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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2902

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(4.59) —I would like to ask the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) whether he will do what he can to see that I am provided with answers to questions which I asked officers of the Department of the Special Minister of State during Senate Estimates committee hearings, which have not been responded to and which have really been treated in a fairly cavalier way. The first one, which I guess we will get the answer to sooner or later, relates to the names of consultants and their tasks and the costs involved in 1985-86 and the forecast for 1986-87. The response to that was:

The names of the consultants and their tasks are contained in an annual report which is currently in preparation--

that was back in September-

and will shortly be tabled in both Houses, as required under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act.

I have not seen that annual report yet. I have just been advised by the Senate Table Office that it is not yet available and I would be grateful to know when it will be. I would like to look at that report so that I can deal with the question of consultants while these debates on the Estimates are running. It is not an adequate response to a request asked during a Senate Estimates committee hearing to tell me that the information will be available when the officers get around to writing the annual report.

Senate Gareth Evans-I am advised that the draft report is with the Minister at the moment, so presumably you are in the home stretch.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Thank you, Minister. In that case, it appears to me to be absolutely disgraceful that responses to questions, the information for which is sufficiently prepared to be in a draft report, is not provided to the Senate before we deal with the Estimates. It is just intolerable. What is the Minister's justification for this? I have some other questions in relation to this Department's failure to respond adequately to questions. I find it unacceptable to have a response that officers will not give honourable senators information because the officers will give a report to the Senate if and when they feel like it, which may well be after the Estimates have been dealt with. That is bureaucratic arrogance of an excessive degree, which has to be stopped.

The next point I want to raise is that I asked this Department what were the cost estimates of special stationery and envelopes specifically used by senior officers and the Minister. One of the questions was how the special departmental and ministerial stationery varies from the standard stationery generally used by the Department in appearance and cost. This Department deliberately ducked answering that question and it had now better start to answer properly. It is a fair question. The answer that the Department gave simply related to the total cost for the year, which of course was nonsensical because it said that to achieve economies of scale bulk orders were placed and sufficient were ordered in 1985-86 or earlier to meet 1986-87 requirements. In other words, the officer said that the departmental cost was nil.

What I had specifically asked related to the difference between the appearance and cost of ministerial and standard departmental letterheads. I imagine that the cost difference may be very substantial because the ministerial letterhead is in green ink, thermally embossed, high quality paper, and the departmental letterhead is standard departmental stationery with black ink on standard quality paper. We are entitled to an answer. I hope that the Minister will be able to encourage the bureaucracy to stop trying to stall us and to stop fooling us around by deliberately refraining from either understanding a simple question or answering it.

The other matter I would like to raise relates to sick leave. I asked whether it would be possible to establish the difference between the number of days of sick leave taken by the part-time and full-time employees of the Australian Federal Police. This question has some relevance now, because since I asked it the subject has sprung up in relation to claims about the excessive level of sick leave being taken by the New South Wales police force. I do not know the rights and wrongs of that issue. All I do know is that the only response I got was that the total sick leave taken by the temporary staff approximated 2 per cent of total hours engaged and that the figure for permanent staff was not available. I would have thought that it would have been fairly easy to work out salary as against sick leave and at least have a stab at it on that basis. It seems to me to be a reasonable request and I cannot see why the Government cannot provide an answer. I mention in passing that this is of specific relevance to the Australian Federal Police because something like four times as many employees of the Australian Federal Police retire through invalidity as retire from reaching retirement age. That is getting pretty close to the record, I think, of any governmental instrumentality. The reasons for that are certainly interesting. Out of the 36 people who retired last year through invalidity, 17 retired due to depression and/or anxiety-just about half. That seems to be extraordinary. Either something is particularly wrong with the administration of the Federal Police and it is a far more demanding job than some people may have thought or something needs to be done to improve the health, and the mental health in particular, of people in the Federal Police. Another six retired due to back problems, which of course is hard to diagnose, one retired through severe stress and one with repetition strain injury. So something like 25 of the 36 retirements appear to relate to complaints that one could say are difficult to diagnose.