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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2078


Senator KEMP (3.03 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology (Senator Cook), to a question without notice asked by Senator Kemp this day, relating to a report of the Auditor-General on the use of the Australian Government credit card.

I welcome the response that Senator Cook has just given. It was about time; it should have been given during question time. It should have been a clear sign that the Department of Finance was prepared to take the Auditor-General's report seriously. I do not blame Senator Cook for this because I notice he was reading from a brief prepared for him by the Department of Finance. I would say to Senator Cook that the next time he reads a brief from the Department of Finance he should go back and check it carefully.

  In relation to the sunglasses, he will recall that he was given a brief by the department when in fact the story, as carefully set out in the Auditor-General's report, is quite different from the version he gave. Senator Ray kept on calling out, and one took it from Senator Cook's answer that it was Senator Ray's department. If the Auditor-General could not get hold of the correspondence and could not locate the glasses, then Senator Ray has a particular problem with the various control people in his department. That is a matter for him; it is not a matter for the Auditor-General to be abused about.

  In relation to flowers, Senator Cook tended to say that the issue related only to the purchase of flowers for an Anzac Day occasion. I refer Senator Cook to page 25 of the Auditor-General's report where at some length it goes through the issue of the purchase of flowers with the credit card by various government departments and agencies. Just to summarise it, for example, it says that some nine per cent of the transactions referred to the Auditor-General for review were purchases of flowers. Flowers were purchased for a number of purposes, including ceremonial, hospitality and for staff. The Auditor-General found much confusion among departments and agencies in determining the appropriateness of the purchase of flowers for staff.

  Flowers were given for a number of reasons but not the reasons given to Senator Cook by the Department of Finance—for retirement or resignation, illness or hospitalisation of staff members, and funerals. The report goes right through another full page outlining the various issues on the purchase of flowers by the department.

  So the brief the minister was given by the Department of Finance was a cheap shot. It was a brief which attempted again to mislead people on the nature of the Auditor-General's report. Of course, on some occasions it may well be appropriate to use a credit card. But the Auditor-General, over two pages, outlined the confusion in departments about the use of the credit card for the purchase of flowers and found that on quite a number of occasions these purchases of flowers in no way could be justified.

  I take it that Senator Cook's attempt to answer this question was an accurate reflection of the brief that he was given by the Department of Finance. I suggest that Senator Cook go back to the Minister for Finance and complain that, if people are going to give him briefs on these issues, they should be comprehensive briefs that deal with the issues in a serious fashion and, in particular, the issue found by the Auditor-General in report No. 41, namely, widespread problems, including some fraud, in the use of these credit cards. It would have been a big help if Senator Cook had stood to his feet when he read the brief rather than wait until after question time to try to correct it to show that the government was taking the scandals, as revealed by this particular report, seriously.