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Astronomical rise in cost of prime ministers advice unit



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r Senator Jim Short *

ASTRONOMICAL RISE IN COST OF PRIME MINISTERS ADVICE UNIT

Evidence provided to the recent Senate Estimates hearings reveal an astronomical increase in the costs of providing advice to the Prime Minister by his Department.

This year alone, the cost of the Policy Advising function of the Department of Prime Minister and· Cabinet (PM&C) is budgeted to increase by 53%, to almost $12 million.

This is purely for advice to the Prime Minister. It is not normally available to other Ministers, let alone to the public. PM&C Departmental officers said at recent Senate Estimates Committee Hearings "[our] customer is the Prime Minister. He is the consumer for this purpose and the one who uses the

information and advice".

Not only have the costs to taxpayers risen in supporting these personal advisory units for the Prime Minister. The work of PM&C is becoming less accountable to, and open to scrutiny by, Australian taxpayers.

The Performance Indicator statements provided by the Department in the 1991* 92 Budget papers' lacked substance. Officers at the recent Senate Estimates hearings were muzzled from providing any indication of the nature of their advice to the Prime Minister, such as that provided to him recently on whether

interest rates should be lowered.

Australian taxpayers have no way of judging whether their money has been well spent. This has major implications for the accountability of the Government in its use of taxpayers' funds.

Duplication

Also evident from the recent Senate. Estimates hearing is the increasing duplication by PM&C of work being done in other Government departments.

For example, the PM&C's Economic Division has set up an economic modelling unit which Departmental officers described as "rudimentary". They said it was needed because the Prime Minister was required to look at the "broad picture" of policy. But how is it possible to get a broad picture working from a

"rudimentary" economic model? Is the Prime Minister receiving advice based on the output of "rudimentary models"? If so, why, and at what cost?

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Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader on Commonwealth/State Relations

Shadow M inister for Finance

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Why is tho sophisticated economic modelling used and developed by Treasury not sufficient for briefing the Prime Minister? Is access being denied to PM&C officers?

Similarly, the International Division doubles up on the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Departmental evidence said that "to the extent that we are providing advice for the Prime Minister and support him and DFAT provides support for the Foreign Minister, there is no duplication". What an incredible example of Sir Humphrey-speak!

The Government Division of PM&C advises the Prime Minister on matters relating to the Public Service. This is despite the fact that the Public Service Commission, which has direct responsibility for such matters, comes within the Prime Minister's own portfoliol

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Senate Estimates hearings also revealed that PM&C makes little attempt to rationalise its use of consultants. Despite the large growth in staff, PM&C's use of external consultants has also grown.

Departmental officers revealed that there are no guidelines which require that PM&C check with other Departments, before commissioning consultants to undertake research, to ensure that such research is not already being carried out elsewhere.

The Estimates Committee was told that one consultant was hired purely in a coordinating role. Ms Wendy Wicks was paid $25,000 to coordinate the Ecologically Sustainable Development project because it was claimed no-one else

in PM&C was available to do the job. Ms Wicks had just lost her job as press secretary as a result of then ACT Chief Minister, Rosemary Follet, losing her job.

Conclusion

At a time when average Australians are experiencing the harshest conditions in more than half a century, the Prime Minister's indulgence in so massively expanding his own personal advisory empire at the expense of these average Australians, more than one million of whom his policies have thrown on the unemployment scrap-heap, is totally objectionable.

It is yet another example of this Government's wanton disregard for the interests of taxpayers.

It also another clear demonstration of Mr Hawke's insecurity and lack of trust in his senior Ministers, and his fear of the continuing threats to his leadership.

Melbourne 6 October 1991

(For further information, contact Senator Short on 03/387 4177 or ah 03/380 2714)