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ESTIMATES COMMITTEE A - 03/09/1993 - DEPARTMENT OF THE PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET - Program 1--Departmental policy co-ordination - Subprogram 1.3--Social policy

Senator TROETH --I have a question on page 37 dealing with the statistics provided on the running costs appropriations. How can the restructuring of the social policy division lead to an increase in running costs of over 100 per cent when no additional responsibilities appear to have been taken on board?

Mr Stretton --The increase in running costs that you referred to is virtually entirely due to the establishment of the Task Force on Employment Opportunities, which is to serve the Committee on Employment Opportunities which the Prime Minister set up to prepare a discussion paper on employment and unemployment.

Senator TROETH --And that figure is not salaries; it is just running costs, is it?

Mr Stretton --It is both.

Senator TROETH --How many people are on that task force?

Dr Volker --There are nine people actually working on writing the report in one way or another, and about five people who are assisting those people in administration.

Senator TROETH --What is the anticipated time span of the task force?

Dr Volker --The task force is likely to be in place for the whole financial year. The discussion paper is due out in December.

Senator KEMP --December of which year?

Dr Volker --December 1993, and following that there will be a consultation process and a white paper.

Senator TROETH --Will the task force continue to run during that later stage?

Dr Volker --We expect so, yes.

Senator KEMP --How close are the terms of reference of this task force on unemployment to the terms of reference of the major study currently being undertaken by the OECD on the same issue?

Dr Volker --There is obviously an overlap. I have not seen the terms of reference of the OECD study but clearly the issues are very similar.

Senator KEMP --In the preparation of the discussion paper, are you having some liaison with this group in the OECD which is preparing the report?

Dr Volker --We have spoken to Dr Peter Scherer, an Australian with the OECD, who was out here recently. But other than that we are not engaging in any formal consultation.

Senator KEMP --What wider community consultations is the task force undertaking?

Dr Volker --The main consultation process will occur after the discussion paper is completed and published in December. There has been consultation with bodies such as ACOSS, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Reserve Bank and various other parties, as well as consultation with individuals.

Senator KEMP --The draft paper will be released by the government presumably; is that right? It is a government draft.

Dr Volker --It will be released by the committee.

Senator KEMP --It will be released by the committee, not by a government minister.

Dr Volker --It will be released by the government, but it will be a committee discussion paper. There is a committee of employment opportunities--

Senator KEMP --Is the draft paper actually approved by the government before it is released?

Dr Volker --The committee has a degree of independence. I do not think it has been clarified what formal consultation processes will be entered into.

Senator KEMP --Is it possible to provide information on that to the committee at a later stage? The independence of the report will obviously be a major issue and there will be sensitive issues which you are going to have to tackle in this report, particularly in relation to labour market issues. It has become very clear over the last week just how sensitive those particular issues are.

I think the community would want to know whether the report itself was a report of the committee's views with the issues boldly canvassed or whether it was a sanitised report in which issues which may be of embarrassment to the government are excluded. You said it will have a degree of independence. It would be a help to know just what that degree is so that when we get the report the community will be aware of whether this is a bold expose of the issues or essentially a government document.

Dr Volker --I expect there will be a substantial degree of independence.

Mr Henderson --There is no simple answer to that because the membership of the task force comprises both departmental heads and independent academics, so the task force is a blend.

Senator KEMP --Who are the independent academics on the task force?

Dr Volker --Professor Robert Gregory from the ANU, Professor Barry Hughes from Newcastle University and Professor Jan Carter from Melbourne University.