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Senate Estimates: Economics Committee

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 17 Oct 2012

Economics Committee

Estimates hearings 17 October 2012

  • Senator RHIANNON
  • Dr Clark Senator
  • Mr Roy
  • Mr Walker
  • Senator Chris Evans
  • Senator WHISH-WILSON

 Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: Dr Clark, at the last estimates we had quite a detailed discussion with respect to memberships and sponsorships. A number of questions were taken on notice by you and your colleagues, but they were not responded to. Was there any reason for that?

Dr Clark : My understanding, from my adviser, is that they were responded to.

Senator RHIANNON: We could not find the response and then we wrote to you on 6 September again setting out those issues. We did not get a response to that, either.

Dr Clark : My team has informed me that we have responded to those issues on notice.

Mr Roy : I am not sure this is the question you are specifically asking for, but BI-14 was a response to a question from you around environment group memberships.

Senator RHIANNON: We had quite a lengthy discussion about the list of groups that CSIRO belongs to where it is not in an equity position and not on the board of the entity. That was one question.

Dr Clark : My understanding is that the questions have been responded to in BI-14, BI-15, BI-16 and BI-17.

Senator RHIANNON: Chair, we went through all the records and we could not find it and we followed it up with a letter to CSIRO, so I am just not sure-

CHAIR: I do not know whether we have the facilities immediately available. I can ask the secretariat to check. Do you have the question numbers there?

Senator Chris Evans: Is the secretary able to advise whether he thought there were any questions unanswered? I think CSIRO maintained they have responded to Senator Rhiannon's letter as well.

Senator RHIANNON: I do not have the question numbers here. They were asked on 28 May at the last estimates.

Dr Clark : I have the questions in front of me and I have our response to the questions.

CHAIR: In that case, would you like a copy provided—

Senator RHIANNON: If possible. I will just proceed, because I do not have much time.

CHAIR: I will ask my staff to take a copy from Dr Clark and make it available to Senator Rhiannon.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator Rhiannon, I wrote back to you—I cannot find the date on the copy I have—in response to your letter of 6 September to Mr Whelan. I cannot find a date on my response, but it directly says: 'Thank you for your letter of 6 September.'

Senator RHIANNON: There seems to be a breakdown in the system. Thank you for replying and I look forward to reading it. But I will continue. Can I ask about the two reviews and your finding of the more substantial review that you said that you had initiated prior to the controversy breaking around the Australian Forest Products Association. I understand you were assessing the wide range of industry groups that CSIRO is a member of and the benefits or otherwise that that might bring and whether it should continue?

Dr Clark : We have completed that review, as I think we promised, and we have decided not to renew our membership of Forest Products Association.

Senator RHIANNON: I was also asking about the wider review. I understood you were assessing all of the industry groups that you are a member of and I think you have said it would have been finished by September.

Dr Clark : We have completed that review and in fact the decision on those memberships is sitting with the appropriate line management in senior offices such as those of divisional chiefs or flagship chiefs. In addition, we are reviewing all of our memberships in total. Some of them will be renewed and others not.

Senator RHIANNON: It sounded from that response like the review is not entirely finished. Is that correct?

Dr Clark : It is ongoing, in that we regularly review our memberships because they must meet our criteria for why we are joining—does it provide us with addition access to the networks, is it strategic, is it an area that we have researched and are we comfortable that it is meeting those needs? So in a way each of our memberships is reviewed regularly by the responsible officer.

Senator RHIANNON: At the conclusion of our discussion last time, we discussed how this review would be handled when it was completed. I asked if it would go onto the web and you said that you would provide me with a copy. I think you also said that if a member of the public wanted access to it there would be no reason to withhold it from them. But I gathered from looking at the transcript again that you were not going to put it onto the web. If you are willing to provide it to members of the public, would you be willing to put it onto the website?

Dr Clark : Just to be clear, are you referring to the review of our membership of the Australian Forest Products Association or more general—

Senator RHIANNON: No, those questions were with regard to both reviews.

Senator Chris Evans: I think there was one review where forest products was a subset of that review. Is that right, Dr Clark?

Dr Clark : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: When I read over the transcript it sounded like they were two separate reviews, but I do not think that matters enormously.

Senator Chris Evans: Senator, just in case you were searching for two responses, I think Dr Clark can correct me if I am wrong—

Senator RHIANNON: When I asked the question it was for a copy of those 'reviews'—plural.

Senator Chris Evans: That is why I am trying to clarify whether we have more than one review or just one, in which forest products is reviewed.

Senator RHIANNON: It was actually Mr Whelan who, in a response, said:

If you would like a copy of those reviews—

so it sounds like it is more than one—

we would be happy to provide them to you.

Dr Clark : Certainly.

Senator RHIANNON: Then I wanted to ascertain if you would put it on the website.

Dr Clark : I would like to call Mr Walker, who is acting in Mr Whelan's role.

Mr Walker : Just to be clear, there were two reviews. One was a specific regular review in relation to our renewal of the membership of the AFPA and, as Dr Clark has mentioned, the outcome of that was a decision not to renew membership. The second, I recall, was a more broad review about our policy framework, just to make sure that our policy framework around memberships—which, as we mentioned before, was largely devolved to business units with CSIRO—was consistent and well adapted to the modern environment. So it is really looking at our internal policy framework, our delegations, what the decision making process is for—

Senator RHIANNON: Like a review of the policy guidelines.

Mr Walker : A review of the policy frameworks, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I have now received the responses. I note that in the financial year 2011-12 you estimate that your expenditure on memberships was $890,711. That is a great deal of money. Could you give us a further breakdown on how that was spent and, within the context of this review, your judgement on the benefits that you have received, and what industry groups you no longer will retain membership of?

Mr Walker : Your question has a number of parts; I will deal with them sequentially. Firstly, in relation to the specific memberships we would need to take that aspect of the question on notice. I believe the second part of your question, if you would not mind just clarifying for me, was around the value for money—whether that amount of money was justified. It is important for CSIRO to engage closely with all parts of industry. Every one of those membership decisions would be based on assessment by a relatively senior officer of CSIRO that the membership represented value for money, gave access to industry contacts and provided benefit to the organisation. That is fundamental in terms of how we spend our money, so you can make the assumption that each of those, whatever the value, would have that assessment built into it.

Senator RHIANNON: That is included in the review.

Mr Walker : That is current policy, and I would not anticipate at all that that will change. We may look at providing some further guidance, but that principle is fundamental to how we approach memberships within the organisation.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I have a very quick follow-up question on great white sharks. I understand one of my colleagues, Senator Siewert, has written to the CSIRO asking for a briefing on many of those questions. I was wondering, if it was possible, with those on notice answers to seek a briefing with you.

Dr Clark : We would be comfortable in providing a briefing.

Senator Chris Evans: I almost offered that before. I think there would be a range of senators interested in sharks. Senator Pratt is worried about going to Cottesloe Beach this summer as well. I hasten to add: I do not think we have tagged all of them necessarily.

Mr Walker : That is correct.

CHAIR: I think we would like to know how that tag is going to work too.

Senator Chris Evans: All of those who go to the beach in Western Australia are keenly interested in that this summer.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It is not just Western Australia; Tasmania has lots of sharks too. If we get eaten, it is different.

Senator Chris Evans: I am always of the view it is too damn cold to swim in Tasmania, but anyway we will organise the briefing.

Senator RHIANNON: Could what the minister read out in response to my letter be tabled, because we appear not to have received it.

Senator Chris Evans: Sure. My copy is not dated. I will try and get the date but I am happy to table it.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Chair.

CHAIR: We will table it in due course.


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