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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee: Environment and Energy Portfolio: Department of the Environment and Energy

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 1 Mar 2017

Monday, 27 February 2017

Senator RHIANNON: Can you tell me whether former resources minister Mr Macfarlane has met with any departmental staff or with the minister or his office in his capacity as Queensland Resources Council CEO since he left parliament?

Senator Birmingham: In relation to the minister, if my recollection is correct, at the last hearing of these estimates I provided an answer on that which indicated an event at which they had seen each other, or something of the sort, from recollection. I will let officials speak for the department.

Dr de Brouwer : I think that is still being assessed and under consideration, to answer that question.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'assessed and under consideration', what do you mean? Do you mean that you have not had time to go back and check the dates and meetings or that you have not decided if you will actually do it?

Dr de Brouwer : No. There is a process to do, to work out, and part of that is a clearance process through the minister's office. We are going through that process now.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the process? Is it just a matter of asking the minister if he is willing to do it, or is there a formal process that is written down?

Dr de Brouwer : No, that is the process. The response to these questions goes through a clearance process, and we are going through that process at the moment.

Senator RHIANNON: But can you explain what 'clearance' means? Is it that you have to wait to see if the minister agrees to release it?

Dr de Brouwer : It is with the minister's office, at this stage.

Senator RHIANNON: It is with the minister's office. So it might stay with minister and nothing happens. It sounds like there is no process other than it just being up to the minister.

Dr de Brouwer : The department works for the minister, and our answers go through the minister's office as they go out.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to also ask about the Prime Minister's statement of ministerial standards and the cooling-off period for former ministers, during which they are not allowed to lobby the government. Are you aware of the order of continuing effect adopted by the Senate on 23 November last year, in relation to the rolling disclosure of meetings with former ministers?

Dr de Brouwer : In general terms, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: You have said you are aware of it. What implications does that have for how you handle these issues?

Dr de Brouwer : We would handle that within the department, for departmental meetings, but it is a matter for the minister at ministerial meetings.

Senator RHIANNON: Just to clarify, the minister is responsible for the ministerial meetings and you as the head of department are responsible for everything else.

Dr de Brouwer : No, I am responsible for understanding the meetings of departmental officers with former ministers. That is my responsibility.

Senator RHIANNON: You are responsible for the disclosure. Is that what you are saying?

Dr de Brouwer : It is still run through the normal questioning process and we would clear those with the minister's office.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you explain what the normal questioning process is?

Dr de Brouwer : We prepare questions on notice but they are cleared by a minister's office. That is normal practice.

Senator RHIANNON: But apart from the questioning process—just the overall process about lobbying.

Dr de Brouwer : Any lobbyist who comes into the department, there is a record of lobbyists that is a requirement and that is recorded.

Senator RHIANNON: And with regard to the rolling disclosure, what are you doing about that?

Dr de Brouwer : The rolling disclosure would be us having a sense of what those meetings are and clearing that with the minister's office.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'having a sense'—

Dr de Brouwer : Well, tracking those as they occur.

Senator RHIANNON: So we now have tracking. You have got a sense, which means tracking. Does it mean public release? What happens with this rolling disclosure?

Dr de Brouwer : I have already said we would work that through with the minister's office.

Senator RHIANNON: So when you say 'work it through with the minister'—does not want it to go any further; it just lapses. Is that a fair description?

Dr de Brouwer : Well, we have not got to that situation yet.

Senator RHIANNON: And you have not got to that situation because it is still with the minister?

Dr de Brouwer : No, because at those meetings we have not put up anything additional to the minister's office, through that requirement.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand the order is called order No. 20C and it states that each minister must table a record of all meetings between former ministers who are within the cooling-off period and current ministers or senior officials. Is your department complying with that order?

Senator Birmingham: That sounds like it is an order related to the minister. I will have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you explain where that is up to please.

Dr de Brouwer : I will have to take that one on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: As far as we can tell there was only one document tabled in response to this order and that was by Senator Birmingham as the Minister for Education and Training. Did anyone in the Environment portfolio meet with any former ministers who are within their cooling-off period since November last year?

Dr de Brouwer : I will have to take that one on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering this is an important issue and the Prime Minister has been on the record a number of times speaking about transparency, and it was only November last year and you have come to estimates, do you really need to take it on notice? Wouldn't there be someone here who could assist, even if you cannot remember?

Dr de Brouwer : I want to give you an accurate answer, so I will take it on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: There is one example that has been reported, interestingly, in the Townsville Bulletin,of former resources minister Ian Macfarlane, who is still within the cooling-off period and, as we know, has got that important CEO position. He boasted at a business function in Townsville in February that he would talk to his 'good mates in Canberra in order to make sure our native title laws are amended in the wake of a Federal Court decision which threatens the Adani mine'. Did the minister or anyone in your department have any contact with Mr Macfarlane about this issue?

Dr de Brouwer : I cannot speak for the minister. The department does not have control of the minister's diary. That is a matter for the minister. On the department, I will take that one on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for taking it on notice. If it has not been disclosed, can you then explain why it was not disclosed? If it has been disclosed, that will be informative.

Dr de Brouwer : I will come back on notice, but the issue of continuous disclosure—what that means, how that is applied in practice—is something that we need to work out. There is always a clearance process though for these matters. I will have to come back on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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