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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

'Yes Minister' proves handy in Senate estimates

There are always lots of Yes Minister moments during Senate estimates hearings and they were there by the bucketload yesterday in Attorney General estimates.

This from the Yes Minister files:
'What's the difference between "under consideration" and "under active consideration"?' I asked. '"Under consideration" means we've lost the file. "Under active consideration" means we're trying to find it!'"
From yesterday (emphasis added)-Senator Singh ALP Tasmania, Mr Wilkins Secretary AGD, Senator Brandis Attorney General:
Senator SINGH: I am interested in the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. I understand that it released its latest assessment (on Australia) in October 2012, which included a working group on bribery, recommending a number of sufficient resources be given to prosecute foreign bribery cases, of which there were some 33 recommendations needing to be implemented. Has the government looked at the implementation of those recommendations and the issue of facilitation payments in relation to that convention?
Mr Wilkins : Yes.
Senator SINGH: Have we implemented those recommendations?
Mr Wilkins : It is under consideration. Are you talking about facilitation payments?
Senator Brandis: That is under active consideration. It is something that I have discussed at some length with the department with a view to law reform.
Senator SINGH: And would that law reform look at introducing a ban, in line with the UK?
Senator Brandis: I think it is unwise to anticipate what the final shape of proposed law reform will be until the process of consideration within government has arrived at a final set of proposals. So, for that reason, I will not respond to your question.
Senator SINGH: But part of your consideration will include looking at the UK law?
Senator Brandis: Particularly in an area like this, which has important cross-jurisdictional dimensions, when the government or the department develop law reform proposals they would routinely look at the law of comparable jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom.
Senator SINGH: Do you have a time frame on that law reform proposal?

These Q&Non-A sparked by The Greens Senator Ludlam ran a close second:
Senator LUDLAM: ....I have one for you, Mr Wilkins. Can you update us on what work the department has done on data retention and matters attendant on that since the election?
Mr Wilkins : No, I cannot do that off the top of my head. I think I will have to take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you aware of any work at all having been done?
Mr Wilkins : No, I will take it on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Is there anybody at the table or in the room who can deal with this?
Mr Wilkins : No, I do not think so. We will take it on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: You do not need to check? Mr Wilkins, how long will it take for you to identify if there is anything you would like to tell us?
Mr Wilkins : I will do it as soon as I can, actually.
Senator LUDLAM: If we could come back to it later today, that would be good.
Mr Wilkins : It will take more than today. I do not—
Senator LUDLAM: Just to establish whether any work is being done.
Mr Wilkins : I am conscious of the fact that I do not want to give you a half-baked answer—
Senator LUDLAM: Because there is a bit of a history of that regarding this matter, in particular.
Mr Wilkins : You have said that, not me.
Senator LUDLAM: There is a history of questions being—
Senator Brandis: That is a very unfair reflection on the department.
Senator LUDLAM: In this particular matter of data retention I have put questions that have then had to be repeated for corrections, clarifications and contradictions provided on notice, so I do not think it should take more than a day to establish whether the department has done any work in this area. To me that seems a little unreasonable.
Mr Wilkins : I will do it as soon as I can.
Senator LUDLAM: Chair, I will come back a little later when we are in the national security bracket.

Senator LUDLAM: Mr Wilkins, is there any update on whether the department is progressing data retention since I was here an hour or two ago?
Mr Wilkins : No.
Senator LUDLAM: You still do not know?
Mr Wilkins : We are still making enquiries. It will be sometime. We are trying to prove a negative.
Senator LUDLAM: Just try and tell me if anybody is working on it or not.
Mr Wilkins : I need to ask everybody and make sure that there is nothing happening in any corner of the department that I do not know about on this one.

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