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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2109

Senator CARR (5.20 p.m.) —Obviously I am opposed to the terms in which Senator Calvert has raised this matter of public importance. In the course of the debate I was asked by Senator Campbell how I would go about defending the indefensible. In a situation such as this we have to look at the credentials of those making the allegations of waste and mismanagement by this government.

  What strikes me as particularly gruelling, given the claims that have been made, is that at the last election the coalition went to the people of this country and argued for a $10 billion cut to the public sector. The coalition said that a series of services and benefits should be taken away from the people. In a draconian and callous way, the coalition suggested that the services provided to the people of this country by the Commonwealth—services which go a long way to ensuring that there is fairness and balance in the distribution of resources—should be taken away. It was making those claims in areas such as social security, education and health.

  Would it surprise those opposite if I said that I did not agree with their talk about waste and mismanagement and their claim that their approach is superior to that of the Labor Party? I have to say that the approach they have taken is essentially geared towards defence of their mates in the private sector. When we talk about the leasing of buildings by government or about the services being provided by the government to the private sector, we have to ask for whose benefit that occurs. For instance, what is the coalition's proposal with regard to rent assistance for Commonwealth departments seeking accommodation? It proposes that the landlords of this country should enjoy the benefits of public sector patronage. It does not want the normal processes of accountability because it sees that as undermining commercial, market driven processes.

  The raising of this matter of public importance is a silly attempt by the so-called waste watch committee of the coalition to demonstrate that this government has not spent the resources of the people of this country properly. I reject that proposition and the coalition's motives in raising it should be challenged. There is no fairness in the coalition's approach. It does not recognise that DAS has seen considerable changes in recent times which have led to considerable improvement in the delivery of services: improvements in productivity of between five and six per cent in 1986-87; a reduction in real terms in the annual operating costs of various businesses of $300 million; a rise in generated profits from $4.4 million in 1991-92 to $16 million in 1992-93; and improvement in the quality of service and responsiveness to customer needs.

  We would expect that, in drawing attention to the way in which the Auditor-General has referred to the misuse of the government credit card, the coalition would at least recognise what the Auditor-General actually said. The Auditor-General found that the extent of misuse of the credit card identified during audit work was extremely low when compared with the total value in a number of transactions. He added that he supports the continued use of the credit card. Those opposite should be fair in their approach to this question.

Senator Campbell —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I would be happy to have a debate about the Australian government credit card but it is not a matter which is a subject of this debate. It was not raised by any of the coalition speakers. It is clearly not relevant to the matter of public importance debate, which is quite specific.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McGauran)—Order! There is no point of order.

Senator CARR —Casselden Place was raised. The changes to leasing arrangements proposed by the coalition would lead to taxpayers having to pay an additional $1 million annually to get out of the various existing leasing arrangements. There would be an allocation of resources to the private sector from the public sector. That goes to the heart of this question.

  The proposals from those opposite mean that they want to see a winding back of the state. That is what they said at the last election—that they wanted $10 billion cut out of the budget. They have a major political problem because, with their current arrangements, they have an $8 billion gap. They are presently promising the world to everybody but at the last election they took a very callous and totally ruthless view of the world.