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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Small postage stamps of the world unite!!

Senate Estimates hearings for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and other agencies in the portfolio dragged on for another nine hours ( with breaks) on Tuesday. (Finance and Public Administration 26/05/2009).

Bloggers everywhere are reeling in the light of Minister Faulkner's
"What I know about blog sites could be written on the back of an extremely small postage stamp."
Otherwise the Minister and officials showed admirable patience through lots of questions(many of the non earthshattering variety) amid frequent reminders from Opposition senators of the Minister's statement: ‘There is no better way to achieve integrity and accountability within government and government transactions than by promoting transparency and openness."

The issue of what information can be withheld in response to questions, discussed at length by the Minister and Senator Cormann the previous day, arose again this time when Senator Trood (Liberal Queensland) asked [50 and following] about the preparation of the Defence White Paper, in particular which intelligence agencies contributed to the process, differences of view between them and when the differences became material and clear. The official wasn't going there, Minister Faulkner backed him up, but after rumblings about a private hearing to sort this out, and an adjournment to enable some consultation, the Minister returned to respond [57]:
"I make the general point in relation to the contribution to the white paper process of the intelligence agencies that of course intelligence agencies do make a contribution to this process in accordance with their duties and mandate. Specifically let me say this in answer to Senator Trood’s question. I can inform the committee that DIO produced a series of dedicated intelligence reports specifically for the white paper. I can also inform the committee that the Office of National Assessments prepared a national assessment which served as its contribution to the white paper development process. I can also inform the committee that during the white paper development process the Defence officials responsible for the production of the white paper or production of drafts of the white paper consulted other reports prepared more generally by both the ONA and DIO. Finally, I can inform the committee that relevant Australian intelligence community agencies were consulted during the white paper process but that DSD and DIGO as technical collectors were not."

Senator Trood expressed thanks but said this confirmed what he had read in the newspapers.The rest of his questions were taken on notice:
"Did the views of ONA and DIO, which you have acknowledged were contributing agencies to the preparation of the defence white paper, more or less accord with each other with regard to China’s rise and whether or not China’s rise constituted a threat to Australia’s strategic interests? That is question 1. Secondly, were the views of the Defence Intelligence Organisation and ONA at odds, or did they place different emphasis, on the views of the Department of Defence and the Prime Minister’s department in relation to this matter? Did the Director-General of the Office of National Assessments, Mr Varghese, write to the Prime Minister about the China debate and express alarm or concern that the nature of this debate within government could distort Australia’s national security priorities? Finally, assuming that there was a difference of view here between the agencies and the department of defence and indeed the Prime Minister, did the Office of National Assessments seek to resolve this difference of views for the purposes of preparing the defence white paper?"
Senator Trood was having none of the idea that answers to questions like these pose any danger to national security or international relations, or otherwise would be contrary to the public interest.

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