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ESTIMATES COMMITTEE D - 26/08/1993 - DEPARTMENT OF THE ARTS AND ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES - Program 2--Government services - Subprogram 2.1--Ministerial and parliamentary services

Senator PARER --On 3 August 1993 it was reported in the media that the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services had called for a report from his department into the disclosures that an employee of the parliament's Speaker, Mr Stephen Martin, was filling a senior official's position within the New South Wales ALP. Has that report been finalised?

Senator McMullan --I got advice from my department and made a public statement about it within a day or two of that first statement.

Senator PARER --Which section of the department and which officer carried out that investigation and subsequently made the report?

Senator McMullan --I do not know which officer, but it was the parliamentary ministerial services section. I do not want to go about naming who did which particular job. That is not what we are here for, but that branch reported to me and I acted on it.

Senator PARER --Might one of the officers at the table indicate to the committee exactly what the members and senators office handbook states about employees of members or senators?

Ms McKinnon --In terms of the handbook, the senator or member can employ staff for parliamentary and electorate business only.

Senator PARER --There was a report, again in the newspaper, which stated that Ms Fazio, who worked for Mr Martin, was believed to be in Melbourne that week attending an ALP officers conference with senior full-time New South Wales officials, including the secretary of the New South Wales ALP, Mr John Della Bosca. I might say as an aside that I understand staff people can hold positions and can do things in their own time, but this involved attending during a working week an ALP officers conference in Melbourne? Was that investigated and how can it be construed that that is a person who is working in their own hours for the Labor Party?

Ms McKinnon --The officer in question was formally on leave during that period of time.

Senator PARER --So it was a leave position.

Ms McKinnon --Yes.

Senator PARER --This staff member of Mr Martin presumably works out of Wollongong?

Senator McMullan --Corrimal.

Senator PARER --As part of the job, one would expect that Ms Fazio would spend some time at the ALP's Sussex Street headquarters, which again I can understand in an honorary capacity. Apparently--and I wonder if the department investigated this--letters were obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald where Ms Fazio had written to ALP branches saying that she was to be contacted at NSW ALP Sussex Street headquarters during office hours.

Senator McMullan --I do not have a copy of the letter. I think there was a supporting letter from an officer of the ALP. This is my recollection and if it is not correct I will correct it. Mr Martin's advice to me indicated that it was the standard practice that voluntary officers of the party put that on letters. The relevance of the office hours was that that was when messages could be taken for them.

If you rang the head office during office hours and asked for that person or, say, the convenor of the law reform committee of the party, who would not be working there, someone would take a message for that person. That is where you phoned to contact them. They did not tend to give their home or work numbers; they tended to give the party office number as their contact point. That is my recollection of the advice.

Senator PARER --I think you said this was advice given by the New South Wales ALP.

Senator McMullan --It was advice given to me by the Speaker. I am confident that he attached a letter from the assistant secretary of the New South Wales branch confirming that the arrangement which Ms Fazio had was a standard arrangement, but the advice to me was from the Speaker.

Senator PARER --Does this not smack a little of Evatt's letter to Molotov?

Senator McMullan --That is too profound for me.

Senator PARER --You are not that old.

Senator McMullan --I did not say too old.

Senator PARER --I also want to pursue a similar question in respect of a staff member employed by Senator Stephen Loosley. Mr Gilmore is one of 10 senior officials who are also in the full-time employment of a federal New South Wales Labor member of parliament. It is pointed out in a Sydney Morning Herald report that Mr Gilmore had a separate consultancy arrangement with the New South Wales Labor Party covering his duties as the party's fundraising officer. I wonder whether that was investigated by the Department of Administrative Services and, if so, what is the outcome of that investigation?

Ms McKinnon --That was not investigated in the same way that Ms Fazio's honorary employment was. At the time, however, we were advised that both Ms Fazio's position and the position in relation to Senator Loosley's staff member were honorary and that the same conditions applied. There was no formal investigation where we asked Senator Loosley to explain, but we were advised that the staff member was acting in the same manner as Ms Fazio--that is, in an honorary capacity and not during office hours.

Senator PARER --`Fundraising' would indicate that these sorts of things go on in normal working hours, in the main. One thing that the department has been conscious of over the years--I can recall this in previous meetings of estimates committees--is the use of the member of parliament's or senator's facilities for matters which are of a political nature. That has always been frowned upon. Were any checks made to see whether this person may well have been using Senator Loosley's office--say, the telephone--for things that were of a clearly political nature?

Senator McMullan --That issue has not been raised with me before.

Senator PARER --The question I should perhaps ask is, if there was an investigation into Mr Martin's staffer, why was there not a similar investigation into Senator Loosley's staffer?

Senator McMullan --I received a number of inquiries about Mr Martin, therefore, I said that I would get you an answer. I undertook an inquiry and provided the answer. I saw some speculation about Senator Loosley, but I do not recall anybody coming to me asking for information about that, so I did not seek it. I see lots of speculation about lots of people, but I do not inquire into it.

Senator PARER --The reason I raise it is that again you have the situation where these people could be contacted during office hours. I understand that in the Sydney Morning Herald a remark was made about Ms Fazio by Mr Laurie Daly, who is the New South Wales Labor Party assistant secretary. In this instance, he said that she served in an honorary capacity and went on to explain that. He then said that Mr Gilmore was working as a paid consultant with the ALP. Is Mr Gilmore a full-time employee of Senator Loosely?

Ms McKinnon --As far as I understand it, yes.

Senator PARER --It then goes on to say that Mr Daly said that Mr Gilmore had come to a flexible agreement concerning his working hours with Senator Loosley. That is in parenthesis, which would indicate that it is a direct quote. What that would mean to me, and I am sure to any reasonable person, is that he could work quite happily two or three hours during the day for the Labor Party and then do other things at night--maybe attend meetings; I would not know and I do not really want to know.

Once you go down that track, it opens up a whole range of things. All I am pursuing this for is a matter of consistency. We already have the handbook that spells out these things. It is a matter of how wide and broad people can be--senators and members. That is the sort of clarification that I am seeking.

Senator McMullan --There is no intention to widen or broaden the activities which electorate staff can undertake from that which has been the traditional interpretation.

Senator PARER --Obviously, what you have said to me is that in the first instance the department did some investigation. The indications to me were that the department responded simply on the advice given by the person himself, who happened to be the Speaker, Mr Martin, and, I think you said, the secretary of the ALP in New South Wales. Did the department do its own investigations, or did it rely simply on the responses given by the Speaker and the secretary of the ALP?

Senator McMullan --My understanding--and if departmental officers wish to add to it, they can--is that they read Mr Martin's letter and the supporting documentation and came to the view that there was no case to examine the matter further. Inquiries are not costless. You need to have some evidence that there is something worthy of inquiry before you inquire further. There did not appear to be any such evidence, so we did not do it. That is my understanding of the circumstances.

Senator MURPHY --I am not sure whether I should ask this under subprogram 2.1 or 2.5 as it relates to telecommunications services. Will the Department of the Arts and Administrative Services be staying with Telecom in respect of telecommunications services?

Senator McMullan --It comes under subprogram 2.5. I would normally offer the same dispensation that I did to Senator Gibson, but we do not have the officer at the table who would normally answer it. So we will come to it then.

CHAIRMAN --Except in relation to parliamentary officers and any participation.

Senator McMullan --There was a common response. I understand that we have the information here, so let us do it now.

Mr Taylor --I can respond in relation to the decision taken for the Department of the Arts and Administrative Services. Julie can respond if the question is directed at the home phones of members and senators. Are you talking about the Department of the Arts and Administrative Services as a whole?

Senator MURPHY --Yes, I suppose that is really what it ultimately goes to in terms of the department as a whole.

Mr Taylor --It is a separate issue. The Department of the Arts and Administrative Services has made the decision in relation to that part of our phone costs which is not already tied to Telecom by way of leased lines that we will go with Telecom as our carrier. But that really only relates to about 15 per cent of our traffic.

CHAIRMAN --That applies to senators' and members' offices?

Mr Taylor --No, it does not apply to members' and senators' offices.

CHAIRMAN --What applies there?

Ms McKinnon --There has been no decision in relation to senators' and members' offices. Possibly a decision could be consistent with the general departmental one; it is really up to the minister to decide. In relation to semi-official home phones, the option is open to the senator or member to decide whether to use Optus or Telecom. It is entirely that person's decision.

Senator MURPHY --What about the other areas of the department as a whole; will there be a decision making process? We are talking about 15 per cent there and then there is a reflection of senators and members being partly private. What happens to the other percentage?

Mr Taylor --It is tied into Telecom. In effect, the whole department will be with Telecom.

Senator GIBSON --On page 153, under the heading `Running costs', I notice that while salaries and related expenses are going up only 5 per cent, administration expenses are going up 22 per cent and property operating expenses are going up 66 per cent. Is there some explanation for that?

Ms McKinnon --The administration expenses increase relates to two major items. One is a continuation of an IT program which commenced the previous year. It relates to the installation of Pcs, which will mean that the division can actually have the same system as that which operates within electorate office. Up until now, it has not been able to communicate with electorate offices. The second major item is an amount of money in the administrative expenses category for POEs that relate to some fit out within the division as a result of movements in the building. There is a minor item there for travel as well. The property operating expenses increase from $491,000 to $816,000 is because there was approximately $320,000 that was not formerly charged to the division and was part of support services POEs. So they have now been included in our total expenditure.

Senator COLSTON --I would like to ask some questions in relation to answers that I have already received to my questions on notice. Certain documents were provided to me in relation to what is happening at my electorate office. I would just like to mention that one of the documents, which is dated 23 June 1993, says, `The noise is unacceptable to Senator Colston who uses a hearing aid'. Can I just indicate that I do not use a hearing aid.

Ms McKinnon --Thank you, Senator.

Senator McMullan --In this room from time to time it might be of assistance if we all did.

Senator COLSTON --The documents that were given to me contained the explanation, `Excluded from this list is the minute and its draft to the Minister on this matter'. If I asked for that under freedom of information, would it be made available?

Ms McKinnon --No, Senator.

Senator COLSTON --Upon what grounds would it not be made available?

Ms McKinnon --The same grounds that applied in relation to the answer given to this question--that we do not have to release documents between a minister and a department. In fact, the words contained in the answer that you were given are from the FOI Act.

Senator COLSTON --I will check the FOI Act. If I think that I can obtain a--

Ms McKinnon --It may be a loose translation, but they are basically parallel.

Senator COLSTON --I will check the FOI Act and if I think that I can score a goal, I will ask for it under FOI. My other question relates to an answer in which I was told that officers of the division wrote to 205 government, 31 official opposition, five Australian Democrat and 845 other senators and members between 1 January 1993 and 13 March 1993. In regard to the government figure, I have never quite seen that number in our caucus room.

Senator McMullan --It is only a matter of time.

Ms McKinnon --It is poorly expressed. It should have meant that there were 845 letters sent to other senators and members; not that there are 845 other senators and members.

Senator COLSTON --That was not my question. My question relates to the number of government, official opposition and Australian Democrats MPs and senators. Can we get the figures for the number of actual MPs and senators?

Senator McMullan --That is the number of people represented as recipients of those 205 and 845 et cetera.

Senator COLSTON --That is right.

Ms McKinnon --All senators and members did receive a letter of one kind or another during that period--some received more than one.

Senator COLSTON --I just want the number of members and senators, not the number of letters. I want to know the number who received a letter or letters?

Senator McMullan --What the officer said is that everybody received one. So that would be 224, I suppose; a quick bit of arithmetic tells me that that is how many members and senators there are. I see all the former party officials nodding, so I must be right.

Senator COLSTON --Did you say every member and senator received one? There are only five Australian Democrats; there were more than five Australian Democrats at the time.

Senator CAMPBELL --Seven at the moment--only five next time.

Ms McKinnon --I cannot explain that point. Perhaps two Democrats did not. If you like, I will provide you with the information in relation to the numbers of senators and members. If it is not 224, I will provide the information. If the five is a mistake and it should be seven, I shall inform you.

Senator COLSTON --Could we have a look at those figures, if you would not mind.

Senator McMullan --There is no problem.

Senator MINCHIN --Could I refer you to the reference on page 156 to the provision to senators and members of computerised electoral role data. Has your office incurred expenditure, or is it currently incurring or proposing to incur expenditure, to write an electoral role management program to supply to senators and members? How is that data supplied? Do you have a computer program that you have written? Have you written a program that you did not use? What sort of money has been spent? You cannot just give them a disk. Presumably, there has to be a program that allows a senator or member to manipulate that data.

Ms McKinnon --Up to now, senators and members have been provided with discs and not a program. The work is done by the AEC in terms of the information that we use. The AEC Act has recently been amended. The AEC will be providing all of the details to senators and members. We provided this as an interim measure and we will no longer be doing it on a continual basis. It is a responsibility of the AEC.

Senator MINCHIN --I did wonder why you were caught up in it. So you have not spent any money writing any software programs?

Ms McKinnon --No, not writing software programs as such. There has been some money in the production of the discs.

Senator MINCHIN --As a new senator, I am absolutely amazed by the myriad number of allowances and the way in which expenses are met. I note that the costs of basically administering the office are quite high relative to payments to or on behalf of members and senators. I appreciate that there are so many different programs that those costs are probably not unreasonable. Has your office of its own volition or at the request of the government done any work on the cost benefit of globalising budgets for members and senators, and if so, where is that at and what may occur?

Senator McMullan --I have asked the department to look at that and we are still undertaking a review of that.

Senator GIBSON --According to page 153, parliamentary entitlements are up from $40 million to $45 million. Why the big increase for the year? As a newcomer, I do not understand the difference between division 115.1 on that page and division 117.1 on the next page. What is the difference?

Ms McKinnon --I will explain the latter question first. The 115 relates to the administrative costs of the department and the salary costs of departmental officers. All of the 117 costs are costs directly expended on senators and members and their staff. So 115 relates only to departmental costs. Your other question related to the increase of approximately $5 million in parliamentary entitlements. There was an increase in property operating expenses of over $2 million. The Australian Property Group has advised us that there will be an increase, some of which was deferred prior to the election, that relates to just the normal cost of renting electorate offices and property operating expenses in relation to our offices in each state capital city as well. So it is a total increase on our property costs--rent and management costs.

Senator GIBSON --I thought rents in capital cities were going down, not up.

Ms McKinnon --The advice is $2.3 million and that is why it has been built into the estimates overall. As well as that, there is an increase of approximately $2.5 million for fit-out costs resulting from the post-election changes and there is a provision for one Commonwealth parliamentary office fit-out in Western Australia. The other item of just over $1 million relates to travel entitlements which were, in the last financial year, incorrectly charged to division 117/3, which is for travel of opposition office holders and their spouses and other parliamentary office holders. They are the three major items; there are also some minor subtractions that make up the full picture.

Senator KEMP --I have a number of questions which I normally put on notice relating to staffing numbers of ministers seeking comparative statistics from the previous year. Could I put those questions on notice? It may well save us some time.

CHAIRMAN --Is it the wish of the committee to incorporate those questions in Hansard? There being objection, it is so ordered.

[The questions appear at the conclusion of today's proceedings.]

Senator KEMP --I also wish to seek some information on the funding of what I think is called the prices network. Is this the appropriate subprogram to deal with that?

CHAIRMAN --I believe that is the responsibility of the Minister for Consumer Affairs and therefore comes under the Attorney-General's portfolio.

Senator KEMP --I have just been to the estimates hearing dealing with the Attorney-General's Department. The Attorney-General said that there was a small grant from his department to prices network, but the major grant came under DAAS and I should put those questions to the Minister for Administrative Services.

Senator McMullan --There are no grants from here but there are some staff under this--

Ms McKinnon --Five staff are paid for under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act at the moment and that is the total responsibility we have in relation to that area.

Senator KEMP --That is presumably the major funding of the area, is it not? One would assume that is where the funding essentially comes from. Could I be provided with the names of the staff employed in the network and where they are located; the names of the people on the board of the network; and the name of the executive director?

Ms McKinnon --You have the first two in relation to the numbers of staff; it is actually 2.72 positions shared amongst more than that. I can tell you now where they are located if you wish. They are all part-time. That is the extent of our knowledge. We do not have anything to do with the board, nor is there any other information we could provide apart from the staffing block numbers and the names and locations of the staff.

Senator KEMP --When the government provides staff for this type of activity, the government presumably has knowledge of the nature of the organisation and who is on the board, who is running it--normal accountability.

Senator McMullan --I do not know what information you got from the consumer affairs section but I can tell you that in the past, through the Treasury and now through the Attorney-General's Department, the grant is made to whatever the body is called--I think it is the national prices network. It is the people there who have an obligation to see that that grant is properly acquitted; they know who the organisation is and all those sorts of things. In the past that information was available through the Treasury. It is public information. But it is not here.

Senator KEMP --I have to confess that I am going to committee after committee putting these questions and I am always being referred to a different committee by the minister at the table. Is it possible for us to bring this to a dead end so that the information is passed on to the relevant minister and then forwarded to me? I have just had a little dispute with Senator Bolkus over this. He said it is really a matter for you to deal with, not him. I now come here and put the questions to you and you say, `It is not a matter for me to deal with at all'.

CHAIRMAN --Are you asking under the right heading?

Senator KEMP --A grant is made. I think I am asking under the right heading.

Senator McMullan --There is no grant made by this department.

Senator KEMP --It is an appropriation under the MOPS Act.

Senator McMullan --The staff are paid and you can have that information. I am not absolutely certain because I am no longer involved, but my understanding is that a grant is made. There was one made out of the Department of the Treasury in previous years because I knew about that and we discussed it--perhaps not you, Senator Kemp, but your colleagues--either last year or the year before. I understand that has been transferred to the Minister for Consumer Affairs and the Attorney-General's Department; I cannot be certain of that because I do not have any first-hand knowledge of it, but I understand that to be the case. If you put questions on notice in both places, I am sure that will get you all the information. We will get you the information that relates to expenditure of this department and I am fairly confident that, properly asked, you will get the information from the consumer affairs section of the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator KEMP --I have to tell you that I have been told in no uncertain manner that it is not the sort of information that that department holds. Can I get some guidance?

CHAIRMAN --The other alternative is to put it on notice in the Senate.

Senator KEMP --We are making large amounts of money available to what is clearly a Labor Party front. The question is: where do I get the information which relates to this activity?

Senator McMullan --Beyond that which this department does or those for which I am responsible, which includes the Treasury--I am pretty sure it is no longer there but you can ask--the answer is: not from me.

Senator CAMPBELL --Is this organisation a quango? I guess it is, by definition, a Commonwealth body, is it not?

Senator KEMP --Minister, you know precisely what it is. Why do you not tell us?

Senator McMullan --I am not getting into any further debate about it because I do not know the current status of it. I know what it was last year; I do not know what it is now and I do not intend to get involved. It is nothing to do with this department other than that we will provide you with the information about our expenditure. That is all I can do.

Senator KEMP --I am anxious to evaluate the work of this body which is apparently an independent body set up and funded by the Commonwealth. I am anxious to find out precisely what it does, the quality of its work; in other words, the normal accountability arrangements you would expect a Senate estimates committee to pursue.

Senator McMullan --I think all that information is on the public record from previous years, but with regard to this year I cannot help you beyond that which I have already said.

CHAIRMAN --Given the time, Senator Campbell, do you have a question on this subprogram before we break?

Senator CAMPBELL --I have some questions which can be put on notice about staff travel allowances and ministerial travel allowances.

CHAIRMAN --Is it the wish of the committee that those questions be incorporated in Hansard? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

[The questions appear at the conclusion of today's proceedings.]

Senator KEMP --I have a question about the National Media Liaison Service.

CHAIRMAN --So we cannot declare subprogram 2.1 finished before dinner?

Senator PARER --I was advised that 2.1 relates to the salaries of the National Media Liaison Service and 2.5 relates to the operational expenses.

Mr Taylor --To the extent that there are some administrative expenses in supporting the office of the National Media Liaison Service, they are included in subprogram 2.5.

Senator McMullan --It would be easier for people who are not looking to play pass the parcel to ask the questions here and we will get people up if we need someone from another program. When we resume, we will happily deal with it under this subprogram.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.