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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2874

Senator COLSTON —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, relates to the activities of the Opposition's so-called Waste Watch Committee. To the Minister's knowledge, have any members of that Committee expressed any interest in the various instances of large scale waste of public funds identified by Mr Ken Jones in his report on the inquiry into the Australian War Memorial?

Senator GIETZELT —It is pretty clear from the very selective way the Opposition has highlighted some of these issues that it has been involved in a rather symbolic attempt to suggest that there has been some misappropriation of public funds generally. It has worked itself up into a state of righteous indignation over small grants, in most cases of only a few thousand dollars, to organisations of which it disapproves, even though, as the evidence shows, a number of those grants were made or approved when it was in government. However, it strikes me that Opposition senators have been highly selective in the way that they have dealt with those issues. But they have clearly taken a political decision in respect of the Australian War Memorial. They have ignored the damning evidence and examples of waste in expenditure in the Australian War Memorial's finances uncovered by Mr Jones. To give some examples referred to in the Jones report, $2,250 was lost on the delivery of port to the Memorial when there was never any possibility of recouping funds from the sale of it because the Memorial does not have a liquor licence. There was also over-expenditure on the Director's overseas trip. There was a decision taken at the instigation of the Director to spend $50,000 on the production of 2,000 copies of a World War II Royal Air Force training manual, of which 12 months later only 317 copies had been sold, and a lot of money therefore lost in the process.

But the most damning of the items of waste of public expenditure at the Australian War Memorial was the construction of the staircase. We hear nothing from the Opposition about that. I stress that both Mr Jones and the National Capital Development Commission lay the blame for this waste of some $1m squarely with the Director who, on a whim, had the already constructed staircase torn down and rebuilt. In case there are any doubts about the culpability of the Director in this, for the information of honourable senators I table a copy of the letter from the NCDC's Commissioner, Mr Powell, to the then Chairman of the Australian War Memorial Council, Admiral Synnot, dated 22 November 1984, in which Mr Powell expresses his dismay at the action of the Director and advises that in the future NCDC is prepared to deal only with the Memorial Council directly and not with the Director. As the letter shows, the waste of public money on the staircase is not an isolated instance of waste caused by the Director either changing his mind or not being able to make up his mind. Mr Powell also states:

There are other instances of ad hoc decisions by the Director and consequent waste that I could list . . .

The personal letter from the NCDC Commissioner to Admiral Synnot, who was then the Chairman of the Australian War Memorial Council, will indicate the magnitude of the problem of excessive wastage of public funds by the Director.