Title Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
16/02/2012
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Database Estimates Committees
Date 16-02-2012
Committee Name Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Page 6
Questioner CHAIR
Brandis, Sen George
Faulkner, Sen John
Kroger, Sen Helen
Ronaldson, Sen Michael
Eggleston, Sen Alan
McEwen, Sen Anne
Conroy, Sen Stephen
Furner, Sen Mark
Di Natale, Sen Richard
Colbeck, Sen Richard
Fawcett, Sen David
Ludlam, Sen Scott
Rhiannon, Sen Lee
Feeney, Sen David
Birmingham, Sen Simon
Responder Mr D Richardson
Conroy, Sen Stephen
Senator Conroy
Mr Moraitis
Kroger, Sen Helen
Ms Thorpe
Mr Cannan
Ms Millar
Mr P Rowe
Mr D Richardson
Mr Suckling
Mr Rowe
Dr French
Mr Smith
Mr Smith
Mr Larsen
Ms Wood
Feeney, Sen David
Mr Newman
Mr Pierce
Ms Rawson
Ms Williams
Ms Williams
System Id committees/estimate/7afd22ed-c48e-4bfa-afdd-f0c6c22a0235/0002


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee - 16/02/2012 - Estimates - FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

[09:02]

CHAIR: Minister and Secretary, do you or an officer wish to make an opening statement?

Mr D Richardson : No.

CHAIR: We have a series of questions prepared by a range of senators, but I am going to hand the call to Senator Brandis.

Senator BRANDIS: Mr Richardson, when an Australian ambassador or high commissioner has a meeting with a senior official in the government of the country to which they are accredited, it is the routine practice, is it not, that the Australian head of mission will report back to DFAT by way of a cable a summary of that meeting?

Mr D Richardson : Normally that is the case. That does not always happen.

Senator BRANDIS: Would it be fair to say that the more consequential the meeting the more unusual it would be for that practice not to observed?

Mr D Richardson : That is a fair general statement.

Senator BRANDIS: And, in particular, one of the indicia of how consequential the meeting is would be the seniority of the official in the foreign government?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: I want to read to you some words from the script of the Four Corners program broadcast last Monday. I do not know if you saw it but let me just read to you some words from the script:

Four Corners has learned that about two weeks before the eventual coup—

that is, the replacement of Mr Rudd as Prime Minister by Ms Gillard in June 2010—

Ambassador Kim Beazley was driven the few blocks to the State Department for a meeting with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Four Corners has been told that Clinton wanted to know what was happening in Australia, and sought assurances that the relationship between the two nations would not change under a new leadership. What Beazley knew or told his US hosts is not known, but it seems they were better informed than most Government MPs, who were unaware that Rudd's enemies were circling for the kill.

Back in Australia, Julia Gillard had been denying she was interested in taking over the Prime Minister's job. On Friday June 18th, she repeated the mantra.

Mr Richardson, disregarding some of the slightly colourful journalistic language in that script, if there had been a meeting between the Australian Ambassador to the United States and the Secretary of State on a topic as consequential as that, one would expect that it would have been reported back in a cable, would it not?

Mr D Richardson : Generally, that would be the case.

Senator BRANDIS: Was it?

Mr D Richardson : His meeting with Secretary of State Clinton was reported back by cable.

Senator BRANDIS: It was? Do you have a copy of the cable in the room?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Do you have it before you?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Of course I understand that, so far as concerns matters of national security, it is not appropriate for me to ask you to place that on the public record, but I am confining myself now to matters of domestic Australian politics. Is the account of that meeting, so far as concerns the discussion of domestic Australian politics, which I have read to you from the Four Corners script—reflected in the cable? Is that an accurate—

Mr D Richardson : No, it is not.

Senator BRANDIS: In what respects do you say it is not accurate?

Mr D Richardson : That was not the subject of the meeting and that was not what was discussed between Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Beazley.

Senator BRANDIS: Did any part of that meeting deal with matters of domestic Australian politics?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know whether any part of the meeting did. For instance, when you do meet with senior officials, very often on the way out or on the way in someone may make an informal comment one way or the other.

Senator Conroy: Mrs Clinton often asks after your wellbeing, Senator Brandis.

Mr D Richardson : In terms of the meeting, the meeting was about professional matters relating to Australia and the United States.

Senator BRANDIS: All right. Is it the case that there is no reference at all in the cable to the matters referred to in the Four Corners script?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: And that may mean, may it not, one of two things: either that at no time during the course of the meeting were those matters canvassed or—as has been suggested from the table—there was an informal exchange not part of the business of the meeting which may have touched on those matters?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know.

Senator BRANDIS: Would you take that on notice please and make an inquiry of the ambassador whether, if not in the official business of the meeting then in any part of the conversation between Ambassador Beazley and Secretary of State Clinton a remark was made by either of them in relation to the likelihood of Mr Rudd's imminent replacement as Prime Minister by Ms Gillard? Would you take that on notice, please?

Mr D Richardson : I can take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: Just for completeness, let me ask: do you know, yourself, whether that was said?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of it being said but, Senator, I have been in Mr Beazley's position myself—

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, I know.

Mr D Richardson : and it is certainly very common when you meet with senior US officials from time to time, if you know them well, for passing informal comments to be made. There is nothing unusual about that.

Senator BRANDIS: No.

Mr D Richardson : And you normally would not report such informal exchanges. Only if it had particular significance or relevance to policy and other matters would you report such an exchange.

Senator BRANDIS: That makes perfect sense to me. I guess what you are saying to us is that if two politicians or a senior ex-politician, Mr Beazley, and a current politician, Secretary Clinton, are having a meeting it is the most natural thing in the world for them to have what might be called a bit of a gossip about political events in their respective countries.

Mr D Richardson : Simply as a point of technicality, but without disputing your point: Secretary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State would not consider herself to be a politician. She would consider she was a politician as a member of the congress, but the US system is different.

Senator BRANDIS: Let us say public officials with a deep interest in the politics of their respective countries—that would be the most natural thing in the world would it not?

Mr D Richardson : From time to time those informal exchanges do happen, and when they do happen normally you would not report it to Canberra.

Senator BRANDIS: Was there only one meeting between Ambassador Beazley and Secretary Clinton in June of 2010?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice. I am only aware of one.

Senator BRANDIS: You are only aware of one. You have no reason to believe there was more than one?

Mr D Richardson : I think it is better for me to check and be certain rather than do it from memory.

Senator BRANDIS: Of course. Drawing on your own experience too, roughly how many times in a year would the Australian ambassador have a meeting with the Secretary of State?

Mr D Richardson : Not very often.

Senator BRANDIS: No? It is not as if there is a meeting every second week, for example?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator BRANDIS: Can you tell us, please—if you have the cable before you, perhaps you can tell us immediately—who was present at the meeting other than Ambassador Beazley and Secretary Clinton?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of who else was present.

Senator BRANDIS: Does the cable indicate that there was anyone else present?

Mr D Richardson : No, but that is not unusual either.

Senator BRANDIS: So it is not a routine thing that there would be note takers there?

Mr D Richardson : It would depend upon the nature of the meeting and the like but that is something I can easily check.

Senator BRANDIS: You will take that on notice for us?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Other than the cable and whatever record the American side might have made of this meeting, was there any other written record made of the meeting?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of any other written records.

Senator BRANDIS: Can I come back to this issue of a note taker. Is it not customary for the Australian ambassador when meeting with a high public official in the United States to be accompanied by a note taker and for notes to be taken of the meeting?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know what Mr Beazley's practice is. It certainly was not my practice.

Senator BRANDIS: Is it apparent from the face of the cable which we have been discussing whether it was composed by Mr Beazley alone or by Mr Beazley in reliance on notes made by someone else, or was it composed jointly by Mr Beazley and someone else?

Mr D Richardson : I am not in a position to speculate on that.

Senator BRANDIS: You said you have the cable there.

Mr D Richardson : Yes, but I am not an expert as someone who can read words and say, 'Ah, yes, that doesn't sound like this person, that sounds like that person'.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sorry—that is not really what I was getting at. I said, 'Is it apparent?' If it is not apparent then it is not apparent.

Mr D Richardson : No, it is not apparent. It is a straight professional report of a meeting about professional matters relating to Australia and the US.

Senator BRANDIS: All right, that is fine.

Senator FAULKNER: Could I understand ask about the cable, do you mind? The cable, one assumes, is classified?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: You have not been precise about that. It may or may not be a classification that you feel is appropriate to share with the committee, but you can say that to us. There are a range of classifications for cables, are there not?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, there are.

Senator FAULKNER: In this particular case, is it a classification you would be happy to share with the committee or not? I am relaxed about this answer, hence I am asking the question in that way—as you would appreciate.

Mr D Richardson : It would be very unusual to do so.

Senator FAULKNER: But some cables have what I am describing as a 'very low' classification.

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. They are of a different nature, and sometimes those sorts of cables are made public—if they have a very low classification. Sometimes these might just be reports of public conferences and the like, might they not?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: That sort of thing.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: But we are talking about a diplomatic cable here with a higher classification?

Mr D Richardson : That is right. It is the sort of classification you would expecting covering a discussion about professional matters relating to Australia and the US.

Senator FAULKNER: The sort of classification I would expect with a cable between the Australian Ambassador to the United States of America and the US Secretary of State.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Thanks.

Senator BRANDIS: Is it the practice when these cables are prepared that a draft is prepared first for consideration and editing before the final cable is settled upon and sent?

Mr D Richardson : Sometimes, yes, sometimes, no.

Senator BRANDIS: Was that your practice when you were the ambassador?

Mr D Richardson : Sometimes I would do it, other times I did not.

Senator BRANDIS: Are those drafts retained in the records of DFAT?

Mr D Richardson : Normally not, no.

Senator BRANDIS: I am not going to ask you about any classified material, of course, but about the structure of the cable: is it actually signed off by the ambassador? It is apparent from the cable that Mr Beazley is the author of the cable?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, I believe it is.

Senator BRANDIS: All right, thank you. And therefore we may infer that he had the final say on what was put in and what, if anything, was not put in?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, that would be reasonable.

Senator FAULKNER: There is no suggestion of this that I am aware of, Mr Richardson, but can you say to the committee that you have confidence that the cable itself has not been made public in any way, which was the—

Mr D Richardson : No, it has not been made public.

Senator FAULKNER: So you are totally confident that that is the case? Hence my questions earlier about classifications?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you.

Senator BRANDIS: When the cable was received by the department back in Canberra, it would have come, would it not, to the attention of your minister?

Mr D Richardson : It may or may not have.

Senator BRANDIS: I can remember from my own time in government that there was a practice during the Howard government that any diplomatic cable that bore upon a minister's particular portfolio would routinely to be circulated to the minister's office. I daresay that a report of a meeting of the kind you have described between the ambassador and the Secretary of State of the United States would routinely have come to the attention of the Foreign Minister?

Mr D Richardson : It certainly would have gone to the Foreign Minister's office. Whether the Foreign Minister personally saw it or not, I do not know. It was not a cable requiring the action of the Foreign Minister.

Senator BRANDIS: Because it was a full information cable?

Mr D Richardson : It was primarily information rather than action, and in those situations it is very common in ministerial offices in terms of the priority before a minister and the amount of paperwork et cetera, that a judgment would be made whether it were necessary to show it to the minister or not.

Senator BRANDIS: But surely, short of a meeting with the President, a meeting with the Secretary of State is the most important meeting the Australian Ambassador to the United States has with the American government? Regardless of what the cable may have contained, surely a report of a meeting at that level—which you have told us is not something that happens very often—would be drawn to the minister's attention?

Mr D Richardson : It can be drawn to the minister's attention, but whether it is actually put in front of the minister—it might have been very possible for a ministerial staffer simply to say, 'Look, ambassador in Washington reported 1, 2, 3'. It was a straightforward professional report of a professional exchange.

Senator BRANDIS: I am struggling to avoid making an adverse remark on the competency of the ministerial staff of this government, but I suppose anything is possible. Anyway you have told us—

Mr D Richardson : Senator, this is not a cable which, if I had been working in a minister's office, I would have put in front of the minister.

Senator BRANDIS: All right.

Mr D Richardson : It is a cable that I may or may not have mentioned the substance of to the minister. I probably would have mentioned it—I would have mentioned the substance to him. But whether it was done in this case? I do not know where the minister was, I do not know whether he was travelling at the time and I do not know what else was going on, and you need to weigh all of that up in terms of the priorities that are before a minister on any one day or in any one week.

Senator FAULKNER: It is not as though the department would not know if it were anything other than the normal standard operating procedures for cable traffic, if you like, between the department and a minister's office? There are protocols for how these things are dealt with are there not?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: I think it is reasonable for me to ask you Mr Richardson, if, as far as you know, there was any special handling—I do not see why there would be—of this cable, or was it just treated as you would expect such a cable to be treated in accordance with normal protocol? You might let us know that.

Mr D Richardson : This cable would have been handled in accordance with the normal protocols relating to the classification.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you.

Senator BRANDIS: Did the cable come to your attention?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: On what date did the cable come to your attention—on the day it was received or immediately thereafter?

Mr D Richardson : I would not have a clue, Senator. I cannot remember.

Senator BRANDIS: In the ordinary course of events though, would it be fair to assume that a cable of a meeting of this level would come to your attention quite soon after it was received?

Mr D Richardson : It would depend. I would need to check my diary at the time. I would need to know what I was doing and the like.

Senator BRANDIS: Would you do so please?

Mr D Richardson : And even that is not going to tell me when I read the cable. I keep no records of when I read particular cables; too many come in and it would not be an efficient way to work.

Senator BRANDIS: But you did read the cable at some stage?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Is there a record-keeping practice in the department, or indeed in your office, which indicates which officers have read a particular cable?

Mr D Richardson : Not necessarily. As part of our security system when, a cable is opened the security system records that. If it is printed off, it will record the date on which it is printed off. In my case, for instance, normally someone in the office will cull the cables for me and—

Senator BRANDIS: By cull, you mean go through all the cables and pick out the ones that should be brought to your attention?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, that is right. And they will print them off, but there is no correlation between when one is printed off and when I read it.

Senator BRANDIS: That is fine. The system you have described which indicates when a cable has been opened—will that tell us by which members of the staff of your department the cable has been opened?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to check that. I think that is the case.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes. And that forms an electronic record, does it?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, it is part of our security system relating to classified material.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes. And that record is retained presumably?

Mr D Richardson : It is retained over certain periods, yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Would it still exist in relation to a cable received in June 2010?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to check.

Senator BRANDIS: Do you think it might be?

Mr D Richardson : I suspect so, but I would need to check.

Senator BRANDIS: Would you take that on notice please?

Mr D Richardson : Sure.

Senator BRANDIS: And assuming the electronic record, or indeed any other form of record of access to the cable in question, does exist—and you will need, I assume, to take this on notice—could you tell us please who else opened and read the cable, other than yourself and the member of your staff who—to use your word—'culled' the cable to bring it to your attention?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take on notice whether it would be appropriate for me to provide those details.

Senator BRANDIS: That is why I invited you to take it on notice because I can understand why you might be a little circumspect about that question. But nevertheless, that is what I would like to know. Already we know that you saw it, that the member of your staff whose task it was to cull the cables saw it and that somebody in the minister's office saw it. So that is three people, one of whom—your assistant—I imagine performed essentially an administrative task.

Mr D Richardson : I do not believe I said that someone in the minister's office saw it, I said that it would have been sent to the minister's office.

Senator BRANDIS: Oh I see.

Mr D Richardson : Whether someone in the minister's office opened it or not, I cannot say that.

Senator BRANDIS: But surely—this is not your fault—it is scarcely believable that a cable from the Australian Ambassador to the United States reporting a meeting with the Secretary of State would be allowed just to gather dust in the minister's office without anybody looking at it?

Mr D Richardson : I am not suggesting it was. But you are asking me a question of fact.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes.

Mr D Richardson : And I am answering as a question of fact.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes.

Mr D Richardson : Clearly, I need to check that.

Senator BRANDIS: That is fine—would you, please? But I am also putting to you, as a matter of fair inference, that if it had been sent to the minister's office it is likely it would have been looked at by somebody in the minister's office?

Senator Conroy : No asking for an opinion, Senator Brandis—you are allowed to ask questions of fact.

Mr D Richardson : I think we have covered that.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sorry, Mr Richardson, I could not hear you.

Senator Conroy : You are asking for an opinion; would you like to ask a question Senator Brandis?

Senator BRANDIS: I did not hear your answer Mr Richardson.

CHAIR: The question is to Mr Richardson.

Senator BRANDIS: I do not think this is very controversial, Mr Richardson, and it is plainly not a matter of opinion. I am asking about a matter governmental and administrative practice.

Senator Conroy : You are asking for an opinion.

Senator BRANDIS: You would expect as a matter of fair inference—

Senator Conroy : You would expect that would be opinion.

Senator BRANDIS: that if a document, particularly a document of this importance, were sent to the minister's office, that somebody in the minister's office would have looked at it.

Mr D Richardson : Senator, I think I have provided the answers—

Senator BRANDIS: I think you did, but I could not hear the answer because you were being barracked at by the person beside you.

Mr D Richardson : No; I think there were similar questions a few questions back.

Senator BRANDIS: All right. I think we know what you are saying.

Who in the minister's office would this cable have been directed to in the first instance? Would it have been the chief of staff?

Mr D Richardson : That would, in part, depend upon who was responsible for what subject matters in the minister's office at the time.

Senator BRANDIS: Can I suggest to you, and invite your comment, that you would expect either the chief of staff or the DLO, or the adviser with specific responsibility for North American affairs—one or more of those people—to have seen a cable of this character?

Mr D Richardson : That is a fair assumption.

Senator BRANDIS: And whether or not it was seen by the then minister, Mr Smith, is something that you do not know, but I am asking you to find out about and take on notice.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: We have discussed the cable and I have said to you that it was largely a 'for information' cable, which seems to have been accepted, but were there any action steps required by the cable at all?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator KROGER: And yet you actually said earlier on that it was primarily a cable for information purposes, which indicates that some action was required?

Mr D Richardson : It depends on how you define action. There was certainly one particular matter where it is very possible that I, or someone, might have phoned someone else and said, Look, did you see such and such et cetera,' but there was not any action to be taken on it per se.

CHAIR: So you are saying that there was no request for acknowledgement or confirmation, or an action to be followed up?

Mr D Richardson : No. It was a straightforward professional cable on professional matters relating to Australia and the US. There is nothing in the cable that relates in any shape or form to the report on Four Corners.

Senator BRANDIS: I should have asked you this at the very start: what is the date of the cable?

Mr D Richardson : It is 11 June 2010.

Senator BRANDIS: And what is the date of the meeting?

Mr D Richardson : 11 June 2010.

Senator BRANDIS: Allowing for the time difference, does that mean that the cable was sent from the United States on 11 June their time?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: So it was composed immediately, we assume, after the meeting.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: Was the meeting sought by the American authorities—by Secretary Clinton and her office—or was it initiated by Ambassador Beazley?

Mr D Richardson : That I do not know.

Senator BRANDIS: Does the cable reveal that?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator BRANDIS: It suggested in the Four Corners script that the meeting was actually sought by Secretary Clinton. The word 'summonsed' is used in the Four Corners broadcast. Allowing for the slightly dramatic language that is favoured by journalists, that does seem to suggest that the meeting was sought by Secretary Clinton. Do you dispute that?

Mr D Richardson : You are asking me to participate in a discussion and to express an opinion on various things. I did not see the Four Corners program. I have not seen a repeat of it. I have read the cable.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, you told us that.

Mr D Richardson : There is nothing in that cable that in any way links up with the Four Corners report. I do not know who requested the meeting. I can take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: That is what I was about to ask you to do.

Senator FAULKNER: But 'summonsing'—it is probably unknown to the script writer for Four Corners, but there is a particular diplomatic spin on the word 'summonsing'.

Mr D Richardson : Absolutely.

Senator FAULKNER: I assume this is what Senator Brandis is driving at—or perhaps he is not. But you might just explain that to the committee, because it seems that we ought to clear that up at least: the concept of the US Secretary of State 'summonsing' the Australian Ambassador, regardless of whomever wrote the words in the Four Corners script—which I do not have in front of me, but I have been listening carefully to what Senator Brandis said. Perhaps you might just care to provide a professional diplomat's view of word 'summonsing'.

Mr D Richardson : If I were 'summonsed' to a foreign minister's office of another country, firstly, it would be a very, very unusual word for a foreign office to use, and if it were used it would indicate some degree of angst.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

Mr D Richardson : It would indicate—

Senator BRANDIS: Like a change in the Prime Ministership.

Senator FAULKNER: No. I suspect what is more likely here, Senator Brandis, is that this important diplomatic nuance is something that might not necessarily be understood by the person responsible for this Four Corners program.

Senator BRANDIS: I do not want to waste time with this. As you would have heard, I have already acknowledged in my question that the journalistic language may be exaggerated language. I myself am not asserting that. I am merely making a much more matter-of-fact inquiry about who sought the meeting. I should say, having looked at the script again, that the phrase 'called in' is also used. But be that as it may, all I want to know, and I only gave that you for the purpose—

Senator FAULKNER: I was asking the questions.

Senator BRANDIS: If I may finish, please. I only gave that to you for the purposes of context. All I want to know, and the only point of this question, is whether the meeting was sought by Secretary Clinton or initiated by Ambassador Beasley. And you will take that on notice?

Mr D Richardson : I will take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: Roughly, how long is the cable? Is it a lengthy cable or is it a single page—

Mr D Richardson : I will simply describe it as a short cable.

Senator BRANDIS: A short cable. What, of just a few sentences?

Mr D Richardson : No, I am describing it as a short cable. I will not go beyond that.

Senator BRANDIS: All right. Without asking you about its content, is it discursive and analytical or does it merely report the topics?

Mr D Richardson : Senator, I am not going to get involved in a description of that sort with the cable. It is a professional cable written by a professional ambassador for professional reasons.

Senator BRANDIS: Sure. And its business is to report the meeting?

Mr D Richardson : And it is a business-like report.

Senator BRANDIS: And it is a report of the meeting?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BRANDIS: That is fair enough. Have you yourself had a conversation with Ambassador Beasley about the meeting?

Mr D Richardson : About that particular meeting?

Senator BRANDIS: Yes.

Mr D Richardson : About that particular meeting, I do not believe so. Again, whether I did back at the time, I cannot recall.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sure you will have to take this on notice, but I would like to know if there was a conversation between Ambassador Beasley and the minister or anyone in the minister's office about the meeting.

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: All right. In the event that there was, would it be routine for a minute of that conversation to be prepared and kept?

Mr D Richardson : Not necessarily, no.

Senator BRANDIS: It might be?

Mr D Richardson : No, I am not giving an opinion. It would be totally routine for it not to be taken. You would only take a minute if the discussion were of some significance. I have had numerous discussions with Australian ambassadors abroad on which minutes are not taken because the subject matter and what we were talking about did not lend itself to it and did not require it.

Senator BRANDIS: That makes perfect sense to me, if I may say so, but that is why I said it might have been made or it might not have been. There is no standard practice is what you are telling us?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator BRANDIS: That is fine, thank you. How much notice is usually given of a request for a meeting between the Secretary of State and the Australian ambassador? Is it a period of days or weeks, or is there no standard time?

Mr D Richardson : There is no standard rule at all in respect of that.

Senator BRANDIS: But of course there would be a record made which would indicate when the meeting was initiated; whether it was initiated by Mr Beazley or whether it was sought by Secretary Clinton, we would know when the meeting was first teed up, as it were?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know. You would not normally keep a record of when someone sought a meeting.

Senator BRANDIS: Would you not?

Mr D Richardson : Normally you would have a dynamic, that is: someone seeks a meeting, you work out when you are both available—you work out timing—and then you put it in your diary. I do not think you keep a record of each iteration of the process from the time of the first call.

Senator BRANDIS: I can understand that. But there would be an initial communication from one side or the other, whether by telephone or by email or by letter or by some mode of communication from which the meeting ultimately flowed sooner or later. What I am interested to know is when the arrangements to have this meeting were first made.

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sure you do. I am not suggesting you would know it off the top of your head, but I would like to know when the meeting was initiated.

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, we have now accommodated you for three quarters of an hour.

Senator BRANDIS: There is one further question I have been asked to ask.

Senator Conroy : And we discovered that it is a short cable, written professionally.

Senator FAULKNER: That is very interesting.

Senator Conroy : Forty-five minutes—a short cable, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: Very interesting.

CHAIR: A final issue, Senator Brandis?

Senator BRANDIS: After the cable was received, did anyone either in your department or in the minister's office ring Mr Beazley to speak to him about the cable or the meeting generally?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: Had they done so, is it likely that a minute of that conversation would have been made either at the Australian end or the Washington end?

Mr D Richardson : Not necessarily.

Senator BRANDIS: Had it been made, would it have been kept and archived?

Mr D Richardson : It would depend upon the substance and nature of the record.

Senator BRANDIS: Could you also take on notice that question and, if a record of any such conversation was made and archived, could it be produced?

Now I anticipate you will say that they may not be something that is able to be produced to the committee, but in any event I am making the request. Would you take it on notice and identify if there is such a document and, if there is such a document, whether or not you are prepared to disclose any of it to us? That is something you might also care to consider.

Mr D Richardson : I will take that on notice, but I think I can say now that if there were a telephone conversation subsequent to the meeting and if it were about the substance of the cable, then I doubt whether that could be made available to the committee.

Senator BRANDIS: After the replacement of Mr Rudd by Ms Gillard on 23 June 2010, when was the next occasion on which Ambassador Beazley and Secretary of State Clinton spoke?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: I just want to check something, but I think I know the answer to my question. Cables of this sort of nature regularly go to a range of senior ministers as well as to the Foreign Minister—that is correct isn't it? I do not know its classification, but some cables are received by more than one minister in a government?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: I know from my own experience as Defence minister that there is an enormous number of these things, and I do not expect you to know this off the top of your head, but you might know the general quantum and you might indicate for us in broad measure —if it is easy to do, I do not want to make work for the department—the number of diplomatic cables that are generated in a year and the number of those cables that would be progressed to minister's offices?

Mr D Richardson : I could—it is some thousands.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I know it is many, many thousands. At this particular time—the relevant date—of course, I was the Defence minister and Mr Smith was the—

Senator Conroy : You got a copy of it!

Senator FAULKNER: That is confidential, Senator. I could not—

Senator Conroy : Can you confirm that it was a short and professional cable?

Senator FAULKNER: Senator, I could not confirm or deny that for you. But I am supposed to be asking the questions here, you are supposed to answer—

Senator Conroy : And after 45 minutes, surely we know more than that.

CHAIR: Minister—thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: You are supposed to be answering them, as opposed to you asking me the questions

Senator Conroy: Sorry, I am confused.

Senator FAULKNER: You are turning the estimates process on its head there.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner—more questions?

Senator FAULKNER: That of course is quite common isn't it? At any stage a lot of these diplomatic cables, depending on their nature and depending on their content, of course, go to a range of senior ministers in government?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator KROGER: How many times have the Secretary of State and the ambassador, Mr Beazley, met?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: And what was the date of the meeting before this one on 10 June?

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Ronaldson?

Senator RONALDSON: Good morning. I am very grateful for the indulgence of the committee. I have matters in other committees this morning so I do thank the committee for that. I just need to ask some quick questions in relation to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, if I may, please, Mr Richardson?

Senator Conroy : Is that where Peter Reith went to? Just so I can be clear.

Senator RONALDSON: Well, it is an interesting question. I think it is actually where Bob McMullan went but anyway that is another matter. I think you remember Bob McMullan, Minister, don't you?

CHAIR: Senator Ronaldson—your question.

Senator RONALDSON: Does the Australian High Commission—

Senator Conroy : It is a Treasury responsibility.

Senator RONALDSON: I am just asking some questions—I appreciate that it is probably, but I am asking questions—

Senator Conroy : No, it is a Treasury responsibility.

Senator RONALDSON: Yes, but I am going to ask some questions and the response may well be that: no, no, no, no, no. Thank you.

Does the Australian High Commission in London provide any support to the executive director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development?

Mr D Richardson : I am not sure.

Senator RONALDSON: You will take that on notice?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator RONALDSON: Is there anyone in the room who is able to answer that, Mr Richardson? I presume there must be somebody who would know the answer.

Mr D Richardson : No, not necessarily. I think you will find that the occupant of that position reports to the Treasurer.

Senator RONALDSON: So, as far as you are aware there is no involvement by Foreign Affairs at all?

Mr D Richardson : No. You asked me in terms of whether he received any corporate support from the High Commission and, essentially, I need to check on that.

Senator RONALDSON: If it has not been provided at the moment are you aware of whether there is any intention to provide any support? Has there been any discussion about that, that you are aware of?

Mr D Richardson : Not that I am aware of.

Senator RONALDSON: And you will take that on notice again?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator RONALDSON: And who would be the relevant officer who would have that information in the department?

Mr D Richardson : It would be in Mr Moraitis's area, but I doubt whether he would have information of that detail with him now.

Senator RONALDSON: Mr Moraitis if I may ask you, please? Do you provide any support to the executive director of EBRD?

Mr Moraitis : I am not aware of that. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: Right. And again, are you aware whether there have been any requests of Foreign Affairs to provide support to the executive director?

Mr Moraitis : I am not aware of that. I will take that on notice as well.

Senator RONALDSON: You will take that on notice as well. Has there been consideration of additional resourcing of the Australian High Commission in London recently?

Mr Moraitis : Not that I am aware of, no.

Senator RONALDSON: And can you provide me with details of new employment in the Australian High Commission since supplementary budget estimates in October 2011, including details of new expat postings and locally engaged staff and including position, classification and their role? And you might be able to answer this now: what is the selection process and the decision-making process in relation to new staff at the commission? Who has responsibility for that?

Mr D Richardson : It is the responsibility of the High Commission for locally engaged staff.

Senator RONALDSON: And you are saying that the department has no involvement in that at all from Canberra?

Mr D Richardson : No, I have not said that.

Senator RONALDSON: So they can have involvement in the appointment of staff there?

Mr D Richardson : Right at the beginning you asked whether we provided the support and I said that I would need to take that on notice, so this question is a subset of that.

Senator RONALDSON: This question is actually a new question. I have taken from what you have said that it is not just London who can make decisions about employment of staff, it can be Canberra—is that right?

Mr D Richardson : No, for locally engaged staff it is normally the post.

Senator RONALDSON: And for expat staff it is Canberra.

Mr D Richardson : No, it would depend.

Senator RONALDSON: It can be Canberra?

Mr D Richardson : If it is an Australian citizen living in the UK who is engaged as a local staff member then that engagement is normally taken forward by the relevant embassy or high commission overseas. That is not normally referred back to Canberra.

Senator RONALDSON: When you say 'normally', I would assume that means that it might be normal but it can happen otherwise?

Mr D Richardson : I can think of some particular matters relating to security and workings in particular parts of a mission where there might be some consultation back with Canberra.

Senator RONALDSON: So in other words, the answer is 'Yes, it can happen'?

Mr D Richardson : It can happen.

Senator RONALDSON: It normally does not happen, but it can happen. Is that a fair assessment?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator RONALDSON: What about expat postings? I think you drew a distinction between the locally employed and the expat. What arrangements can there be for other expats?

Mr D Richardson : Overseas there is no distinction between our locally engaged staff, whether they be an Australian citizen or a non-Australian citizen. The broad distinction in employment at Australian missions abroad is between those staff that have been posted from Australia, who we described as A based staff and locally engaged staff. Locally engaged staff may consist of people from any other country, including Australia, but if they have not been posted from Australia they are a locally engaged staff member.

Senator RONALDSON: I assume from what you are saying that Canberra can indeed place someone in the commission who might not necessarily be employed via the commission's internal budget but would be paid for by Canberra.

Mr D Richardson : No. They would be paid for by the budget allocated to the post but they are selected and posted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or an agency or department in Australia.

Senator RONALDSON: Can we just go through those options—an agency, a department or the Department of Foreign Affairs?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, that is right.

Senator RONALDSON: So they can be placed into that commissioned and funded by them?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator RONALDSON: Thank you very much. I appreciate the indulgence of the committee.

CHAIR: We will now get back to other questions around the portfolio overview. Senator Eggleston, you have some questions?

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I do have some questions. First of all I want to ask about the budget of the department. The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook applied an additional one-off efficiency dividend of 2.5 per cent in 2012-13. According to DFAT's incoming government brief, the red book, it was said that DFAT was already badly resourced. Does the department still maintain that it is underfunded?

Mr D Richardson : Funding in the department is certainly very tight.

Senator EGGLESTON: 'Tight' is a word that could have many meanings, I suspect. It certainly implies you are having difficulty spreading the budget to meet all of your activities. I was just wondering if you could tell us how tight the budget is and what the tightness implies in terms of the services you provide and the activities which you undertake.

Mr D Richardson : The application of the additional 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend requires the department to make a saving of around $22 million a year beginning from 1 July this year. We are working through the process now of determining how those savings will be made.

Senator EGGLESTON: Would the savings include cuts in representation in various countries, reductions in staff?

Mr D Richardson : No. The parameters we have set for the savings are that (1) we will not reduce the number of A based staff overseas.

Senator EGGLESTON: No reduction in staff?

Mr D Richardson : No reduction in Australian based staff abroad. Secondly, there will be no reduction in funds for training and staff development. That is the broad framework we have set.

Senator EGGLESTON: You are not considering cutting diplomatic posts or reducing representation in countries?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator EGGLESTON: Neither diplomatic posts nor Trade Commission offices?

Mr D Richardson : The savings measures imposed on us do not have implications for the Trade Commission's representation overseas. The Trade Commission had separate savings imposed on them and they manage them separately.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you. I did not understand that. I thought you were the overall head of the entire—

Mr D Richardson : I am head of the portfolio but there is a CEO of the Trade Commission service and that CEO manages his or her budget accordingly.

Senator EGGLESTON: Were the cuts discussed with your department? Did you have an opportunity to perhaps put a point of view that the cuts might be counterproductive, that the efficiency dividend might undermine the effectiveness of your operations?

Mr D Richardson : No, we did not. But I think it is fair to say that the government, in making its decision, was aware of the pressures around government.

Senator EGGLESTON: Around government or around—

Mr D Richardson : Around government—including within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator EGGLESTON: You mentioned Australian based staff overseas. By implication, does this mean you are going to reduce the number of overseas nationals employed within our missions?

Mr D Richardson : Sorry?

Senator EGGLESTON: Are you going to reduce the number of locally recruited people in Australian missions?

Mr D Richardson : That may happen in some cases. We are going through a process at the moment. One of the decisions we have taken is to pass on the additional efficiency dividend to all work units within Canberra and overseas. We are leaving it up to heads of mission to determine where they find the savings within their post. We will get visibility of that, but, within that context, it is possible that in some posts there may be a decision taken to reduce locally engaged staff.

Senator EGGLESTON: In general terms, in our missions overseas what proportion of staff are Australian based and what proportion are locally employed people?

Mr D Richardson : In broad terms, there are roughly 590 A-based officers abroad and there are pretty close to 1,600 locally engaged staff overseas.

Senator EGGLESTON: Are they paid Australian wages?

Mr D Richardson : No. They are paid in accordance with local labour laws and the local labour market.

Senator EGGLESTON: So the staff reductions will probably occur among the locally employed staff?

Mr D Richardson : It is possible that we may also reduce the number of positions here in Canberra.

CHAIR: In our relationships with some of the overseas representations here in Canberra as part of the Parliamentary Friendship Group, we have had the opportunity in recent times to hear how other countries are struggling with the same issue. In particular, those in the European zone are struggling to maintain their diplomatic presence and support services. Can you see how that might impact on the workload of our overseas posts if other countries are also having to reduce their staff and cut their costs?

Mr D Richardson : It depends which countries do that. For instance, with some countries a reduction in their representation can lead to an increased call on our consular services where we have consular agreements with those countries. In other cases, a reduction in their representation here in Australia would increase the demands on our own service. In other cases, it would not affect us.

Senator EGGLESTON: Are the cuts having any impact on staff retention? In terms of A based staff, are people looking for careers elsewhere because they are concerned that the department is cutting?

Mr D Richardson : No. The separation rate in the department is very low by APS standards and it remains low.

Senator EGGLESTON: Australia in recent years has closed several diplomatic posts. I wonder whether the cuts you are now experiencing might lead to further closures in terms of rationalisation of your services around the world.

Mr D Richardson : Certainly none is planned at this point. Since 2007 we have opened five additional missions abroad—in Lima, Addis Ababa, Mumbai, Chennai and the Holy See. I would simply note that, since 1997, there has been a small increase in the net funding for the department.

Senator EGGLESTON: We went through a period, though, where missions were closed.

Mr D Richardson : That was prior to 2007.

Senator EGGLESTON: That is correct. Have we made up the number of missions?

Mr D Richardson : Between 1996 and 2007 there was also a net increase in the number of posts abroad. We now have 96 missions in 77 countries. But that does not include the multilateral posts. If you add in the multilateral posts there are a few more.

Senator EGGLESTON: Coming back to locally engaged staff, does that include cooks?

Mr D Richardson : No. Locally engaged staff encompasses those staff that work within an embassy or a high commission overseas. It includes drivers. It includes people working on administration. It includes, in some cases, people working on consular matters. It includes, in some cases, research officers working in the political-economic areas of the mission. It includes also IT support, human services, management and the like. But cooks and people who work in residences have an employment contract with the head of mission and they are employed differently from what we term locally engaged staff.

Senator McEWEN: You mentioned that, since 2007, there have been five new posts opened by DFAT. Two of those are in India, which is of course very important to us, and one is in Africa. Apart from DFAT, what presence is there in those diplomatic missions—AusAID, Austrade, AFP?

Mr D Richardson : Across those missions, but not at all of them, Trade is represented, AusAID is represented and Defence is represented. By and large, those missions are relatively small and do not involve a range of representation from across government.

Senator McEWEN: What criteria do you use to determine where you are going to establish a new post?

Mr D Richardson : It relates to a judgement, an assessment, about our national interests. We normally look at the political, bilateral, regional and multilateral dimensions of the overall relationship—what work we have going, where it is progressing and the like. We will factor in consular, we will factor in economic trade and we will factor in what other representation we have in that region and the relative significance and the like to Australia.

Senator McEWEN: And that is an ongoing process?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator EGGLESTON: Can I just finish on the issue of the cooks. I have been provided with some information by a journalist. He tells me Australian chefs are employed by heads of missions in Paris, in Rome, at the UN in New York and in Washington DC. In addition, 15 heads of mission employ chefs, while a further 22 heads of mission employ cooks. It is understood that the chefs employed by those first four heads of mission are Australian citizens, while the remaining chefs and cooks are locally engaged. You might like to take this question on notice. What is the process for the employment of chefs? What is the process by which each chef was sourced and recruited? Did the department pay any relocation costs for chefs who are Australian citizens and, if so, what was the cost of that relocation? I would like to know the diplomatic status of those chefs—whether that they have diplomatic immunity—and the cost of maintaining those chefs. Are they provided with housing, a car and so on? I would like to know the qualifications of the chefs. Have they come from the Ritz-Carlton?

Mr D Richardson : I suspect that the person who fed you that is someone with a rather coloured view of the whole issue. For a start, the Australian citizens who are employed as chefs overseas are not provided with cars by the Australian government. They are not paid relocation allowances, as far as I am aware. They are paid a local salary determined by the market they are in. And the circumstances vary enormously. For instance, there have been young Australians in the chef profession who see it as part of their career advancement. They see it as a good thing to actually have experience of working for, say, the Australian ambassador in Washington or in New York. They are not on any special deal. They have no diplomatic status whatsoever. They travel on ordinary passports. The conditions under which they are employed are determined, in the case of Washington, in a contract between the ambassador and the individual. Sometimes accommodation is provided. For instance, in Washington the accommodation is provided—and historically that has been the case over the last 50 years.

Senator Conroy: So there is nothing new in this.

Mr D Richardson : No. In other cases, chefs are citizens of other countries and the like.

Senator Conroy: When Andrew Peacock was the ambassador he would have had the same facility.

Mr D Richardson : Absolutely.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you, minister, for clarifying that.

Senator KROGER: I want to come to travel and, in particular, the process under which the Foreign Minister's priorities are determined. What is the process for determining priorities for the Foreign Minister's travel, particularly in the last 12 months?

Mr D Richardson : For any one week, for any one month and for any one year a Foreign Minister has a range of competing priorities. There is a range of countries, a range of meetings and a range of demands. Also you have to factor in to that the unexpected, the things that you did not plan for that all of a sudden emerge. All of the Foreign Minister's travel is approved by the Prime Minister. That has been standard practice in successive governments. The standard practice in successive governments has been for the Foreign Minister to write to the Prime Minister outlining the travel that he proposes and the reasons why, and the Prime Minister considers it on that basis. So, if you like, the priorities are determined by the minister with the approval of the Prime Minister. Also in that mix are discussions which the minister has with me and others within the department and discussions in his own office.

Senator KROGER: Given that the Prime Minister's office gives approval to proposed scheduling of foreign trips, how do you get to that point to start with? Who sits down in the Foreign Minister's office? What engagement does DFAT have with input into that? What is the process to start this?

Mr D Richardson : There is an interactive process between the department and the minister's office. Normally in the discussions the scheduling is worked out between the minister and his own staff in consultation with the department. The ultimate decision is taken by the minister with the approval of the Prime Minister.

Senator KROGER: I understand that in the Prime Minister's office there is an international adviser.

Mr D Richardson : A senior adviser, yes.

Senator KROGER: Is that international adviser involved in those initial discussions?

Mr D Richardson : Not necessarily. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. You will find in successive governments that the chief of staff to the Foreign Minister normally has a close working relationship with the senior international adviser in the Prime Minister's office, as you would expect. And normally there is some discussion and consultation in the lead up to the more formal exchanges. It would be unusual for a Prime Minister to get a request from the Foreign Minister for travel out of the blue. There is normally a context around it, which the international adviser is aware of.

Senator KROGER: Has the Prime Minister ever denied a request?

Mr D Richardson : Yes. I believe it is on the public record.

Senator Conroy: I have had lots of knock backs too.

Senator KROGER: With good reason, minister!

Senator Conroy: I am not sure that is the case.

Mr D Richardson : I believe it is on the public record that the minister was denied a request to go to G'Day USA. I think that was last year. It was in 2011, from memory.

Senator KROGER: I want to go back to the determination of the priorities. Given that last year—in particular, the last half of last year—was very busy for the Prime Minister in relation to the determination of visits from her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, President Obama, CHOGM and so on, to what level is the Foreign Minister aware of the potential scheduling and how this is all meshed in together?

Mr D Richardson : You are right. For instance, there was also a foreign ministers meeting within the framework of CHOGM, which is usual. In the lead up to APEC there is normally a meeting of trade ministers. In the lead up to the East Asia Summit there is normally a meeting of foreign ministers. In the lead up to a G20 leaders meeting there is normally a meeting of treasurers. There is pretty good coordination between ministerial offices about that.

Senator KROGER: I might come back to the coordination aspect a little later. I would like to pursue the travel side of things specifically.

CHAIR: Senator Kroger, could I just ask a supplementary question on the same issue.

Senator KROGER: Certainly.

CHAIR: Mr Richardson, you have talked about the Foreign Minister's travel. Would the same kind of arrangements happen for the Minister for Trade?

Mr D Richardson : Any minister travelling abroad requires the approval of the Prime Minister, and that has been the case for many, many years.

CHAIR: Minister, could you explain how it works in your department as a typical ministerial responsibility?

Senator Conroy: There are a whole range of potential overseas trips that we get invitations to. There are conferences on the calendar that there could be benefit in attending. Usually what happens is that, as Mr Richardson has suggested, the department works up a list and then ministers apply to the Prime Minister's office saying they would like to go to a selection of these things. Not all of them are approved; that is normal. Sometimes it is suggested that we shorten or combine trips. Sometimes the Prime Minister's office say they do not want us out of the country at that time. Sometimes the trips clash with parliament. Particularly in the Senate, where the number of ministers is small, it is not advisable for us to be away when parliament is sitting. A whole range of factors come into play in the Prime Minister's office's thinking about it. I have had trips denied and trips shortened. It is a completely normal part of the process.

Senator KROGER: But you are not Foreign Minister, so it is not part of your portfolio to actually be engaged in a whole swag of complex international issues.

Senator CONROY: Yes, but also I was not away on leave for seven weeks with a medical condition. There are a whole range of factors that come into who travels, when and how often.

Senator KROGER: I am not quite sure what the relevance of that was. Anyway, I will turn back to the Foreign Minister's travel specifically. How many countries has he visited since taking up the position?

Mr D Richardson : Since taking up the position he has visited 53 countries in a total of 26 overseas visits.

Senator KROGER: How many countries?

Mr D Richardson : Between 14 December 2010 and 6 February there were 26 overseas visits involving a total of 53 countries. Some of those countries were visited more than once.

Senator KROGER: How many of those countries are members of ASEAN?

Mr D Richardson : Let me go through them. He has visited Singapore and the Philippines, both of which are members of ASEAN. He has visited Indonesia. He has visited Thailand. He has visited Burma. He has visited Vietnam. So he has visited six of the ASEAN countries.

Senator KROGER: I might have asked this before, but I would like you to clarify it. What mode of travel does he normally take—first class, business class?

Mr D Richardson : He travels in accordance with the norms relating to ministers of successive governments. Most of his travel is business class. Where it involves long haul, it is first class.

Senator KROGER: I think we touched on this in the last estimates. A number of those flights were VIPs as well.

Mr D Richardson : Yes, a small number only. He has been on VIPs five times. And he has been on two RAAF flights, which are not VIPs, when he went into Afghanistan on either a Hercules or a C17.

Senator KROGER: I do not need it now, but could you provide a breakdown of the mode of travel for the five trips? I am happy to put that on notice. That would be appreciated. I do not wish to take up the committee's time at this moment.

Senator Conroy: Could I just clarify what you mean by mode of travel?

Senator KROGER: VIP, class—

Senator Conroy: RAAF.

Senator KROGER: Yes.

CHAIR: Mr Richardson, you have taken that question on notice?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, I can take that on notice.

Proceedings suspended from 10:30 to 10:48

Senator KROGER: Last estimates, we discussed that it is common practice for the foreign minister to stay with the head of mission where possible on overseas trips. Can you please provide a breakdown on when and where he stayed with a head of mission and when and where he had to stay in a hotel during all of Mr Rudd's 2011 travel? Can you also please provide the breakdown of dates, names of hotel accommodation and costs associated with each stay?

Mr D Richardson : Very often Mr Rudd stays with heads of mission. He has had that as a practice, where possible and practical, for some time. Where he stays in hotels, that is governed by where a conference is being held or, more often than not, it is determined by the normal guidelines relating to accommodation for ministers travelling abroad.

Senator KROGER: When he has travelled to the US and visited New York and Washington has he always stayed in the residences there or has he stayed in hotel accommodation during some of those trips?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot talk for every trip since he has been minister, so I would need to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: That would be great. Are there guidelines in terms of the type of hotel, the cost arrangements and so on? Are there guidelines that apply to the Foreign Minister and, indeed, other ministers in terms of the accommodation arrangements that they make?

Mr D Richardson : Not in terms of specific hotels. For instance, missions abroad normally make judgements about where it is best for ministers to stay in terms of convenience to the work requirements of the minister, the convenience to the mission, the relationship that the mission has with particular hotels and also the costs. It is those sorts of criteria.

Senator KROGER: When the Foreign Minister seeks a sign-off from the Prime Minister in relation to each trip, does that include a forecast budget for each trip, with accommodation? Is that what she signs off on?

Mr D Richardson : I do not think so. I will take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: Was any authorisation required from outside the Foreign Minister's office for proposed accommodation arrangements?

Mr D Richardson : No, I do not believe so. Again, there is nothing particular here relating to the Foreign Minister. The Foreign Minister operates within the framework in respect of all ministers within government.

Senator KROGER: I think it was at the last estimates that I was asking you about how many Qantas flights the Foreign Minister took. You can correct my memory if I am wrong. Of the 26 flights he took from Australia that we were talking about at that stage, I think six were with Qantas. Is my recollection right, or is that inaccurate?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot say in relation to the specific thing. I have flights by airline in total but I do not have it broken down into specific time frames.

Senator KROGER: What is the rationale applied in determining the actual airline?

Senator Conroy: It would have been the same as under your government.

Mr D Richardson : The first requirement is that the airline actually travels to the destination.

Senator KROGER: Yes, that helps!

Mr D Richardson : I do not mean that facetiously. There are many destinations which a foreign minister is required to travel to which Qantas does not fly to. You would not expect the Foreign Minister to be travelling the majority of the time on Qantas. You would expect the minister, other things being equal, to be travelling on airlines other than Qantas simply because of destinations and the like. It also depends upon the convenience of the flight. The minister is not in control of his own travel time in the same way as a member of the public going on holidays might be. If parliament is sitting and a Qantas flight is leaving at four o'clock that day, but he is required to be here until eight o'clock that night or whatever, then he might have to take another airline. It will be determined by where he is departing from. His electorate, as you know, is in Brisbane, which means he is sometimes departing from Brisbane. That can affect it. There are a whole lot of variables which come into play.

Senator KROGER: I do not know whether you are aware, Mr Richardson, but on 6 October, at a jobs forum, the Prime Minister announced the government's intention to put pressure on resource companies to put more details of local product use in major products on a website to essentially name and shame them if they fail to encourage Australian participation. The policy, I understand, is set to apply to any project that receives Commonwealth funding support. Would that principle be applied to the Foreign Minister's travel?

Senator Conroy: I do not quite understand your question.

Senator KROGER: It may have missed you but Qantas is owned by Australia. If we are seeking to support Australian product and six out of 26 flights are—

Senator Conroy: Are you suggesting we mandate?

Senator KROGER: No, I used the word 'principle'. Is this principle going to apply to the Foreign Minister's travel?

Mr D Richardson : I do not believe ministerial travel would fit the definition of a 'project'. So I do not see a contradiction in that. I have might say that officials are required to seek the best fare of the day. There is no requirement on the part of officials to travel on Qantas. We are required to find the best value for the taxpayers' money.

Senator Conroy: And do you think Mr Howard travelled Qantas when he racked up a $150,000 four-night stay at the St Regis Grand Hotel in Rome? It was $150,000 for four nights in Rome.

Senator KROGER: I was actually referring to the approach that the Prime Minister herself tabled at a jobs forum only in October last year. This government intends not to preach 'do as I say as opposed to do as I do'. So I was inquiring whether that same notional principle was to be applied to the Foreign Minister's travel. But thank you very much for your interjection anyway.

Senator Conroy: I was just wondering if you knew whether Mr Howard travelled Qantas for that flight.

Senator KROGER: It is always interesting to see the way you get a bit sidetracked. I want to move to the Foreign Minister's statement on ABC News 24 on 22 September in which he addressed a suggestion that the Prime Minister had circulated an email, which I think we tabled at the last estimates, in relation to excessive travel costs and cautioning the Foreign Minister on the level of this travel costs. In that interview the Foreign Minister said: 'Finally, on the question of factual detail, these matters have not been raised with me by the Prime Minister in her discussions with me nor with her chief of staff and my own chief of staff. The correspondence, which we have discussed in the past, the correspondence which I understand your article refers to, is reflective of the Prime Minister's general and correct reminder to all members of government in relation to their travel expenses.' Could you confirm whether the Prime Minister did actually send an email or communications to the Foreign Minister in relation to his travel expenses?

Mr D Richardson : I will make two comments on that. First, I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to get involved in what has or has not transpired in correspondence between the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. From memory, and I stand to be corrected, I believe the reminder about travel costs was a reminder to all ministers simply as part of good governance arrangements. From memory, it was not specifically directed.

Senator Conroy: Could I just update you. My officers have just been checking on one of the issues you raised. I believe ministers do have to submit a costing when they put in their applications. I just wanted to make sure there was no confusion around that. Both Dennis and I were not sure, but I think that is the case.

Senator KROGER: Isn't it great to have efficient officers. Could you also give an indication of whether those budget forecasts for trips are broken down? Is it a total forecast cost or is it actually broken down?

Senator Conroy: I will see if there is any information that can be quickly gathered for you.

Senator KROGER: Thank you. I am sure they are very able to do that. I want to turn to a couple of matters. Firstly, I understand that the Foreign Minister visited Liechtenstein. When was that?

Mr D Richardson : That was some time ago.

Senator Conroy: That was so long ago I remember talking about it two estimates ago.

Mr D Richardson : He visited there in early February 2011.

Senator KROGER: And what was the date of his visit to PNG?

Mr D Richardson : His most recent visit?

Senator KROGER: His first visit as Foreign Minister.

Mr D Richardson : It was 30 September 2011.

Senator Kroger: Close to five or six months after his visit?

Mr D Richardson : His visit to Lichtenstein was part of a broader visit. He was in Lichtenstein for part of one day. On that visit he was away between 24 January and 7 February 2011. He went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to address the African Union foreign ministers meeting. He held bilateral meetings with 28 separate African counterparts. He went to Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos and he also met the president of the World Bank. He went to Turkey to meet with the foreign minister there to discuss G20 and other matters. He visited Greece and met with the president, prime minister and foreign minister. He then went to Lichtenstein for part of a day and met with the foreign minister. That was the first visit ever by an Australian foreign minister. Then he went on to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference on the Middle East, Non-proliferation and Cybersecurity. Lichtenstein was part of a day within that context. Papua New Guinea was, as I said, at the end of September 2011, although he had had extensive dealings with Papua New Guinea before then, including visiting Prime Minister Somare when he was in hospital in Singapore on one occasion.

Senator KROGER: Given that we have been talking about the ways in which the priorities for the Foreign Minister are established, it really does beg the question: when you have a challenging political climate in one of our immediate neighbours, in whom Australia takes a particular insignificant interest and role, why did the Foreign Minister not visit—

Senator Conroy: You are asking his opinion. You are speculating and inviting the officer—

Senator KROGER: Well, minister, what do you think? Do you think it reflects well on our priorities that we find it more important to attend—

Senator Conroy: I missed the last Senate estimates for foreign affairs—

Senator KROGER: Because you were on a trip.

Senator Conroy: I think I was overseas, yes. I think we had this very conversation when I went through Mr Marles's extensive travel in the South Pacific and around the region. But if you would like to have it again I am sure I would be able to quickly get Mr Marles's itinerary and the number of times he has visited Papua New Guinea.

Senator KROGER: But given the significant number of places that the Foreign Minister has deemed to be particularly critical—

Senator Conroy: And the figures are broken down, I have just been advised, by our very efficient office.

Senator Kroger: Thank you very much.

Mr D Richardson : I might add that the Foreign Minister did make a ministerial statement to parliament on 7 February. You have mentioned the political situation there. He did state:

… PNG has been, and always will be, a key priority for Australian foreign policy. It has been a key focus of the Prime Minister, of mine, of the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and of the wider Australian government. Our engagement with PNG and its key government figures has been deep and close. I visited PNG from 30 September to 1 October 2011, the third visit that I have made to PNG over the last several years. I co-chaired with PNG Foreign Minister Pala the Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum on 12 October 2011 involving 19 ministers and parliamentary secretaries, including Parliamentary Secretary Marles, who visited PNG from 18 to 21 October on his fifth visit to that country. Of the many phone contacts I have had in recent months, I last spoke to my PNG counterpart, Minister Pala, on 2 February concerning the ferry disaster.

The Prime Minister also spoke to her counterpart, Prime Minister O'Neill, on 5 February. Prime Minister O'Neill was welcomed to Australia for official visits in October and again, of course, for CHOGM. He had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Gillard at the Pacific Island Forum meeting on 8 September.

And it goes on. I think it is reasonable to put that on the record in terms of the Foreign Minister's own engagement with Papua New Guinea.

Senator KROGER: Thank you for that because it does demonstrate that there certainly has been a reprioritising of the focus.

Senator Conroy: The very first country Mr Rudd visited when he became Foreign Minister was Papua New Guinea. Let me be very clear about this. He demonstrated the priority right then and there.

Senator KROGER: I want to conclude on a couple of other matters in relation to travel. The first is that, as we know, both Qantas and Virgin have carbon offset schemes. I was wondering whether the department participates in the carbon offset scheme for air travel.

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator KROGER: Thank you.

Senator FURNER: While we are on the subject of travel for foreign ministers, may I return to Foreign Minister Downer and see how his trips compared to those of the current foreign minister. I assume, based on the information that I have, that his costs were substantially higher than those of the trips Mr Rudd has done. Mr Downer went to Indonesia from 25 February to 1 March 2002 at a cost of $103,000.

Senator Conroy: How much?

Senator FURNER: It was $103,719.62. He had two visits to the United States in 2002 that cost $80,000 each. Those trips were from 8 to 16 July, costing $81,918, and from 10 to 17 September, costing $80,751. Furthermore, there was a visit to Japan, UK, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sri Lanka—you might as well throw in the rest of the world—in May of 2003, costing $104,951.67. There was also seven days in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Singapore in 2003 costing $76,220.38 and, finally, a trip to the United States, PNG, Indonesia and the UK in 2004, which lasted 10 days at a cost of $139,929.42. Can you confirm that those figures are correct?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot, because I do not carry those figures around with me. I would simply make the general statement that I worked with Mr Downer, I respect him, he was a professional foreign minister, and I work with Mr Rudd and I respect Mr Rudd.

Senator FURNER: That is a fair enough statement. I take it foreign affairs ministers do a lot of work around the globe for the reasons we have that portfolio. It is not it is a case of scrutinising their travel based on this view—

Senator Conroy: It is rather pathetic isn't it, Senator Furner—trying to judge performance based on travel.

Senator FURNER: Exactly.

Senator KROGER: It would be very interesting to see if any other foreign minister has spent close to $1.1 million in their first nine months of office. The former foreign minister, Stephen Smith, only spent $150,000 in his first six months in the job, so does that reflect on his capacity to do the job?

Senator Conroy: I think the point Senator Furner is making is that talking about their itinerary costing x dollars or y dollars or how many countries they visit does not reflect anybody's capacity to do their job. Would that be a fair summation, Senator Furner?

Senator FURNER: I would concur with that, Minister, and the other added point is that there has been a lot of turmoil around the globe over the last two years and no doubt foreign affairs ministers need to be able to converse with governments and on issues that have a bearing on our country and on their portfolio. I assume, Mr Richardson, that is a valid reason why there would be some travel as well.

Mr D Richardson : Certainly.

CHAIR: Senator Eggleston, I understand you have some more questions in the general portfolio area.

Senator EGGLESTON: I do. Coming back to the issue of hospitality, in response to questions taken on notice at the supplementary budget estimates in 2011 DFAT stated that it spent $4.75 million in Australia and overseas on hospitality and entertainment. According to reports, DFAT was the largest spender on entertainment. The second biggest spending agency was Centrelink, at $1.3 million, so DFAT spent $3.45 billion more than the next agency.

Mr D Richardson : Which I think is what you would expect, Senator.

Senator EGGLESTON: I am not saying it is not—there was not a word of criticism in what I said. I simply made a comparison—

Senator Conroy: A comparison between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Centrelink, as if there is some sort of comparison in the roles that they play internationally. It is mind numbingly dopey to try to draw that comparison.

Senator EGGLESTON: It is a fair enough point to make; it is not dopey at all. It is a question of comparing departments.

Senator Conroy: It is not a department, it is Centrelink. You are comparing Centrelink to the department of foreign affairs.

Senator EGGLESTON: It is very interesting that Centrelink spends that much in any case. There must be a lot of bikkies and cups of tea involved.

Senator Conroy: You can take that up with Centrelink. The question is demeaning of the hard work of all the officers.

Senator EGGLESTON: What is the DFAT budget for entertainment and hospitality for the current financial year? Do you need to take it on notice?

Ms Thorpe : We do not have a budget per se for hospitality because that is something that is set in each work area. They are given an overall global budget and they prioritise within that budget. I can tell you that year to date, as at 31 December, hospitality expenditure has been $2.3million—which is roughly what you would expect.

Senator EGGLESTON: So what mission spent most on entertainment and hospitality?

Mr D Richardson : In broad terms the missions that spend most are the biggest missions. The heads of mission in Washington, London, UN New York, Jakarta, Tokyo, Beijing, India and places like that where our biggest missions are is where the biggest representation allowances are.

Senator EGGLESTON: I accept that is quite a reasonable thing to assume—that they would in fact have the biggest budget. But what about the smaller missions in the Middle East, say, and East Asia and other smaller countries? Have we seen increased hospitality expenditure in the missions in those countries? The group of 77 countries, perhaps, of the UN?

Mr D Richardson : Costs of representation can vary depending upon what happens during the course of the year. For instance, where you have significant official visits, that will sometimes lead to an increase in representational expenditure. Each post has a representation allowance and they are expected to manage within it. The head of mission cannot go off and simply spend whatever he or she likes. They have a representation budget and that is accounted for. Within each mission different officers will have different representational allowances and they account for that too. There is nothing new in that.

Senator Conroy: I can just add that my understanding is that the 2010-11 expenditures are lower than expenditures under the previous government, which had a smaller overseas network. So more diplomats, lower spending than under your government. But then your government was the highest taxing government in Australian history.

Senator EGGLESTON: Senator Conroy, you have all these little figures and facts at your fingertips.

Senator Conroy: All available on the public record.

Senator EGGLESTON: But they are not exactly what I am after. Looking specifically at what is known as the Group of 77 countries in the United Nations, would it be possible for us to get some comparative figures for expenditure on hospitality, comparing expenditure two years ago with expenditure during the current year?

Mr D Richardson : I will take that on notice. Whether we have that break down or not, I do not know.

Senator EGGLESTON: It would be very helpful if you could assist us with that. Thank you. The other area I would like to pursue is the Durban climate change conference.

Mr D Richardson : May I just add on representation, to be transparent about it, I see representation to be an essential tool of the trade. I consider that it is not possible to represent your country and overseas without using representational funds sensibly and wisely. That is why when we advised post recently that they would be required to contribute to the efficiency dividend savings overall, at my specific direction heads of mission were advised that in pursuing savings they were not to reduce representational funds.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you. I assume you are anticipating me asking you about delegate numbers to Durban. That is what I am going to do. I do agree with you and I think it is very important that we maintain our representational function within your department. How many delegates from Australia attended the Durban climate conference?

Mr D Richardson : I think the Australian delegation was led by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

Senator EGGLESTON: Yes, it was in fact. But I think you were involved to some degree.

Mr D Richardson : Yes. Absolutely.

Mr Cannan : The number of delegates that attended the Durban conference late last year was 46. Of that there were five from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—three from Canberra and two from the Australian High Commission in Pretoria.

Senator EGGLESTON: What sort of status did the three from Canberra have? What level were they and what was their role?

Mr D Richardson : We would have to take that on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: I would like to ask you a general question on the Durban conference. The outcome was said to be a plan to have a global legally binding agreement on the reduction of carbon emissions by, I think, 2020. Do you believe that is an objective which can be achieved within the department? Is that your feedback?

Mr D Richardson : You are asking me to express an opinion.

Senator EGGLESTON: It is not quite an opinion.

Mr D Richardson : I think it is achievable given that countries committed themselves to achieve it.

Senator EGGLESTON: Did they publicly commit themselves? Did they put their hands up and say, 'Yes, we will.' Or was it just a consensus?

Mr Cannan : Yes, it was a decision of the conference parties to undertake that negotiation leading to a legal agreement in the timeframe you mentioned.

Senator EGGLESTON: Was that a formal vote or was it on the voices, sort of thing?

Mr Cannan : I am not 100 per cent sure of how the decision was reached. I do not believe it was a formal vote. But I can double check on that for you.

Senator EGGLESTON: It was not a formal vote—so it was an impression of a consensus?

Mr D Richardson : It was a commitment by those attending.

Senator EGGLESTON: It was not a formal commitment in the sense that nations did not vote on it, I suggest, with respect. Thank you for that information. I understand that the foreign minister has been lobbying the European Union to exempt Australian airlines from paying a European Union carbon tax. I would be grateful if you could provide me with some information as to who the foreign minister has spoken to about this issue, what countries and on what dates, and in what circumstances did these conversations take place.

Mr D Richardson : We will take that on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: In general terms, if the European Union does impose a carbon tax on airlines flying into Europe, what additional costs will be imposed on the Australian airline industry? Do you have any figures on that?

Mr D Richardson : I think that is a question for the transport department.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you. That is all I have on that issue.

Senator KROGER: I refer to the foreign minister's recent address that he made at the United Nations General Assembly. I would be interested to know what time the minister was originally scheduled to give that speech—that press conference.

Mr D Richardson : I will take that on notice.

Senator Conroy: Does the department organise press conferences?

Senator KROGER: It was a press conference on the north lawn—

Mr D Richardson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator KROGER: If you could take on notice what time it was originally scheduled for, what time it actually happened, and provide the budget forecast for hiring the equipment and what the ultimate cost was.

Mr D Richardson : We will take those questions on notice.

Senator KROGER: I now turn to the United Nations Security Council bid. Can you give us a brief on where you think it is up to?

Mr D Richardson : We remain in a tight contest with the other two countries. We have been working very hard. We believe that our prospects are reasonable. But we would not overstate them.

Senator KROGER: Is it true that the department initially advised the foreign minister that we would have a better chance of winning a bid for 2018?

Mr D Richardson : I stand to be corrected on this, but I think we actually recommended 2012 but stated that 2018 was at that point vacant and uncontested.

Senator KROGER: By deduction then, if it remained uncontested and given the timeframe we would have had a better chance of winning that.

Mr D Richardson : Most bids for temporary seats on the Security Council are now contested. I think 2018 is now contested so even if we had put our hats in the ring for 2018 we still would have ended up in a contested contest.

Senator KROGER: Sure. What travels have been undertaken by our special envoys since the previous estimates?

Ms Millar : Since the last estimates, Bill Fisher, a member of the department and our envoy to La Francaphonie and the Francophone States of Africa, visited Tunisia and Morocco in November-December. John McCarthy, a former member of the department and a special envoy to Latin America, attended in December 2011 a meeting in Central America—the Central American Regional Group—and also visited Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba and New York. Neil Mules, a member of the department, as our special envoy to Lusophone countries visited Guinea-Bissau, Portugal and New York in November 2011.

Senator KROGER: Do you have an update on the costs of our bid to date?

Ms Millar : We have budget figures for the bids. They have been tabled in parliament.

Senator KROGER: But what are the actual costs?

Ms Millar : We are working within the budget.

Senator KROGER: So you do not keep an account of where you are at in terms of the budget forecasts for this?

Ms Millar : We certainly document all the money that we are spending. I do not have that detailed information with me. We work very closely to ensure we keep within the budget for every financial year. We plan accordingly.

Senator KROGER: Could you take as a question on notice where we are at in relation to the budget and what our spend has been to date?

Ms Millar : Sure.

Senator KROGER: On 30 August last year at the Lowy institute you gave an address in which you reflected on the bit included in that and actually said that it is pathetic that we should have a debate about whether we should or should not run about the UN Security Council once in a while. Given your high degree of discretion in not discussing policy matters as they are a matter for government do you think that that was an appropriate comment to make given that the coalition's position and the government's position is quite well known here.

Mr D Richardson : I think it was appropriate and indeed I think my understanding of the coalition's position is that the coalition supports Australia being on the security council from time to time. The difference is over timing—whether it should be 2012 or 2018. I would simply note that the public debate has involved a lot more voices than the coalition and there are quite reasonably within the community some who believe we should not go anywhere near the UN let alone be on the UN Security Council, so I think my comment needs to be seen in that broader context.

Senator KROGER: Of course I appreciate the type of institution that the Lowy institute is and I am sure your address to them was considered. Do you normally in public addresses touch on policy matters.

Mr D Richardson : It depends how far you go into that space but I do not think it is unusual at all for public servants from time to time to be in elements of that space provided they do not go too far.

Senator Conroy: I have some information on the press conference that you were referring to. I understand it was organised months in advance by a staff member who has since left the embassy. It was not requested by the foreign minister's office. It occurred at the conclusion of the ministers speech.

Senator KROGER: Which one are you talking about? I did not hear the beginning of your statement.

Senator Conroy: The press conferences were organised months in advanced by a staff member who has since left the embassy. It was not requested by the foreign minister's office, it occurred at the conclusion of the minister's speech, which was delayed by other speakers at the UN, not by choice.

Senator KROGER: Do we have any diplomatic recommendations or appointments that are awaiting ministerial signoff.

Mr D Richardson : I think at the moment there are maybe three outstanding at the moment?

Senator KROGER: In saying that has the appointment been made yet for Sri Lanka.

Mr D Richardson : Yes the decision has been taken on that.

Senator KROGER: The decision taken on that or the decision announced?

Mr D Richardson : I think it has been publicly announced and I think the person is already in the job.

Senator Conroy: Can I just add that the former foreign minister Mr Downer wrote in the Adelaide Advertiser recently that it is very much in our interests that we do win, so even if you do not like the government for sure you do like Australia so if you can you need to help the campaign. Believe me, I have.

[11:36]

CHAIR: We now move to outcome 1, program 1.1, Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations, and will begin with questions on the North Asia group.

Senator McEWEN: What is the government is doing to engage with the new leadership in North Korea and how is that engagement assisting us to address the issues of North Korea with the international community?

Mr P Rowe : Since the death of Kim Jong Il there has been some slight reaching out by the North Koreans themselves much more quickly than happened at the time of the death of his father and we have been willing to look at that and to be active about it. We are sending our ambassador, who is accredited, from Seoul. He will be seeking to go there at the end of the month. Our ambassador in Beijing recently had a meeting with the director-general of the Asia-Pacific area from the foreign ministry and the ambassador who is accredited to Australia will be coming down to present credentials this month.

Senator McEWEN: So do they have a presence in Australia.

Mr P Rowe : No they closed their embassy a number of years ago.

Senator McEWEN: What work are we doing with for example the United States and other friends to address a better engagement with North Korea.

Mr P Rowe : There is a difficulty in the idea of a better engagement with North Korea. North Korea has isolated itself by the actions it has taken, which has made it very difficult for us to engage them because of the principles they have broken—because of their nuclear program, their missile program, their provocations against South Korea. That said ,we have worked very closely with the Republic of Korea and with the United States. We have supported the re-engagement. There were some discussions before the death of Kim Jong Il and there are soon to be further discussions between the United States and North Korea. We support that in seeking to see if North Korea is willing to re-engage according to international norms. They have refused to talk to South Korea though we have supported that. We talk to China urging them to use their influence on North Korea to conform to international principles, give up its nuclear program and engage in the six-party talks on denuclearisation. the other thing we have done in terms of our engagement we have been very generous I think on the humanitarian emergency aid side, which I am sure AusAID can tell you all about. This has been food relief in particular with some $10 million the minister announced last year.

Senator EGGLESTON: I am advised that at the time the passing of the previous leader of North Korea was noted in the general assembly many countries walked out when two minutes silence—if it was two minutes—was held in his memory but Australia remained in the chamber. Would you like to comment on that?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of the detail. I think a decision like that would probably be dependent upon—

Mr P Rowe : Certainly, it was not something that we were consulted about. I think it was probably taken on spur of the moment.

Mr D Richardson : That is what normally happens.

Senator EGGLESTON: Are you saying you do not know a great deal about how the decision to remain in the chamber was arranged?

Mr D Richardson : Very often decisions like that are taken on the spot by whoever is in the chamber.

Senator EGGLESTON: Was the foreign minister in attendance at that time? Do we know?

Mr D Richardson : I do not believe so; I stand to be corrected, but I do not believe so.

Senator EGGLESTON: So you are saying that the decision may have been taken by the ambassador at the time?

Mr D Richardson : No I said 'whoever was in the chamber' at the time.

Senator EGGLESTON: I said 'may have been', I did not say—

Mr D Richardson : Yes, but I do not know.

Senator EGGLESTON: Can we think of any reason why we might have, alone of our western allies, remained in the chamber?

Mr D Richardson : We have diplomatic relations with the DPRK, so there was nothing improper about it.

Senator EGGLESTON: No.

Mr D Richardson : One might have a different view about it, but I do not know the precise circumstances nor do I know whether we were the only western country to be in the chamber. I would need to check on that too.

Senator EGGLESTON: Could you take that on notice for us: what countries actually remained and which countries left?

Mr D Richardson : Sure. If there is a record of that we will provide that information.

Senator EGGLESTON: I am sure there would be.

Senator McEWEN: At the last estimates I think that Mr Richardson maybe said that we were making moves to increase our presence in Mongolia, and that that included establishing an Austrade office. How are we going with that?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, an Austrade office.

Senator McEWEN: Has it happened, or should I ask Austrade?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know whether it is yet established.

Mr P Rowe : In fact it will be a consulate-general but it will be run by Austrade.

Mr D Richardson : Yes, but it will be an Austrade office.

Mr P Rowe : We have located a building—there are not a lot of buildings there where we could actually set up and which would be appropriate—and work began on a fit out in December. We are expecting that it will be complete by the end of April, and that operations will begin about April/May.

Senator McEWEN: So that will have consular responsibilities as well as Austrade. Are any other departments going in there, such as DIAC or Defence?

Mr D Richardson : No, I do not think so.

Senator McEWEN: None of those? All right, a small presence at the moment.

You have made mention in estimates in the past about your belief that we should increase our presence in China, what is happening there?

Mr D Richardson : I have made comments that if the resources were available I believe increased representation in China, particularly in western China, would be well worth while. I am not in a position to say anything beyond that.

Senator McEWEN: At the moment?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator McEWEN: That is fine; thank you.

Senator EGGLESTON: Mr Richardson, could you tell us a little about the Asia white paper?

Mr D Richardson : In what sense?

Senator EGGLESTON: What does it set out as an objective, or—

Mr D Richardson : The Prime Minister announced on 28 September the commissioning of a white paper on Australia in the Asia century. Former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry is heading up the exercise, which does involve public consultation. On 17 December the Prime Minister invited public submissions in the context of the white paper to be lodged by 26 February, and the white paper of course will be a government white paper so it will obviously need to be considered at the appropriate time by ministers.

The Asian Century White Paper committee of the cabinet has been established to oversee the development of the white paper. That committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade, and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. There is also a secretaries committee supporting the work the cabinet committee, which consists of the secretaries of PM&C, Treasury and DFAT. There is an advisory panel which Deputy Secretary Heather Smith of DFAT sits on. There is a reference group which DFAT is represented on. There is the White Paper Task Force, established in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is supporting Ken Henry in his work. And a former Ambassador to Tokyo, Murray McLean, is a special advisor to Dr Henry.

Senator EGGLESTON: That sounds very comprehensive, I must say. When is this committee going to report, or present the white paper?

Mr D Richardson : As said, the white paper will be a government white paper. The Prime Minister, when she made the announcement on 28 September, said the white paper would be finalised around the middle of this year. No specific date was given.

Senator EGGLESTON: It refers to the Asian century. It is called the Asian century white paper. Is it likely to be extrapolated to include our relations with the Indian Ocean rim, which might include some of the south Asian nations, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?

Mr D Richardson : By definition, Asia incorporates south Asia.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you very much. That sounds quite interesting. It will be interesting to see what the recommendations are. I turn to China. The Chinese currency has been growing stronger and for some time there have been suggestions that the Chinese government was keen to have the RMB replace the United States dollar as the standard currency around the world, and in fact some of our iron ore companies such as BHP and FMG are now writing contracts in RMBs. But at the present time that currency has a fixed exchange rate. Has the department made any representation to the Chinese government regarding the valuation of its currency and the need for it to more flexible?

Mr D Richardson : Certainly in discussions with the Chinese government Australian government ministers and officials have from time to time raised the question of currency flexibility. However, that general issue of currency domination and the like is more a matter for the Treasury than us.

Senator EGGLESTON: You said earlier you are not directly responsible for the department of trade. Is there a view in the department overall that perhaps fixing its currency in the way that does China is improperly manipulating the value of its currency to gain economic advantage to our disadvantage, to some degree?

Mr D Richardson : By way of clarification, I did not say I was not responsible for the department of trade—I am. I said I am not responsible for Austrade. That part of the portfolio that is responsible for trade promotion overseas—Austrade—is a separate agency with its own CEO. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is what I head up, and the trade component of that is the trade policy part. The question you are asking is more a matter for the Treasury.

Senator EGGLESTON: They will be at an estimates which I will be attending tomorrow. I apologise for misunderstanding your role. I suppose within the same contextual framework, the department might not have any comment to make on the decision by BHP and perhaps FMG to write future contracts in RMBs rather than US dollars?

Mr D Richardson : I would imagine that is a commercial decision by them.

Senator EGGLESTON: But it does have implications in terms of the growing role of the RMB in world trade and also our relationships with China and our own terms of trade and balance of trade?

Mr D Richardson : I stand to be corrected but I am not aware of successive governments seeking to determine in what currencies Australian companies should write their contracts.

Senator EGGLESTON: No, but it is a very major change, I think you would have to agree, that these contracts are now being proposed to be written in RMBs rather than US dollars. To move on, there was a global China dialogue proposed by the foreign minister. I understand this is now being rescheduled. It was to be held on the Gold Coast later this month. Do you have any details of this proposed global China dialogue—in particular, how many people have been invited, how many people accepted invitations, how many were from overseas?

Mr D Richardson : I do not believe that conference has yet been rescheduled, therefore the question about invitations and acceptances does not arise.

Senator EGGLESTON: So it is still going to go ahead, is that what you are saying?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator EGGLESTON: Do we know what the response has been—what kind of attendance there will be?

Mr D Richardson : No, because we cannot invite anyone until we have a date for the conference.

Senator EGGLESTON: I thought you said it had not been rescheduled.

Mr D Richardson : It has not been rescheduled—

Senator EGGLESTON: I understand. Have there been any costs to the department to date?

Mr D Richardson : Yes there have, but I do not know what the price figure is. I do not have it with me. I would need to take it on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: I would also like to know how many officials from the department have been working on the conference.

Mr P Rowe : Four.

Senator EGGLESTON: I would like to ask questions about the scheduled change in Chinese leadership this year. Would it be expected that when the new Chinese leaders are appointed they will be invited to visit Australia?

Mr D Richardson : That would probably happen; it would not be unusual.

Senator EGGLESTON: Given they are our major trading partners I suppose it would be a high priority?

Mr D Richardson : The only reason I am being a little bit general in my comments is that quite obviously it is a matter for the government to determine who they invite Australia.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is the department of trade in any way concerned about the growing Chinese investment in minerals in West Africa in particular and Africa in general as an alternative to their Australian investments in and purchases of iron ore?

Mr D Richardson : It is a matter for decision by Chinese companies as to where they invest.

Senator EGGLESTON: In the 1970s the Japanese went to Brazil for iron ore, and they then developed a second source of supply and that meant that the competition within the market to some degree worked to our disadvantage? Are there any concerns about that at the moment?

Mr D Richardson : That is a legitimate commercial decision by buyers, if that is what they wish to do.

Senator KROGER: I want to get a brief on the status of Matthew Ng, who I understand has been sentenced to 13 years in China. I also read in the paper that he is appealing.

Mr Suckling : Mr Ng is appealing a sentence that was handed down to him in December. We do not yet have a date for the hearing of that appeal. Our advice is that it will be shortly.

Senator KROGER: I presume, given that we have discussed others in similar circumstances—I guess probably at each estimates we have discussed a different individual—that the same consular assistance is applying and access is being provided as per the norm?

Mr Suckling : Yes that is right. We are visiting him about every month and the last visit was on 16 January. There were no welfare or other issues that he raised with us at that time.

Senator KROGER: Has he sought assistance in terms of advice in relation to possible local legal advisers?

Mr Suckling : He has got legal counsel and he has arranged that legal counsel.

Senator KROGER: Where is he detained at the moment? Where has he been jailed?

Mr Suckling : I would have to check that for you.

Senator KROGER: This goes as much to Austrade and I am very happy to ask this of Austrade later today—has consideration been given to whether we are providing sufficient advice for Australian businessmen who are looking at setting up businesses in China or trading with partners in China? Has there been a review of the advice we provide?

Mr D Richardson : Sometimes advice is not south, however in terms of the precision of the advice we give I think the questions would be best directed to Austrade.

Senator KROGER: But I presume if someone was looking at setting up a business in China they would go to Austrade as an immediate source of—

Mr D Richardson : They do not always.

Senator KROGER: They don't?

Mr D Richardson : No. Some individuals, depending upon the nature of their business and the like, do not.

Mr Suckling : Matthew Ng is being held in Guangzhou.

Senator KROGER: Thank you.

Mr Suckling : We do have, as you know, general travel advice to people travelling to China and there is some advice in that regarding Australian business people, which from time to time they ask us about—for example entering China on their Australian passport if they are dual citizen rather than their Chinese passport.

Senator KROGER: I raise that point only because every estimates we identify an Australian citizen who we are concerned about and it just comes down to that.

Mr Suckling : There are a lot more people doing business in China now than there were even 10 years ago. So proportionally there will be a corresponding increase in the amount of people that come to our attention, as happens in most countries—where there is a rise in Australians going there, there is a corresponding increase in consular cases.

Senator KROGER: I will take it up more in detail with Austrade later because the questions really are better directed to them.

Senator EGGLESTON: I have a fairly simple and straightforward question about Taiwan. I read that the present government in Taiwan is more favourably disposed to improving relationships with the People's Republic of China. Does the department have any comment about the implications of that change in general policy of the government of Taiwan?

Mr P Rowe : Certainly under President Ma Ying-jeou Taiwan has been keen to forge a very good trade and people-to-people relationship with mainland China. There has been no indication that they are looking at any kind political settlement or political relationship that compromises the de facto independence of the island. The overriding interest for us is that what happens across the straits of Taiwan will be done peacefully, that the issues between them will be resolved in a peaceful negotiated manner and that there will be no resort to violence or force. There is certainly no indication that there is any change in that situation.

Senator EGGLESTON: It does not mean that there are implications for defence issues and those kinds of things in terms of the Western Pacific and the approaches and positions that countries like Australia and the United States might take?

Mr Rowe : That is what I mean—I do not think so. While the two sides accept the status quo, and there is no indication that either side wants to change that by force, there are no implications beyond what is the case at the moment. If Taiwan were to declare independence tomorrow that would probably, on the basis of our experience, raise tensions. Taiwan has no prospect of doing that, from what we can see. Ma Ying-jeou is not likely to do that. China is not likely to resort to force while Taiwan accepts the status quo.

Senator EGGLESTON: Thank you.

[12:06]

CHAIR: We will now move to Japan.

Senator KROGER: In the May estimates we had a discussion about the radiation levels in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. Australia, I understand, dispatched over 2,000 iodine packages to our embassy in Tokyo. Do we have any recent advice, any updates, on the radiation levels?

Mr D Richardson : We do not have any specific advice on that except—I think I am right in saying this—that those 2,000 dosages have since been returned to Australia.

Senator KROGER: I wonder what the use-by date is on them?

Mr D Richardson : They are okay.

CHAIR: Just on that point: were they returned to Australia because they were not required?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, that is right.

Senator KROGER: Are we aware of any Australians who were exposed?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator KROGER: Since the earthquake, have there been any changes to the staffing in our embassy in Tokyo?

Mr D Richardson : There was a temporary increase in staffing at the time of the earthquake. I think the staffing levels for A base—that is for all agencies—went up from something like 36, 37 to about 65. It is now back at its precrisis level.

Senator KROGER: Did any of our staff request a return to Australia?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know about staff. We certainly gave spouses and families the option of leaving Japan.

Senator KROGER: Immediately or after?

Mr D Richardson : Immediately—when I say immediately I mean within a week or so. Many of them took that up. They have all since returned, as far as I am aware.

Senator KROGER: Have we been requested by the Japanese government for, or offered any, assistance since the earthquake and tsunami in relation to nuclear safety issues or humanitarian concerns?

Mr D Richardson : With regard to humanitarian, there have been no offers or requests; on the other front, no.

Senator KROGER: I turn now to the incident in January when three protesters boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2. I understand the foreign minister was overseas when news of this incident broke. I recall that Attorney-General Roxon was the one who immediately responded to that. Mr Richardson, was your department involved in discussions? Did you get a phone call about this? Were you involved in the negotiations that took place subsequently?

Mr D Richardson : The department was certainly involved.

Mr Cannan : In relation to the boarding of the vessel on 8 January, the department was involved and we participated in an interdepartmental committee meeting that was held on the day of the boarding—Sunday 8 January.

Senator KROGER: Who was the interdepartmental meeting with? Who were the participants in that?

Mr Cannan : The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities takes the lead on whaling issues. They chaired that IDC in which a number of departmental officers participated.

Senator KROGER: Was that the lead group that determined the subsequent course of action and advice to Minister Roxon?

Mr Cannan : That IDC did provide advice to government, yes.

Senator KROGER: As I said in my opening comments, I understand that Minister Rudd was overseas at the time. At what point was he advised of the boarding?

Mr D Richardson : He would have been advised pretty quickly. I cannot give you a date or time.

Senator KROGER: Was he involved or was his office involved in any of the deliberations?

Mr D Richardson : I believe there would have been consultation between the department and his office.

Senator KROGER: Was he involved before or after Ms Roxon?

Mr D Richardson : That, I cannot say.

Senator KROGER: What time did this incident happen? We said it was on 8 January. What was the actual time that the department was advised of the incident?

Mr Cannan : We have information that the Australian Embassy in Tokyo was contacted by the Japanese government on the morning of the Sunday at around 10 am.

Senator KROGER: Can you take me through the sequence of events. The Australian embassy was contacted by the Japanese government at 10 am; what happened from then?

Mr Cannan : Then an IDC was convened just after midday that day.

Senator KROGER: Who did the embassy call when they got the phone message saying that this had happened? Who did they then advise?

Mr Cannan : They called me.

Senator KROGER: What did you do on receiving that advice? Was it a telephone call?

Mr Cannan : Yes, it was a telephone call.

Senator KROGER: From who in the embassy?

Mr Cannan : It was from the counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Tokyo.

Senator KROGER: Upon receiving that phone call you then—

Mr Cannan : Made contact with other relevant officials and was involved in facilitating the holding of the IDC, which was held by SEWPaC, as we call it—the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Senator KROGER: Which was held at what time?

Mr Cannan : Slightly after midday on Sunday 8 January.

Senator KROGER: You had a busy Sunday morning, clearly. When you set up that meeting, who was the first person you advised of what you had been advised? Was Mr Richardson?

Mr Cannan : I contacted officials in the North Asia division. No, I did not contact Mr Richardson on that day. I contacted other relevant DFAT officials who had a role in participating in that interdepartmental committee meeting.

Senator KROGER: Who would have advised ministers Roxon and Rudd, and the Prime Minister?

Mr D Richardson : It would be the respective departments.

Senator KROGER: Department heads?

Mr D Richardson : No. It would normally not be. It would normally be the relevant area of the department that would advise the minister's office.

Senator KROGER: I am interested, Mr Cannan, because there seemed to be some conflicting information coming through as to whether they had boarded in Australian waters or not. How did you clarify the information that you were given to assess whether they were in international waters? Who provided that information?

Dr French : There was publicly available information from the website of Sea Shepherd early on indicating that the boarding occurred outside the Australian territorial sea. According to those publicly available media reports it was within the Australian contiguous zone. The Japanese government also provided us with information indicating that the boarding occurred outside the 12 nautical mile territorial sea. Sources of the information indicated that the boarding occurred outside the 12 nautical mile territorial sea.

Senator KROGER: Did you seek to ascertain whether that was correct, independently?

Dr French : Yes, questions were asked within the interdepartmental committee as to whether there was a possibility to independently verify the information. My understanding is that we did not receive any 100 per cent accurate confirmation of the precise location of the boarding through independent means.

Senator KROGER: You did seek to ascertain whether the information you were given was correct?

Dr French : We did seek to confirm that information independently. No such information was available to us. For clarification, the information provided in the public sphere by Sea Shepherd and the information provided by Japan both tended to indicate that the boarding occurred outside the 12 nautical mile territorial sea and most likely within the 24 nautical mile contiguous zone, that is, between 12 and 24 nautical miles.

Senator KROGER: Did they actually provide coordinates?

Dr French : I believe that Sea Shepherd and the Japanese did provide that information.

Senator KROGER: Were the coordinates the same?

Dr French : My recollection is that they were not identical.

Senator KROGER: Were they largely different?

Dr French : In terms of any significance with respect to the jurisdiction of the countries, no.

Senator KROGER: Who was involved in liaising with the three protesters who illegally boarded that vessel? Was it those on the Sea Shepherd itself? As well as liaising with the Japanese government, were we actually liaising directly with the protesters themselves?

Mr D Richardson : I stand to be corrected, but I think we were not interacting with the three directly. Were we?

Dr French : Mr Suckling might best be able to answer the question, but certainly, in the exercise of consular duties, contact was established.

Mr D Richardson : With the three on the ship?

Dr French : Certainly in the exercise of consular duties contact was established. Telephone conversations were conducted via the Australian Embassy in Tokyo.

Senator KROGER: Directly to the protesters on board the ship?

Dr French : Yes.

Senator KROGER: When possible courses of action were being considered, was one of those the Sea Shepherd itself picking up the three protestors, given that they were in the area?

Dr French : No, that option was not looked into as a realistic alternative for seeking the transfer of the three persons back to Australia.

Senator KROGER: Was that suggested to us and we considered it as a possible course of action and discussed it with the Japanese government, or was it ruled out as an option straight-up?

Dr French : We looked at what were the most appropriate mechanisms. I hasten to add, as Mr Cannan mentioned at the outset, the process was coordinated by DSEWPaC, not by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We contributed, of course. It was a whole of government consideration of all the relevant logistical matters pertaining to seeking the transfer back to Australia of these persons.

Senator KROGER: Remind me of the time frame we are talking about before it was agreed that the course of action that was taken would be taken.

Dr French : Do you mean in terms of a decision to seek—

Senator KROGER: A decision being taken that all parties agreed with, meaning the Japanese government and ourselves.

Dr French : That the persons should be returned; that occurred by the morning of Tuesday, 10 January, from recollection. Mr Cannan might have the exact dates in writing, but that is my recollection.

Mr Cannan : Late on 9 January the Japanese government confirmed that it would transfer the men to the Australian vessel.

Senator KROGER: When these discussions took place was any consideration given to the individual parties themselves contributing to the cost of the rescue?

Dr French : The primary objective in the discussions once the decision was made to seek transfer was to do that in the most effective, efficient and least cost method that was practically available to the government.

Senator KROGER: Did any discussions take place about the legal responsibility of the individuals themselves for the cost of rescue?

Dr French : Not in terms of legal responsibilities, no.

Senator KROGER: In terms of moral responsibilities?

Dr French : Not in terms of any concrete consideration of how we would go about the rescue. The clear objective was to achieve the quickest, most effective and most efficient return of the persons.

Senator KROGER: Has this incident in any way affected our relationship with Japan, particularly on the whaling matter?

Mr D Richardson : Mr Rowe might wish to answer, but I do not think so—not to any significant degree. The whaling issue is there, we have a difference on whaling, but it has not affected the wider relationship.

Mr Rowe : I would agree with that. It was very smoothly arranged between the two sides and the issue has not really come up since.

Senator KROGER: What discussions have we had since, say, May last year in relation to the Japanese government's announcement that they will continue their whaling program in the Southern Ocean?

Mr Rowe : I would have to take on notice any actual exchanges. It would be not an unusual subject of discussion between the embassy and officials.

Mr D Richardson : I think it is fair to say it is a matter of often continuing discussion, but of course we have gone to the ICJ—our position is very clear. The Japanese have made their position very clear and we have made our position clear, which is why we have gone to the ICJ.

Senator KROGER: From the last estimates, you have budgeted over four years $4.3 million to progress the case in the ICJ, is that correct?

Mr D Richardson : That is the DFAT involvement in it—it is not the total budget for the whole case.

Senator KROGER: Finally, how would you summarise our progress at this point in time?

Mr D Richardson : We have not yet made a presentation.

Dr French : We submitted the Australian memorial with respect to the case last year, on 9 May. The Japanese government will submit its memorial by 9 March. That is the next step in the process. After the Japanese memorial has been submitted, decisions will be made by the court in consultation with the parties as to the further steps from now on in terms of whether further written submissions will be required or whether oral proceedings may commence at a later date.

Senator KROGER: So we do not really have an indication at this point in time of how things will go after March?

Dr French : The one precise date is for the Japanese memorial on 9 March.

Senator KROGER: It might be diplomatic to leave that matter there for the moment.

Mr D Richardson : After 9 March it is up to the court to set the timeframe for the following steps. They just have not done that yet.

Proceedings suspended from the 12 : 28 to 13:31

CHAIR: We are now proceeding with the South-East Asia group. Senator Di Natale, you have the call.

Senator DI NATALE: Can you inform me of how much military aid has gone to Indonesia in this financial year?

Mr D Richardson : That is a matter for the Department of Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: So I need to direct my queries there. I have further questions on military aid and the breakdown of that aid.

Mr D Richardson : The Department of Defence will be able to answer them.

Senator DI NATALE: I will direct my queries there. That was quick.

CHAIR: Senator Di Natale, do you have questions on other issues for this group?

Senator DI NATALE: No.

CHAIR: Senator Ronaldson also has questions for this group, so I will hand over to him.

Senator RONALDSON: Mr Richardson, can I take you back to our discussions in October about the young fellow who was arrested in Bali, the 14-year-old boy. He was arrested on 4 October, which was a Tuesday. My understanding is that Bali is about three hours behind us, and with daylight saving it is normally about two hours behind. I do not know whether that is correct or not. I have been going over some old ground—and I am sure if you disagree you will jump in. Approximately two days before the press seemed to be alerted and the first TV report was made at about 9 pm on 6 October, which featured part of a Kevin Rudd doorstop, it would appear that the Nine news were first quoting it at about 5 pm on the 6th, and they were quoting from the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The Prime Minister was only quoted the following morning. When were Australian officials first made aware of the arrest?

Mr Suckling : He was arrested on 4 October and we were made aware on 5 October.

Senator RONALDSON: At what time approximately on the 5th?

Mr Suckling : I do not have that information on the time with me. I will take it on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: Sure. How did you become aware of the arrest?

Mr Suckling : Our person in Bali was informed of it by the police, as I understand, on 5 October.

Senator RONALDSON: So the police advised the consul general—

Mr Suckling : That is my understanding.

Senator RONALDSON: and then the consul general advised the department.

Mr Suckling : That is right.

Senator RONALDSON: Can you take on notice when that was done. Had the police who had contacted the consul general notified the parents at that stage?

Mr Suckling : I would have to double-check that. I think we notified the parents. But, as you know, the parents were with him, so I will have to double-check that.

Senator RONALDSON: I had forgotten that. He was with his parents. You notified them on the day after he was arrested.

Mr Suckling : I will have to check that.

Senator RONALDSON: Can you check that for me, please. Do you know what time he was arrested on the 4th?

Mr Suckling : No, I do not have that level of detail with me.

Senator RONALDSON: Can you take it on notice. How and when was the foreign minister made aware of the arrest?

Mr Suckling : Again, I would have to check, but normally what happens in these situations is that, when we become aware of an arrest, we are informed in the department and the department makes judgments about whether to advise the foreign minister's office. We usually do in cases like this, particularly as there was a bit of publicity around it.

Senator RONALDSON: Mr Suckling, can you speak up a little bit.

Mr Suckling : Talking points are also done, so I would have to check precisely when the foreign minister's office was made aware and either through them or through other means when the foreign minister was made aware. I do not have that detail with me.

Senator RONALDSON: Can you ascertain for me where the foreign minister was at the time he was notified and which officials advised him, please.

Mr Suckling : I will take that on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: Do you know how long it was before the foreign minister himself made contact with any departmental officials in Indonesia?

Mr Suckling : On 6 October he spoke to the consul general.

Senator RONALDSON: But you may have been notified as early as the 5th.

Mr D Richardson : We need to take specifics on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: I am trying to ascertain a time frame within which this would normally work. Are you able to say whether the foreign minister or his office broke the story to the Daily Telegraph on the afternoon of 6 October?

Mr Suckling : No.

Senator RONALDSON: Are you able to say when the Prime Minister was alerted to the arrest before the foreign minister's press conference on the evening of 6 October?

Mr D Richardson : We would need to take it on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: Will you also take on notice when the Prime Minister was actually informed and who informed the Prime Minister.

Mr Suckling : Yes.

Senator RONALDSON: Thank you, gentlemen.

CHAIR: That is it?

Senator RONALDSON: Yes.

CHAIR: Senator Colbeck.

Senator COLBECK: Firstly, a few questions on live cattle to Indonesia. Did we get any advance advice from the Indonesians before their public announcement that the number of cattle permitted into the country would be changed?

Mr Smith : Senator, could I ask you to clarify. Do you mean in relation to the export amounts for this current year?

Senator COLBECK: Yes.

Mr Smith : I am not sure precisely of the sequence of events in which we would have been given advice by the Indonesians. We could check that.

Senator COLBECK: So you do not have any records with you? You do not know whether there was some interaction between our official before the public announcement was made?

Mr Smith : There is a continuing process of consultation between our officials in the embassy and the Indonesian officials about the export numbers of the live cattle trade. Whether we were given an advanced indication of the final decision on those numbers, I am not certain.

Senator COLBECK: So there were discussions about the potential for changed allocations in the lead-up to the announcement?

Mr Smith : As I said, there is a continuous dialogue, a continuous process of consultation, that we have with Indonesian officials on the live cattle export trade. I cannot be precise about the point at which we were given advice by the Indonesians on what the number for this year would be.

Senator COLBECK: Would it be normal practice that we would get some information about this?

Mr D Richardson : Senator, we are not the principal department involved in live cattle.

Senator COLBECK: Do you want me to talk to the trade people about that?

Mr D Richardson : We have been involved and we are closely involved, as you say. We would need to take on notice the precise details as to what consultation there was or whether we knew in advance.

Senator COLBECK: Have we had any discussions about the way in which the permit process might be operating? I have had reports, for example, that exporters now receive their documentation in Bahasa and are required to fill it out and return it in Bahasa rather than in English as was previously the case. I am just wondering whether we have had any conversations with them around that sort of thing.

Mr D Richardson : You would need to address that question to the department of agriculture.

Senator COLBECK: Why?

Mr D Richardson : Because in terms of that level of detail and what our exporters are required to do, they will have much greater visibility of that than what we do. We do deal with broader policy aspects but that level of specificity we do not immediately have at our fingertips.

Senator COLBECK: So you would not have any conversations about a major change in the way that documentation was being presented?

Mr D Richardson : No. The embassy may well have done, but we would simply need to take that on notice. That level of detail is managed by the department of agriculture and the embassy would be involved in that, but we do not have that sort of detail with us.

Senator COLBECK: Have we had any conversations with them about our demands on the level of traceability that might be required and the facilities that we are expecting the cattle to move through that might demand the high standards that are required in Australia?

Mr D Richardson : There have been discussions around those issues; again, the detail of that resides with the department of agriculture.

Senator COLBECK: So I should talk to the trade and market access people in agriculture on that process.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator COLBECK: Okay. Can we move on then to the issue of access through the ports in Indonesia. I have received some advice about the rationalisation of the ports of access from 14 to four ports for fruit and vegetables into the country. Can you give me a sense of what conversations we have had with the Indonesians about that?

Mr Smith : Yes. We have been in very regular dialogue with the Indonesian government on this matter over a period of time. This is a matter of concern to us. It would have an impact on our exports of horticultural—

Senator COLBECK: Mr Smith, before you go on, can you tell me when the discussions started about this process. You said 'over a period of time'. I am interested in knowing over what period of time.

Mr Smith : I might have to check the point from which we began these consultations. Once we became aware that the changes were being looked at by the Indonesians we would have started a process of consultation with Australian exporters, and once it became apparent that the changes that were being proposed by the Indonesians would have an impact on our export interests we would have begun that discussion with the Indonesians. We have put to them pretty clearly that we think that these changes would have a serious effect on our trade and we have asked them to look again at changes to the proposals.

Senator COLBECK: I want to come back to the point where you said 'a considerable period of time'. I want to get a sense of how long that might be. Are we talking months or are we talking six, eight, 10 or 12 months? How long have we been on this process?

Mr Smith : It is a process that has been going on I think really for just the last couple of months. It was in December of last year that Indonesia amended the three ministerial regulations that have the impact on our trade that we are discussing, and I think the process of discussion would have taken place—would have started—from about that time.

Senator COLBECK: So we had no prior warning of the fact that anything might be happening before that amendment was made?

Mr Smith : I cannot be precise about whether we had prior notice. Again, it is a circumstance where we have a continuous dialogue with the Indonesians. It is a close relationship. It is a good relationship. There is ongoing dialogue around these things. We may have become aware that the changes were being proposed at some point, and that dialogue would have been a continuous one.

Senator COLBECK: My concern is that a lot of the exporters are just finding out about this now, and with the effective date for closure of ports potentially being 14 March it puts this next week as a critical period. For example, an onion exporter out of Tasmania has to have their exports away this weekend otherwise potentially the ports are closed when they get there. So my concern is that they are finding out about this at this stage in the process, and it appears from the documentation I have seen that the Indonesian minister is not looking to make a decision as to the active date until next month sometime.

Mr Smith : Yes. The early implementation of the proposed implementation of these changes is a matter of real concern for us. We are very alert to the impact that it has on Australian exporters, including those who have to make decisions about putting product on ships. That is really why we are pushing quite hard on this issue with our colleagues in Indonesia.

Senator COLBECK: Have we had discussions asking them perhaps to consider putting this back to get around the particular seasonal issues we have at the moment?

Mr Smith : Yes we have.

Senator COLBECK: But without any particular result at this stage?

Mr Smith : At this stage no final decision yet but we continue to make representations, including at ministerial level.

Senator COLBECK: Have we done any assessment of the suitability or the readiness of the proposed ports of entry to receive our produce?

Mr Smith : I would have to take that on notice. One of the particular concerns we have is the closure of the port to Australian exports; that is, the port through which most of our exports go.

Senator COLBECK: That is Jakarta?

Mr Smith : That is what is going to have the biggest impact. Whether the other ports that are being proposed have the right kinds of facilities and capabilities to manage the quarantine requirements that the Indonesians are trying to impose, I am not sure. I can have a look at that and see if we can get back to you with some more information. But clearly the bigger issue is the closure of Tanjung Priok port, which is the one that is most important to us.

Senator COLBECK: The issue for me and for my exporters is what they do in this next week or so in the absence of other information. It is effectively the significant issue of whether they take the risk of putting product on vessel in that next couple of weeks, because it might end up arriving and not being accepted. Have we had any conversations about product that was put on the boat and dispatched prior to that effective date—whether or not the Indonesians might be prepared to accept a product that was actually on the water?

Mr Smith : I am not sure whether we have addressed that particular scenario but, again, we continue to push the Indonesians quite hard, including at ministerial level, to look again at the proposed regulations and to allow the trade to continue.

Senator KROGER: I am not sure if this was addressed in Senator Colbeck's earlier questions, so forgive me if I am going back over old territory. You can tell me, and I will read the transcript. Are you aware of the concerns and discontent that Indonesia expressed over the way in which the live cattle export bans were undertaken?

Mr D Richardson : We are aware of that.

Senator KROGER: And were there formal or informal Indonesian deputations—whether they were through the embassy in Indonesia or here directly—to us in relation to the matter?

Mr D Richardson : I do not think you could say there were formal deputations, but certainly their concern was clear, and made clear in the discussions we had with them.

Senator KROGER: So were those discussions in person? Were they over the phone or were they by formal letter?

Mr D Richardson : I believe there were discussions involving the ambassador in Jakarta with different senior Indonesian officials and ministers.

Senator KROGER: Was Indonesia consulted prior to the Australian government's decision to impose that ban?

Mr D Richardson : I do not think you could say that they were consulted.

Senator KROGER: Were DFAT consulted on the matter prior to the decision being taken?

Mr D Richardson : We have been around this in previous estimates hearings—I would just need to check the record of previous estimates hearings.

Senator KROGER: That is fine; I am happy for that to be taken on notice. My questions go to what damage has been done with our important relationship with Indonesia and what steps, if any, are being undertaken to repair the breakdown that that may have caused to our relationship.

Mr D Richardson : I think it would be fair to say that it did not lead to a breakdown in the relationship and both sides worked pretty hard to resolve the matter and then move on from there. The Prime Minister had a very good meeting with President Yudhoyono—the first annual leadership meeting that was held off the back of the East Asia Summit in Bali in November. So I think it is fair to say that it has not had a continuing impact on the overall relationship.

Senator KROGER: Did she give an apology to President Yudhoyono at that meeting?

Mr D Richardson : None was sought and none was given.

Senator COLBECK: Mr Richardson, the parliament passed a motion requesting documentation. We did talk about this, and you gave us the information. I think five minutes were sent to the minister in the lead-up to this decision-making process. The Senate passed a motion seeking release of that documentation, which the government has refused. My understanding, though, is that through FOI some documentation has been released. Can you explain why some documentation can be released through FOI but not through an order of the parliament?

Mr D Richardson : I stand to be corrected, but with FOI you can sometimes release redacted—that, is sometimes what you release is not much at all; it is simply a sentence here or a sentence there—

Senator COLBECK: I do not think the person who received it would dispute that.

Mr D Richardson : I do not know the detail in this case. I would need to take on notice precisely what was released in respect of different requests.

Senator COLBECK: I know that we got nothing through the parliament, and I would understand circumstances where it could be redacted for obvious reasons. I do not have an issue with that. I was just somewhat curious that the parliament could pass a resolution that asked for documentation, that that could be effectively refused and yet a different process—

Senator Conroy: Easily. I have done it myself on a number of occasions.

Senator COLBECK: would provide, I admit, a redacted piece of documentation—

Senator Conroy: As have you on many occasions.

Senator COLBECK: I was just curious at that outcome.

Senator Conroy: Governments do not comply with every directive of chambers of the parliament. That is a regular occurrence. It was a regular occurrence under your previous government, and I know the chambers have demanded documents from my own departments and they have also not been supplied. So it is not unusual. If another process has garnered other information, that is good, but the simple passing of a resolution does not necessarily mean the government is required to comply. I just add that I understand that Minister Emerson discussed the horticulture changes with the Indonesian trade minister on 28 January and wrote to him on 6 February.

Senator COLBECK: The point that I was making was that exporters who were about to put the product on the boats were finding out about this on Monday this week and yet, if they do not get it onto the water by the end of this week, they potentially do not get into the port. So it is a matter of them understanding what is going on as a part of the process.

Senator Conroy: I appreciate the feedback, but I just wanted to give you the—

Senator COLBECK: And they are very interested in what we talk about here today because they are at D-day as far as making decisions as to whether they put product onto the boat within the next seven days.

Senator Conroy: I can confirm to you that Mr Emerson's office is watching and listening intently.

Senator COLBECK: I am pleased to know that.

CHAIR: Mr Richardson, I have a question about your department's involvement in the Indonesia carbon partnership. I know that there several other agencies involved. I visited Indonesia in late 2010, when that partnership was being shaped and some of the strategies were being developed, and I am interested to know whether or not it is still considered in diplomatic terms as opposed to trade terms or in any other respect in terms of capacity building.

Mr D Richardson : I will have to refer that to one of my colleagues.

Mr Cannan : I think we would need to take that one on notice or alternatively colleagues in AusAID may be able to address that in more detail.

Senator EGGLESTON: I am concerned about our level of consultation with the Indonesian government about some of the matters that arise in Canberra. We have heard there was not a lot of consultation over the cessation or banning of the live exports to Indonesia. Would consultation with Indonesia be considered a matter of course if the Australian government was planning to take action which might directly affect Indonesia?

Mr D Richardson : It can vary from circumstance to circumstance.

Senator EGGLESTON: I suppose one might expect it to be usual if there was a direct impact, would one not?

Mr D Richardson : It can vary.

Senator EGGLESTON: We have heard that there was not consultation prior to the imposition of the live cattle export ban, but I believe that there is some concern in Indonesia about the issue of logging.

Mr D Richardson : That is in respect of legislation either currently before the parliament or being considered, I believe. There have certainly been discussions between Australian and Indonesian officials on that matter.

Senator EGGLESTON: Can you give us any indication of the content of those discussions. Has the Indonesian government expressed any concern?

Mr D Richardson : Not what is already there. We would need to take that on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: Some people are concerned that the matter of logging is an important one between the countries and that we should tread carefully, because we might impact negatively on our bilateral relations. Would you agree that that is a reasonable possibility?

Mr D Richardson : My knowledge of the issue would suggest that the government has been treading properly in respect of that matter.

Senator EGGLESTON: So the Indonesian government has not registered any concern with the Australian embassy or talked about lack of consultation?

Mr D Richardson : No, there have been discussions with the Indonesians. What concerns they have expressed I am not sure, but even if concern has been expressed I think we have approached that matter properly.

Senator EGGLESTON: What does properly mean?

Mr D Richardson : Meaning that it has been carefully considered, the implications in respect of other countries have been carefully weighed. But again precisely where that matter is at and precisely what discussions have been had, I do not have at my fingertips.

Senator EGGLESTON: Would you agree that post the live cattle export ban our relationship with Indonesia is particularly delicate at the moment?

Mr D Richardson : I would not describe our relationship with Indonesia at present as delicate. I think it is in very strong robust shape.

Senator EGGLESTON: Strangely, it is the case then that people, for example, in the Australia Indonesia Business Council feel that we have hit a new low in our relationship with the Indonesia post the live cattle export issue.

Mr D Richardson : I see no contradiction between some people having that view and my own view that I think the relationship is in pretty strong robust shape—and I understand the concerns in respect of live cattle. I would not diminish that, but if you are talking about the relationship in overall terms, I think the relationship is in good shape.

Senator EGGLESTON: Would you agree that forestry is a very important industry in Indonesia?

Mr D Richardson : It certainly is.

Senator EGGLESTON: So, perhaps if we were acting in a way which might be seen as damaging to their industry or contrary to their interests, they might not be pleased about that?

Mr D Richardson : That is possible.

Senator EGGLESTON: Do you have any feedback on that?

Mr D Richardson : I said I would need to come back with the detail of that. I do not have that detail at my fingertips.

Senator EGGLESTON: Some people think that the Indonesians sounded really quite concerned about actions that the Australian government might be taking in relation to logging and forestry issues. So I am a little surprised that you have not had more awareness of that, Mr Richardson.

Mr D Richardson : I am aware of it. I do not have it at my fingertips. I am sorry, I get asked all sorts of questions and I am not a walking encyclopaedia for every date or for every time.

Senator Conroy: That is immodest!

Mr D Richardson : The notion that on some of these questions we carry in our heads the precise time, the precise date and the precise circumstances of everything, it is just not possible.

Senator KROGER: But you have got a lot of able people behind you. Surely they would be able to assist you?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, and they do not carry all that precision in their heads either.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is there an officer here who is concerned with this particular area of our relationship with Indonesia?

Mr D Richardson : Rod Smith's area is involved and I believe the environmental area may or may not be involved, but in terms of the overall relationship Mr Smith's division is deeply involved in matters relating to Australia and Indonesia.

Senator EGGLESTON: Well, Mr Smith, have you picked up any concern about logging and forestry issues—

Mr Smith : I cannot add much more detail to this issue. Obviously, it is an issue that we have been talking to the Indonesians about. In the 2½ weeks that I have been in this job it has not crossed my desk, but I am happy to look into it and provide some information to the committee.

Senator EGGLESTON: But you do say we have been talking about it: 'we' meaning the Australian government or department?

Mr Smith : I understand it is an issue with the bilateral relationship, but I cannot provide any more detail just now.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is it a significant issue, a matter of great concern?

Mr D Richardson : We will take on notice any questions of detail; matters of opinion, we will not respond to.

Senator EGGLESTON: I just get the feeling there is a certain reluctance to discuss this matter at this point.

Mr D Richardson : There is no reluctance at all.

CHAIR: Senator Eggleston, I think that the officers—

Senator EGGLESTON: I am pretty good at reading people and this looks like avoidance.

CHAIR: Senator Eggleston, the officers are doing their best and have taken the questions on notice.

Senator CONROY: The vibe. You have felt the vibe of the room.

Senator EGGLESTON: Exactly, Senator Conroy.

CHAIR: Have you any other substantive questions to ask?

Senator EGGLESTON: Only to respond to Senator Conroy's comments about the vibes, and the vibes I am getting are that we do not want to talk about this because it is very sensitive.

Senator Conroy: That is your opinion and reading of the vibe. It is not—

Senator EGGLESTON: I am very good at that. I can even read your vibes very transparently.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions about Indonesia? If not, I am going to give the call to Senator Fawcett who wants to ask questions about Burma.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Smith, the Foreign Minister applied for a visa and made a visit to Burma. There were some headlines around that, lauding his actions. Has that resulted in any change for DFAT in priorities or activities?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you, 'Mr Smith'.

Mr D Richardson : No—under the Senate estimates' rules I can answer any question.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you Mr Richardson. Have there been any further visits by the Foreign Minister to Burma since that initial visit?

Mr D Richardson : I do not believe so.

Mr Smith : Not since the visit last year, no.

Senator FAWCETT: The US assistant secretary of state for human rights suggested in the last week that the level of violence is actually increasing again in the north of the country. Given all of the statements about optimism for change there, is that going to be a priority for DFAT?

Mr D Richardson : Burma has been an important part of our agenda in South-East Asia for some time and that remains the case. We follow developments there very closely. We have been encouraged by some of the changes that have taken place in Burma over the last six or so months and we have sought to respond in a way which, hopefully, will encourage further changes; other countries, such as the United States, have taken a similar approach.

Senator FAWCETT: Changes such as the by-election on 1 April are very positive. The release of political prisoners is positive. The peace treaties that have been signed appear to be positive. But what if that momentum is lost? Certainly the assistant secretary's words this month indicate that things are not going all that well. Does that indicate that we should be trying to actually increase our level of activity there to make sure that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to see a change in what is going to be a growing and important part of our neighbourhood is not lost?

Mr D Richardson : The general proposition you put is right and the challenge for us is to calibrate our policy responses in a way that fit with the general changes we see in Burma. I think they are still on track for the by-election scheduled for 1 April. Also, as the foreign minister has stated publicly, we have sought to keep in step with the news of the opposition in Burma so we do not get too far ahead. We keep it under review closely but we do not respond automatically to public views expressed by US officials.

Senator FAWCETT: I am not quite sure of the dynamics within the department between you and the foreign minister but, with issues like this, is there a fairly daily direct engagement around these sorts of issues to give guidance as to where the department should be applying priority?

Mr D Richardson : Certainly at the desk level there is a daily engagement on matters relating to Burma. Mr Smith's involvement will vary on a day-to-day basis depending upon what else is going on in the division given the fact that the division does encompass South-East Asia and a lot of big issues in that. In terms of engagement with the minister, that is fairly frequent. I had a meeting yesterday with the minister and with deputy secretaries of the department in which Burma arose. So, yes. It is not a daily discussion with the minister and his office but it is certainly frequent.

Senator FAWCETT: I am sure it has not been daily recently with other domestic distractions but, given the importance of this issue, I am glad to hear those meetings are still occurring. Just lastly, have the recent changes made any difference to the plight of the Karen refugees and any involvement DFAT have with them on the Thai border?

Mr D Richardson : I will leave that to Mr Smith.

Mr Smith : We have seen some positive movement on that issue. It is an issue that has been around, obviously, for a long time but the Burmese government recently concluded a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union, which we see as a very encouraging development and one we hope will lead to a cessation of hostilities between the Karen people and the government and, in time, lead to an improvement overall in the situation there.

Senator FAWCETT: As I say, given the Assistant Secretary of State's comments about the increasing violence in the north again, I certainly hope that the domestic distractions do not stop us applying appropriate pressure to preserve that ceasefire. Thank you.

Senator McEWEN: Just a follow up question on Burma: you mentioned the election coming up in April. Is any part of Australia's aid program to Burma focused on increasing their capacity to have free and fair elections?

Mr Smith : I think that is question best put to AusAID this evening.

Senator McEWEN: Okay, I could do that. Burma is going to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for a meeting they are having in 2014. Is that right?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, the East Asia Summit. This year is Cambodia; 2013, Brunei; yes, 2014 is Burma. Senator McEWEN: And would Australia assist Burma in any way to play that role, or is that a question for AusAID as well?

Mr D Richardson : No, that is perfectly reasonable. We normally do make offers of assistance to countries that are hosting the East Asia Summit. Some countries take it up, others do not. It is a little bit early at this point in respect of Burma.

Senator McEWEN: All right, thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. Any other questions on Burma? I know that Senator Ludlam does have some questions but he is caught up in another committee. He should be back about half past two, so we can just move on to the other countries in this group.

Senator KROGER: Just two countries I wanted to touch on—firstly, Laos. I have read the reports in the last couple of months where there has been three Australian citizens, tourists, who have lost their lives and, as you know from previous estimates, I immediately go to the Smartraveller website to see what our advice is there. Without going to the individual instances because the families must be devastated and they are all tragic accidents, there seems to be—if one can generalise—a bit of a theme here in relation to access to recreational things, for want of a better word, that young Australians may have easier access to because they are cheaper over there that might be leading to these things. Have you got any reflections on that?

Mr D Richardson : Yes. I think your observation is right and our website has been updated to take account of the accidents recently in Laos.

Senator KROGER: When was the recent update, then? When I looked I did not think it had been updated, so it might have been since then.

Mr Suckling : In recent months there has been this advice for travellers to take extreme caution if undertaking river-based sporting activities, including in Vang Vieng where two of the tragedies have occurred. It also highlights that tourists, including Australians, have been killed or seriously injured while participating in river-based activities such as tubing or jumping into the river. There is also general advice in all our travel advisories about the need, if Australians are going to go on tours or adventure activities, to take the usual precautions about due diligence, about the sorts of providers, the safety equipment and the insurance and all those sorts of things as well.

Senator KROGER: It probably is something that will continue to escalate, because we do not want to discourage people and young people from going off on adventure based holidays or ecotourism-type holidays.

Mr Suckling : No, and that update was on 8 February, the latest one that I just read to you.

Senator KROGER: I actually did see it before then. It would have been that last month when I looked.

Mr Suckling : Yes.

Senator KROGER: Do you have any further advice as to how things could be tightened a bit?

Mr D Richardson : I will get into strife for saying this, but it is a bit like going into a US restaurant and seeing down the bottom of the menu a warning that sharp knives can cut your finger. Our Smartraveller advice is as extensive as we can make it. We seek to keep it up to date. We run very hard at that and we work very hard at it. But with the number of Australians travelling abroad, given the strength of the Australian dollar, given the adventurous spirit that Australians have—and that is a good thing, not a bad thing—we seek to urge caution and care when people are on holidays. Unfortunately, it is just not possible to prevent all tragedies. With the best will in the world, we cannot do that.

Senator KROGER: I appreciate that. How many consular positions do we have in Vientiane?

Mr D Richardson : We would not have a consular position, per se. We would have someone who works on consular. Whether we have a full-time consular officer is different to having an officer who does a range of work, including consular.

Senator FAWCETT: Following up on that same issue—and I apologise if this was raised earlier—talking about Smartraveller, media last year were reporting that your sense of adventure was leading you to develop a smartphone app for information. Could you update me on where that is at.

CHAIR: Do we have an app for that?

Mr Suckling : We do have an app. We have a mobile-web app so it can go across all phones, because if you do an iPhone app you are just going to Apple, if you do Android you just go into Android, so we thought that the best thing to do initially was to do a mobile web. That was launched by the foreign minister late last year. We have had very positive reports. There has been a lot of use of it. There are different statistics but several hundred thousand hits so far, and some people in the Australian industry have described it as world's best practice. What we are going to do now is look at rolling out an iPhone app and an Android app this year.

Senator FAWCETT: What time frame are you looking at? What is the cost of doing that kind of activity?

Mr Suckling : On the time frame, we will probably try and coincide it with rolling out other elements of the Smartraveller campaign. For example, there is a big advertising campaign and a big portion of that is focused on young people, because of the issues that Senator Kroger has been raising. We look at doing those adverts at peak times with travelling, so for example, one option might be Easter when the is a spike up in travelling. The additional costs are not too big, because the build has already been done through the mobile web.

CHAIR: We will all be downloading it.

Senator KROGER: I think Mr Borrowman in the May estimates confirmed that DIAC had sought advice from DFAT on human rights issues in Malaysia in the context of the detention centre that was being pursued there. Have there been any inquires in relation to human rights issues from DIAC post the May estimates?

Mr D Richardson : I am not sure.

Mr Larsen : I do not believe so, but I will take that on notice and we will check.

Senator KROGER: Have there been any discussions since the High Court ruling between the department and the Malaysia government in respect of the five-for-one deal?

Mr Larsen : Yes, the government, through the high commissioner and on other occasions, has confirmed that the Australian government will continue to take the persons who were to be resettled from Malaysia to Australia, notwithstanding the fact the that the Malaysia arrangement cannot be implemented with respect to the transfer of persons to Malaysia.

Senator KROGER: Since the High Court ruling, have there been any further determinations in terms of the rolling out of that? Notwithstanding the fact that it is a one-sided arrangement in terms of us taking five—that is what was proposed to everyone—have there been developments in relation to that? We would be very close to the maximum number, I would have thought.

Mr Larsen : I think that is a question best asked of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, because the manage the details of that program.

Senator KROGER: But DFAT have not been involved in any further conversations in relation to that with the Malaysian government?

Mr Larsen : Save insofar as, when the opportunity arises, our officials in Malaysia—including the high commissioner but also DFAT officials engaging with Malaysians, such as me—are in a position to reaffirm the principle that we will proceed to honour the Australian part of the transaction.

Senator KROGER: Are there any other countries with which the department is engaged in dialogue on people smuggling issues along a similar vein to that proposed in Malaysia?

Mr Larsen : There are no proposals for offshore processing—if that is the intent of your question, Senator—but of course we maintain very close relations with a variety of countries in relation to people smuggling issues, particularly with Indonesia, I was in Indonesia myself last week on people smuggling issues. We engage with the Bali process—which has some 40 participants plus observers—the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and a very wide variety of countries. So, yes, we maintain a very active dialogue with a wide variety of countries on people smuggling issues.

Senator KROGER: But not specifically in relation to any offshore processing proposals?

Mr Larsen : There are no proposals for offshore processing, no.

CHAIR: In relation to East Timor, Mr Richardson, yesterday we heard in the defence estimates that the withdrawal of Australian troops from East Timor was being scheduled. Can you advise the committee how the department is part of the discussions with the East Timor government around that issue?

Mr Smith : There is a regular dialogue that we have with the East Timorese government on the role and the future of the International Stabilisation Force, which Australia leads. The Department of Defence is centrally involved in those discussions as well, so it is an ongoing dialogue.

CHAIR: So the capacity-building issues would be part of the AusAID relationship?

Mr Smith : There are a number of different dimensions to it. We have a very large bilateral aid program with East Timor that AusAID does manage. There are capacity-building elements of our security presence in East Timor both with the ISF and also with the Australian Federal Police. The police and Defence manage those specific capacity-building activities.

Senator KROGER: Do you have an update on Justin Hale, the Australian journalist who I understand had a visa that was withdrawn in Indonesia, I think? Does anybody have any information on that?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator KROGER: There has been no request through the department for assistance in relation to it?

Mr D Richardson : Not that I am aware.

CHAIR: The committee appreciated the private briefing that was provided on the kidnapping incident in the Philippines, but I think it would be helpful for the record if the department could advise to what extent the recommendations of the McCarthy review have been put into play in terms of dealing with this kidnapping.

Mr D Richardson : We are managing the current kidnap case very much within the framework of the recommendations from not only the Senate committee but also our own review of the Brennan kidnapping case. Yes, we are assiduously doing that.

CHAIR: So recommendations like an interdepartmental coordinating committee being established and ongoing liaison with the family is all in place?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, it has been indeed—regularly.

CHAIR: Terrific. Let us move on to the Americas.

Senator McEWEN: There was some discussion earlier this morning about Australia's role internationally but I guess what I would like to know is: how important is our alliance with the United States of America as an anchor for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific?

Mr D Richardson : I think it is fair to say that it is very important.

Senator McEWEN: What does that alliance contribute to Australia's security and prosperity in our region?

Mr D Richardson : The alliance is important across several dimensions. It has been part of the US engagement in the region over the last 60-plus years, and that engagement in the region has been pretty basic to the broad overall stability in the region, which has enabled enormous economic growth. The alliance is also relevant in a bilateral sense, particularly in the context of purchasing our own defence capability. It gives us access to technology; it gives us access to intelligence.

Also, while it is outside the formal alliance, it is worth bearing in mind that our relationship with the United States goes well beyond the alliance per se; it is also a very important relationship for Australia when it comes to trade and investment. We normally talk about the relationship with the United States in terms of the alliance. We often overlook the fact that it is the largest foreign investor in Australia. The United States is the biggest destination for Australian outward investment. The financial communities have an important relationship and our trading relationship in goods and services, in terms of two-way trade, sits behind China and Japan, but I think it is the next largest two-way trading relationship and it is important in terms of educational, scientific and technological exchanges generally.

Senator McEWEN: And last year, President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard both attended the Bali summit?

Mr D Richardson : Yes they did attend the East Asia Summit held in Bali.

Senator McEWEN: How significant was it that the American President came to our region?

Mr D Richardson : Well he has been to our region previously. I suppose the significance of the visit last year was twofold. First, it was his first bilateral visit to Australia, and you know the detail of that. Second, it was the first occasion on which a US President has attended the East Asia Summit. Last year marked the first time the expanded East Asia Summit had met, bringing in both Russia and the United States. What that means is that, for the first time, we have the major players around the one table meeting annually in a forum that is able to discuss all matters ranging from economic and financial through to political and strategic.

Senator McEWEN: This is straying a little bit from the Americas: what were the major outcomes of the Bali summit?

Mr D Richardson : First, the presence of the United States and Russia and, second, the capacity to discuss those full range of issues, as I mentioned. We had an initiative together with the hosts, Indonesia, in taking forward a matter relating to deepening regional cooperation in respect of disaster and humanitarian relief. That was a major outcome. There was an important discussion in respect of maritime security, particularly as it related to the South China Sea.

Senator McEWEN: And the forward agenda then for the East Asia Summit?

Mr D Richardson : We have an agenda that encompasses financial and economic integration and educational cooperation. Education ministers now meet. We have an agenda to take forward with disaster relief coordination across the region. We need to add a fair bit of flesh to that. There are the ongoing discussions relating to our politico-strategic interest. The precise agenda will be significantly influenced by the host, and this year that will be Cambodia.

Senator McEWEN: How influential has the Australian government been in determining what that forward agenda is?

Mr D Richardson : The Australian government has been active in the East Asia Summit since its formation. I think last year's East Asia Summit was the fifth or sixth summit. We have been particularly active. One of the major outcomes, as I have mentioned, was on disaster relief, and that was a joint Australian-Indonesian initiative. We were active in encouraging the consensus leading to the involvement of the US and Russia.

Senator McEWEN: Thank you.

Senator KROGER: I am interested as to where our embassies are located in South America.

Mr D Richardson : In Latin America we have one in Mexico City. We have an embassy in Lima, in San Diego, in Buenos Aires, in Brasilia and one in the Caribbean, in Port-of-Spain. I think that might cover it off.

Senator KROGER: Do you think that South America is an area where we do need to increase our diplomatic presence?

Mr D Richardson : It is certainly an area where we could do more. At different points in the past we have had a diplomatic presence in Caracas. I am not saying that that would be a priority now but I am saying that in the past we have. South America is an area of growing importance globally. Three members of the G20 are in Latin America—Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. APEC encompasses a number of Latin American countries including Chile, Peru and Mexico. We are looking at doing more in Latin America generally.

Senator KROGER: We have got a lot more students coming from Brazil, for example.

Mr D Richardson : We do indeed. From memory there are around 10,000 students a year studying in Australia from Brazil. That number might have dropped off a little over the last 12 months with the high rate of the dollar. Brazil is our largest source of foreign students from South America. I think it is in the top 10 of all source countries.

Senator KROGER: Have our staffing arrangements increased to factor in the workload that that would create?

Mr D Richardson : We reopened the mission in Lima in 2010, so that—

Senator KROGER: That has absorbed some of that.

Mr D Richardson : We have not significantly increased the resourcing elsewhere. Resource pressures simply do not allow that, although I believe over time there is going to be a need to. If you look at Brazil, for instance, I think it is fair to say that our representation in Brazil represents the past; it does not represent the present or the future.

Senator KROGER: How many do we have based in Brazil?

Mr D Richardson : It is a very modest number—maybe five or six.

Senator KROGER: Yes, modest.

Mr D Richardson : There is some additional Austrade representation in Latin America, which is important, but as a whole we are underdone on that continent.

Senator KROGER: Yes.

CHAIR: We will move on to the African group.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Richardson, I understand the question of direct aid payments is an AusAID issue, but in terms of understanding the relationships with the governments or parties that we are dealing with, I would welcome your feedback. I am looking particularly at Libya, where there is a transitional government, but recent media reporting is indicating that there is a significant degree of disorder in the country and that various militias are ruling certain areas. To what extent does DFAT provide guidance to AusAID on the appropriateness of who they are giving funds to?

Mr D Richardson : AusAID has a fairly good system in terms of their own review of that. They would receive input from us. They could receive input from other government agencies. They can seek advice from the World Bank, from the IMF, and from other development assistance agencies in countries with which they work closely—like the US, the UK and Canada.

Senator FAWCETT: But if DFAT became concerned about the way particular blocks of power were developing in a country would you essentially have right of veto to step in and—

Mr D Richardson : We would not have a right of veto; we would bring that to AusAID's attention and, if there was agreement at that level and we felt jointly that there needed to be a change, then of course we would need to go to the minister. If there was a difference at that point, we might still need to go to the minister. We are not their guardian, but we are an important source of policy advice.

Senator FAWCETT: Without asking for specifics, have you gone to AusAID with such advice over the Libya and its changing circumstances?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot say, I am sorry, but Lyn—

Ms Wood : In the case of Libya and Australia's assistance over the past year, I will defer to AusAID to provide you with the details, but to date our $44.5 million has all been directed through multilateral agencies; it has not gone directly to the Libyan government.

Senator FAWCETT: Again, this is possibly more a question for AusAID, but has the rise of the influence of various militia groups with very disparate aims decreased the efficacy of the spend of those multilateral groups?

Ms Wood : We provided assistance primarily during the period of conflict, when, as you say, there were various militia groups. The assistance was mostly humanitarian assistance, such as de-mining and medical assistance. The aim was to assist the Libyan people, and the organisations which were delivering that aid used their own mechanisms to find the most effective way of making sure that it reached the people. In terms of the militia and the circumstances in Libya, as in other countries we are dealing with a very fluid period of transition, and it is probably going to remain like that for a little while yet.

Senator FAWCETT: Taking north Africa as a block, how many Australian citizens do we currently have in countries where there is a lot of transition—to use that very generous term—such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia?

Mr D Richardson : We would need to get the consular area to answer that precisely. I doubt whether we would have that at our fingertips. In Libya, at the time, from memory there were was around 100 Australian citizens, but I assume there would be fewer now. I am not sure about Tunisia. In January last year there were around 1,000 or 1,200 Australian citizens registered in Egypt—how many there are right now I am not sure.

Senator FAWCETT: What are the guidelines for Australian assisted extraction for our nationals? Obviously we had a large operation in Egypt at the time. How long does it need to go on before we say to people, 'You were silly to go back; we're not going to help you'? What are the thresholds in terms of Australians travelling and deciding to reside in those countries again?

Mr D Richardson : As you know, we did put on two charter aircraft. Qantas were very cooperative and helpful in that. Neither charter was full. We sought to give ample advice to those Australians we knew of in Egypt that the charters were going. We kept in reserve the possibility of a third charter but, given the fact that there were only, I think, 96 Australians on the second charter, we decided not to proceed with that, also bearing in mind that commercial airlines were continuing to operate. We can only advise people on whether they should or should not travel. Of course, if they do travel, depending upon circumstances we may still have an obligation to assist if they run into genuine difficulties not of their own making.

Senator FAWCETT: We have reasonable liability to assist people. My interest is just in whether there is a way to bound our liability where there is a period of substantial turbulence. I am wondering if there are specific thresholds that DFAT work to.

Mr D Richardson : Ultimately I think it is fair to say that what any Australian government would or would not do in any particular circumstances, regardless of warnings, regardless of advice, is ultimately a matter for the government of the day. It is a judgment call.

CHAIR: I take this opportunity to welcome Senator Feeney, who is representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator Feeney: It is my very great pleasure.

CHAIR: Are there other questions for the Africa group?

Senator McEWEN: I would like to follow up from questions at previous estimates about what steps the government is taking to assist Christians in Egypt who are subject to violence.

Mr D Richardson : I will refer that to Lynette.

Ms Wood : As I mentioned earlier, the situation remains fluid at the moment. There have been a couple of incidents over the past year, and on every occasion the government has registered its concerns. Specifically, in October last year there was an incident where there was a violent repression of a demonstration which was started peacefully by Coptic Christians. On that occasion Mr Rudd met with the Egyptian ambassador, on 18 October, to discuss sectarian issues in Egypt and to register Australia's concerns at the way that demonstration had been handled. Prior to that, on 10 October, the foreign minister and the Prime Minister put out a joint press statement expressing the Australian government's concern at the violence and the loss of life on that occasion. More broadly, whenever we have an opportunity we raise our interest in seeing the democratic transition and political transition which is under way in Egypt proceed in a way which accommodates all the interests of the various groups in Egypt, including as recently as this week when we held senior officials talks in Cairo.

Senator McEWEN: What did those senior officials in Cairo talk about?

Ms Wood : My apologies, the meeting was yesterday and so we have not had a full readout, but the current political situation in Egypt was one of the topics on the agenda. We were planning to raise the issue of sectarian issues in Egypt and more broadly the importance of having an inclusive political system remain in place in Egypt.

Senator McEWEN: This might be a question for AusAID, but would those discussions have also included the issue of what monetary aid Australia is giving to Egypt to assist it in its transition to democracy?

Ms Wood : I can give you that figure, but AusAID would be able to provide a more detailed response. So far Australia has provided $20.5 million over the past year that was directed towards food security, agricultural productivity, employment generation, mine clearance, and a further half a million dollars for electoral support.

Senator McEWEN: Is that an increase over previous years? Was that $20.5 million for the year?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, we were not essentially giving development assistance to Egypt before the crisis.

Senator McEWEN: Before they took steps towards democracy. That is all I had.

Senator KROGER: To follow up on that, I seem to recollect reading reports that the regime had banned US NGOs from leaving Egypt. Is that right?

Ms Wood : There was an incident late last year where a number of American and German NGO officers were raided, and some American, and, I believe also, German NGO workers were detained. Charges have been laid against some of them. So you are correct in your recollection of that incident.

Senator KROGER: What were they charged with?

Ms Wood : I do not think we have details of what they have been charged with, but they have not been able to leave Egypt.

Mr D Richardson : They are being prosecuted for allegedly operating in Egypt without a licence.

Senator KROGER: Would that affect any Australians on the ground in Egypt? Does it have any implications for us or our people there?

Mr D Richardson : We are not aware of any Australian NGOs operating in Egypt, but I think at least one Australian has been caught up in this.

Senator KROGER: Working with a US NGO?

Mr Suckling : There is a freelance journalist who has been in the media over the last few days who was detained on Saturday in Egypt and was released on Monday. He has been banned from leaving the country by the public prosecutor who put out a media statement to that effect. We are working very urgently and hard on the ground in Egypt to try to get a better sense of why that has been done and on what legal basis. That was raised in these talks that Lynette was talking about that happened in Egypt yesterday. The person has legal counsel. His welfare is fine. We have checked all of that. He can communicate with people. He is out on bail. A public statement was made by the prosecutor that he had been banned from leaving the country while the investigation of what he allegedly did is concluded. But we are trying to get much greater definition on what precisely those investigations are about, and what the legal basis is of saying he cannot leave the country.

Senator KROGER: Clearly there must be an issue in relation to NGOs in the country and the way in which they can operate.

Mr Suckling : Just to clarify, in relation to this case there is a specific incident that he has allegedly done, which really did not have anything to do with him being a member of an NGO. He is a freelance journalist.

Senator KROGER: So you do not think it is related?

Mr Suckling : We do not think so, at this stage.

Senator KROGER: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Richardson, may I go to the broader issue of Australian government representation and participation in some of the major issues around food security in the African region? How are we managing that?

Mr D Richardson : I will pass it over to someone who will know more about it. Certainly, the Minister for Trade has been particularly active in the area of food security, as has the foreign minister. It is an issue in which both of them take an active interest in terms of their responsibilities.

CHAIR: Where are our diplomatic posts in this group—in North Africa?

Mr D Richardson : We have only one post in North Africa, and that is in Cairo; the next one further south is Addis Ababa.

CHAIR: So you cover all of this region from those two locations?

Mr D Richardson : No, Rome is responsible for Libya; Malta is responsible for Tunisia. My officer will continue.

Mr Moraitis : And Paris is responsible for Morocco and Algeria, if I recall correctly.

CHAIR: Thank you. Food security?

Ms Wood : Do you mean specifically in North Africa or more generally across Africa?

CHAIR: Across Africa, but more specifically around the most recent discussions about food security and the drought. I can ask the AusAID people, if you like.

Ms Wood : In my area in North Africa the only project that I can point to is assistance that is being co-ordinated between AusAID and ACIAR to develop agricultural productivity, particularly in the area of dryland agriculture, which is an area where we have expertise and they have a need. So that is a good fit.

CHAIR: I have lots of questions in the AusAID group, so that is fine. Thank you. We can now go to Senator Ludlam's questions on Burma.

Senator LUDLAM: I appreciate that we have held some of the officers back for a little while. I thank the committee and the witnesses. A lot has happened since last time we discussed these issues. Would you like to give us a quick precis of how the department sees the changing situation in Burma?

Mr Smith : There has been a number of very significant and we think very positive developments in Burma over recent months. There was some discussion about that earlier in the session. It has taken us to a point where we think there is a better chance for real sustainable reform in Burma now than there has been for many decades. A couple of the very significant recent developments include the announcement on 12 January of the ceasefire between the Burmese government and the KNU, the Karen National Union; and the further release of political prisoners on 13 January—651 prisoners, including many high-profile dissidents. That came on top of the earlier release in October of last year of 220 political prisoners. We were very encouraged by the decision that Aung San Suu Kyi took to register to contest the April by-elections, and the NLD in fact will be contesting all of the 48 seats in that by-election.

This came on top of some other welcome developments, such as the continuing engagement of the Burmese leadership with the international community. To give you some examples, since December of last year there have been visits to Burma by foreign ministers from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Indonesia, Japan, Norway, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines. We have also been encouraged by discussion in the parliament of issues that in the past would not have been taken up, or taken up seriously, in the parliament—sensitive issues like political prisoners, ethnic conflicts and the enactment of laws by the parliament which legalise trade unions. There have also been some improvements in media censorship, with some restrictions on access to international media websites including CNN, BBC and YouTube.

All of these we think are very positive and welcome developments. They are developments that we continue to encourage. A test will be the quality of the elections on 1 April. We continue to impress upon Burma our expectations that the April by-elections will be conducted freely and fairly and we also encourage them to continue to work to improve other areas about which we have long had concerns in Burma. We are not wide-eyed about this; we are not naive. Obviously there is more that needs to be done in Burma, and we continue to urge them to find enduring settlements to ethnic conflicts while also allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks very much for that summary. While we are on the by-election, it was my understanding that there was not a great deal, if there was any, international independent participation in the last poll that they held there, which was widely condemned. Do you get the sense that international observers will be able to be a part of the 1 April by-election, and has Australia put its hand up to assist in that regard?

Mr Smith : We have certainly encouraged the Burmese to accept independent participation, including international election monitors. My understanding is that no decision has yet been taken on that by the Burmese government, but it is an issue that we continue to push. We have done so, for example, with the chair of the election commission. I think the most recent advice we have on that is that the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Quintana, was told when he visited Burma on 5 February that the issue of election monitors was still under consideration.

Senator LUDLAM: Good. It sounds like that has been specifically raised with the regime by Australia.

Mr Smith : Yes it has.

Senator LUDLAM: Good. I think the foreign minister in a recent speech alluded to a second visit this year. Can you provide us with an update on his thinking?

Mr Smith : I understand that the minister is considering a further visit, but he will make an announcement on that at the appropriate time.

Senator LUDLAM: When he feels like it; okay. Did you, in your earlier comments, before I was here, canvass the number of political prisoners that you think have been released and the number that are still incarcerated?

Mr Smith : That was not covered in the earlier discussion. The numbers released recently were those that I mentioned earlier—651 released on 13 January on top of the 220 released in October last year. The question of how many remain is a difficult one to pin down. There are different views, and it is very hard for us to be precise about the figure. It is not a scientific process.

Senator LUDLAM: I can well imagine—it still sounds like less than half if the rule of thumb is that there are around 2,200 people detained for their political activities.

Mr Smith : I might add that this is obviously an issue that we continue to press the Burmese on—that we look to them to release all political prisoners.

Senator LUDLAM: Are people still being incarcerated for their political views? From recollection that number appears to have been static for a while. As they are releasing people, are people still being locked up for participating in political activities, or reporting of them?

Mr Smith : I am not aware that there has been another process of detaining political prisoners. There have been one or two incidents in which at least one of those that had been released was briefly detained, but I do not think we would say that we have seen a regression to detaining further political prisoners. That certainly would be of concern to us.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you describe as briefly as possible what policy shift the Australian government has made in response to the changing situation in the country.

Mr Smith : The minister announced last month that there would be some further changes to Australia's sanctions regime. The detail of that is still to be finalised. I think it is also fair to say that as we see this process unfold other aspects of our policy settings for Burma will remain under review.

Senator LUDLAM: I am aware that the foreign minister announced that some individuals would be removed from Australia's sanctions list. On the department's website I found a list of 475 named individuals. Is that list outdated or it the current list?

Mr Smith : The list is being reviewed now. The announcement the minister made on 9 January was that there would be a moderate reduction in the people subject to our targeted financial sanctions and the visa ban, and that would reduce from 463 down to 392.

Senator LUDLAM: When would you expect to be able to publish the revised list, or can you provide that for us now?

Mr Smith : I cannot give that to you yet. Some of the details are still being finalised. We think it will take effect within a few weeks, and the new list will be published on the DFAT website. The details still being worked through involve some of the technicalities between DFAT and the Reserve Bank in relation to the financial sanctions.

Senator LUDLAM: By what criteria are you removing people from the list? How are people who have been on our sanctions list, presumably for good reason, suddenly being rehabilitated? Or am I misreading why we are doing this?

Mr Smith : It is a matter for judgment. Those being removed from the list include tourism officials, former ministers and deputy ministers who are no longer involved in politics in Burma and people who are no longer in the position which led to their inclusion on the sanctions list in the first place or for whom we have no further information.

Senator LUDLAM: Does it concern you that, for example, people who are no longer in the regime, who have moved on and are doing other stuff now, can be taken off the list and Australian companies or individual investors can deal with them—perhaps former regime figures who may have committed horrific crimes against humanity or war crimes in the past?

We signed onto the UN Security Council commission of inquiry, or the preliminary stages of one, to investigate regime and judicial figures for war crimes and crimes against humanity. I would have thought just no longer being in the regime should not necessarily qualify you for coming off that sanctions list.

Mr Smith : I think it involves a judgment about whether those people are still in positions of authority or for other reasons are deserving of continued inclusions on the sanctions list.

Senator LUDLAM: It is interesting that the announcement was made before the list had been updated, which I find a bit peculiar, based on the hope of positive change rather than waiting for real change to actually occur. Have we moved a bit early in this instance?

Mr Smith : What we have done is respond to a trend, and it is a trend that we have seen for some time and it is one that we have been very keen to encourage. We have also done it in close consultation with our international partners. We do not feel that we are out ahead of the pack on this. We are certainly at the forefront of efforts to try to encourage reform in Burma, but it is a process of policy adjustment that has to be very carefully calibrated to reward the reform process and to encourage further reform while at the same time ensuring that the message remains very clear that we expect the Burmese government to continue down that path of reform.

Senator LUDLAM: Has there been any change to Australia's policy, which is a bit misguided in my view, of neither encouraging nor prohibiting investment in trade between Australia and Burma? Has there been any shift in that posture? Is any shift under consideration?

Mr Smith : That is one of a number of elements of our policy settings that remain under consideration.

Senator LUDLAM: Freshly? Not since last time I asked? You keep all these options up in the air in general; or has there been a shift since we last spoke?

Mr Smith : It is an issue that we continue to keep under consideration.

Senator LUDLAM: I have put this on the record a number of times and you are probably bored with hearing it: there are direct links between investment in, particularly, extractive and energy sectors and human rights in Burma. You would agree that is undeniable. Do you think there is a risk in maintaining that posture or reviewing it? Are we potentially encouraging investors into the country to participate in sectors where people's human rights are not respected? They can only make these investments through direct association or direct complicity with regime figures.

Mr D Richardson : We have received similar questions in the past and the answers remain the same.

Senator LUDLAM: I think I ask the same question every time I come. So I should just read the Hansard from last time. I will leave it there. Thanks, Mr Smith, for staying back.

Senator EGGLESTON: I understand that the Chinese have funded the building of a headquarters for the Organisation of African Unity. Is that the case?

Mr D Richardson : They could well have done.

Senator EGGLESTON: I understand they have. What does that say in terms of the Chinese interest in Africa?

Mr D Richardson : China is a country with global interests. You would expect China to have an interest in Africa. It has provided aid into Africa going back 40 years or more. China does have an active interest in Africa, in the resource sector, which is perfectly reasonable, and in other areas.

Senator EGGLESTON: So this is a long-term interest; not a recent one.

Mr D Richardson : Certainly, Chinese diplomatic representation in Africa goes back many decades. For instance, they provided financial assistance to build the railway from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka. I think they started providing that financial assistance back in the early 70s.

CHAIR: We will move on to Europe.

Senator McEWEN: On our posts in Europe, particularly countries that are having economic problems like Greece and Spain: are we experiencing an increase in people asking questions about migrating to Australia?

Mr D Richardson : That would be the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Senator McEWEN: Those organisations are based in your posts in some cases.

Mr D Richardson : Yes, but I have not got information from them.

CHAIR: Just generally, Mr Richardson, can you advise us what is being done to bolster the relationship with Europe?

Mr D Richardson : I suppose a principal initiative there is the decision by Australia and the EU to develop an Australia-EU framework agreement—in other words, elevate the relationship to treaty status. Indeed, Mr Newman is leading the negotiations on that for Australia.

CHAIR: Are there particular countries that we are targeting in Europe to strengthen our relationship?

Mr D Richardson : We would like to strengthen the relationship with all of them. I suppose the relationships which intersect with our interests most directly and most often are those with France, Italy, Germany, UK, Netherlands and Denmark—we have a particular relationship there through marriage. We have important relationships with Poland and Hungary. The nature of the relationships vary enormously. With Spain we have a very important relationship when you look at the naval vessels we are purchasing. With Portugal there is a historical relationship there, looking at Portugal's involvement in East Timor and the like. Some of the relationships revolve around people, others revolve around very heavy investment and trading relationships. With Norway and Sweden we have long-standing relationships. With Norway it is in terms of governance issues globally and the like and the role that Norway sometimes plays. Relationships vary across the spectrum. With Croatia, Serbia and other Balkan countries you get quite a number of Australians with heritage from that part of the world. I think it is easy to underestimate the relationship we have with the European countries. It is so easy to get caught up in the general gloom of the daily news relating to the debt crisis in Europe that some people and commentators have been prepared, already, to consign Europe to a corner. However, if you consider that the EU together is the largest economic unit in the world, and if you consider NATO and the role it plays in Afghanistan and the like, and add that to our investment trading relationship, it remains very important to us. I would simply, in terms of foreign policy interest, note that the foreign minister gave a speech at Chatham House in London in January—last month—in which he highlighted some positive indicators in respect of Europe and, looking ahead, the importance of a global role for Europe and how that is important to us in the Asia-Pacific.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. That is very helpful for us in terms of framing our questions. Other than negotiating the framework agreement with the EU—perhaps you might need to take this on notice—can you advise and update the committee on any treaties that are currently being negotiated with European countries?

Mr Newman : There are no other treaties being negotiated at this stage.

CHAIR: Or trade agreements? They would be in trade?

Mr Newman : That is correct.

CHAIR: Thank you. There are no other questions, it would seem, about the Europe group, so thank you very much. We are about to move on to South and West Asia and the Middle East.

Proceedings suspended from 15:26 to 15:40

CHAIR: We will now move to South and West Asia and Middle East group. Senator Rhiannon has the call.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Mr Richardson, this question is about Sri Lanka. Considering the United Nations-led investigations found overwhelming evidence of war crimes committed by both sides in the Sri Lankan war and that at least 40,000 Tamils died in the latter stages of that war, what advice has been provided to the minister about an appropriate response?

Mr Pierce : Senator, you have asked what advice we have provided to the minister about alleged war crimes breaches of international humanitarian law at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, in the context of the UN investigations.

Mr Pierce : Senator, you would have seen the minister's statement from earlier this week in which he addresses the recommendations of the Sri Lankan's government's Lessons learnt and reconciliation commission report. A part of that statement talks about the need to address issues of accountability more fully and the need to address the question of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law more widely.

Senator RHIANNON: The Sri Lankan's government's Lessons learnt and reconciliation commission did not call for a criminal investigation into the allegations of artillery shelling into crowded civilian areas. What was your advice on that matter and how the minister should respond?

Mr D Richardson : Senator, it would not be appropriate for us to state what advice we gave to a minister.

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry?

Mr D Richardson : It would not be appropriate to state what advice we gave to a minister.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Going back to Mr Pierce or maybe Mr Richardson—I will leave it up to you—is there any inconsistency in Australia's response to the situation in Syria compared with that of Sri Lanka? The public reports that we are reading say that, in Syria, the minister was in part responding to 5,000 dead and that he has called for action through the United Nations Security Council. In Sri Lanka, the United Nations has identified that at least 40,000 people have died and in this case the investigations, even after the Lessons learnt and reconciliation commission report was released, have still been left in the hands of the Sri Lankan government.

Senator FEENEY: Chair, I think the question is inviting officials to enter into a political debate and compare one policy with another. I suggest that the senator might rephrase the question.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that advice, Senator Feeney. Could Mr Richardson set out the advice that was given with regard to the current situation in Syria and Australia's response.

Mr D Richardson : Senator, we can discuss an outline of Australia's response but it would not be appropriate to state what our advice was.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you share whatever information you can with us?

Ms Wood : Would you mind rephrasing that question?

Senator RHIANNON: It was about the current situation in Syria and the advice that has been given to the foreign affairs minister with regard to—

Senator Feeney: If I can interpose there—I do not mean to sound like a pedant, but you are again asking for what advice has been furnished to a minister. These officials are obviously in a position to describe what the government is doing and what its outlook is, but entering into a conversation about what confidential advice they have provided to a minister is not within the remit.

Senator RHIANNON: I certainly was not asking for confidential advice, Senator Feeney, but thank you for that suggestion. Whatever information you could share on Australia's position with regard to the current situation in Syria, particularly in the context of the call for action through the United Nations Security Council.

Ms Wood : In the first instance, you would be aware that the foreign minister made a statement in the House yesterday afternoon, 15 February, about the current situation in Syria. That statement contains extensive detail about the current situation and what Australia is doing to express its concern and to try and take steps in concert with other members of the international community in addressing that situation. Specifically on the human rights situation, which I understand is one element of your question, last year on 28 April, Mr Rudd wrote to the UN Secretary General and asked for the appointment of a UN special envoy on Syria. This call for a special envoy on Syria remains current today and is still part of the discussions in the UN about what more the international community might be able to do.

Australia cosponsored three resolutions regarding Syria in the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. We are looking to continue that forthright action in forthcoming meetings of the UN Human Rights Council later this month. On 1 June, Mr Rudd wrote to the UN Security Council president urging the UNSC to consider referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. You will also be aware that last week the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made a presentation to the UN General Assembly in which she outlined details of a report which had been provided to her about the human rights situation in Syria.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Richardson, Ms Wood has set out the details about the three resolutions and has called it the forthright action that Australia has taken. Would you call the actions that Australia has taken with regard to the crimes that the United Nations has identified occurred in Sri Lanka as forthright?

Mr D Richardson : You are asking me to express a view on government actions and policies again.

Senator RHIANNON: For time, I will move on. Staying with Sri Lanka, Mr Richardson—if the government of Sri Lanka fails to investigate the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, will Australia commit to calls similar to those coming from other countries about a UN mandated investigation?

Mr D Richardson : It is not possible for me to speak on behalf of the government on a possible policy issue that may arise down the track.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Richardson.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, as a point of assistance, the Senate estimates process is actually confined to asking questions of the officers, and questions of policy should be directed to the minister at the table. That is where you are getting yourself tangled, I am afraid.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Mr Richardson, on the lessons learnt in reconciliation commission report, could you share with the committee how you are monitoring the progress around that and any work that your department is undertaking on it?

Mr Pierce : We considered that report carefully. We put advice to the minister. The minister issued a statement in response to the report earlier in the week. That statement draws a balance—it may not be an equal balance—between the constructive elements in the report, especially those that pertain to: what we could broadly call reconstruction devolution, which we might in this country call 'federalism'; the security presence in the north; accounting, which means trying to establish if people who cannot be accounted for have been killed or have died or have disappeared; and some specific elements of reconstruction on the ground. Two of those are particularly relevant to Australia because two of those are also the focus of our aid program in Sri Lanka. That is housing in the areas that were affected by the civil conflict—we have so far rebuilt 4,600 houses—and demining where we have made a substantial commitment of $20 million over three years. Both of those areas are identified as priorities by the LLRC and on both of those areas work is already proceeding. That is one dimension of the LLRC report. It contains many constructive positive recommendations for reconstruction for the future of Sri Lanka.

An element in the report deals with accountability. To begin with, we have always said that accountability is a critical dimension in moves toward reconciliation and reconstruction, not a separate item. On accountability, you would have seen in the minister's statement that we welcome some elements in the report but we think it falls short in other areas. There might be further comment from my colleagues in the legal division.

Mr D Richardson : No, I have nothing to add.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that, Mr Pierce. You mentioned at the end there about the report falling short. Could somebody expand on where this report has fallen short as you have made that estimation?

Mr D Richardson : No, we are not in position to expand any further on the answer we have given.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Pierce, you spoke about constructive elements in the report, which gave the impression that there were some elements that were not constructive. Could you indicate what aspects you found were constructive. I appreciate that that is expanding on the answer you have already given but, as this is an important matter, I think it would be useful to share it with the committee.

Mr Pierce : It is really that distinction that I drew before. On reconstruction we think there are many constructive and positive elements in the—

Senator Conroy: Senator Rhiannon, you are straying and—probably on a couple of occasions now—crossing the line between asking for factual information and seeking the officer's opinion. When you say, 'Could you tell us what you thought was good or bad?' or 'What was constructive versus nonconstructive?', you are actually asking for an opinion which the officers are not in a position to expand upon. I just wanted to, again, like Senator Siewert was, assist you with your questioning.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister. I will move on to one questions which could possibly be the last one. The foreign minister in his statement indicated these constructive elements but also, as you have identified, some of these other issues. I am just trying to get an estimation. Is there a time frame in which an estimation will be made about what maybe we can agree are shortcomings or the non-constructive aspects of the LLRC report? So the question is around time frames on those aspects.

Mr Pierce : The minister's statement welcomes elements in the report. Those are the elements which deal, essentially, with reconstruction. The government's view has been that the test of those recommendations is not the quality of the findings or the thoroughness of the analysis in the LLRC report alone but rather what the government of Sri Lanka does with them. They suggested that is important now to set some clear and firm time frames for implementation of those recommendations which the government endorses. Where the government of Sri Lanka does not endorse recommendations, it is at perfect liberty to explain why.

The time frames would be set, of course, by the government of Sri Lanka itself. Many of those issues interlock one with another; many of them are particularly complicated; most of them have a long history behind them. We are saying to the government of Sri Lanka, 'We think there are substantial elements in the report which deserve commendation and are constructive. We look to you now to tell us which you will accept and which you cannot accept. In relation to those recommendations you can accept, we are looking for clear, firm time frames.' As I say, they are not our time frames or those of the international community. They will be those set by the government of Sri Lanka in its own time and its own space.

What we are really saying—and the minister says this emphatically in his statement—is that the test of the LLRC report is what you do with it, how effectively you implement it, how much of it you commit to and what time frames you use. We are not dictating those time frames; we are not seeking to interfere in the internal politics of Sri Lanka at all. We are simply saying, 'Here's the report on the table; could you please tell us how you respond to it.' That obviously takes some time to consider and. as I mentioned before. those problems are interlocked one with another. But that is where we have got to.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, I appreciate that Sri Lanka's time frames are the Sri Lankan government's time frames. I was interested in the Australian government's time frames if the humanitarian response that one would hope would be coming out of this is not forthcoming. Do we have a time frame?

Mr Pierce : There may well be discussion of Sri Lanka at next month's session of the Human Rights Council. I think that perhaps that is where your question is leading, and that would be for my colleagues from the legal division to respond to.

Senator RHIANNON: Would the legal division like to pick up on that?

Dr French : I could not speculate on a circumstance which may occur into the future. Your question was on whether particular things would or would not happen with respect to implementation, and I could not give an answer at the moment on a future event in the abstract.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator KROGER: I am just seeking clarification which may or may not assist. The department has given a briefing to the foreign minister—an evaluation of the LLRC report?

Mr Pierce : Yes.

Senator KROGER: You have done that. Have there been any meetings or dialogue between the Sri Lankan ambassador and the department since the production and release of the report—or with the minister for that matter?

Mr Pierce : Sri Lankan high commissioner, Senator.

Senator KROGER: Sorry—high commissioner, yes.

Mr Pierce : Yes.

Senator KROGER: So there has been a meeting with the high commissioner—and who? Since the production of the report?

Mr Pierce : I am sorry; let me make sure I understand your question. Since publication of the report or since the issue of the minister's statement?

Senator KROGER: Since the publication of the report, have we—whether it is the department or the minister himself—had any meetings to discuss (1) the report and (2) what our position on that report may be?

Mr Pierce : Yes.

Senator KROGER: When did that take place and what was its nature?

Mr Pierce : Most recently, I gave the high commissioner an advance copy of the report and talked to him about it on the day of its release, which was Monday this week—13 February.

Senator KROGER: Since the publication of that report, and I do no know whether this is the usual process of what may or may no happen—we have quite an active Tamil community in Australia—have you had members of the Tamil community seek a formal representation, either to the department to discuss the report or to the foreign minister?

Mr Pierce : Members of the Tamil community had an opportunity to discuss what they thought of the LLRC report when the spoke to our high commissioner designate before she went to Sri Lanka.

Senator KROGER: Which was when?

Mr Pierce : During January. I do not have a date, Senator; I apologise.

Senator RHIANNON: To clarify, since Monday, when you briefed the high commissioner, there has not been any meetings with the Tamil community in a similar way to brief them?

Mr Pierce : Do you mean a meeting of the Tamil community with the department?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Pierce : No, there has not. There have been a number of emails that have come to me and to other departmental officers on the issue but no meeting yet.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Pierce, could you give us a brief overview of the current relationship with India—things like our exports, number of Indian students coming to study, the nature of the relationship?

Mr Pierce : I would characterise our relationship with India as extremely substantial, growing all the time, diversifying all the time and narrowly based in some respects. For instance, with the commodity trade which is growing remarkably copper, gold and coal account for 82 per cent of our commodity trade. Services trade is dominated by education and, as you know, there has been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last couple of years but numbers are building again. Determined commitment by the government to move ahead on all the dimensions of the strategic partnership which the Prime Minister agreed in November 2009 in New Delhi. A lot of that involves getting to know each other's strengths. One of the most impressive aspects of that partnership is the science cooperation between our respective scientists that goes extraordinarily well.

There are lots of other ways to characterise the relationship. One way is that India is now the chair of the regional Indian Ocean organisation, the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation, or IOR-ARC as it is called. We are the vice-chair so there is a lot of cooperation with India and we are building an agenda with them; a habit of working together. The Indian government has committed to what they call a 'look east' policy in foreign policy, that is to say, looking toward Asia. We encourage the Indian government to give it even more momentum, focus and commitment than it does already. It is indeed now a substantial pillar of Indian foreign policy. Next month a first CEO forum between extremely high level Indian and Australian CEOs will be held. FTA or, as the Indians would say, seeker negotiations, are preparing for the third round next month. There is a lot of work going on.

Senator FAWCETT: I am not sure if you are familiar with the Folke Bernadotte Academy that the Swedish government run around foreign relations. They talk about quiet diplomacy. It sounds as though a lot of that has been occurring over the last decade to bring about the good relations. I notice that going right back to 2007, Foreign Minister Downer was involved in many relationships and in 2008, 2009 and 2010 it was Foreign Minister Smith. Even in 2011 Foreign Minster Rudd was meeting with the external affairs minister. Would you say that is a normal process to building good relationships, that the foreign minister and DFAT are involved in that quiet diplomacy?

Mr Pierce : Yes.

Senator CONROY: You have gone very close to crossing the line of asking an opinion. That means you do not get an answer. Perhaps you might like to rephrase your question.

Senator FAWCETT: Has it been a characteristic of successful international relationships in the past that there has been quiet diplomacy?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Mr Pierce : Senator, the answer is yes. Last year, 2011, the Indian Minister for External Affairs came here, as did the Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas, the Minister of State for Textiles, the Minister for Commerce and Industry, the Minister of State for Finance and in a different context, for CHOGM, the Vice President and the Minister for External Affairs.

Senator FAWCETT: Going to 15 November last year, the Australian Financial Review ran a story where they described a 'bruising' diplomatic row between Australia and India. What would be the background of that? The context was after the Prime Minister's announcement about the change of the uranium export policy, but they said that there had been a bruising diplomatic row with India.

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of a bruising diplomatic row with India.

CHAIR: Perhaps it was the cricket!

Senator FAWCETT: Quite possibly the cricket, but it is only this year that that might be the case. What was the reaction in India to the announcement of Australia's change of policy over exporting uranium?

Mr D Richardson : It was very positive.

Senator FAWCETT: Was it something that their media picked up on?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, I believe so.

Senator FAWCETT: Even going back to the change of leadership in July of 2010, what was the media coverage in India?

Mr D Richardson : I am not in a position to comment on what the media coverage might have been at that point.

Senator FAWCETT: On 15 July, 2010, the Times of India highlighted the fact that the leadership change had come about by the use of polling data and things but also mentioned that uranium was quite a significant issue. It was obviously very high in the focus of the Indian media and their government.

Mr D Richardson : That is speculation in the Indian media.

Senator FAWCETT: Perception is more important than fact sometimes, Mr Richardson, as you know—

Mr D Richardson : Occasionally.

Senator FAWCETT: and I am just reflecting what was in the Indian media. Foreign Minister Rudd made the comment that he was not consulted before that announcement was made. Was DFAT consulted before the Prime Minister made that announcement?

Mr D Richardson : The ALP has changed its policy on uranium sales to India. There is a formal process being pursued that will provide an opportunity for the government to translate that change in party policy to government policy. We would not expect, as officials, to be consulted on changes to a party platform.

Senator FAWCETT: If it is a domestic, internal affair, party political decision, and I think the foreign minister described it when he was in India at the Indian Rim association conference on the day the Prime Minister made that announcement as essentially a personal proposal that she was taking to the ALP conference, would it be normal for a personal proposal to be communicated to the Prime Minister of a foreign nation?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot be drawn into matters relating to ALP conference and relationships.

Senator FAWCETT: Let us leave the conference out of it. If something is a personal proposal, as opposed to a position of government, is there precedent or is it normal for that to be communicated to a head of state of a different nation?

Mr D Richardson : I do not know whether there is precedent. I think actual practice would have varied over the years.

Senator FAWCETT: So when Foreign Minister Rudd made the comment in India that the Prime Minister had contacted the Prime Minister of India and communicated that change to him formally, was DFAT involved in that communication at all?

Mr D Richardson : We were aware of that communication and I suspect that our high commission was involved in seeking to set up that call.

Senator FAWCETT: The academy I talked about before, the one set up by the Swedish government, as well as quiet diplomacy talks about megaphone diplomacy, or public diplomacy, which has quite different impacts. Has that issue been raised at all with post staff? Are you aware of it being raised in the Indian media in terms of people feeling that they were not consulted and that Australia was making statements—similar to the way regional people were upset at talk about regional processing centres without consultation?

Mr D Richardson : I am sorry I do not follow the logic of what you have just said.

Senator FAWCETT: Were you aware of any disquiet in India at the nature of the announcement?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator FAWCETT: Since November, the Minister for Defence has made a number of public comments, announcements, and visits to India regarding uranium. Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs been engaged in the process since November last year? And has DFAT been engaged in the process?

Mr D Richardson : We are engaged now in a process that relates to government policy. The foreign minister is also involved in that.

Senator FAWCETT: The advocates of this change indicate that there are many export opportunities and benefits for both India and Australia through this change of policy. Has the concern been expressed to you , in India, that Australia has lost a number of years of opportunity, as have the Indian people, as a result of the change of policy after the 2007 election?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of that, but I do not exclude the possibility.

Senator FAWCETT: And is the foreign minister involved in current quiet diplomacy with India around the export of uranium?

Mr D Richardson : The minister is involved by virtue of his position in any consideration in government to a change of policy on a matter of that kind.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the LLRC report—I think it came out on December 16—could you inform the committee of when you provided the department's response to the minister?

Mr Pierce : You are asking if we provided advice during the period between release of the report and the issue of the minister's statement?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Pierce : We provided advice during that time after we had carefully studied the report. I am sure you have had an opportunity to look at the report. It is a very long report. It has dozens of recommendations which are relevant and important. We looked at it closely and carefully as a result of that. As I mentioned before, we gave advice to the minister. The minister formed a view on behalf of the government and expressed that in his statement on February 13.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you prepare a written response to the LLRC report?

Mr Pierce : Did we prepare a response to the—

Senator RHIANNON: Did you prepare a written report?

CHAIR: That is actually a different question, Senator. A response or a report?

Senator RHIANNON: My question was as to 'written'. So, was there a written response or report—whatever the language is? What I am after is this: was something written down and provided to the minister which serves as an assessment of the LLRC report?

Mr Pierce : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: What date was that provided to the minister?

Mr Pierce : I do not know. I do know that it followed, as I say, close and careful study of the report. I do not know what date.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you provide that report?

Mr Pierce : Yes.

Mr D Richardson : We can take that on notice. We can supply you with the date.

Senator RHIANNON: It was in the last two months. I thought you would have remembered it, even approximately. Was it in January or was it earlier this month, just to give us an idea?

Mr Pierce : As the secretary said, we will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Thank you, Madame Chair.

CHAIR: Any other questions before I give the call back to Senator Fawcett? As there are not, we will proceed. Be mindful of the timing.

Senator FAWCETT: Just going back to the uranium sales and the decision announced by the Prime Minister, prior to her announcement was DFAT or the foreign minister approached by either the US State Department or members of the administration regarding Australia's exporting of uranium to India? You may take that on notice if you cannot recall.

Mr D Richardson : It depends what you mean by before. I am not playing games here. If you are talking about immediately before, I am not aware of any such approach. There might well have been approaches over the last couple of years, three years. I am not sure.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you take on notice if there is anything, let us say, six months before the announcement?

Mr D Richardson : Okay.

CHAIR: Moving now to the Pacific, are there any questions in relation to this group?

Senator EGGLESTON: Yes, Madam Chair. Mr Richardson, as you know, on 24 December last year the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled the election of Peter O'Neill was unconstitutional and restored Sir Michael Somare as Prime Minister. There has been some sort of stand-off there for some time now, and my first question is: what has the Australian government done to help resolve the situation in PNG, or haven't we become involved?

Mr D Richardson : I do not believe we could add anymore than what the foreign minister said in his statement to the House on 7 February when he gave a statement on recent events in Papua New Guinea and he referred to communications between the Australia and PNG governments and the work of the High Commissioner in Port Moresby.

Senator EGGLESTON: Do we know how many phone calls the foreign minister made to the Australia High Commissioner in PNG since the situation erupted on 12 December?

Mr D Richardson : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator EGGLESTON: If you could, I would appreciate it, and also the dates. Has the foreign minister spoken to either the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, or Sir Michael Somare since the situation erupted?

Mr D Richardson : The foreign minister or the Prime Minister?

Senator EGGLESTON: The foreign minister.

Mr D Richardson : The foreign minister said on 7 February:

Of the many phone contacts I have had in recent months, I last spoke to my PNG counterpart, Foreign Minister Pala, on 2 February. The Prime Minister last spoke to her counterpart, Prime Minister O'Neill, on 5 February.

He also noted that Prime Minister O'Neill was here in Australia on an official visit on 11 to 13 October and again for CHOGM.

Senator EGGLESTON: When did our foreign minister last visit PNG?

Mr D Richardson : The foreign minister last visited Papua New Guinea on 30 September last year.

Senator McEWEN: I will just follow on from Senator Eggleston's questions. Is Papua New Guinea going to be holding elections this year?

Mr D Richardson : That is right. Under their constitution, elections are scheduled for, I think, June-July.

Ms Rawson : Every five years. At the moment they are scheduled for the last week of June and the first week of July.

Senator McEWEN: Does Australia traditionally offer some support to—

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator McEWEN: What kind of support will we be offering this year?

Mr D Richardson : In fact, we are already providing some support. Jennifer will have more detail, but we provide logistical support.

Ms Rawson : There is the third phase of an electoral support program underway at the moment that is running from 2011 to 2013. That is a $12 million program. Obviously at this stage the focus of that is on preparation for this year's elections. As the secretary said, there has been a strong focus in that program on operational support, logistics, voter awareness and training. It includes a twinning program between the Papua New Guinea electoral commission and the Australian Electoral Commission. It has involved supporting the governance framework for the elections in terms of the interdepartmental coordination of the elections.

There is also support being provided under a policing program to support the Papua New Guinea police force in communications, radio communications and some specific training for the police in an election context. So the support has been extensive. The government recently agreed to some additional assistance, looking at a deputy operations manager, an additional logistics coordinator and a transport coordinator. This week the Australian Electoral Commission has a team in Papua New Guinea to look at what other gaps there might be where we could provide some support and also to provide some further high-level advice on the preparations.

Senator McEWEN: Very good. Is any of our assistance aimed at encouraging women to nominate as candidates in the PNG elections?

Ms Rawson : There is a program. I think we in fact spoke about it the last time I was here. I probably will not be able to find information on it quickly, but Australia is supporting a women's leadership program in Papua New Guinea. That is a program that is aimed at developing broad skills that are looked for in political participation, but it is not directed at particular campaigning as that could become a little bit problematic. Certainly a program developing the overall skills for participation in political processes is underway but I can not find the exact details of it, sorry.

Mr D Richardson : I might add, the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls is here. I know that Penny has been to Papua New Guinea. Female representation in the Pacific parliaments, as you know, I think is below three per cent. Different initiatives and different discussions were held at CHOGM, but Penny is more on top of that.

Ms Williams : As the secretary mentioned, during November I visited PNG for almost a week. This visit was very much focused on the eradication of violence—it was White Ribbon Week—it was also very much focused on involving men and boys in standing up against violence against women; a tough-men-do-not-beat-women campaign. At the same time, of course, there is a relationship between leadership and women in political leadership but leadership across the community that is linked into that. AusAID is focused on a range of issues that relate to women and girls in Papua New Guinea, such as education and maternal health. But the domestic violence and the leadership are linked in very much together. As Ms Rawson said, there has been some leadership training for women. I think one of the other things that is really interesting at a community level and that certainly I found very impressive was the AusAID funded village magistrates program. We actually have women who are gaining respect in their own communities and actually making decisions about local-level crimes. I thought that program at the local level was really important, as well as at the parliamentary level in terms of training people. I came away from that visit to Papua New Guinea with a greater sense of optimism than I had originally envisaged when I went there.

Ms Rawson : I have found the reference which was in our Prime Minister's statement when Prime Minister O'Neil visited last year. It refers, in partnership with the ANU, to the PNG Office for the Development of Women and UNDP which were supporting efforts though a $1 million project to help women in Papua New Guinea gain democratic skills.

Senator McEWEN: Am I right in saying that Prime Minister O'Neil has made statements in support of the affirmative action positions in the PNG parliament.

Ms Rawson : The O'Neil government has been very supportive of the move to introduce 22 seats reserved for women in parliament. The first step in that process took place in November of last year or early December, when the necessary constitutional amendment occurred. But there now has to be legislation and organic law amendment made to allow that. That will require a two-thirds majority of parliament in two sittings and, because of the broader developments in Papua New Guinea over the last couple of months, that legislation has not yet passed though the parliament. But certainly Prime Minister O'Neil and the government have been very supportive of it.

Senator McEWEN: Ms Williams, are you planning another visit to PNG before the elections?

Ms Williams : I expect that PNG, along with other countries of the Pacific, will be countries that I will be visiting quite regularly. After the PNG visit, I was able to join the bipartisan parliamentary delegation visit to the Solomons, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu and Samoa. That was a very good opportunity to really highlight issues around gender in those countries. There are some other countries in the Pacific I want to get to very quickly, but obviously Papua New Guinea is a focus.

Senator McEWEN: I have a question about the economic cooperation treaty that PNG and Australia is entering into. Can somebody tell me where that is up to. That is not just about aid, is it?

Ms Rawson : No, it covers broad aspects of economic cooperation. The first round of official negotiations of that treaty were held on 1 December last year and we are planning the second round of the negotiations to take place in Port Moresby in the first week of March. I think you would be aware that currently there is the development cooperation treaty. The proposed new treaty will include the development cooperation relationship but will also look at broader aspects such as trade, investment and the business relationships. So it will reflect more accurately the contemporary nature of our very broad and substantial relationship with Papua New Guinea.

Senator McEWEN: Including Australian investment in development of resources in Papua New Guinea, including gas?

Ms Rawson : It will be a framework treaty in that we do not envisage that it will go into details in terms of specific resource developments. Indeed, there is already a specific investment treaty between the two countries. It is meant to set out a broad framework of how we will work together in those areas.

Senator McEWEN: Is the state of political play in Papua New Guinea affecting the negotiations there?

Ms Rawson : No. We had intended to have the second round in the first quarter of this year and that schedule will be met.

Senator McEWEN: Very good. Can I have a quick update on the situation in Fiji. What is Australia doing to support the people of Fiji?

Ms Rawson : The situation in Fiji I think has not changed significantly since the last time we spoke with the committee about it. You would be aware that early this year the Fiji interim government announced that the public emergency regulations would be lifted. That was welcomed by the Australian government and many other governments as a step in the right direction but with it being clear there needed to be more done to make real improvements to the human rights and lives of the Fiji people. Shortly after the announcement about the lifting of the PERs, the interim government introduced a public order decree that essentially reintroduced large parts of the PERs. So a step in the right direction became a partial step backwards with that. That was a disappointing development. The overall policy approach remains. We are continuing to work with other countries in the region and the broader international community to encourage Fiji's return to democracy and the rule of law. We continue to have a range of measures in place, including travel sanctions directed against key members of the regime and others.

But the government also has been clear that the issue is with the coup and the military regime in place after that; the argument is not with the people of Fiji. The government has continued the aid program to Fiji. Indeed, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said at the end of November, I think, last year that over two years the Australian bilateral aid program to Fiji would double from about $18½ million to $36 million. When you take into account the other aid that goes in through regional and other programs, it is estimated that by 2013-14 the total aid program to Fiji will be in the order of $55 million. So there is still a very strong effort in terms of education, health, building resilience and providing economic opportunities for the people of Fiji.

A lot of work has also been done over the years in supporting the women of Fiji. Australia has long been a supporter—I think the principal supporter—of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, which deals with issues of gender violence. So the support to the people of Fiji continues. We do not have trade or economic sanctions that might end up making life more difficult for the people of Fiji.

Senator McEWEN: Thanks very much, Ms Rawson, for your, as usual, very informative report.

[16.38]

CHAIR: That finishes our examination of the Pacific group. The committee has agreed to rearrange the program to accommodate Senator Birmingham, who wants to go to program 1.3.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I thank the committee for the cooperation. Mr Richardson, under freedom of information laws and processes, the department has released parts of the minutes of the tender evaluation board meetings for the Australia Network contract. Can I start by asking about a statement in the minutes from the very first meeting of that board, on 7 January 2011. It states that the TEB, the tender evaluation board 'members asked if an extension period was available under the current contract.' And somebody whose name is blanked out 'advised that—

Senator Conroy: Sorry, has Christian Kerr had time to get here yet, Senator Birmingham? We would not want to start without him—without your own personal journalist.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Minister, am I going to get to finish a single question—

Senator Conroy: I was worried you would not be here, Christian; I just thought we had better wait for you to get here.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The minutes of the 7 January meeting of the Tender Evaluation Board stated:

TEB members asked if an extension period was available under the current contract. ... advised that this was not possible.

Given that it is now some many months since the contract with the ABC was a due to expire—it was due to expire way back in last year—why was it not possible for an extension back in January of last year but it has been possible on numerous occasions since June of last year?

Mr D Richardson : Senator, precisely what was the request from the Tender Evaluation Board?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I will quote the minutes:

Given the complexity of this RFT, TEB members asked if an extension period was available under the current contract.

Name blanked out—

... advised that this was not possible.

Mr D Richardson : I stand to be corrected, but I think that would be advice to the Tender Evaluation Board that it would need to stick to the time frame set in place. A decision to extend the contract in broader terms was, of course, open to the government.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr Richardson. In the same minutes, and I will quote again:

TEB Chair stressed it was vital to address any public perception that the incumbent AN operator, the ABC, is the preferred bidder. This will be achieved through a transparent RFT and tender evaluation process, conducted in accordance with the CPGs.

Why was it necessary to avoid any public perception that the ABC was the preferred bidder, Mr Richardson?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot speak for the chairperson of the Tender Evaluation Board. I did not take part in the meetings of the Tender Evaluation Board. I imagine what may have been in the mind of the chairperson was simply avoidance of any perception of any bias in respect of the existing contract holder, whoever that might be. I would imagine it was simply a statement of caution rather than anything else.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: It would seem that in the end when it came to the position of the government and the majority of the cabinet that in fact the ABC was the preferred bidder, would it not, Mr Richardson?

Mr D Richardson : No, I think it is important to separate out the discretion and the prerogatives that a government has from the discretion and the prerogatives that a Tender Evaluation Board might have consisting of officials.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Mr Richardson, when we met at these estimates hearings on 2 June last year, we discussed what appeared to be a delay in the tender process at that time. You indicated that we had received a recommendation from the tender board at that stage. You could not recall at the time as to when you had received it, and when asked when negotiations would commence with the tendering parties, you said when a decision is made on the preferred tenderer. Mr Richardson, these minutes released under FOI reveal that on 12 May 2011, so some weeks before the 2 June estimates hearing that we were speaking at, you attended a meeting with the Tender Evaluation Board, along with Gillian Bird, the steering committee chair, and Margaret Adamson from the DFAT secretariat to 'Discuss the findings of the Tender Evaluation Board'. Do you recall that meeting?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, I do.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I assume, given that you were discussing their findings, that prior to that meeting you had been given the report of the Tender Evaluation Board.

Mr D Richardson : I was given the report on 4 May.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You were given the report on 4 May, ahead of that 12 May meeting.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Was that report a unanimous report of the Tender Evaluation Board?

Mr D Richardson : While it may be disclosed at another time by different reports, I do not think that I should be discussing here my discussions with the Tender Evaluation Board on 12 May. Essentially, I was meeting with them as the approver and I had some questions in relation to the report. I asked a number of questions about the report, and that was all to form a backdrop to my role as the approver.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Did the Tender Evaluation Board answer your questions to your satisfaction at that meeting?

Mr D Richardson : I had no expectation in terms of satisfaction or otherwise but they competently answered the questions that I put.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Was that the only meeting you had with the Tender Evaluation Board?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And did you follow up subsequent to that meeting with any further questions for them?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: In the period between your 12 May meeting with the Tender Evaluation Board to discuss the report that you had received on 4 May and discussions on 2 June or indeed going forward to 24 June when the tender variation was announced, what discussions took place within government to see the variation to the tender and the rejection of the recommendations that came from that 12 May meeting?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of all the discussions that might have taken place across government. Clearly, it was within the boundaries and the prerogatives of the government, if it so wished, to revisit the matter of the tender.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: When did you first inform Mr Rudd or Mr Rudd's office of the recommendations of the Tender Evaluation Board?

Mr D Richardson : I did not advise the minister.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Or his office?

Mr D Richardson : I did not advise his office around that time, no.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: If you can help me with the matter of process here, Mr Richardson, because obviously at some stage before 24 June the tender variation decision was taken or a recommendation was taken to cabinet for that variation, including a variation of responsibility. If you did not advise Mr Rudd or his office, who was advised in terms of the recommendations of the Tender Evaluation Board?

Mr D Richardson : In the context of a draft cabinet submission that was developed in late May, which subsequently was not taken forward, in that draft cabinet submission a copy of that was sent to PM&C and was sent to the minister's office and that did mention the recommendation of the Tender Evaluation Board, but I do not believe that that draft submission ever got to the minister because it quickly became inoperative.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: So it was sent to PM&C and Minister Rudd's office—to be clear as to which minister?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And that submission was particular to the Australia Network contract, or to broader matters of public diplomacy and just happened to include information on the Australia Network?

Mr D Richardson : No, it was specific to the Australia Network tender, but, as I said, it became inoperative and did not go forward, nor was it more widely distributed, nor did it go to the minister himself.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Did it become inoperative at your request or at the request of PM&C or of Mr Rudd's office?

Mr D Richardson : No, it was overtaking by events within government in terms of the way the government wished to progress the matter, which was entirely within its prerogative to do so.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: When were you advised that this submission would not be going forward?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot recall that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Were you advised by Mr Rudd's office?

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Who were you advised by?

Mr D Richardson : I was advised by, I believe, someone in the department and I believe they might have been advised by someone from PM&C.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you. Mr Richardson, this submission obviously was constructed following your receipt of the recommendation following your meeting with the Tender Evaluation Board, in fact before your appearance at the 2 June estimates hearing. Seeing this submission did not actually go to cabinet I would not necessarily think that cabinet confidentiality applies to it so I will ask the question: this submission accepted and recommended application of the Tender Evaluation Board's findings?

Mr D Richardson : A draft cabinet submission is protected by the same confidentiality as protects an actual cabinet document because it is broadly within the definition of a cabinet document.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Are you aware if anybody within Prime Minister and Cabinet briefed anybody within Ms Gillard's office of the contents of the submission?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of that.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You are not aware whether they did or did not?

Mr D Richardson : No; I am simply not aware.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: When you say it was 'overtaken by events within government', exactly what events do you refer to?

Mr D Richardson : I believe there was a meeting of ministers in early June and I believe there was another meeting of ministers later in June which preceded the announcement by the government on 24 or 25 May about the additional criteria and the extension of the tender process and also the change in the approver from the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Minister Conroy.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Were you or any other representatives of DFAT at either of these meetings of ministers?

Mr D Richardson : No. There was no-one from DFAT there.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: This was clearly not a cabinet meeting because you have not discussed it or mentioned it as a cabinet meeting.

Mr D Richardson : I believe both were.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Both were cabinet meetings?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Both were discussions at a cabinet meeting.

Mr D Richardson : Yes, I believe so.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Was Mr Rudd present at these cabinet meetings?

Mr D Richardson : I cannot recall.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Could you take that on notice, please?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, I can.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you. Are you aware if there was a submission taken to either of those cabinet meetings?

Mr D Richardson : There certainly was not to the first one. At the second one, I am just not quite sure. Can we take that on notice? I am being told yes, but I would prefer to take it on notice because I do not want to give you inaccurate information and then have to correct it.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I appreciate that, Mr Richardson. Given the uncertainty, are you checking as to whether this was a submission taken and initiated by another agency or department or Prime Minister and Cabinet? Was there a Foreign Affairs and Trade submission put.

Mr D Richardson : No. I am simply checking to see whether there was a formal submission before ministers on the tender on the Australia Network at either of those meetings.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Are you able to confirm whether there was a formal submission from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade taken to either of those cabinet meetings?

Mr D Richardson : I am just not quite sure. We will take it on notice. I do not think so, but I will check.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I appreciate your desire to get the facts right, but it sounds like there was a submission potentially taken to the second meeting but it was not a DFAT submission, and I would—

Mr D Richardson : No, I am making no judgment or comment about that and I would draw no inference from my response.

CHAIR: Yes. Senator Birmingham, do not verbal our officials please.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Chair.

Senator RONALDSON: Could I just clarify a matter. You said that Mr Rudd would not have seen the aborted cabinet submission, but was a copy of it sent to his office and was it sent to the Prime Minister's office before it was—

Mr D Richardson : No, as I said, I answered an earlier question and I was asked—

Senator RONALDSON: You said Mr Rudd had not seen it, but I do not think you said whether his office had received it.

Mr D Richardson : No, I advised that it was sent to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and I was asked whether it had gone to the Prime Minister's office, and I said I did not know.

Senator RONALDSON: And Mr Rudd's office—had it been sent there?

Mr D Richardson : Mr Rudd's office, yes, but not seen by the minister.

Senator RONALDSON: So it was not seen by him but sent to him?

Mr D Richardson : Sorry?

Senator RONALDSON: It was not seen by Mr Rudd but sent to his office?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator RONALDSON: Right.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Senator Ronaldson and Mr Richardson. Mr Richardson, can we move forward then. When was your department made aware of the discussions about the Australia Network at either of these cabinet meetings?

Mr D Richardson : In what sense?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Were you aware prior to the meetings that the Australia Network contract was listed for discussion?

Mr D Richardson : We were aware that there was to be a discussion, yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Prior to both of the meetings?

Mr D Richardson : I believe so.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Mr Richardson, can I roll forward then. Presumably the meeting in latter June, as you described it, was the meeting that resolved the tender variation and the change in responsibility from you to Senator Conroy. That is correct?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, that is right.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That tender obviously proceeded and I understand that the independent panel provided a report to government on 30 August. Is that correct?

Mr D Richardson : The supplementary tender evaluation report was provided to the approver, Senator Conroy, on 30 or 31 August.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: When you say supplementary, that is supplementary to the one that had earlier been provided to you?

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: So on both occasions the Tender Evaluation Board had met the time frame set by government. On the original occasion they had provided recommendations to you on, I think you said, 4 May, which was well before the 8 June date for negotiations to be completed, and on the second round they provided recommendations on 30 August, which was a couple of weeks before the 16 September date for matters to be concluded.

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: So on both occasions a recommendation was there within the time frame and on both occasions a recommendation was made to the approver—you or Senator Conroy—before there were any media leaks speculating what the recommendations may or may not have been.

Mr D Richardson : I do not have in my own mind precisely what was in the media when, so I make no comment in respect of your question.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Ignoring the media component—

Mr D Richardson : Your question is predicated on knowledge of what is in the media and I just do not have that with me.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I appreciate that. Ignoring the media component, on both occasions recommendations were provided well before the date required to conclude negotiations.

Mr D Richardson : That is right.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Can I go to the matter of negotiations. Senator Conroy told the Senate on 10 November:

At the time the leaked information appeared in the media, the Government was in the process of undertaking contractual negotiations …

Senator Conroy in that statement was referring to media leaks of 17 October. Was the government involved in any contractual negotiations with either party on or before 17 October?

Mr D Richardson : I would not add anything to Senator Conroy's statement to the Senate. I have not got it in front of me and I am not prepared to make a comment on a minister's statement in the parliament which I am not totally familiar with.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: In that case I will ask: did negotiations commence with either bidding party as a result of the supplementary tender recommendation?

Mr D Richardson : They had not actually begun, no.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: They had not actually begun before the tender process was cancelled?

Mr D Richardson : When you say 'before the tender process was cancelled', what date are you putting on that?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: We had better come to that, then, because I am going to put of course 7 November as the date that publicly we became aware—

Senator Conroy: Sorry; just before you go on, Senator, there has been some debate about this before, and I have added some information, I think, that Mr Orgill had not started talking to the companies as yet. I think that is in the public domain already. I am just assisting Mr Richardson. We were down the process of briefing but he himself had not actually spoken to either of the companies. I think that has been established in the public domain previously.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Yes, and Mr Richardson has just cleared up the fact that negotiations had not commenced; in fact, neither party had been informed that there was a recommended tenderer.

Senator Conroy: We were in the process of briefing the person to go and start those negotiations. We were actually engaged at our end in making progress, but it was then caught short by the leak.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Who was that person?

Senator Conroy: Mr Orgill.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I move to the issue just raised, Mr Richardson, as to when the process was abandoned. Senator Conroy received on 30 August the independent report. From there was another submission drafted to go to cabinet?

Mr D Richardson : No, I am not aware of that.

Senator Conroy: Could you just repeat your question, Senator Birmingham?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You received, Senator Conroy, the report of the tender evaluation board on 30 or 31 August—

Mr D Richardson : I stand to be corrected by the approver, but Minister Conroy, as the approver, took a decision, in the context of what decision he might make, to appoint Mr Orgill to take forward negotiations with both parties so that Mr Orgill could—

Senator Conroy: I think we refer to it as parallel negotiations.

Mr D Richardson : Yes, parallel negotiations, so that Mr Orgill could go back to the minister with, if you like, final options.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Was that something that had been recommended by the tender evaluation board?

Mr D Richardson : No, but it was totally consistent with what the approver could do, and the minister consistently sought legal and probity advice about what was possible and not possible. It is my understanding that the minister took advice prior to approaching Mr Orgill.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thanks, Mr Richardson. I am conscious that time is very tight and I have been getting a bit of a hurry up from some colleagues, but can you just tell me about Mr Orvill—

Mr D Richardson : Orgill.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Orgill. Can I just get his position and title and when he was engaged to undertake this role on the record, please.

Mr D Richardson : I am not quite sure when he was spoken to, but he was going away for a month and he could not commence his work until he got back from his month's travel.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Okay. Can we get some rough times here as to when he was away and who he is, please.

Senator Conroy: I am sure you know who Mr Brad Orgill is.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I am not sure.

Senator Conroy: Apologies. We are happy to take on notice what date we first contacted him.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Why would you choose or ask somebody to negotiate a time-sensitive tender if they were going to be away for a month at the time you wanted to negotiate?

Senator Conroy: We had already extended for six months, so the time sensitivity was not as great once that extension took place, but Mr Orgill is someone with extensive business experience in negotiating commercial contracts, so he is an entirely appropriate individual to engage in parallel discussions.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Had you advised either of the bidding parties of Mr Orgill's appointment?

Mr D Richardson : I am not aware of that. I cannot answer that.

Senator Conroy: As I said, we were in the early briefing stage and I think then the leak occurred before we had a chance to go the next step.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Was Mr Orgill appointed before 16 September, the date on which a revised tender decision was meant to be made?

Mr D Richardson : We would need to take that on notice.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you, Mr Richardson. Can I try to jump forward to the here and now quickly. Sorry, let me just step back a second. Mr Richardson, did your department inform Minister Rudd at all of the final recommendation for his office?

Mr D Richardson : What of the—

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The tender evaluation board?

Mr D Richardson : Is that the supplementary tender evaluation board?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The supplementary tender evaluation board finding.

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: So he was not informed of that. What transpired after the media reports around 17 October? I understand there were discussions in terms of seeking legal advice. Mr Richardson, did you have a discussion with Minister Conroy about seeking legal advice?

Mr D Richardson : We did meet. At that meeting there was an adviser from the AGS, and I was there with a couple of other officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and there was the minister. There was a discussion about the article that had appeared in the Australian on 17 October by Mr Day. In that discussion I recommended to the minister that he seek an investigation by the AFP about the leak. The minister was favourably disposed to that. He said that he simply wanted to reflect on it for a little bit. Not long afterwards I received advice that the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet had requested the AFP to conduct inquiries into the unauthorised disclosure of commercial information.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Written advice from the AGS was provided as well?

Mr D Richardson : Sorry, on what?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: On the issue of the leaks and how the tender would go forward.

Mr D Richardson : I understand there was advice provided to Minister Conroy.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And that was the advice that, we established the other day, was provided by your department, Minister Conroy, or that was arranged through your department—

Senator Conroy: No. To be honest I am not sure who paid, or if we paid in that sense, but following advice from Mr Harris I, as I think we said, got a legal adviser to be able to ensure that we followed all proper process and probity in the period going forward. That would be that person.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Minister, why did you decide to reject the recommendation of the Tender Evaluation Board and go down this additional path of having Mr Orgill negotiate with the two tenderers.

Senator Conroy: I do not accept your characterisation. The myth that you have continued to perpetrate publicly, that the process was completed when I received a report from the Tender Evaluation Board, has always been wrong. It is embarrassing that you continue to run it. I have said that the process was ongoing, so I reject your characterisation that I rejected anything. The process had not been completed.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The process of having Mr Orgill negotiate with both bidders was an additional process that had not been flagged to either bidder in the first place and did not form part of the tender terms.

Senator CONROY: We took advice about whether we could go down this path and it was entirely consistent with the process, entirely consistent.

CHAIR: Senator Birmingham, would you make this your last question?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: If this is to be the last question, I will jump quickly to the more immediate issue of the resolution of the terms of the Australia Network tender at present with the ABC. Is the department, Mr Richardson, involved in negotiations with the ABC? Is it your expectation that your department will have a formal contract in ongoing terms with the ABC for that funding or is there a likelihood that the ABC will instead be appropriated that money directly?

Mr D Richardson : The government has under consideration at the moment governance arrangements going forward with the Australia Network. The ABC and I do not have any expectations one way or the other.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The government has arrangements. Are those arrangements formally through your department?

Mr D Richardson : Has arrangements under consideration. What process the consideration takes is a matter for government. It could, for instance, be a cabinet discussion, but that is for the government. The governance arrangements have not yet been finalised.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thank you.

CHAIR: I thank the other members and senators for their perseverance. There are still questions to be asked for outcome 1, but Senator Eggleston has a quick question to ask.

Senator EGGLESTON: There is a series of questions which I would like to ask regarding the foreign minister's travel. Does the department recommend a preferred hotel?

Senator Conroy: Did we not do this to death earlier?

Senator EGGLESTON: No. I have the permission of the chair to do this, so I will do it. Does the department recommend a preferred hotel for the foreign minister and is the price of the recommended hotel usually at the low, medium or high end of the scale?

Senator Conroy: It is the foreign minister. I am happy to get Alexander Downer's hotel bills for you.

Senator EGGLESTON: Please do.

Senator Conroy: I have already quoted a few, so just stop being so completely hypocritical.

Senator EGGLESTON: We would be grateful if you could provide those bills.

Senator Conroy: You are complete hypocrites on this.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.

Senator EGGLESTON: I have still got permission to follow through on this question, so I will do so.

CHAIR: Are you asking the department to take these on notice?

Senator Conroy: Could you just table them, because they will not have the answers.

Senator EGGLESTON: I am happy to put them on notice, but—

Mr D Richardson : No, I can answer this.

Senator Conroy: If you would.

Mr D Richardson : The department does not give recommendations to the minister when he travels as to which hotel he may or may not stay at. That is done by the relevant embassy or high commission. Very often bookings are simply made by an embassy or a high commission based upon past practice. I would note, however, that very often when the Minister for Foreign Affairs travels he stays with heads of mission.

Senator EGGLESTON: Is it true that during a two-night stay in Jerusalem the foreign minister's accommodation expenses were $4,200 and during a one-night stay in Stockholm the foreign minister's accommodation expenses were $1,700?

Senator Conroy: I am sure we are about to get an update on Alexander Downer's.

Senator EGGLESTON: As I said, we would be delighted.

Mr D Richardson : We will take that—

Senator Conroy: It is utterly hypocritical.

Senator EGGLESTON: I will put these on notice.

Mr D Richardson : I will take that on notice.

Senator McEWEN: I would just like to note that from 25 February to 1 March, 2002 Mr Downer went to Indonesia and that cost the Australian taxpayer $103,719.62.

Senator Conroy: Exactly. This is just such a waste of everyone's time.

Senator McEWEN: I have got more if you want them. Would you like me to read out some more?

Senator Conroy: Whenever you have next got a foreign minister you are not planning on making him stay at the Y. They will not be staying at the Y, so stop pretending they will.

Senator RHIANNON: I have a question of the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls and then I was going to ask about the migrant women's workers convention. Again, congratulations. It warms our heart and is a very good decision of the government. What is the budget of your office, please?

Ms Williams : As you know, my position was established in September. I have not had an allocated budget per se. At the moment we are building our budget. It is predominantly based around travel. I do not have a program budget. I think we have explained previously that the program funding for development assistance rests with AusAID. Mine is a diplomatic position, predominantly around travel, and we are building a budget as we speak.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'building a budget', does that mean after the May budget there will then be a budget item for your office?

Ms Williams : No.

Mr D Richardson : No.

Senator RHIANNON: In the statement of the 13 September, 2011, in talking about priorities you listed one of the priorities as improving access to services for women. Does that include comprehensive sex and reproductive health services and, if it does, could you outline what is being done in this area, please?

Ms Williams : I think those questions are probably best directed to AusAID in the later hearing. My role very much is one of highlighting what the role of women in our development assistance program is and obviously that covers the broad range of issues from education through to sexual, reproductive and maternal health. I really think for the detail of that question you are probably best placed to raise that with AusAID.

Senator RHIANNON: But that is one of the priorities of services for women?

Ms Williams : In terms of highlighting the role of women in our development assistance program, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. I will move on to the issue of migrant workers. Sorry to speed along.

CHAIR: For Ms Williams?

Senator RHIANNON: No. I do apologise to Ms Williams, it is just because we are out of time.

CHAIR: Ms Williams, Senator McEwan has a follow-up question.

Senator McEWEN: Are you attending the Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the UN?

Ms Williams : I am.

Senator McEWEN: That is in a couple of weeks, is that right?

Ms Williams : I will be leaving on 24 February.

Senator McEWEN: Who is in Australia's delegation to that?

Ms Williams : Australia's delegation is made up of the Office for Women, AusAID, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and me.

Senator McEWEN: What is the focus of this year's meeting?

Ms Williams : The focus is on rural women. I will be involved in some panels on rural women, women with disabilities which is organised by Australian Network on Disability. I am also involved in a panel that plans running on forced and early marriage.

Senator McEWEN: We look forward to an update next estimates.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Richardson, could you update the committee on Australia's response to the migrant workers convention with respect to ratification?

Mr Larsen : I will have to take that on notice. I do not have the details with me.

Mr D Richardson : The Department of Immigration and Citizenship will have the details on that, but given that it is a general treaty we can take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Just to clarify that, because I was going to ask about any communication you had had with the department of immigration about this convention, are you saying that it is the department of immigration's responsibility before it is your responsibility?

Mr D Richardson : I believe so, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, that was a quick one.

Senator KROGER: I turn to an understanding of our conventions or policy in relation to Australian citizens who are detained overseas, with respect to what triggers a senior government intervention in an individual case.

Mr D Richardson : Whenever an Australian citizen is detained overseas there is an obligation on the part of the detaining state to advise the Australian government. That is normally done through the nearest Australian consulate, your consulate general, embassy or high commission. Sometimes difficulties can arise with respect to dual citizens, because some countries do not accept dual citizenship. For instance, I think it is well known that if a young Australian male around a particular age turns up to certain countries they can be conscripted into the military if they are a citizen of that country in addition to being a citizen of Australia.

Leaving aside that complexity, where an Australian is detained, we seek to have early access to that person at the first opportunity and we seek to ensure that we seek approval to advise family here. We do other matters in terms of making some inquiries in respect of whether they want legal representation and then giving them a range of possibilities without making the decision for them.

Senator KROGER: Mr Richardson, if I could just interrupt you, because I am mindful of the time—I think we have only go five minutes before—

Mr D Richardson : Yes. What triggers the high.

Senator KROGER: Yes. What I am actually interested in is—for instance, if our ambassador in a foreign nation recommends to the Minister for Foreign Affairs that government intervention is a course that should be considered, what is the policy in relation to that level?

Mr D Richardson : A trigger could be where someone has been arrested and charged with an offence for which, within the laws of that country, the death penalty might be applicable. That would certainly trigger high-level interest. The high-level interest is also triggered when people are arrested or detained in unusual circumstances and charged with unusual offences. They are two instances. Patrick, do you have others?

Mr Suckling : There is often a process of escalation with cases. On any given day we have 1,600 live consular cases, which are being normally managed by consular offices who manage through. There are a huge amount of cases that just get worked through professionally and quickly by the professionals on the ground, but sometimes they run into a bit of turbulence and then it gets escalated. Depending on the degree of turbulence, that can often inform the degree to which it is escalated.

Senator KROGER: Final question on this: if an ambassador were to recommend that the foreign minister intervene as a government minister to the corresponding person in that foreign government, would it be reasonable to expect that that would be given serious consideration?

Mr D Richardson : It would always be given consideration, yes.

Senator KROGER: My emphasis was on the work 'serious', as opposed to 'consideration'.

Mr D Richardson : I am not playing with words, Senator. Where a head of mission abroad made such a recommendation then all the ministers I have worked with would certainly consider it seriously.

Senator FAULKNER: Would such a recommendation not also go through departmental processes?

Mr D Richardson : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: If we just leave it where Senator Kroger's questioning ends, one could be left with the impression that it might be a normal course of events for a head of mission to directly—there would be no departmental role in the process. I think it is important perhaps that you outline briefly to the committee the recommendatory or role the department would have.

Mr D Richardson : Certainly. You are right: the actual submission would be prepared within the department and go forward from the department. Nonetheless, if a head of mission made such a recommendation, even where we had a different view, a minister would still give it serious consideration, and giving that serious consideration does not mean that you necessarily agree with it.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that and I also appreciate the fact that probably in such circumstances, where there might be a circumstance where a head of mission might be expressing a view that was not necessarily endorsed by the department, I am sure that in the department's briefing the Minister for Foreign Affairs would be made aware of the strength of view of the head of mission, so you might just confirm that also.

Mr D Richardson : Yes. That is right.

Mr Suckling : Can I just emphasise that such representations, the consideration of which would have to be done in consultation with legal counsel and the actual consulate client because it is legal counsel that often run the cases.

Senator KROGER: Would it be a common occurrence for the department to disagree with a recommendation in relation to an individual made by a head of mission?

Mr D Richardson : Yes, there can be circumstances when the department might disagree. As Mr Sucking said, a judgment always needs to made, when you raise the profile of a case, in terms of are you helping the person or are you not. There can be limited circumstances where raising the profile does not assist, so you can have judgment calls of that kind. There can also be a judgment call in respect of the practicality of it or not. Yes, I do not think that you could take it that a recommendation by a head of mission abroad would be automatically endorsed by the department.

CHAIR: The time for this part of the program is complete. I know there are several senators with questions that will now have to be put on notice. I apologise and move to the trade portfolio. The program was agreed this morning, and we tried to accommodate everybody.