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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2104

Senator CALVERT (4.50 p.m.) —I would like to speak to this much delayed matter of public importance because for some time I, as the chairman of the coalition's Waste Watch Committee, have had more than a passing interest in waste and extravagance under this government. I am very pleased to see that two of my colleagues who are members of that committee are supporting me today. I think the taxpayers of Australia have every right to ask the question: where is this government going with its wasteful administration? This was brought home yesterday when the audit report entitled Auditor-General's report No. 41 of 1993-94: project audit: the Australian government credit card: some aspects of its use—the second report on aspects of the Australian government credit card—was brought down. That prompted me today to put this particular matter of public importance forward.

  When we look at the waste and extravagance in this country that has been overseen by this government, we have to start at the top. I think we should take a cursory look at the Lodge. With the indulgence of the Senate, I remind senators and the taxpayers of Australia what has been spent on the Lodge in the last year or so: the John Gould bird prints that the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) had a bit to do with cost $84,800; two cushions for the Lodge, $719; plans for the Lodge driveway, $100,000; lights for the Lodge dining room, $8,250; upgrade of the Lodge carport, $260,000; upgrade of the Lodge family room, $24,000; a billiard table for the Lodge, $14,300; an upgrade of the Lodge pool and patio area, $217,000; the Lodge dining room table, $25,000; and the Lodge dining room chairs, $24,000.

  That is not all, but these items total some $758,000 and this has all been done at a time when the taxpayers and workers of Australia have been forced to sell their homes, to move into rented accommodation and to live on the streets during this recession that we had to have. I do not know what is going on at the Lodge. With all of these things being done to the Lodge, I do not know whether it is being turned into a Swiss chalet or whether it is just the fact that our Prime Minister has to tough it out and live at the `arse end of the world'.

  The report that was tabled yesterday which prompted me to bring this particular matter forward highlights some quite alarming and extravagant uses of government money. At the end of the day, one always has to go back to the ministers responsible. It was no accident today—this surprised me of course, considering that the Auditor-General in audit report No. 21, which was brought down in December last year, drew the government's attention to examples of waste and extravagance in the use of the Australian government credit card—that the minister in his answer to my question said that the government had changed the rules and put guidelines in place last July. In fact, it was an incorrect answer and he had to correct himself later by saying they would be put in place next July.

  Would one not have thought that, with the Auditor-General having brought forward these concerns last December, the government would have moved with a little more haste to stop the quite extravagant misuse of taxpayers' money with this credit card? But, no, we had to again read examples such as golf coaching for 30 staff members who, the report said, spent this money as a way of emphasising the place of recreation in health and to demonstrate to the managers their capacity to learn a new skill. I just wonder whether these staff used the promotional golf balls that, as I highlighted the other week, Purchasing Australia purchased at a cost of some $5,600 and handed out to all its mates.

  When one looks through this report one could, on behalf of taxpayers, question the thousands of dollars that were spent on restocking drinks cabinets. There were varying amounts for various departments. The Auditor-General felt that some of those issues needed far more detailed analysis. Quoting one particular case as an example, the Auditor-General said that five staff went to a restaurant for a lunch which cost $205 and the officer interviewed could not outline what benefit was gained from that lunch. These are just little snippets that we pick out from time to time. When one considers the amount of transactions that are conducted with this government credit card, the mind must boggle.

  Senator Panizza interjecting—

Senator CALVERT —Senator Panizza may have read the press today about a former Australian Construction Services state manager who used the Australian government credit card and defrauded the Australian taxpayers of $1.67 million. This example today puts paid to what the minister said today—namely, that these examples number only a very few and they are nothing to be concerned about. This particular manager of the Australian Construction Services, along with two of his mates and a contractor, made false invoices over a two-year period to defraud the taxpayer, the people of Australia, of $1.67 million.

  It is not just in the Australian government credit card area where this government has allowed the extravagance to go on. One only has to remember the sports rorts affair that was mentioned today, wasted money through arts grants and trade union grants, the misuse of the training guarantee levy and of course the building splurge that has been going on in Canberra for so many years. I refer to the $167-odd million that had to be spent on Gareth's gazebo over the road. Since then we have found out that another $60 million is to be spent on—

Senator Burns —You agreed to it.

Senator CALVERT —No, I did not agree to it, and Senator Burns knows that. In fact, I do not think the Joint Committee on Public Works agreed to it. It was only when some pressure was applied from above that a few of Senator Burns's colleagues buckled under.

  Sixty million dollars is to be spent on refurbishing the Treasury building. Another $120-odd million is to be spent on a new building for the Department of Industrial Relations. Senators will remember that I drew attention to some of the bizarre efforts of this government in wasting money. Think back to the $270,000 of taxpayers' money that was handed out for a television and theatrical version of a sex film called Sacred Sex.

Senator Campbell —Was Annie Sparkle in that?

Senator CALVERT —Yes, that was the one that Annie Sparkle, the American pornographic actress, was in. I believe that the Film Finance Corporation made money out of it but, when I wrote to the minister to ask why this had happened, the answer was that that particular corporation did not take any interest in what was done with its funds but it certainly admitted to receiving a profit from the full length R-rated film that surfaced later.

  Our committee has raised concerns about travel by public servants. Some wonderful examples are in the report. The Auditor-General has pointed out so many examples of where double-dipping has been going on with the Australian government credit card. The government must take action to do something about this misuse of taxpayers' funds with the misuse of the Australian government credit card.

  In looking through the recent three-month project audit that was done, I must say that the Auditor-General was really putting only his toe in the water. In having just a little look at what is going on, we found that, out of those 1,866 transactions that were targeted that Senator Cook was talking about today, about 19 per cent of them proved to be outside the guidelines. So we on this side of the chamber have a very great concern that the government really has to buckle down and try to return some sort of order to this area of its waste and extravagance.

  I remember last year highlighting in this place some other larger amounts of money that had been wasted by this government through poor management. I recall the Attorney-General's Department as one of the major offenders. It spent $17.5 million on a computer system called the National Legal Office Information System, nicknamed LOIS. Having spent that sum, the department cancelled the remainder of the $40 million contract. I believe it is now installing a multimillion dollar replacement system.

  Only recently I revealed that the Attorney-General's Department had blown an extra $3 million on another computer system that does not seem to have worked called the Law Enforcement Access Network, or LEAN. That project took four years to work up and wasted $3.1 million of taxpayers' money and a few weeks ago the program was quietly quashed by the cabinet. We must remember that the same department handed out $26,000-worth of mugs and key rings to highlight the fact that it was going user pays. There are many cases of waste which I expect my colleagues to highlight.