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Dept. of Prime Minister and Cabinet on international security issues

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 16 Oct 2012

Supplementary Budget Estimates - 15 October 2012 - Finance and Public Administration Committee

CHAIR: Thank you. We will go to Senator Ludlam, who will see where his questions need to be directed.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, just to see if we have got the right folk at the table. I have got one quick general question about the next stage of the COAG meeting cycle; I understand there is a meeting in December. Can you confirm or deny that is the case?

Dr de Brouwer : We had that question earlier. December: the date has not been announced yet.

Senator LUDLAM: Do we have a venue-not a building but a city?

Ms Cross : Most recently, the COAG meetings have been held in Canberra. There is no venue decided yet.

Senator LUDLAM: How far out in advance of the meeting taking place will we know where and when it will be held?

Ms Cross : We have given states an indication-

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Are you planning a demo, Senator?

Senator LUDLAM: Heaven forbid.

Ms Cross : We have given the states an indication that we expect the meeting to be in early December. They are obviously planning, and we are scheduling officials meetings on that basis. We would obviously hope to give them the formal date sometime soon.

Senator LUDLAM: I understand that the officials who would seek to attend would want to know that. What about the general public?

Ms Cross : As soon as the dates are agreed it is put on the COAG website so the general public would know when the meeting was, not that they would then attend.

Senator LUDLAM: Not that they would then be allowed in, no-again, heaven forbid. Not to worry. So it will possibly be in early December and possibly in Canberra?

Ms Cross : Certainly, most recent meetings have been held in Canberra.

Senator LUDLAM: I love estimates. I have got some questions about the cyber white paper. I am just checking to see if we have got the right folk here.

Dr de Brouwer : That is really in national security.

Senator LUDLAM: I am in your hands and in the hands of the chair. There is a lot more to it than national security.

CHAIR: If there are more questions on domestic policy, we will deal with that.

Senator LUDLAM: So we will come back to national security?

CHAIR: We will go to that; we have not been there yet.

Senator LUDLAM: No, I get that. As long as I am not told that I missed my spot-that is all.

CHAIR: We are just trying to do it methodically and go through domestic policy. Senator Ronaldson has the call.

BREAKCHAIR: We have now finished with 1.1.1. We are moving on to 1.1.2: national security and international policy. Senator Ludlam, if you could be brief, we would appreciate it; otherwise we are not going to get through the remainder of the program.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Thanks, Chair. The last time that we spoke at budget estimates was May or June. At that stage I was told that the cyber white paper was on track and was to be delivered by the middle of the year. On 5 October, the PM indicated at the PM's Forum on the Digital Economy that the cyber white paper will no longer be called that; it is going to be the digital white paper-which would probably be a relief to some, who get nervy whenever people start appending the word 'cyber' to things. What informed the decision to expand the white paper, and can you just sketch for us the important difference between the two concepts?

Mr McKinnon : The cyber white paper was under a process of further refinement, and the Prime Minister took the opportunity presented by the digital forum to initiate some further expansion of some of the elements within the broad conversation on a digital economy.

Senator LUDLAM: Does that mean that it has more of an economic focus than a national security focus?

Mr McKinnon : It certainly has more of a digital community confidence or security focus than a national cybersecurity focus, yes.

Senator LUDLAM: Are there any budgetary implications of the decision to expand its terms of reference?

Mr McKinnon : No.

Senator LUDLAM: The same number of people will be working on it?

Mr McKinnon : The Prime Minister, when she announced this indicated that BCDE would be leading some of the work with Prime Minister and Cabinet and DEEWR doing some of the other work, but effectively we already have a cross-portfolio team working in Prime Minister and Cabinet on this issue, so there are not significant ramifications.

Senator LUDLAM: We are a bit short of time. Are you able to table the membership of-what do I call it, a task force?

Mr McKinnon : I cannot table that now. We can take that on notice and give you some details.

Senator LUDLAM: I am just keen to know who is at the table who was not before. It was a fairly expansive list of agencies before, but it was skewed pretty heavily towards national security agencies and spooks and so on. I am just trying to work out who has arrived at the table.

Senator Chris Evans: I do not think that we recognise spooks as official-

Senator LUDLAM: They knew exactly who I meant.

Mr McKinnon : The resources that we had working within Prime Minister and Cabinet on it included eight staff working on the development of the paper. Three of those were Prime Minister and Cabinet staff and five were from across government. The five secondees were from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the BCDE, the AFP and the Department of Defence, so there was a mix of skills.

Senator LUDLAM: When is it expected to be provided to the public, and are there a new set of consultations or meetings or round tables occurring?

Mr McKinnon : We think that the slightly expanded scope will imply further consultations, so we are looking at 2013.

Senator LUDLAM: It is pushed into next year. While we are on the subject of white papers and while we have got you at the table, can you fill us in on the state of play with national security strategy? Help me out if my language is loose: is it a strategy or a white paper? What is it?

Mr McKinnon : It has not formally been dedicated as one or the other.

Senator LUDLAM: My understanding-I will talk to Defence a little bit later in the week-is that we have got a white paper process underway. I am hoping to get a bit more definition of the Defence white paper. Can you describe for us how the Defence white paper fits within an overarching national security strategy. We will just call it that for the time being.

Mr McKinnon : It is probably useful to think of the overall national security strategy/statement as being an overarching document. Eighty per cent of national security spending is in the defence sphere. But we do not look to replicate what they are doing. You obviously have to allude to the importance of defence in setting up what your pillars of a national security approach would be, but we do not look to replicate a Defence white paper process. A lot of that is taken as given.

Senator LUDLAM: I certainly hope that you would not be trying to replicate it. What I am trying to get to is that I would have thought that your decisions around how defence fits within national security-within the broader remit of what we understand to be national security-would flow from a national security statement rather than the other way around.

Mr McKinnon : A statement of basic national security principles. Perhaps the highest national security obligation a government has got is to protect the country from any sort of attack or coercion and, therefore, you need to have a national defence force. So, yes, it forms a pillar of it. But, for example, we do not talk about what the components of an effective force might be for a certain purpose or anything like that.

Senator LUDLAM: No, you would leave that to the Defence folk.

Mr McKinnon : Completely.

Senator LUDLAM: We have a national security statement already. That is being revised or rewritten currently. Will it emerge at the other end as a statement or are you holding your options open as to what status it will have?

Mr McKinnon : There was a statement five years ago. We are expecting a statement but we are still in the final stages of putting it together.

Senator LUDLAM: 2012 or 2013?

Mr McKinnon : 2012.

Senator LUDLAM: 2012, that is good. What kind of sensitivity analysis do you do? How do you prioritise what the national security threats to the country are?

Mr McKinnon : That sort of work is ongoing throughout the national security community-a risk analysis and an assessment of your capabilities to mitigate risk and threat, and what that leaves you is a job of work to do in a particular area. Leading into this process, a very formalised risk analysis process across the whole of government and then a non-defence capability exercise across the whole of government-

Senator LUDLAM: Non-defence capability?

Mr McKinnon : Non-defence capability.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I feel like we are dancing around the answer a little bit. For long lead-time decisions-particularly with potentially big capital acquisitions flowing from them-around security threats to the country stretching a couple of decades into the future, or at least a decade or two, how do you prioritise? How do you inform the government as to which of the national security threats you can see on the horizon are the ones that you need the most urgent attention?

Mr McKinnon : Within portfolios there is already that obligation, whether you are talking about the AFP or Customs or the intel portfolio, to do that analysis on an ongoing basis. So you are not starting from scratch; you are looking at what has been a flow and you are looking at whether you need to have any suggestions about a slightly increased or decreased emphasis. It is not really like you are starting from scratch and looking to build up something over two decades.

Senator LUDLAM: We are a bit short of time, and I want to move on to my last bracket. Recognising that I sprang these on you without warning, can you provide us on notice with anything that would help us understand how that prioritisation is done? Without letting out any sensitive national security information out of the bag, how is it done? For example, we hear from time to time that the biggest national security threat to Australia at the moment is violent terrorism. For example, I have heard that concept even over the last week or so. How do you balance out whether that is the case or whether it is food insecurity, direct armed invasion, climate change or economic instability, for example? Those things all fall within the rubric of national security.

Mr McKinnon : There is a discussion about whether all of those would, and there is no simple algorithm that you can construct that will put in all the inputs and give you a focus needing to be taken on something more than something else. Essentially, throughout the government, there are already horizon-scanning processes for risks and threats and, as I said, we then weigh up all of those risks-there is a process, cross-governmental, where we basically workshop those risks, we put focus groups on them, we think about possible contingencies-

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I do not want to cut you off, but I am aware that we are starting to run out of time.

Mr McKinnon : It does not lend itself to a simple resolution but is basically the whole community coming together, scanning the horizon for risks, discussing those, looking for capabilities and then thinking about where you end up.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us with some written material on the framework for that decision-making process? Whatever you have behind the redrafting of whether it is a statement, a strategy-or whatever it is.

Mr McKinnon : We will take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I do not know whether this is on your desk or somebody else's, but when was the PM last briefed or when was the department last asked to provide briefing materials on the activities of the WikiLeaks publishing organisation or Julian Assange specifically.

Mr McKinnon : I might get one of my colleagues who is working more closely with that to give me a hand with that one.

Mr Sadleir : Last time the PM was briefed was 31 May 2012.

Senator LUDLAM: Wow! 31 May. Was that the last time she was briefed or the last time the department was asked to provide briefing materials?

Mr Sadleir : That was the last formal briefing: a standard briefing. Since then, we just update using question time briefs and so forth.

Senator LUDLAM: So there has been nothing at all since his rather dramatic flight into the Ecuadorian embassy?

Mr Sadleir : In terms of standard ministerial briefing, 31 May was the last time.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for being so specific-that is quite refreshing. Do you know whether or not she was briefed on Mr Assange's application for asylum with Ecuador?

Mr Sadleir : It would probably have been just be picked up in QTBs, or documents of that sort.

Senator LUDLAM: What is a QTB?

Mr Sadleir : Question time briefing-or something along those lines.

Senator LUDLAM: Are you able to provide the committee with a copy of the question time briefing?

Mr Sadleir : No.

Senator LUDLAM: It is always worth asking-it is late, and someone might get sloppy.

CHAIR: I ask you to wind up, Senator.

Senator LUDLAM: I have had about seven minutes, Chair. What agencies or departments were consulted in the preparation of the briefing? I will ask you to take that one on notice.

Mr Sadleir : I will take that on notice.

Senator Chris Evans: Can I just say that I suspect that the Minister for Foreign Affairs would have discussed with the Prime Minister things like asylum. They would have been issues that he would have been on top of.

Senator LUDLAM: You would be aware probably that the Senate has now passed two resolutions calling on the Prime Minister to retract prejudicial statements that she made about the illegality of the work of WikiLeaks. Has the department provided any advice to the PM on that matter specifically?

Mr Sadleir : No, we have not.

Senator LUDLAM: Is it your understanding that the Prime Minister is required-it is Senate convention, perhaps-to respond when the Senate passes such a resolution?

Senator Chris Evans: That is a bit outside his field of expertise, I think-parliamentary practice.

Senator LUDLAM: I should have asked the clerk when she was here earlier today.

Senator Chris Evans: Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: Was the department consulted by the Attorney General's Department about the reference provided to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security on reforms to national security legislation?

Mr Sadleir : Yes, the department was.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you provide us-again on notice and I will just zip through these really quickly-with the nature of the material provided; the dates that requests were made to you; how far back your involvement goes; whether or not the department was consulted on the terms of reference provided to the joint committee; and whether the department was asked to comment or to provide some of the background information which was provided and included for the public in the discussion paper released as part of that committee reference?

Mr Sadleir : I am happy to take all that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: If you could answer this one now, that would be good-was the Prime Minister explicitly briefed, either through a question time brief or the other processes you mentioned before, on the data retention proposal or on any other individual proposals among the 44 identified in the terms of reference?

Mr Sadleir : I will have to take that on notice as well.

Senator LUDLAM: The data retention aspect is the specific issue I am most interested in. It is much appreciated. Thank you for your time.


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