The Senate Estimates Commitee discuss the big issues in this transcript; punch-ups in the ministerial wing, parliamentary sewerage blockages and minor security incidents.
Senator FAULKNER – I do not know whether this is in your area of responsibility, Ms Griffiths, but I wondered if there were any security issues surrounding the visit of the Chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress to the building on 16 September 2002.
Ms Griffiths – I am sure there were, Senator. I will have to ask the Security Controller to come up and answer that. He was coordinating that.
Senator FAULKNER- Did you hear my question, Mr Lucas?
Mr Lucas – Yes I did. Obviously it was a very important visit and was regarded as very important. A number of security agencies were involved in the visit. We were one of them. We conducted our security plans in accordance with a visit of that standard.
Senator FAULKNER- I am asking a deliberate question here: were there any security incidents occurring at that time?
Mr Lucas – I beg your pardon, I did not hear the word `incidents’. No, not that I can recall. I understand the visit went very well.
Senator FAULKNER – I see. So you do not know of any?
Mr Lucas – Not that I can recall.
Senator FAULKNER – Was there anything that occurred in the galleries surrounding the Members Hall at Parliament House on that evening?
Mr Lucas – Yes, there was a minor incident in relation to a member of the House-
Senator FAULKNER – A member of the House of Representatives?
Mr Lucas – I understand so, yes. It was a minister, in fact, who was not a guest at the function that was held in the Members Hall. I understand that the minister had come from his office to perhaps have a glance at the function below. He was on the second floor of the terrace over the Members Terrace.
Senator FAULKNER – This was a minor security incident, was it?
Mr Lucas – Very minor.
Senator FAULKNER – Who was the minister?
Mr Lucas – Minister McGauran.
Senator FAULKNER – I could have predicted that. What did he do?
Mr Lucas – He came from behind the security officer who was providing perimeter security on the second floor balcony, and attempted to look over the balcony down at the activities below, surprising the security officer. I understand the security officer took him by the elbow, until the minister turned around and he recognised him.
Senator FAULKNER – What happened then?
Mr Lucas – There was a brief discussion and the minister left.
Senator ROBERT RAY – I find it very hard to understand that anyone would recognise him. Obviously he was not from the Gippsland electorate. There was a bit of verballing between the two, though, wasn’t there?
Mr Lucas – I understand the security officer stated that he was sorry he did not recognise the minister immediately, having come from behind him. That was virtually the extent of the conversation, as I understand it.
Senator FAULKNER – Oh, really? What did Mr McGauran say?
Mr Lucas – I must admit I cannot recall. It was something along the lines of-
Senator FAULKNER – You wrote a note about this, didn’t you, and sent it far and wide in Parliament House?
Mr Lucas – I did not send it far and wide. I did provide advice to the Presiding Officers because I-
Senator FAULKNER – I would like to know what that note says about what Mr McGauran said.
Mr Lucas – I honestly cannot recall. I will have to refresh my memory.
Senator FAULKNER – We will move on to another issue, but would you mind getting hold of that note. I would like it to be tabled if it is possible, if there is no security issue involved. You have told us it is only a minor matter. It would be useful for that to be tabled before the committee so we could be assured that that is the case. Is there any problem with that being tabled, if the issue is as you say?
The PRESIDENT – We will table it.
Senator FAULKNER – Thanks very much. We might come back to you after it has been tabled.>
Senator ROBERT RAY – On security issues-Senator Faulkner has probably got this, because he has this great filing system – I read somewhere that there was a big punch-up in the ministerial wing, causing damage. Is that right?
The PRESIDENT – I believe so.
Senator ROBERT RAY – What was the extent of the damage?
The PRESIDENT – I would not say it was a huge punch-up.
Senator FAULKNER – It was a fist fight. That is what we say these days, isn’t it?
Senator ROBERT RAY – I understand someone went three rounds and put him away in the fourth. Is that not right?
The PRESIDENT – There was an altercation and some damage was done to the wall, I believe, of the stairwell.
Senator ROBERT RAY – So you have repaired the wall?
The PRESIDENT – The wall has been repaired and the people involved have paid for it.
Senator ROBERT RAY – How much was the damage?
The PRESIDENT – I think it was about $548.
Senator FAULKNER – The cost was shared between the pugilists?
Senator Hill – There was a tiny mark on the wall.
The PRESIDENT – It is Parliament House.
Senator FAULKNER – You saw it, Senator Hill, so you can fill us in on this one, even though you should not be sitting at the table while the parliamentary departments are here.
Senator Hill – It was a matter of honour.
Senator FAULKNER – You are always helpful, aren’t you? You always come to life at the appropriate time.
Senator Hill – I am not actually here.
Senator ROBERT RAY – Was this a fight between the wets and the dries in the ministerial wing? Is that what it was about?
Senator Hill – This was over a woman.
Senator ROBERT RAY – Oh, really?
Senator FAULKNER – That is okay then!
Senator ROBERT RAY – We are all macho here! You are allowed to fight about sheilas!
Senator FAULKNER – That explains it. Let’s move on to the next issue.
The PRESIDENT – I understand that one staffer was forced against the wall, resulting in a section of the gyprock being damaged. The Joint House Department was responsible for the repairs, which cost $578.
Senator FAULKNER – There were two people involved in this altercation were there, Mr President?
The PRESIDENT – Yes, there were.
Senator FAULKNER – We will not embarrass you by asking you to name them.
Senator FAULKNER – No, but that would not stop me. I do not want to embarrass you, or them for that matter.
Senator ROBERT RAY – Hold on, I did ask whether this was a battle between the wets and the dries. Now I notice that there are two South Australian ministers from different factions.
Senator FAULKNER – I thought you realised.
Senator ROBERT RAY – No, I did not realise. It was a shot in the dark!
Senator FAULKNER – You are onto them.
Senator ROBERT RAY – But it was not Senator Hill. That is good.
Senator HILL – It was outside my door though.
Senator FAULKNER – Did you come out and separate them?
The PRESIDENT – It certainly was not a factional feud, I can assure you of that.
Senator FAULKNER – We will not go into heavy-handed factional fights at this hour of the night. I would not know anything about them myself. Did they share the costs equally?
The PRESIDENT – My information is that the staffer in question presented a cheque for $578 to the Joint House Department and was issued with an official receipt.
Senator FAULKNER – This is user pays?
The PRESIDENT – I guess that is the case.
Senator ROBERT RAY – But it is not tax deductible, is it?
The PRESIDENT – No. I do not know whether there was GST on it either. But it has certainly been paid and the damage has been repaired.
Senator FAULKNER – Fair enough. Have we got a copy of that letter or document from Mr Lucas yet?
Senator ROBERT RAY – He is not here. He has gone to get it, probably. We are going to have to fill in for a couple of minutes until it is here. What was the situation with the Greenpeace invasion of the flagpole? Why did that occur and what steps have we taken to prevent such an incident occurring again? This is not really a specific security question in that sense, Mr President, but it was a well-publicised incident.
Ms Griffiths – Mike Bolton may want to add something later. I do not know whether they have been done yet, but there will be some changes to the flagpole hoist so that people cannot get up there now.
Senator ROBERT RAY – That is good. Pre-emptive action has been taken.
Senator FAULKNER – I read an extremely worrying story in the Canberra Times about the blocked sewer elbow in the House of Representatives. Everyone on our side of the house was delighted that it was the House of Representatives sewer that was blocked, not the one on the Senate side.
Senator ROBERT RAY – We just block legislation.
Senator FAULKNER – are fillers, Mr President, until Mr Lucas gets back. I was terribly concerned-and I know Senator Ray was-about these air pockets in the parliament’s plumbing system. We read in the newspaper that there was a difficulty with the `flusherette’ system. Can you assure me, Mr President, that this would never happen on the Senate side of the building? There was a great rush of people from the House of Representatives side who came over to share the Senate’s toilets.
The PRESIDENT – I am not an expert on plumbing. I know there is always a lot of air floating around on our side of the parliament, but I am sure that these matters are well in hand with the maintenance group.
Senator FAULKNER – Well in hand? So the key question to you, Mr President, is this: has a flusherette elbow ever failed on the Senate side?
Senator Calvert – I would not have a clue.
Senator FAULKNER – Were any innocent bystanders hit or affected in any way during this incident?
Senator Calvert – Perhaps you could explain to me what a flusherette is.
Mr Evans – If they were on the House of Representatives side of the building, they could not have been innocent, Mr Chairman.
CHAIR – Thank you, Mr Evans.
Senator BRANDIS – It was not in the office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives was it, Mr Evans?
Mr Evans – I would have heard about it if it had been.
Senator FAULKNER – Mr President, I could go on about these important issues but it may be better to go to Mr Blick. I ask if we could briefly return to Mr Lucas when he comes back. The other officers can be discharged.
Senator Calvert – I said I have given a commitment to table that.
Senator FAULKNER – There may be issues arising from that.
Senator Calvert – There may well be. Mr Chairman, do you want the Joint House officers? I know you do not require the library officers but-
Senator FAULKNER – I was going to say that the rest of them could be discharged and we could move to Mr Blick and quickly come back to deal with that other matter.
Mr Evans – Are there any questions for the other parliamentary departments?
CHAIR – No, I do not think there are.
Senator FAULKNER – That is what we are saying, Mr Evans.
Senator ROBERT RAY – There are, but we are not going to ask them. I suppose that is the accurate answer.
CHAIR – Sorry, Mr Templeton and others; you are not required.
Senator FAULKNER – Hang on. We did discharge the Parliamentary Library through the Acting Chairman, Senator Chapman, some eight hours ago. So if Mr Templeton was not informed, I think-
Senator ROBERT RAY – He would be here for Hansard.
Senator FAULKNER – I hope you were informed.
Mr Templeton – I was informed, Senator.
Senator FAULKNER – That is good.
CHAIR – In that case we will call Mr Blick and we may come back to some questions of Mr Lucas. Mr President and Mr Evans, thank you very much.