Senate estimates bring mysterious wink, net-zero deal silence and training video pressure

By Jackson Graham

October 26, 2021

Stephanie Foster
Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster appeared to answer a question and then wink to her right.  (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

As the government faced a grilling at senate estimates on Monday, a mysterious wink from a public servant stole the show. 

Questions for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet started with Labor senator Tim Ayres demanding to know why secretary Philip Gaetjens did not show up, with Ayres expressing annoyance at not being able to ask about his report into the Brittany Higgins response. 

Labor senator Penny Wong sparred with finance minister Simon Birmingham on Bridget Mckenzie’s likening of secret cabinet discussions to ‘Fight Club’ while Birmingham provided scant information on conditions given to the Nationals in exchange for support for a 2050 net-zero emissions target

But when questions turned to former attorney-general Christian Porter’s anonymous legal funding, the Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster appeared to answer a question and then wink to her right. 

A social media frenzy began to interpret this as Foster winking at Birmingham, but Foster told the hearing this was not the case. 

“I can say categorically I have at no stage intentionally winked at senator Birmingham. It’s either capturing me with an eye closing or there’s some other reason,” the public servant said on Monday. 

As the footage continued to circulate and Foster eventually viewed it she then acknowledged it was possible she was winking at a departmental colleague who had just joined her at the table. 

Meanwhile, questioning by Labor senator Katy Gallagher found the secretary and deputy secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services had not watched a training video being rolled out to staff in the wake of Brittany Higgins’ alleged sexual assault in parliament.

Deputy secretary Cate Saunders said the assistant secretary of the security branch had explained what was covered but she had not watched the 13-minute training module. 

Secretary Rob Stefanic said 80 staff had watched the video, yet he had not watched it but intended to. 


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