I have an answer in both the context of the quantification and the cost, which I will come back to in a second. But just to underline the secretary's point: the surge team it is not a 'team' as such. In anticipation of extended protected industrial action in the 18 months leading up to it we trained a number of persons across the organisation—across the national network—to provide a surge capacity if required, and that is what we drew upon during the course of the protected industrial action that was taken between June and December.

In terms of the conditions of that, that is Dr Charker's area. But the deployment sits with our assistant commissioner of strategic border command, who would determine at any point in time and depending on where the protected industrial action was to deploy resources around the country.

In terms of costs: this is in totality, not airport by airport; we do not have that level of granularity. For the period of protected industrial action between June and December 2015, I can advise you that the break-down for employee expense was $1.867 million and that supplier expense, which includes travel, was $835,854. That gross cost was then offset by unpaid leave for employees who were taking PIA—they were not paid for that. That left a total net expense for surge capacity supporting operations during PIA during that period of $646,514.

CHAIR: Okay. We might come back if there are further questions on that later. Just going back to the conversation earlier about the 'five-year-old' boy who had been raped: can anyone tell me what happened to the attacker? Was he prosecuted by the Nauruan authorities? Is he in jail now? Has he been deported back to his own country? Or what—

Mr Pezzullo : I think that Ms Moy might have some further information on that. Once she established the identity of the child in question I think she was able to work back in terms of the chronology of the event.

CHAIR: I am just interested in what happened to the offender—

Mr Pezzullo : Yes.

CHAIR: who is no longer an 'alleged' offender. Quite clearly, the information that you have is that he did commit a crime. I am just wondering what happened to him.

Ms Moy : I would not go so far as to say that he was no longer an alleged offender; the matter is for investigation by the Nauruan police force. I do not have information to say that he has been found guilty or otherwise in terms of evidence or of moving forward. It is probably not something I can comment on because it is a matter for the government of Nauru and the Nauruan police force. I can say that the individual was identified and reported. There were actually two separate individuals. In terms of further information about action taken against the offenders or whether or not it is finalised is a matter for the Nauruan police force, and to date I do not have information to say that it has been finalised.

CHAIR: So it is still subject to an ongoing investigation?

Ms Moy : It would be quite difficult for the Nauruan police force to investigate. The child was removed and brought to Australia not long after the event so it may be difficult as well for further investigations.

CHAIR: It is not an alleged victim. The information you have got from the doctor is that there was an assault by somebody so there is a victim, not an alleged victim.

Mr Pezzullo : I think the discussion earlier, Ms Moy, was there was skin-on-skin contact.

Ms Moy : That is what was alleged by the child—that it was skin-on-skin contact.

CHAIR: Was that the doctor's terminology—skin on skin?

Ms Moy : No, that was the child's.

CHAIR: Was that evidence reported to the doctor who reported it to you?

Ms Moy : Yes. The issue is an allegation was made—

Mr Pezzullo : Not of rape, it has to be said.

Ms Moy : So an allegation of, let's say, sexual assault was made. The child was brought to Australia for treatment, not necessarily related to a physical injury. It is very difficult without providing too much information that may identify the child. I apologise, I do not mean to be obtuse. That allegation to date is still not proven. It is still under investigation by the Nauruan police force. As the alleged victim is no longer within Nauru, it may be very difficult for that to be finalised in a period of time that we would be looking at for answers.

CHAIR: Are you able to clarify that the treatment the alleged victim received by medical people was not necessarily related to the alleged assault?

Ms Moy : It was not physically related.

CHAIR: But perhaps psychologically are you saying?

Ms Moy : That is correct.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: To avoid any confusion, it would be fair to say that there is an absence of either corroborating evidence or physical evidence such as scientific serological specimen detected or something to that effect. This is purely a statement, an assertion made—and I draw no inference from it—by a child. The matter is under investigation but there is no independent corroborating evidence to your knowledge?

Ms Moy : You could say that, adding to that that we would still take every allegation against a child very seriously.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I accept that. Let us move away from this particular topic so that we do not put you in a position. But typically when someone alleges that they have been assaulted, particularly a sexual assault, there is a due process that happens with swabs and samples and all sorts of things. It is a big job. Did that occur?

Ms Moy : What I can say in that area is that the allegations were not made in a period of time that would have allowed for any evidence.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: So there is an absence of physical evidence perhaps due to the lapse of time between the event and the complaint.

Ms Moy : That is correct.

CHAIR: When was the complaint made? Was it made in Nauru or was it made when the alleged victim was in a Australia ?

Ms Moy : The complaint was made in Nauru and it was some weeks after the alleged event.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And not recently?

Ms Moy : Not recently,

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Was that a self-motivated complaint by the victim or are there any other associated issues with that such as they met with an advocate or someone outside the family?

Mr Pezzullo : I am not sure that we know. We take such complaints on face value, whatever motivates the complaint. What we do know, given my evidence earlier and Ms Moy's evidence, is that there is no five-year-old child, there is no allegation of rape, and there is certainly no five-year-old child who has been raped who is due to be returned.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: With respect, my question feeds into the line of questioning that I was pursuing earlier. I think sometimes we need to collect some data in relation to what the genesis of some of these complaints is, see if there is a course of conduct with advocates or a particular advocate or a particular group of advocates who take the ball under their arm and run with it when in fact there is no ball at all, no game, no whistle.

Mr Pezzullo : In the interests of being entirely precise as best as we can be we might take on notice a review of the initial incident report; who made the report. I am not sure it will exactly shed light on who might have motivated the making of the report and, as I said, we just take the reports of such matters on face value. Ms Moy has already indicated that the report was made at some period after the alleged events occurred. What we do know, just from the age of the child and the nature of the original complaint, is that there is no five-year-old child, there is no report of a rape.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Important. Do you have data on how many complaints are made versus the number of prosecutions that result from those complaints—of all assaults, sexual assaults—

Mr Pezzullo : Recalling always that the relevant criminal jurisdiction is the one of Nauru, we will need to take that on notice whether our officers keep parallel statistics that mirror, if you like, statistics kept by the Nauru justice department—I think it is their home affairs department from memory. I think the short answer is yes, we probably would be able to access that information, not that that it is sovereignly held by us but we could probably access, if you like, the number of incident reports which—I think your question goes to being of a sexual nature: a rape, assault—

CHAIR: Any offence.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Any offence. The question of an offence.

Mr Pezzullo : Any offence. Okay, we will look at it from the point of view of the log of the reports that are put into the system from whatever source, because they come in from different sources. The matter is then always referred, if there is a potential offence at play under Nauruan law, to the Nauru police. What they then do with it in terms of case management and taking matters to prosecution is something we would not necessarily know ourselves but we can make best endeavours to get that information.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I do not want to burden you with all this. I am not one of the ones who drops a one-line sentence on you and causes you three hours of research. Do you have a sense of it? Do you have a sense of whether this is a hive of criminal activity or just a hive of complaints that results in less—

Mr Pezzullo : I do not know that there are a lot of prosecutions on foot but again it will not take three hours to find out, it is probably just a phone call or two, but we might see what more information we can provide to the committee.

Ms Moy : We will do that; we will take that on notice

CHAIR: Senator O'Sullivan's point is right. I sit through innumerable hearings of this committee, not in this form but in the references form. We hear continual complaints. In the Senate itself we hear colleagues making allegations of all these issues. Whilst I accept your point that it is the Nauruan criminal system that is responsible, not you, I think it would probably be useful if—like the five-year-old boy who has been raped—to bring some accuracy to this debate and not just let those who would tell any sort of lie to get any sort of headline have their say unselected. I am sorry the issue about the five-year-old boy has not come to light before. I would have hoped perhaps the minister might have issued a media release about that when it became obvious that the allegation was wrong.

Mr Pezzullo : Sometimes these matters mysteriously come to light in the lead-up to estimates. As part of the research to prepare myself, the commissioner and the minister—obviously as a member of the House—these things come to light. It is strange how these things do arise. That is one comment that I will make.

CHAIR: I was not really asking for a comment. I was just saying that perhaps it is useful, as Senator O'Sullivan suggested, to try and get some statistics.

Mr Pezzullo : I apologise for interrupting, but if it does assist, you will recall that a year or so ago we did provide information to this committee which goes directly to this point. Maybe we could refresh and revitalise that information. I am going off my memory, so I trust I am not misleading the committee, but as I recall the cases reviewed by Mr Philip Moss, the former Integrity Commissioner, went to the question of how many discrete individual cases of potential criminal conduct had occurred—not just sexual assault, but assault and the rest. As I recall it, I think we did come back to the committee in terms of numbers of persons charged and numbers of prosecutions on foot. It might be not a simple matter but a straightforward matter of working with our colleagues in Nauru to update that data, should they be open to the suggestion, of course, as it is a sovereign nation,

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Where I was taking my question is—and this is not an assertion—is that I think we need to defend ourselves a little bit more strongly in this space. It is in the national interest for the people of Australia to know that your department does a sterling job and the very best it can in the circumstances. I for one am tired of sitting in the Senate and having these assertions yelled out across the chamber. I am going to start defending this a little more strongly. I really think we need to resist these people. It is getting out of hand. They can say what they like with impunity both in the public arena and under privilege. Personally, I think we all need to muscle up a bit. It is not a reflection on you or your department.

CHAIR: I have to ask if you have a question.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do you agree? Thank you for the prompt there.

Mr Pezzullo : I think I am entitled to take that as a comment. I might leave it at that.

CHAIR: My question, and perhaps it is to the minister, is why is it that when these outrageous allegations are made, there is not more direct evidence, like we have had this morning, that gives the facts in relation to these outrageous allegations?

Senator Cash: Unfortunately, like with anything, the government does often present the facts of the case, but they are not necessarily reported. That is why I think these estimates hearings are so important, to give you that opportunity to get the facts on the record.

CHAIR: Just finally from me on those issues—I think Senator O'Sullivan was heading this way too—who actually reported this incident we are talking about several weeks later, I think you said, after it allegedly occurred? Was the alleged victim himself, their parents or some other relative? Or was it an advocacy group or Serco? Who reported it?

Ms Moy : It was the child's parent.

CHAIR: Do you know if any reason was given as to why it took 'several weeks' to make the report?

Ms Moy : I believe that child did not disclose to the mother for a considerable period of time.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: That is typical.

CHAIR: I am getting some professional police advice here. Perhaps I will not pursue that further. We will leave that there. Are there any more questions on the opening statements? We have the cross-portfolio issues to go.

Senator KIM CARR: I enjoy a good opening statement. I think it was very comprehensive. More detail!

CHAIR: Senator Lines is halfway through asking some questions on the Australian Border Force. We will go back to her. We will close discussion on the opening statements, noting Senator Carr's congratulations to you, Mr Pezzullo, and my hesitation, as they seem to be getting longer and longer.

Mr Pezzullo : He was trying to teach me earlier the notion of irony.

CHAIR: Senator Carr is not a very ironic person.

Senator KIM CARR: I appreciate the rhetorical flourishes!