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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2111


Senator FERGUSON (5.26 p.m.) —I rise in this debate on a matter of public importance to support my colleagues Senator Calvert and Senator Campbell. I could not help noticing that Senator Carr never really tried to defend this government's waste. His only defence was to suggest that the coalition's policies might somehow reduce the amount of money available. That has nothing to do with the amount of waste and mismanagement that has gone on under this government.

  Senator Cooney accused Senator Calvert of picking out snippets, and suggested that doing so achieved nothing. In case those opposite think that the waste watch committee is achieving nothing, I can tell them that the committee found out about a welfare loophole through which the government was allowing millions of dollars in welfare benefits to be paid to the families of workers overseas who were earning large salaries. Although the government eventually responded, the situation was allowed to go unchecked for many years. It was only because it was raised by the waste watch committee as a particular waste by this government of taxpayers' money that the government eventually took action.

  Senator Carr shows himself for what he really is when, instead of trying to defend the actions of his government, he says that all we have are ideas about cutting back on funding. In the example of waste I just referred to, the additional family payment that was paid in the name of the wife and added to the child endowment was based on Australian taxable income alone. As a result, the government made social security payments to families of overseas workers of upwards of $90,000 a year. That situation was made worse by the fact that the recipients did not need to be Australian citizens. There were instances where families of New Zealand workers employed in Papua New Guinea were claiming between $400 and $1,200 a month in family payments from Australian taxpayers. It is only because this was highlighted by the waste watch committee that the government responded and took action.

  In talking about government waste and whether government spending is justified, members of the government would do well to read the guidelines for use of the Australian government credit card issued by the Australian Taxation Office. I mentioned these guidelines yesterday. The holders of these cards are told:

You should exercise extreme care in deciding what to spend public funds on. You should constantly be asking yourself "what would a member of the public think about this expenditure?"

I can tell Senator Carr and Senator Burns—who will be speaking later—that I know what the public thinks about this expenditure. That is why so many of these cases are raised with the waste watch committee and why so many people are annoyed, to say the very least, by the continued waste and mismanagement by this government.

  I will give a couple of examples highlighted last year of where funds were wasted on what most members of the public would not consider to be worthwhile expenditure. The government used taxpayers' funds to promote its own form of sexual agenda. The list of recipients of taxpayer funded handouts was considerable. It included gays; lesbians; homosexuals; transsexuals; bisexuals; and prostitutes, both male and female.

  I will give examples of where I believe that the government has completely abandoned any sense of moral decency in its quest to gain electoral support. There was $54,000 given by this government for a project commissioned by the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services to conduct a needs analysis of the transsexual population in Australia; there was $188,000 to conduct a needs assessment of female partners of bisexual men and to implement the recommendations; there was over $1 million to a so-called student health group which advocated to its members student prostitution as a means of funding tertiary education; and then, of course, there was the infamous case of $6,000 being allocated to some of Canberra's prostitutes for a video script. If that is considered by the general public to be worthwhile and justifiable spending by an Australian government, then I think the general public must have many unfulfilled expectations as to the way government money should be spent.

  I highlight another example of a major expenditure. In just over 10 months a government department spent over $4 million on chairs alone. This averages something like $130,000 a week being spent on chairs by this government. In 10 months the total cost of furniture purchased by the Australian Public Service was over $22 million—nearly $850,000 a week on furniture and chairs.

  Senator Carr interjecting


Senator FERGUSON —Senator Carr should listen to this. Three war veterans could have received hip replacements for the cost of a $7,000 pool table bought exclusively for the use of public servants at the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The pool table was purchased for the staff amenities area of the department's Brisbane office in the AMP Building in Eagle Street. The department defended this purchase by saying that its staff operated in close contact with veterans and therefore needed to have a strong team atmosphere. If a strong team atmosphere has to be developed by playing pool on a pool table, there is something wrong with the people working in that department.

  There are various other cases of government waste and mismanagement that I could highlight, but it only needs a few examples to suggest that this government could be much more careful in the way that it oversees the spending of public moneys. I think of all of those small business people and all of those self-employed people trying to get by under the burden of this government. They get no help at all from the government by way of taxpayer funded measures. I am sure that they would not judge the public expenditure by this government to be at all justified in any of the instances I have cited today.