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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4384

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) (4:26 PM) —I seek leave to make a personal explanation to place on record a matter relating to parliamentary entitlements.

Leave granted.

Senator FAULKNER —I thank the Senate. I had intended to make a personal explanation a little earlier in the day but unfortunately I was called away to deal with a portfolio matter. I have shown this personal explanation, unexciting as it is, to senators around the table. I seek leave to have my personal explanation incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

This explanation relates to an issue which arose when I was the Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State. My Ministerial responsibilities then included the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services Division (MAPS) of the Department of Finance and Deregulation which administers parliamentary entitlements, as well as the Office of the Auditor-General.

While Special Minister of State, I was advised by officers of MAPS that the Auditor-General was undertaking a performance audit of parliamentary entitlements, which included a review of printing entitlement usage.

As the Minister responsible for both the entitlements regime, and for the Office of the Auditor General, as well a parliamentarian subject to the entitlements regime, I took steps to try to avoid any conflict of interest or any perception of conflict.

I asked MAPS officers to ask the Auditor-General whether my own entitlement usage was in issue. Had it been, I would have sought to have another Minister deal with the audit.

I was subsequently told by those officers that the Auditor General had confirmed that no issues had been identified with respect to my entitlements use. I asked for and received that same assurance again some time later, as the audit progressed.

In June 2009 the Auditor General’s office advised me (needless to say with some apologies) that perhaps their previous advice had not been correct, and that they were examining material I had printed.

I was concerned that despite my best efforts to avoid any perception of conflict or personal interest, my own use of entitlements was now under scrutiny in an audit of an administrative area falling within my Ministerial responsibilities.

I believed this placed me in a difficult position, which I had specifically tried to avoid.

I therefore reimbursed MAPS the cost of printing the item at issue to avoid any conflict or perception of conflict, despite my view that the printing was clearly within entitlement.

I explained to MAPS at the time why I was making that payment, and also informed them that I believed the printing was within entitlement.

Following the completion of the audit, I asked MAPS for written advice on whether the item I printed was within entitlement. In April this year, I received a letter from MAPS advising that the document did in fact fall within the Parliamentary Entitlements Regulations.

Senators will know that I am not only a strong supporter of reforms to the entitlements regime to provide greater transparency and fairness, but also a strong supporter of the Auditor-General’s role providing independent oversight of government activities, including entitlement usage.

In the interests of full transparency I wanted to place the details of this matter before the Senate.