The official overseeing Prime Minister Tony Abbott's renewable energy target review panel said the first he knew the panel's head Dick Warburton had been the subject of a probe ordered by the Reserve Bank was as “a result of media reports”.
Brad Archer, head of the secretariat within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, told Senate estimates on Monday candidates for positions such as for the review panel are only asked about “any disclosable criminal convictions and whether there are any current civil or criminal court actions”.
Candidates were not asked to disclose ongoing investigations, Mr Archer said in answer to questions from Greens senator Scott Ludlam.
Fairfax Media reported last week that Mr Warburton was the subject of an internal investigation into his role as a former director of an RBA-linked firm that sought to sell bank notes to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1998 in a potential breach of United Nations sanctions.
Mr Warburton was on the board of Note Printing Australia from 1998 and 2007. The RBA sent in forensic investigators from KPMG to examine the role of Mr Warburton and two other directors of the company, Fairfax reported.
Mr Warburton last week declined to say whether he had been interviewed for the probe but said he had told the Prime Minister about the investigation and Mr Abbott had "obviously not" been concerned about the allegations.
On Monday Mr Archer said the panellists - which also include Shirley In't Veld, formerly of Verve Energy, Brian Fisher, the former head of the Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Matt Zema, the current head of the Australian Energy Markets Operator – had all signed a private interest declaration form.
The form includes “a general assurance ... in relation to private business and financial interests and the extent to which they may conflict with the public duties in question”, he told the hearing.
Fairfax Media reported on Monday that several of the panellists were initially unclear about whether or not they had been asked to disclose specific details on potential conflicts of interest prior to their appointment on February 17.
David Hazelhurst, deputy secretary for the economic and strategy unit in the PM's department, told the hearing the panel's remuneration payments “are still to be settled”.
“There will be a sitting fee [associated] with that, we would expect,” he said.
Greens and Labor say the panel has been set up to recommend a cut in the renewable energy target. The current settings require large generators to source 41,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity by 2020 or at least 20 per cent of the total.
Senator Ron Boswell asked Mr Archer how much the annual cost of the RET would be if the target were lowered to a “real 20 per cent”, rather than the expected ratio of 22-27 per cent, or if the scheme “were stopped today”.
Mr Archer said it would be pre-empting the panel to speculate on the cost.