Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, I was hoping you would have this information because it would inform our deliberations today-if not, could you take it on notice. Could you provide the committee with a departmental breakdown-a table-of budget estimates for 2014-15 and 2015-16 for ODA eligible expenditure by all government departments?
Mr Varghese : That is probably already covered in what we have either on our website or in the budget document. But the chief financial officer may be able to add.
Mr Wood : Yes, we would be happy to provide that information. We can take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Could it be provided during the sitting so we can come back with further questions on that, please.
Mr Wood : Yes.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Contrary to earlier practice that I have noticed in how DFAT presents its information, in this budget DFAT has not provided the estimated outcomes for 2014-15. I noted that this year DFAT only provided budget estimates for 2014-15 and 2015-16. Can you provide estimated outcomes for those two financial years?
Mr Wood : We provide estimated outcomes for the financial year that has ended. Obviously we are not yet at the end of the 2014-15 financial year. We will be happy to provide advice on the actual end result post the end of the financial year.
Senator RHIANNON: That is a change in procedure, though, isn't it?
Mr Wood : I would have to check and confirm that. Obviously we provide advice on what our budget estimates are, and then at the end of the year we provide advice on what our final outcome is. But I will check to see what our previous practice has been.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, that is a change of procedure, isn't it-that the estimated outcomes were not provided as they have been in past years?
Mr Varghese : I cannot add to what Mr Wood has said. We will check and, if it is a change, we will let you know.
Senator RHIANNON: But as that is the top order in terms of how you operate-that is surely the guide-I thought that would be front and centre of your memory, your understanding and the information you have given to us.
Mr Varghese : I cannot add to what I have just said.
Senator RHIANNON: Previous budgets have provided the breakdown on overseas aid spending, as I have mentioned, and, as I said, it is not in this budget. Was that a decision of the department to not include that breakdown, or was that a request?
Mr Varghese : You are now asking me to provide a comment on something that I said I did not know the answer to and I would check. I am happy, having checked, to then see whether I can answer the question you have just asked.
Senator RHIANNON: So you will take that on notice?
Mr Varghese : I will.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Is it correct that the total reduction in overseas aid funding since the coalition was elected in September 2013 is $11 billion, or can you give a more detailed amount?
Mr Wood : In the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook there was a reduction of $3.7 billion. That was in this current year-that was over the forward estimates. Then in the 2014-15 budget there was a reduction of $7.6 billion over the forward estimates.
Senator RHIANNON: So it is $3.7 billion plus $7.6 billion?
Mr Wood : Correct.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Then in MYEFO it was the $1 billion-that was the last reduction. Is that correct?
Mr Wood : At the MYEFO there was a reduction of $3.7 billion over the forward estimates. That covered the 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 financial years. The first year of that period is 2015-16, and in 2015-16 there was a reduction of approximately $1 billion. That is what the $1 billion refers to: it is the cut in next year's aid budget.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, was that a recommendation from the department about the cut of $1 billion?
Mr Varghese : No, we tend not to recommend cutting our budget. That was a decision of the government.
Senator RHIANNON: When did you learn about that? Was it when Mr Hockey made the MYEFO announcement?
Mr Varghese : We would have known about it a little bit prior to the MYEFO announcement.
Senator RHIANNON: What is 'a little bit', please?
Mr Varghese : I would have to take on notice exactly when, but budget processes are such that these decisions are obviously taken in advance of being published. I would have to check precisely when we were aware that MYEFO would be having that particular figure in it.
Senator RHIANNON: So you were informed. We are talking about Treasury informing DFAT of the reduction would be. Is that how it works?
Mr Varghese : How it works is that the government makes a decision and the department implements it.
Senator RHIANNON: I am trying to understand. When you say 'the government', we are talking about a large number of people. So we are talking about Treasury department, or Mr Hockey, or Mr Abbott? Could you explain the process, please?
Mr Varghese : Normally budget decisions are taken in the context of the Expenditure Review Committee. The Expenditure Review Committee consists of some but not all ministers, and they usually consult with the relevant portfolio minister in the course of making a decision.
Senator Brandis: That is correct, and of course ultimately these decisions are made by the cabinet. The Expenditure Review Committee is a subcommittee of the cabinet. It also includes some people who are not cabinet ministers, like the Assistant Treasurer. But it constructs the budget, and the cabinet, of course, overall takes ministerial responsibility for the budget.
Senator RHIANNON: So I can just understand the process, Senator Brandis-because that was useful-the Expenditure Review Committee makes a recommendation, it goes to government and then cabinet makes the decision at that point?
Senator Brandis: Formally that is what happens.
Senator RHIANNON: And then it goes back to the department?
Senator Brandis: In relation to the department, perhaps Mr Varghese can speak, rather than me, but the way it works-it is quite a long process, as you might imagine-is that ministers are invited to make recommendations within their portfolios, which they do in a process commencing about six months before the budget is delivered; the cabinet itself obviously has a discussion about budget priorities; the Expenditure Review Committee considers ministers' proposals; it meets, as Mr Varghese has said, with each relevant minister, often more than once, often several times; and it makes a number of decisions. The minute of those decisions is then brought to cabinet for endorsement. That is the way, in a mechanical sense, the process works.
Senator RHIANNON: You have explained that the ministry is invited to the Expenditure Review Committee and there are a number of meetings.
Senator Brandis: When I say 'a number of meetings', it is a very, very large number of meetings. Particularly during the Easter recess, the Expenditure Review Committee meets for days on end, all through the day.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for explaining that. So the minister is invited to make recommendations. The ERC meets with the relevant minister. I imagine within that process also that senior people could make recommendations for cuts in other departments.
Senator Brandis: That is not the way it generally works. The ERC sometimes, of course, merely deliberate among themselves. I am not on the ERC, by the way. Not all meetings of the ERC are meetings with the ministers. Sometimes the ERC deliberates itself.
Senator RHIANNON: I am trying to understand how this cut came about. You said that that is not generally how it works. Does that mean that Minister Bishop would have been there and made the recommendation? At what point is she involved in the discussion about the cuts of $1 billion at the meeting of the ERC?
Senator Brandis: I do not know anything about these particular savings. You asked me to describe a process, and I have tried to describe it to you as well as I can. It is not the case that every minister's recommendation is adopted. It is not the case that every decision of the ERC in relation to a portfolio is a decision that originates with the minister.
Senator RHIANNON: So we could have a situation where there has been a recommendation from the Treasurer to cut $1 billion and the relevant minister finds out when she comes to the meeting. That is possible?
Senator Brandis: I do not want to speculate, so I am not going to answer that question directly, but the ERC makes its own decisions, which are then minuted and brought to cabinet for endorsement. The ERC meets with ministers to discuss their portfolios. Not every recommendation by a minister is adopted and not every decision of the ERC has its origins in a recommendation from the relevant minister.
But beyond that I cannot go, except in my own portfolio, and would not be at liberty to go in any event because to go beyond describing the process would be to reveal the deliberations of government. But I do think it is fair to share with you a description in general of the way the process works.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Mr Varghese, you said that you would be able to inform the committee about the time line. Could you do that today, because I would like to revisit this issue with you?
Mr Varghese : I will certainly try to do that today. We would have been aware of this at the point that the ERC minuted a decision and then at the point when the cabinet endorsed the decision. So I will see whether we can check what those dates were.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Given Australia's role in the negotiation of the Addis Ababa Accord with regard to the sustainable development goals, what measures has DFAT taken with regard to the 0.7 per cent of GNI as ODA developing countries by 2020? How are you handling that issue, considering the budget cuts? That is what I am trying to understand. The commitment was given under former Prime Minister John Howard. There have now been budget cuts: how is this issue managed, internationally?
Mr McDonald : I think you are talking about finance for development negotiations that are currently under way and conclude in Addis Ababa in July. Those negotiations are ongoing and there are negotiations happening over the next few weeks. The issue raised is one issue that is being talked about-there are also many other issues-and will not be concluded until July.
Senator RHIANNON: You are saying it will not be concluded until July?
Mr McDonald : The ministerial summit is in July in Addis Ababa, and that is when the negotiations will be completed.
Senator RHIANNON: I had understood that there was also to be the establishment of a timetable by the end of 2015? I understood that was part of the work that there was already a commitment to in how developed countries will increase their assistance. I thought that was already on the record and that decision had already been made?
Mr McDonald : There is commitment to 0.7 that does not have a time frame around it, but there is also a commitment to develop new SDGs-sustainable development goals-by the end of 2015. So, there are a whole range of issues in negotiations that are going on. And, like all negotiations, they depend on the package and on the agreement between what in this case are 190-odd countries. To summarise the negotiations at this point would not be fair in terms of the process. They still have a few week to go before they conclude those negotiations about what is put forward to ministers in July.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I have questions about aid to Africa and, in particular, the African Development Bank. Can you confirm what the percentage cut was to Africa, please?
Mr McDonald : In relation to Africa, the bilateral program reduces from $86 million to $31 million in 2015-16. And with the African Development Bank, a decision was taken some time ago that we would not be joining it.
Senator RHIANNON: What is the percentage of the cuts to Africa-
Mr McDonald : I will ask Mr Wood to confirm the percentage on the bilateral program.
Mr Wood : That is percentage is 70 per cent.
Senator RHIANNON: Seventy-thank you. Just on the Maldives-
Mr McDonald : Just on that: the 70 per cent is on the bilateral program. In terms of the overall total flows to Africa, from memory, the reduction is from $186 million to about $90-odd million. So it is about 50 per cent on total flows.
Senator RHIANNON: On the situation in the Maldives: could you please update the committee on what work the government has been undertaking to raise human rights and democracy issues in light of recent developments there?
Mr McDonald : We just need the relevant division head for that, Senator.
Mr Varghese : The relevant division head is currently absent but will be back, hopefully, after lunch.
CHAIR: If you agree, Senator, could we pick that up when he is back?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes, we will come back to it after lunch.
CHAIR: I also have questions in that area, Senator Rhiannon.
Senator McGRATH: I also have a question on the Maldives, as I have a long-term interest there.
CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, you should ask Senator McGrath. He is a great expert on Maldivian politics.
Senator RHIANNON: Excellent. It is good to have something in common with the senator. I want to ask about the proposal for the diplomatic post in Bougainville. All up, I understood it was a bit over $98 million allocated for the new posts. Of that amount, how much has been earmarked for this new one on Bougainville.
Mr Wood : We would need to take on notice the precise breakdown and details. As you said, there was $98.3 million provided in the budget to open the five posts: Buka, Doha, Makassar, Phuket and Ulaanbaatar. The funding is split between operating and capital and it is split across financial years.
Senator RHIANNON: So you will be able to supply that on notice and give us a breakdown?
Mr Wood : We will confirm the allocations that we have.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering Mr Pato, the Foreign Minister of PNG, referred to Australia's plan to open a diplomatic post on Bougainville as 'outrageous' and 'mischievous' and Prime Minister Peter O'Neill also said he was shocked to learn of the plan, could you outline the preparations that were undertaken to come forward with this proposal? Where did the recommendations come from to open up a diplomatic post at Buka and what were those recommendations based on?
Mr Varghese : The origins of this go back to a so-called footprint review that we conducted in the department which was intended to look at where we were currently represented and to make recommendations on whether that footprint was appropriate and, if it was not appropriate, what we should be looking by way of changes to it. As part of that footprint review, one of its recommendations was the merits of opening a post in Bougainville at Buka. In taking forward the recommendations of the footprint review, the expansion of the diplomatic network was put forward as a new policy proposal and went through the budget processes that the Attorney-General has described, and the government took a decision, which was announced in the budget, relating to five new posts abroad.
Senator RHIANNON: So did the Prime Minister of PNG find out about it on budget night? Is that correct?
Mr Varghese : Regrettably, there was a miscommunication on this. It was our intention and certainly the foreign minister's intention that advice of our interest in expanding our presence in Buka should have been conveyed to the government of Papua New Guinea in advance of the budget. Unfortunately, a combination of the general proprieties of observing the secrecy of budget decisions together with the difficulty in reaching senior levels of the PNG government in the days before the budget prevented that from happening in the way we would have liked it to happen. Consequently, I think the foreign minister and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea had not been briefed on it, and that is very regrettable. We have subsequently been in discussions with the government and with government officials about how we can take our interest further.
CHAIR: On that note, Senator Rhiannon, we will suspend for lunch.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, I just want to pick up on one of the issues that we left off on earlier. Can you now give us the dates, please, relating to when the department became aware of the MYEFO decision on overseas aid?
Mr Varghese : Senator, I think I said I would take that on notice; I have not had an opportunity to-
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, I understand that you obviously do not need to do it yourself; you have a very large staff. It is just a matter of getting a couple of dates which are clearly very significant. That really is information that would be quite readily supplied. That is why I wanted to ask for it again, and why I made that request earlier.
Mr Varghese : I shall check as to where it is. Normally, when we take something on notice, we provide it to the committee later; however, if you want an earlier response, I will see whether I can get you an earlier response.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, I think that would be informative about the issues at hand. I have seen a document about the aid for Papua New Guinea. The latest figure I could find was $502 million for PNG, but I think that was for the previous financial year. Could I get the latest figure from you, please.
Mr Wood : The budget estimate for 2015-16 is $477.3 million.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. How much of that is going to Manus Island, please?
Mr Varghese : I will just see if there is anyone who can give you that level of detail.
Senator RHIANNON: I was interested: the amount for Manus, is that out of the $477 million, or is this additional to that figure?
Mr Sloper : The amount is included in the $477 million. The commitments under the joint understanding in relation to Manus remain, as does the funding originally agreed. I just note that the $477.3 million represents bilateral aid, managed by DFAT. There are additional amounts that come through regional and global programs as well that will flow to Papua New Guinea.
Senator RHIANNON: I may have missed it: did you just give us how much for Manus?
Mr Sloper : No, I did not. The original agreement, signed in 2013 for Manus, was $420 million over four years, and that commitment remains. In terms of the funding for next-
Senator RHIANNON: So about $105 million average every year?
Mr Sloper : It will vary according to the nature of the projects that are under way.
Senator RHIANNON: You mean by that the Madang to Ramu highway and the hospital et cetera; what rolls out in what year?
Mr Sloper : That is right. Under the understanding, as you are probably aware, we have a master plan for development for the ANGAU hospital in Lae. The master plan is due to be completed in June 2015, and then we will take that forward in terms of next steps. We have got work underway at the University of PNG. I think you are probably aware there is also an MOU between the University of Papua New Guinea and James Cook University for a twinning program, and there is a range of other activities underway. As they go forward, the funding may shift between years, depending on the progress of those individual programs or projects.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, how many of these programs on Manus Island have been determined on the basis of poverty alleviation?
Mr Varghese : Our decisions on the expenditure of aid money is designed to promote economic growth. If you promote economic growth, I think poverty reduction almost invariably follows. So the projects we would support in Manus would have that objective.
Senator RHIANNON: How does the deployment of the Australian Federal Police help economic growth on Manus?
Mr Varghese : In my experience, there is a direct link between the security of a country and the stability of its economy, and decisions that are made about investment and about business. I think the two are very closely linked.
Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware of what happened in the 1990s with what was then called AIDAB, and how a number of the programs that AIDAB was then running funding new PNG police programs with training from Australia became deeply discredited. It ended up being recommended that it was not assisting-are you acquainted with that experience that Australian bilateral aid programs have been involved in?
Mr Varghese : No, I am not, Senator, but the existence of a failed program, if that indeed what it was, does not mean that you do not pursue the same objective in other ways.
Senator RHIANNON: You think that should come out of the aid budget? It should not be managed in other ways, considering how the aid budget for poverty alleviation is shrinking so much, with $11 billion cut since this government came in? Isn't that an issue?
Mr Varghese : Senator, you see them as two entirely different things; I do not. I think there is a very clear link between security and development. The whole purpose of an aid program is to promote development and, if you can promote security to assist development, I think that is a very good thing.
Senator RHIANNON: But isn't the question then: who is the development for? Considering the priority now for the Australian aid budget, when you talk about economic growth, isn't that in the context of Australia's national interest? Isn't that the primary factor that we are dealing with here?
Mr Varghese : Australia's national interest is always a factor in the expenditure of Australian taxpayers' money. But the security of Papua New Guinea is fundamentally in the interests of the people of Papua New Guinea.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it not the case, though, that the current key objective of the Australian overseas aid program is to meet Australia's national interest?
Mr Varghese : You are posing some fundamental contradiction between Australia's-
Senator RHIANNON: I am quite happy for you to say it is wrong but-considering I have read so much material and have attended lectures et cetera-that was seen as a significant change. Is Australia's national interest the key objective that has to be met in delivering an overseas aid program? If something can be quoted that is wrong, it would be good to get it on the record.
Mr Varghese : I think if you look at our official documents, it says 'The purpose of the aid program is to promote Australia's national interest by contributing to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.' We are dealing with a set of issues that are intricately interrelated and, with respect, Senator, I think you are trying to separate them out, completely.
Senator RHIANNON: I have some issues to do with DFAT itself. You would probably be aware of The Canberra Times article last Saturday, under the title 'DFAT staffer claims abuse report stifled career'. It said, in part, at the end:
The department's latest annual report said it employed 3950 Australian staff, with 864 of those-or 22 per cent-posted overseas. Only one staffer successfully claimed from Comcare for mental stress in 2013-14.
Is that correct? If it is not correct, what is the correct figure and how many applied but were unsuccessful?
Mr Varghese : I will take that on notice, Senator, but the decision on Comcare compensation is not one taken by the department. It is taken by Comcare.
Senator RHIANNON: You cannot provide any figures about the number of people who go on stress leave and those sorts of issues.
Mr Varghese : I am happy to take specific questions on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Another aspect of this article says, 'The department's conduct and ethics unit found there was insufficient evidence to substantiate a sexual abuse claim in Brunei.' How many sexual-abuse cases has the department's conduct and ethics unit investigated over the past five years, and how many have been upheld?
Mr Varghese : I will take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering this is a current story in the media, surely you would come along here prepared to answer these questions.
Senator Brandis: Come on, Senator Rhiannon.
Senator RHIANNON: You should not be interfering in this way. You know how serious this is.
Senator Brandis: Mr Varghese is one of the most cooperative, courteous, well-prepared officials I have ever seen before senate estimates in the last fifteen years, and for you to reflect on him and his officers like that is, frankly, disgusting.
Senator RHIANNON: Mr Varghese, has DFAT been asked to assist the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse?
Mr Varghese : I will see if colleagues have any more information on it. There is a broader Public Service process for dealing with the royal commission, and I would imagine that we have been involved in that.
Mr Fisher : Senator, I can give you a little information on that. The Attorney-General's Department has called in the Commonwealth's engagement with the royal commission and, like all Commonwealth agencies, DFAT has responded to the royal commission's notices to produce documents through the Attorney-General's Department. In that sense, we have been involved.
Mr Varghese : I can give you some information in relation to allegations of sexual abuse that go back over history. Since 1997 there have been 11 cases of alleged sexual abuse connected to DFAT staff. That is both Australia based staff and locally engaged staff. Nine cases were overseas and five cases involved minors. Of the 11 alleged cases investigated, one individual faced charges under the Criminal Code but was not convicted. Two were investigated under the APS Code of Conduct. Two cases were reported to the Australian Federal Police but no criminal charges were pursued. Three officers remain in the department; in all three cases, investigations into the alleged sexual abuse were found to be unsubstantiated.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that information. The Canberra Times article of Saturday reports about this case in Brunei: '... the public servant took her allegations directly to Brunei police in July 2007 which led to an arrest and investigation into a locally employed staff member.' However, then 'the man questioned was bailed out by high commission staff'. My reading of this is that the police found that there was a case but then 'the department's conduct and ethics unit found there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the sexual abuse claim'. Did officers from the department's conduct and ethics unit travel to Brunei to investigate this and to make their assessment, which runs counter to what the local police found?
Mr Varghese : I am not going to go into the details of an individual case, because that raises a number of considerations. I can say that we take allegations of sexual abuse very seriously. We conduct investigations when they are brought to our attention. We stand by the quality and the integrity of our investigations. In all of these cases, individuals have an opportunity to take our conclusions for review and appeal through other mechanisms available to public servants. In those cases where they have, invariably the department's investigation process has been upheld. I make that as a general comment.
Senator Brandis: And, Senator, you should not assume merely because an allegation has been made that the allegation, on proper scrutiny, will be found to be valid.
Senator RHIANNON: I was not making that assumption at all, Senator Brandis, and you are aware of that.
Senator Brandis: You seemed to be.
Senator RHIANNON: You know I was not making that assumption. Mr Varghese, you have set out how the department makes these investigations. How often does the department refer the matter to the police?
Mr Varghese : We would refer a matter to the police where the circumstances of the case and our MOU with the AFP warrant it. I have given you information about, of the 11 cases, how many were referred to the police.
Senator RHIANNON: So there were only 11 cases. Can you remind me over what period that was?
Mr Varghese : Since 1997.
Senator RHIANNON: Only 11 cases?
Mr Varghese : Eleven allegations were made, of which two were referred to the AFP. No criminal charges proceeded.
Senator RHIANNON: I want to go back to the figure you gave of $477.3 million in bilateral aid to PNG. For the same financial year, could I also get the funding for Cambodia, Nauru and Burma?
Mr McDonald : Cambodia is $52.4 million, Burma $70.1 million and Nauru $21.2 million. If you want to look at total flows on those, we can provide those as well.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you-could you do that. The wider issue explored in the Canberra Times article was about employment of staff. Is it the case that DFAT postings employment is determined by the department's operational requirements and not by merit requirements?
Mr Varghese : Senator, it is the case that our postings process is not exclusively a merit process. By that, I mean we make our decisions on postings to reflect the operational requirements of the department. Basically, I think your proposition is correct.
Senator RHIANNON: Correct?
Mr Varghese : That is correct. It is an operational decision not a merit-selection process.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you elaborate on that? This is partly from personal experience, but it would seem there are so many people who would love to work for DFAT. I am one of the fortunate MPs who are able to take interns from ANU and meet many of these people. Clearly, they are developing a wealth of knowledge, and experience is also very important. I would like you to elaborate on that, if you could, because it would seem as though merit requirement should have significance in your decisions. I am surprised that you give such emphasis to just one aspect of it.
Mr Varghese : I did not say we ignore merit. It would not be a very good organisational principle to ignore merit.
Senator RHIANNON: I am just trying to understand where the balance lies.
Mr Varghese : It is a fact that when you are making a decision about whom to post to a particular position you have to take into account a whole range of factors, of which merit is only one. When I talk about operational requirements, it could well be that you have a field of applicants where someone has a strong claim to the position but may have had three or four postings in a row, and you would not necessarily post them once again. It may be that you have a field in which someone has had a series of very difficult postings and they are applying for a less difficult posting, and you would give some weight to it. That is what I mean by operational requirements.
Senator RHIANNON: Is the Australian government, Mr Varghese, aware of the abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli military that was covered by the March 2013 UNICEF report regarding the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli military systems? It found:
The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child's prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.
Previous Australian governments have raised concerns with the Israeli government about this abuse, and the issue found significant coverage in Australia in a joint Four Corners and The Australian report in 2014. So while the Israeli government has instituted a range of measures-
Senator Brandis: Is this a question, Senator Rhiannon?
Senator RHIANNON: Yes-most definitely. I started by saying, 'Is the Australian government aware of the abuse of Palestinian children', and I am just setting out some of those issues.
Senator Brandis: If the question is whether the Australian government is aware of the report or the media reports to which you have referred, then Mr Varghese or his officers can answer that question. If your question is whether the Australian government has any independent knowledge of the conclusions or views stated in that report or those media reports, that is a different question. Are those the two issues you want addressed?
Senator RHIANNON: I want to set out the examples. The final part of the question is: has the Australian government made any representation to the Israeli government over the abuse. That is why I was setting out, and would like to continue to set out, those example of the abuses that have been well documented.
Senator Brandis: Senator Rhiannon, you are perfectly entitled to know what the Australian government is aware of. You are certainly entitled to know about representations that might be made by the Australian government. Your multiple question is premised on a conclusion that the abuse occurred. You are entitled to know whether the Australian government has any independent knowledge of its own of the alleged abuse, or whether the Australian government agrees with the conclusions. Perhaps Mr Varghese or his officers could address those issues.
Mr Innes-Brown : The Australian government has previously expressed our concerns about allegations of mistreatment of Palestinian minors in detention. Most recently on 19 May our embassy in Israel reiterated our interest in and concerns over security and judicial practices towards Palestinian minors. This took place during a roundtable meeting with a range of Israeli agencies, UNICEF and other foreign missions.
Senator RHIANNON: Was that taking up the UNICEF report on alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention? Was the UNICEF report one of the issues that was addressed?
Mr Innes-Brown : Yes. The UNICEF report came out-we were aware of that-and it was in that context and our ongoing interest in this particular issue that we again raised the matter. As I said, there was a meeting where a range of Israeli agencies gathered, as well as foreign missions, to discuss the issue.
Senator RHIANNON: Was it Israeli non-government organisations, or were government representatives present for this?
Mr Innes-Brown : According to my information they were all what you would call government or state organisations.
Senator RHIANNON: Was the Israeli Prison Service report also considered? That is the one that details that 182 Palestinian children were in Israeli military detention as of March this year. Was that also covered?
Mr Innes-Brown : I do not know whether that specific report was traversed in that gathering.
Senator RHIANNON: The Australian government representatives at that event took up the issue of concerns about the abuse. Could you detail what was actually conveyed from the Australian government?
Mr Innes-Brown : I think I said at the beginning that we expressed our concerns about allegations and we were interested to find out what reforms or measures were being taken in response. It is not a new issue; we have taken this up before and it is an issue that we continue to monitor.
Senator RHIANNON: What I am trying to find out is when you say 'concerns'-it is one of the delights of the English language that it can be considered in different ways-were they just concerns, or were there specific points made that it should end? What is happening? Will fewer children be put in jail, and will those who are in jail be released? I am just trying to understand what 'concerns' means.
Senator Brandis: Mr Innes-Brown has a very carefully and properly responded to your question by referring to the concerns the Australian government had about allegations. I have not read the UNICEF report you have referred to or seen the media reports you have referred to. Whether the allegations are accepted, whether they are acknowledged, what the status of the allegations are, I do not know, but, as Mr Innes-Brown has said, the allegations having been made, the Australian government expressed concern about them.
Senator RHIANNON: In your comments just then, Attorney-General, were you suggesting that they are just allegations?
Senator Brandis: I do not know.
Senator RHIANNON: Even though they have come from UNICEF, from-
Senator Brandis: What UNICEF may say in a report is not necessarily the end of the matter.
Senator RHIANNON: What about the Israel Prison Services report?
Senator Brandis: I am not familiar with that report.
Senator RHIANNON: That is just an allegation?
Senator Brandis: I am not familiar with the report and I make it a practice not to comment on documents I have not read.
Senator RHIANNON: What role does DFAT have in managing Australia's involvement in multilateral peacekeeping forces?
Mr Varghese : The nature of our role will vary according to the nature of the peacekeeping mandate that is being implemented, but obviously it is an area we are closely involved in.
Senator RHIANNON: Did you say 'are not'?
Mr Varghese : We are closely involved in.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you set out what is DFAT's involvement with Operation Paladin and Operation Mazurka please?
Mr Varghese : I will see whether one of my colleagues has details. If not, I will take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: On notice?
Mr Varghese : I will take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: What is DFAT's role in advising the government on military exports and imports between Australia and countries in the Middle East?
Mr Varghese : We have an export control regime that applies to the export of military equipment. That is managed by the Department of Defence, but they do so in close consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean if there is a company in Australia that is exporting military hardware overseas you would have a say in whether that is appropriate and make judgements?
Mr Varghese : We would be involved in any decision making on it. Obviously we would need to consider, for instance, whether it was in contravention of any sanctions or any Australian international obligations. We would also consider the foreign policy implications. There would be a number of factors we would take into account.
Senator RHIANNON: On another matter, what is DFAT's involvement in international counternarcotics initiatives and what departments do you work with on this?
Mr Varghese : Again, given it is an international activity, we would have an interest in it and would be involved in it, although we may not have the lead depending on which initiative you were talking about. If you have a particular initiative in mind, I am happy to take it on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Is the government planning to make or has it already made a contribution to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's forthcoming country program in Pakistan?
Mr Varghese : I would have to take that on notice, unless someone is present who has an answer to it.
Senator RHIANNON: I was after the specific programs receiving allocations of the funding too, and also a similar one for Iran. So are there any plans to make or has a contribution been made to UNODC's forthcoming country program in Iran?
Mr Varghese : I will take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: And the same thing for any specific programs. Which department has lead responsibility for international counternarcotics policy, and which minister oversees this directly? Did you say that was the AFP?
Senator Brandis: The international counternarcotics policy and enforcement is within the Attorney-General's Department. The AFP-who deal, among other things, with transnational crime-deal with this issue. It is also a matter for Customs, which is within the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that explanation. Does that mean, Attorney-General, that you are the minister who oversees this work?
Senator Brandis: The policy area is within my department. The law enforcement task is a task-depending on the nature of it-within both the AFP and Customs.
Senator RHIANNON: What are the formalised human rights safeguards applied to ensure funds allocated to overseas counternarcotics efforts do not enable human rights abuses?
Senator Brandis: That is a matter for the Attorney-General's estimates; these are the DFAT estimates. Nevertheless, I will take the question on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Moving on to Bougainville, I understand the allocation in 2015-16 is $50 million. Could you provide a breakdown of how that money will be allocated?
Mr Sloper : Are you asking for the breakdown of money for this current financial year or for the next financial year?
Senator RHIANNON: For 2015-16-so current please. I understand it is $50 million.
Mr Sloper : Next year will be $50 million.
Senator RHIANNON: Next year is it?
Mr Sloper : That is the 2015-16 year, which is what I think you said. I can talk about the broad areas; I cannot give you specific figures. The program is targeted at improving services in health, education, transport, infrastructure, law and justice. As you mentioned, it will rise from $40.7 million this year to $50 million next year.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide any breakdown? If you cannot do it for those sectors, can you give some information on the details of what will be going to non-government organisations and bilateral program-
Mr Sloper : I will need to take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Can you provide any information on the assistance that is being given to the Bougainville government for the mining operations to commence there?
Mr Sloper : The future of the Panguna mine is a matter for the autonomous Bougainville government, as you have suggested, in consultation with stakeholders-that is the PNG government, the private sector and the people of Bougainville. We do not have a direct role in regard to that.
I will add to some of the answers that we provided previously on questions on notice. We have given to you, I think, a breakdown of payments in question on notice 60 from February, and also 82 and 96 from the supplementary budget estimates period. Since then we have provided one final payment to Griffith University for a grant of $600,000 under the Australian Development Research Awards Scheme for a research project titled 'Small-scale and illegal mining in Bougainville: impacts and policy responses'. That work should continue through to 30 June 2016. That is documenting the economic, social and environmental impacts of small-scale and illegal mining, identifying policy issues for the government and suggesting laws and policies to generate benefits and minimise environmental harm and social conflict. It includes fees and travel costs for some personnel associated with that and some locally engaged researchers.
Senator RHIANNON: What was that about the locally engaged researchers? Is it to do with assessing the opinion of locals about the mine?
Mr Sloper : It is a project by Griffith University with a range of locally engaged researchers as well as two staff from Griffith. They are looking at documenting economic, social and environmental impacts of small-scale and illegal mining, identifying policy issues and suggesting laws and policies to generate benefits and minimise environmental harm and social conflict. This is the one additional project beyond those we have provided previously to you.
Senator RHIANNON: Is that the same academic who gave advice about the mining act?
Mr Sloper : This is involving both Anthony Regan-who I think is the gentleman you are referring to-and Professor Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh. One is attached to Griffith University and one is here at the ANU.
Senator RHIANNON: Had they received funding previously?
Mr Sloper : As advisers they had but neither of them is receiving any further funding apart from in relation to this project. So previously they had received funding; that is right.
Senator RHIANNON: Chair, I will be right, thanks.