Recent attempts by Australian Greens Leader Richard Di Natale to obtain information on the activities of the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs (ANACAD) were frustrated by public servants seemingly unprepared, unwilling or both, to divulge any detail on the inner workings of the Council.
Where once we had a highly visible Australian National Council on Drugs, established as the principal advisory body to the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Government on drug and alcohol policy, now in its place we have the shadowy ANACAD.
Even Senator Fiona Nash, the previous Minister responsible, was unable to shed light on ANACAD’s mysterious inner workings. That’s all the more puzzling because ANACAD was largely Nash’s creation.
All of which might make sense if we were talking about stealth bombers, troop movements or the identities of Australian intelligence operatives stationed abroad, and not… dare I even commit the words to paper… ‘alcohol and drug policy’.
Drink Tank imagines appearing before Senate Estimates can’t be much fun, and is reluctant to speak too harshly of public servants simply doing their jobs.
To their credit, if the intention was to cloak an impenetrable veil of secrecy over the Council, they can absolutely consider their mission well and truly accomplished.
Sometimes no extra words are needed. In the finest tradition of Monty Python and Yes Minister, enjoy reading the following extract from the 19 October Committee Hansard.
Senator DI NATALE: We had the Australian National Council on Drugs, which was effectively disbanded. We had the defunding of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia. That was replaced with ANACAD?
Ms McGlynn: Yes.
Senator DI NATALE: ANACAD is a black box, as far as I can tell. Do we have any information that can be shared with the Senate on the activities of ANACAD?
Ms McGlynn: We can take that on notice.
Senator DI NATALE: So you do not publish any ongoing updates, reports, given that it is the only forum through which advice is being provided on the response to alcohol and other drugs? I do not know what they do. I do not think any of us know what they do. We have lost the ANCD; we have lost the alcohol and drug council, and we have this thing called ANACAD that has been operating for god knows how long, and no-one knows anything about it.
Ms McGlynn: I think the other thing that you will support, in terms of what is going on there, is the ministerial forum. Again, there will be advice provided to them and from them, and they will work closely with their justice and community law enforcement colleagues. So I think that that is another response that will see some of that information flow.
Senator DI NATALE: Who is actually on ANACAD? Is who is on the committee publicly available?
Dr Southern: Yes, it would be publicly available.
Senator DI NATALE: Can you provide the names of the people on notice.
Ms McGlynn: Certainly.
Senator DI NATALE: How many of the members on ANACAD are actually involved in specific drug treatment or the provision of harm reduction services? Do you have that information?
Dr Southern: Not in front of us, but when we come back on notice with membership of the committee we can indicate those members that do have that expertise. But there certainly is that expertise on the council.
Senator DI NATALE: I will wait to get it, as I would be interested to know. Given that it is a committee that is responsible for providing advice, it would be very interesting to know who is actually on that committee. Are there any consumer groups represented on ANACAD?
Dr Southern: We do not have their affiliations.
Ms McGlynn: We can provide that on notice.
Senator DI NATALE: My understanding is that there is no consumer representation, but I will be interested to hear if there has been any change to that. Was there a recent appointment of Mr Pat Daley. Has he been recently appointed to ANACAD?
Ms McGlynn: Not recently, no.
Senator DI NATALE: When was he appointed?
Ms McGlynn: He is a member.
Senator DI NATALE: What expertise does Mr Daley have on the issue of alcohol or other drugs?
Ms McGlynn: I believe he has a law enforcement background.
Senator DI NATALE: He is an antidrugs crusader is he?
Ms McGlynn: I would not characterise him as that.
Senator DI NATALE: Is it true that Mr Daley was a member of Tony Abbott’s electoral committee?
Ms McGlynn: I am not aware of that.
Senator DI NATALE: Could you take that on notice?
Mr Bowles: People’s political affiliations is not something we would delve into.
Senator DI NATALE: If we are talking about somebody who has a role like that surely that would be a potential conflict in providing independent advice to government.
Mr Bowles: As long as people declare their conflicts of interest when they are doing that. But having political affiliations does not necessarily mean that.
Senator DI NATALE: You think it is appropriate to have somebody who is an antidrugs crusader, who was a member of Tony Abbott’s electoral committee, to be providing independent advice to government on issues around alcohol and other drugs.
Mr Bowles: That is not what I said.
Senator DI NATALE: That is what I am asking.
Mr Bowles: I am not sure it is appropriate that we get into some of these political issues. We are public servants.
Senator DI NATALE: It is the purpose of estimates. I think it is entirely appropriate.
Mr Bowles: We are public servants. You can ask the politicians about that.
Senator DI NATALE: It is not a political question. It is a question of independent advice being provided on the issue of alcohol and other drugs. It is about the specific expertise of the individuals involved.
Mr Bowles: He is on a committee.
Senator DI NATALE: Providing independent advice to government and informing government policy.
Mr Bowles: Along with a range of other people I presume.
Senator DI NATALE: I am asking what his particular credentials are.
Mr Bowles: We said we would take it on notice and give you a list of the committee members and their credentials.
Senator DI NATALE: Who appoints members to the committee? How are they appointed?
Mr Bowles: Ultimately this is a matter for government decision.
Senator DI NATALE: I might ask the minister, how are those appointments made?
Senator Nash: I will take it on notice. From memory, I think, I approved the members of the committee. It was some time ago now and I am not in the portfolio anymore. It was chosen to have a really good balance of various expertise across the committee. We did keep, from memory, some of the members from the previous committee. We brought them on to the new committee and then added some extra expertise through the other members. We will get that detail for you.
Senator DI NATALE: What are the terms of service? How long are they appointed for?
Ms McGlynn: I will have to take that on notice.
Mr Bowles: We will add that to the question on notice.
Senator Nash: I do not want to stop your line of questioning, but I want to put on the record what a tremendous job they have been doing in providing advice to the government and to the department. The broad set of skills that they have has been incredibly useful.
Senator DI NATALE: We will have to take your advice on that, Minister, because we do not know.
Senator Nash: I do, and that is why I am putting it on the record for you, Senator. We are happy to take all of this on notice for you. I want to be really clear that the level of expertise that they have been providing has been excellent.
Senator DI NATALE: Our job is not to just take that on trust. The point of estimates is to ensure we get some confidence that this is happening, so that is the reason for asking.
Senator Nash: Absolutely. I understand completely.
Mr Bowles: We will take that on notice to provide that.
Senator DI NATALE: Is this advice provided publicly? Is the advice that is being provided available to the public? Are minutes of meetings kept? Are we able to access the sort of advice that is being provided?
Dr Southern: There are certainly records of the meetings and they are kept. But it is an advisory council for the minister.
Senator DI NATALE: So there is no means to independently access the—
Dr Southern: They are not published, no.
Senator DI NATALE: How do the reporting requirements differ from the previous ministerial council on drugs?
Dr Southern: I would have to take that on notice. I was not around when the previous council was operating, so I am not sure of those arrangements.
Senator DI NATALE: Going back to the question of flexible funds—this may be an area you need to take on notice as well—given that a number of the flexible funds were specifically targeting this area, drug treatment, do you have this information available? It would be interesting to know whether the existing funds were all rolled over into this outcome, and the quantum of funding for those compared to what was previously allocated.
Dr Southern: My understanding is that there were two flexible funds which dealt with alcohol and drug services, research and a couple of other things and both of those have collapsed into one of the programs in outcome 2.4.
Senator DI NATALE: I know that with one of them the funding was only secured for a year. Has the funding continued beyond that?
Dr Southern: The funding for the alcohol and other drugs service—not the ice money but the existing money—has been extended through until 30 June next year. The arrangements for ongoing funding are something for government consideration between now and then.
Senator DI NATALE: So it is a year by year proposition at the moment?
Dr Southern: The previous contracts, I understand, would have been for three years and this was a one-year extension while—
Senator DI NATALE: I think there was one-year extension after the three. This might the second one-year extension.
Dr Southern: It may well be. The intention would not be that we move to a one-year-by-one-year
Senator DI NATALE: It is impossible for these organisations to do any planning, to recruit, to keep staff, if all that is happening is they are given year-by-year funding.
Dr Southern: Yes, that is right. As I say, by extending it for one year, it was in part to consider how the rollout of the additional funds through the PHNs was going and how that would operate and then to see how services might be funded from 1 July onwards.