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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 2024

Senator KEMP (4.43 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I think this is an extremely important report which has been handed down because it raises quite a number of issues as to, firstly, the attitudes that departments have to the reports of the Auditor-General and, secondly, actual findings that the Auditor-General has revealed about the use of the Australian government credit card.

  This particular report follows an earlier report which was done by the Auditor-General. This was in a sense a follow-up report to see what the responses of the various departments had been. It is very disturbing to read that in this report, report No. 41, the response from many of the departments to the recommendations and concerns raised in the earlier report on credit cards was not particularly good. In fact, the Auditor-General flags that the response was in many cases not satisfactory at all.

  Reading through this report and seeing the misuse which has been made of the Australian government credit card will do little to raise the esteem of public servants. That is a pity because I think the Auditor-General is very careful in his report to point out that it is a small sample and the misuse often related to minor items. Nonetheless, it is fairly clear that the sorts of findings of this report will receive press coverage and in some papers possibly extensive press coverage in the coming days as a result of what the report has revealed and what it has exposed as the misuse of the Australian government credit card.

  For example, just to bring a number of issues to the attention of the Senate, I refer to case study No. 2 on page 12 of the document. It points out that the Australian government credit card was used to purchase sunglasses to the value of $3,600 and wristwatches to the value of $4,590 for issue to staff. In trying to trace what precisely happened in this area, not only was it not possible to find the actual papers—the audit trail, so to speak—which documented the purchase, but it is still not possible to actually locate what has happened to the sunglasses and the watches.

  In the broad ambit of public affairs these are expenditures in the order of $8,000 but, nonetheless, I think the public would be concerned that the Australian government credit card is being used in this way. The fact is that the people involved have not bothered to keep proper papers nor can they find out precisely what has happened to the watches and sunglasses. In relation to case study No. 3, the report states:

Included within those transactions referred to Department A on 10 November 1993 was a transaction with a retailer of ladies lingerie and sleep wear. The transaction occurred on 6 April 1993.

Senator Crowley —I don't think a woman bought it, do you, Senator Reid?

Senator KEMP —Senator Crowley has made an interesting comment, but this is quite serious business. Again, the Auditor-General raises particular concerns about that transaction. For example, he points out that the transaction was not queried nor apparently investigated by department A until the Auditor-General raised the issue.

  As we go through the report we find other examples. In case study No. 4, for example, the report states:

Senior staff—

referred to as Mr Green, Mr Black, Mr White, Mr Brown and Ms Grey—

. . . of a Sydney-based organisation were attending the Senate Estimates Hearings in Canberra.

Mr Brown approved movement requisitions for Mr Black and Ms Grey both of whom were officers senior to Mr Brown. Mr Black and Ms Grey were paid travelling allowance including components for meals and accommodation at $170 per night, which exceeded their entitlement of $84 per night. At the time of the audit no justification for the excess allowance was provided.

Ms Grey approved Mr White's and Mr Brown's movement requisitions. Mr White and Mr Brown were paid travelling allowance including components for accommodation and meals.

It goes on and on, but what we find is that those officers were not called to appear before the estimates committee until quite late in the evening and they, having already been paid a travelling allowance which included a component for the evening meal, doubled-dipped. They had the allowances paid to them but then they were able to use their credit card to purchase a meal. The report continues:

The agency has advised the ANAO that it was necessary for all officers to stay in a five star hotel in close proximity to Parliament House and that agreement to stay at the hotel had been decided at an earlier agency executive meeting. This decision was not recorded.

So, in other words, they received a travelling allowance like we, as parliamentarians, do. It seems to me that it was approximately the same sum of money. Nonetheless, having been paid that travelling allowance, they were then required, apparently as a result of an agency decision, to stay at a five-star hotel. If we go through the report we find there is case study after case study, and I am sure my colleagues will raise them.

  We come to case study No. 9 where an annual branch conference had a theme of continuous improvement and, as an integral part of the conference, gave golf coaching for 30 people, and that was paid for on the Australian government credit card. The branch conference was organised to assist managers to achieve a workable balance between work, family and health and to present techniques to achieve results on a daily basis. The point of the golf lesson activity was to emphasise the place of recreation and health and to demonstrate to managers their capacity to learn a new skill. The taxpayer does not believe that he should be paying for golf lessons for public servants.

  This is a very important report and it will attract quite a degree of public attention. Although it refers to a very small example, there is no doubt that many people who follow the strictest procedures and requirements will be the subject of jokes at parties and in cartoons in newspapers, and that will not help to improve the standing of the Public Service. That is a pity. The obvious waste of money is of great concern. It appears that the Auditor-General has raised these concerns before and has drawn these particular matters to the attention of government departments. Regrettably, it appears that in some government departments and agencies there was not an appropriate response.