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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 18

Senator TIERNEY (3.17 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction (Senator Schacht), to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Senator Boswell) and Senator Tierney this day, relating to labour market programs.

Last night on Four Corners we saw that quite a number of instances of fraud were being detected in the operation of programs that have been run by the Department of Employment, Education and Training. This afternoon Senator Schacht came in here and gave an answer that had been prepared for him by Mr Crean. Anyone from outside listening to Senator Schacht assuring people that this procedure and that procedure had been set up to detect fraud in the spending of DEET money on jobs programs would probably go away fairly assured that everything was in order.

  The program last night showed what has been a very long-running saga which has come before the Senate and estimates hearings and has been mentioned in Auditor-General's reports before. It is just a continuation of the maladministration of funds by this department, which controls an absolutely huge section of public moneys in jobs programs.

  Three years ago in estimates the Auditor-General heavily qualified his report into the administration of programs by this department. There was a program called TAP, where the department had spent $80 million on Aboriginal education. The acquittals were not done properly and other accounting procedures were absolutely haywire. Departmental officers assured us at that point that they were pretty certain that the money had been spent properly—

Senator Patterson —Three years ago.

Senator TIERNEY —Yes, three years ago. They assured us that the money had been spent properly but they could not really prove that it had been spent properly. No wonder the Auditor-General heavily qualified his report. Here again this year we have more assurances, like we had following that TAP example a few years ago, that the government and this department finally have it right and have everything in order in terms of the department's accounting procedures for money. I asked earlier this year in an estimates hearing:

Are you aware of any actions to ensure that such a fraud does not occur again? Have you changed procedures at all?

The DEET official replied:

Yes, we have certainly changed procedures. We have put a lot of investment into training, accountability measures, reconciliation processes right across the department.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It sounds just like what Senator Schacht said this afternoon.

Senator Teague —Every year it is the same.

Senator TIERNEY —As Senator Teague, who has been involved for longer than I have in questioning DEET, says, every year it is the same. Of course, this year we have it from DEET again. We are sure that it has actually set up programs, as it is saying. We are sure that there are accounting procedures in place. But the basic question is: how effective are they? Do they work? In the first example given last night on television—the example of a charity in Perth—it was shown that all this is just words when we take into account the fact that the charity worker had pointed out that at no point when the charity put people on, the subsidy ran out, people were put off and then more people were put on did the CES check on what was happening.

  There was an even worse example in my own area. A fellow who was running a program—he is now in gaol—was holding staff meetings in Thailand. When he was asked why they were going to Thailand on this money from skillshare he said, `Well, we got away from the phones.' The money that has been wasted in these programs is absolutely disgraceful. It is terrifying from the taxpayer's point of view that tomorrow's white paper is going to throw more billions at this department which cannot administer the money that it has now. Before we move down this track this department should certainly clean up its act.