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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 308

(Question No. 1566)

Senator Boswell asked the Minister for Family Services, upon notice, on 12 July 1994:

  With reference to answers given by Mr B Wight at Senate Estimates Committee C hearing of 28 February 1994 regarding the Department of Human Services and Health:

  (1) Has the Minister or Mr Wight received complaints from the members of the NSW Association of Child Care Centres in respect of his partiality, bias and apparent interference in the affairs of this association.

  (2) What is the nature and the detail of those complaints.

  (3) What is Mr Wight's response to those complaints.

  (4) What investigation has the Minister undertaken regarding these complaints.

  (5) What is the proper conduct and role of a Commonwealth bureaucrat in respect of dealings and activities with private sector organisations and their representatives.

  (6) Has anyone complained in writing about the conduct of any of Mr Wight's officers, in particular, at a Sydney meeting convened to discuss the hours booked and hours used issue.

  (7) What is Mr Wight's explanation of that officer's conduct, and what response has he given.

Senator Crowley —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) Yes, one letter of complaint has been received.

  (2) The letter claimed that Mr Wight showed bias towards some members of the Association of Child Care Centres of NSW Inc by agreeing to one of his officers attending a meeting of NSW Association members on the evening of 17 June, but declined an invitation to have the officer attend a different meeting of Association members on the same evening.

  (3) Mr Wight has advised that he agreed to the responsible Departmental officer accepting a speaking invitation given on 27 May to a meeting of the NSW Association at Punchbowl on 17 June.

  He has also advised that on 13 June he received a fax on NSW Association letterhead suggesting that the meeting at Punchbowl on 17 June was not a legally appointed meeting and inviting him to send the responsible Departmental officer to speak to Association members following a meeting at the Jolly Frog Kindergarten in Westmead on 17 June.

  In response to this invitation Mr Wight has advised me that he could not accept the invitation because the responsible Departmental officer was already committed to attending the Punchbowl meeting on 17 June, because of the short notice given, and because the Government had not at that time announced the new arrangements for paying Childcare Assistance. However to ensure that he was evenhanded in dealing with the two groups in dispute over control of the Association's affairs, Mr Wight offered to have a Departmental officer attend a meeting at some future date and provided written advice of the Government's decision immediately following the announcement on 17 June.

  (4) I sought a detailed explanation from Mr Wight and I have accepted his explanation.

  (5) I expect Commonwealth officers to provide help and assistance to all child care organisations both public and private wherever possible. This includes providing relevant, accurate information about Government programs and ensuring that service providers views about Government decisions or proposals are brought to the attention of relevant decision makers whether they be other officers or Ministers.

  (6) Yes, one letter of complaint has been received.

  (7) Mr Wight was not present at the Sydney meeting but his investigations suggest that the desire of the person concerned to ensure that appropriate time was available for consultations and the Departmental officer's wish to ensure that the limited time available was utilised to find solutions to the problems identified led to some tension between the two persons. The tension ultimately led to the Departmental officer requesting the person concerned to provide positive rather than repetitious, negative comments.

  Mr Wight has written to the person concerned expressing sorrow if the comments made by the Departmental officer have been seen as offensive.