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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2112

Senator BURNS (5.33 p.m.) —From its very inception in 1983, the Labor government has been concerned not about looking for waste but rather about putting in place programs to prevent waste or extravagance. We have a great concern for making best use of the taxpayers' money through social programs that help those people who are disadvantaged. Every dollar that is misspent or extravagantly used detracts from that, and we are very concerned about that. We do not condone it in any way and we will take action wherever we find it.

  To suggest that the government should be responsible for every incorrect thing that happens in a public service as big as the Commonwealth Public Service, is drawing a pretty long bow, but to expect us to take action and rectify those things that we are aware of is a reasonable proposition. I would not get up here and try to suggest that some of the legitimate criticisms which have been made should be ignored and rejected; they should be attended to by the government. We do have an efficient public service sector. Our efficient policies contribute to Australia being one of the lowest taxed countries in the OECD.

Senator Ferguson —Oh, don't bring that line out.

Senator BURNS —Senator Ferguson can use his rubbish; he can make his accusations; I will put forward my views in the way I want. The OECD statistics show that Australia has a relatively small public sector by both expenditure and employment measures. Our Public Service must already account for what it does and what it spends. Working with public sector unions, a Labor government has improved efficiency and undertaken workplace reforms which deliver better service at a lower cost—something that the opposition would not have been in a position to do.

  There is other evidence of increased efficiency in Labor administration. The 1984 financial management improvement program linked agency resources and programs to corporate goals and established performance standards—all pro-active, not reactive. The 1984 Public Service Reform Act ensured merit based promotion and equal opportunity in employment, while giving greater flexibility and responsibility to agencies for managing their resources. Award restructuring abolished old, inefficient workplace practices and demarcations through measures such as integrated job structures and amalgamation of employment groups. These were all measures designed to save millions of dollars.

  Multiskilling produced massive efficiencies through training and better job opportunities. An ongoing focus on workplace reform continues to deliver efficient improvements. The Economic Planning Advisory Council in paper 44 shows that productivity growth within the public sector in the late 1980s was actually higher than in the private sector at three per cent a year—and continues to be so.

  After looking at that situation, we turn to some of the criticisms that might have been made. I have in front of me a press release by Senator Campbell. He states that, under the public interest work program, the Australian taxpayer is currently funding three staff for a combined salary of $145,000 who are assessing a floating pontoon for the South Australian Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide. When we look at the real facts, we find that the figure of $145,000 is false; it is intended to be critical of someone in a dishonest way. The real figure is the actual cost of $1,247 which is assistance to the South Australian Maritime Museum to evaluate a reinforced concrete pontoon, public access and platform for a tugboat display for museum exhibits. This, of course, is using people who will be displaced from DAS in a way that does not create very hurtful job losses. We have used them and gradually we will work through them and they will be found other places or taken out of the Public Service.

  We now look at another situation where Senator Campbell claims that two senior public servants who each earn $47,840 a year—and that is fair enough—are based on Norfolk Island doing heritage work. The real facts are that the costs to date are $12,937, or $13,000 in round figures, and it is assistance to the Kingston and Arthur Vale historic area management board on the island. Only one officer is involved in the project. No officers are stationed on Norfolk Island, as was implied in the media report. How dishonest, how wrong can you be!(Time expired)