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Bolkus "Cover-up" attempt exposed

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In Question Time today the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Bolkus) failed to explain his clumsy and unsuccessful attempts to censor an official Departmental response to my query regarding his personal media monitoring service.

During the Appropriation Bills debate (3 June) I asked the Minister whether it was true that his Department had charged the taxpayer thousands of dollars for monitoring media coverage of the ALP's outrageous attempts to ban political advertising.

The Minister undertook to supply details, and on 6 June forwarded (under cover of a letter incorrectly dated 6 MAY 1991) a response prepared by his Department answering my question.

The Departmental response analysed spending on media monitoring for the TEN months from July 1990 to end April 1991 - a more

realistic base for comparison is the EIGHT months to February 1991; as the explosion in spending started in March.

The figures show that from July 1990 to February 1991, the

average monthly charge for media monitoring was less than $4,500 - yet for March and April the charge escalated to $18,260 and $17,700 respectively.

However, the interesting feature of the Departmental response which was attached to the Minister's covering letter is that the copy I received still contained items which the Minister had struck out, presumably in an attempt to disclose less than his

Department thought proper.

The references ruled through by the Minister give the REASONS for the massive increase in expenditure - ie that the increase is . . .

" directly related to concurrent media interest in several topical matters".

The issues that aroused interest (as ruled out by the Minister) were "contract administration" [ie the Minister's improper interference in the award of a computer contract to Nashua], and "disclosure laws and political advertising" [ie the ALP's

objectionable attempts to ban political advertising]

DOCUMENTS ATTACHED: - Hansard debate - Minister's covering letter (rec'd 6/6/91) - Departmental response

CONTACT: SENATOR PARER 277.3670 19/6/91





I refer the Minister to Questions I raised with him during the Appropriations Bills debate relating to his Department's improper use of media monitoring

consultants for political purposes.

The Minister responded to me on May 6th, confirming that the charge for media monitoring for the period July 1990 to February 1991, averaged less than $4,500 a month; and that for the months of March and April the charges were a whopping $18,260 and $17,700.

. What was the purpose of the media monitoring?

. How does the Minister justify using taxpayers' funds through his Department for purely political purposes?


Will the Minister advise why he attempted to mislead me and the Parliament by erasing crucial matters in the Departmental response which (regrettably for the Minister), were not erased when the response was

provided to me?

(I seek leave to table the Minister's letter which clearly shows his clumsy attempts at censorship).

Is this not exactly the same sort of dishonesty we have come to expect from the Prime Minister?

Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Telephone: (06) 277 7600 Facsimile: (06) 273 4124

Senator W Parer Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600

SENATOR THE HON. NICK BOLKUS Minister for Administrative Services

Dear Senator

Attached is an answer to question I undertook to provide during the Committee of the Whole debate of the Appropriation Bills.

I will forward the answ ers to the remaining questions a s soon a s possible.

Yours sincerely


- 6 MAY 1991


Senate Hansard P age 4123 of 3 June 1991

Sub-program Name: Corporate Policy, Planning and Treasury

Sub-program Number: 3.1

Subject: Recent increase in media monitoring service charges to DAS

Question - Senator Parer

"...whether in the past couple of months - say, March and April - it (average monthly charge for media monitoring) has risen from $8 000 a month to $18 000 a month?"


For the ten month period July 1990 to end April 1991 the charge for media monitoring m ade on the Department averages out at $7 356 per month. Not surprisingly, with extensive media attention given to a number of issues which come within the Department’s a re a of responsibility foiz contract adm inistration, dioolocure laws and political adve rtising) the monthly charge m ade by the service has increased to $18 260

and $17 700 for March and April respectively. This increase is se en a s tem porary4and- direotly rolated to concurrent-m edia interest-in several tepie a l matters.-


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4120 SENATE 3 June 1991

fered from consultants employed by the Department—is that correct? Senator PARER (Queensland) (4.57 p.m.)—I was really asking what is the functional difference—or perhaps the mission statement, if you like—between a consultant who would be employed by a Minister and a consultant who would be employed by a department. In other words, what are the functional responsi­ bilities? Would there be a clear difference

in functions? Obviously, the consultants employed by Ministers have specific pur­ poses in relation to the ministerial role of

the Minister, whereas I would have imag­ ined—I am’ not sure about this and I am seeking clarification—consultants em­ ployed by the departments would be sim­

ply related to departmental matters. Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (4.57 p.m.)—I think I have already covered the area of ministerial consultants. When one looks at departmental consultants one is

looking at the use of external consultants in a whole range of areas where specialist skills are required—for example, on the construction side where expertise is not available in-house. For instance, in this

Department, Australian Construction Services is the largest user of consultancy services, and it uses them mainly for de­ sign and construction projects where the

required skills and expertise are not avail­ able in-house. The Overseas Property Group is another major user for very much the same reasons. For example,

there might be minor construction and maintenance project consultancies and le­ gal services provided in both of those areas where those skills are not available

within the Department. In respect of min­ isterial consultants, they play, primarily, very much an advisory role in terms of the administration of government.

Senator PARER (Queensland) (4.58 p.m.)—Would there be any occasions when consultants were employed by de­ partments when they should really have

been given a ministerial function? As the Minister mentioned, Ministers are al­ lowed two consultants and need the Prime Minister’s approval for more. Would there be a situation where, in fact, consultants

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were employed by departments when they really had no relationship to the depart­ ments, but, rather, were related to the ministerial role of the Ministers?

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (4.59 p.m.)—I am advised that under the Mem­ bers of Parliament (Staff) Act there is ca­ pacity for the Secretary to a department to engage a consultant. I think Senator

Parer is trying to imply that perhaps people are engaged by departments when they should be on the ministerial staff. I

think in the instances where consultants have been employed by secretaries of de­ partments, those consultants have been engaged in the development of policy ad­ vice and assessments of government serv­

ices. I do not know, myself, of any

instances where what the honourable sen­ ator has suggested takes place. Perhaps if he were to elaborate further we might be able to help him more. ’

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.00 p.m.)—I thank the Minister, I will. I un­ derstand that the Department employs a media monitoring service. The aim of that monitoring service is to monitor the me­ dia and provide transcripts to the Minis­

ter of any political matters in relation to his own ministerial portfolio. I was just wondering whether the Minister would advise us of the name of that media mon­ itoring consultant.

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.00 p.m.)—Senator Parer is referring to a me­ dia monitoring service, the name of which

I do not know. I think it is fair to say

that all Ministers—and perhaps this ap­ plies at a State government level as well— have the service of media monitoring pro­ vided for them. I see that Senator Kemp

is nodding his head. It is quite a useful service, as even honourable senators dis­ cover through the limited media monitor­ ing services available here. I will find out

the name of the media monitoring service and advise the Senate. I indicate that it is one of those services provided by the De­ partment of Administrative Services for


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Appropriation Bills 3 June 1991 SENATE 4121

artments when they ship to the depart­ ure related to the Ministers?

(South Australia— ative Services) (4.59 lat under the Mem- aff) Act there is ca­ ry to a department it. I think Senator mply that perhaps

departments when : ministerial staff. I ; where consultants iv secretaries of de-

sultants have been ament of policy ad- )f government serv- v, myself, of any the honourable sen­

es place. Perhaps if urther we might be

Queensland) (5.00 inister; I will. I un- lartment employs a ice. The aim of that

to monitor the me- :ripts to the Minis­ itters in relation to ortfolio. I was just

he Minister would of that media mon-(South Australia— ative Services) (5.00 is referring to a me­

, the name of which ik it is fair to say

id perhaps this ap- nent level as well— dia monitoring pro- that Senator Kemp

It is quite a useful arable senators dis- ted media monitor- here. I will find out

. monitoring service I indicate that it is ;

irovided by the De- i

irative Services for \

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.01 p.m.)—When checking that out, would the Minister confirm whether the name of the conipany is Croll Communications (Aus­ tralia) Pty Ltd?

Senator Bolkus—I think it is. Senator PARER—I will ask several questions together, because I know that we are all keen to complete the Appropri­

ations. Would the Minister advise whether the average monthly charge for the serv­ ice, simply for the Minister, has been $8,000 to $9,000 a month; whether the Department picks up the tab for the cost of this service, which is simply a service

for the Minister and has nothing to do with the Department; and whether, in re­ cent months, because of the increasing

press attention mainly in regard to the Bill on the banning of advertising, the cost of this service has increased to about $18,000 a month? The question I am ask­

ing is whether this is simply a political media monitoring service which really has nothing to do with the Department. If so, why is it within the Department and thus not in the list given in response to Sena­

tor Kemp’s request for the names of all consultants who were employed by Ministers? Senator BOLKUS (South Australia—

Minister for Administrative Services) (5.03 p.m.)—The first distinction to draw is that what we are talking about here is the provision of a service. Departments often

contract out. The service that is in ques­ tion is provided as a matter of course by all departments to all ministerial offices. The aim of such a service is to keep Ministers informed as to the news all over the country at that particular moment. In terms of the actual costs and the figures

that Senator Parer indicates, I have no firm figures in my mind about normal or other rates being charged, but we will get that information for Senator Parer.

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.04 p.m.)—I would just like to clarify this: did the Minister say that this particular media monitoring service was for all de­ partments or simply for the Minister him­ self? Also, what exactly does it provide?

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.04 p.m.)—It provides clippings of news­ papers on the morning of their issue. I said that my understanding is that all de­ partments provide such a service for their

Ministers rather than this particular serv­ ice being provided for everyone. Of course, different areas are covered in newspapers. For instance, the Department of Employment, Education and Training would have a different focus to a depart­ ment such as Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs. So the clippings would keep people alerted to issues and community interest in activ­

ities as reflected in newspapers on a par­ ticular day. I think Senator Parer asked another question in respect of this, but probably both of us have forgotten it.

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.05 p.m.)— I think the Minister has clarified one question, that is. that all departments do this. What surprises me about that is that I thought that was the role of the National Media Liaison Service. What we

are finding now is an entirely different group of media—aNiMaLS—which in fact is paid for by the Department for what is really a personal, ministerial or political

measure. The Minister talked about clip­ pings from newspapers. Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.06

p.m.)—Can I just respond to that point. It was the point I had missed. It is my understanding, though it may not be to­ tally true, that all departments do provide

such a service. In terms of the service being a consultancy, it is fair to say that this sort of service is available to both the public and private sectors. We are talking

about a private sector organisation, or a number of private sector organisations, which have as their primary role of busi­ ness activity the provision of such

information. Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.06 p.m.)—The Minister mentioned that it was simply a clipping or newspaper serv­

ice. I wonder whether he could advise me as to the sudden increase in the monthly charge from $8,000 or $9,000 to $ 18,000, or something or that order. I think this is


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4122 SENATE 3 June 1991 Appropriation Bills

an incredible figure, in view of the fact that there is already a media liaison serv­ ice which acts for the Government. Inci­ dentally, I think confirmation is being

sought as to what the current figure is. Does that service include transcripts of all media, including radio and television, or simply the newspaper clipping service?

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.07 p.m.)—It is primarily a clipping service, but it is a service which also has the capacity, on request and sometimes with­

out request, to provide transcripts of par­ ticular interviews for discussion. That is a role that it performs from time to time, depending on whether or not th e. issues

involved have any currency. If an issue has no currency on the airwaves, there is obviously no need for transcription. But

quite often one needs to know what point of view is being expressed in order to take it into account one way or the other.

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.07 p.m.)—It seems to me that we are getting to the point of saying that this service is purely for political purposes. The ques­

tion I ask is the same as the one I raised in the initial stages of this committee stage of the Appropriations: what has it to do at all with the Department?

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.08 p.m.)—One of the roles of the service provided by the Department, as I say,

ensures that the views of people across the country are taken into consideration by government almost instantaneously. As a consequence, the policy direction and

administration of government can be ef­ fected by inputs, ideas and whatever is picked up through the clipping and tran­ script service. Although Senator Parer may choose to see it as purely political, it does

have a very useful role in alerting govern­ ment to the adequacies or inadequacies of its policies. As to who else may have access to this particular service, I will also ascertain that information for Senator


Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.09 p.m.)—I think this is a fairly important matter because the questions that were

raised in Estimates, mainly by my col­ league Senator Kemp, requested a list of consultants that the Government uses in its ministerial area as compared to the

departments. Senator Bolkus has pointed out that all departments do this. As far as I can see, this brings a whole new ball game into play. "

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.09 p.m.)—Just before Senator Parer goes any further, I might help him. As I said, I did

not know to whom it was circulated. But I am advised, as I suspected might be the case, that the news clippings are in fact circulated to senior Department of Ad­

ministrative Services staff. They are not just for the Minister. That is the practice that I would expect happens in other de­ partments as well. They are of use not

only to a ministerial office but also to senior management of departments to en­ sure that that management is on top of the administration of departments as well.

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.10 p.m.)—But from what the Minister has said, it sounds like a secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to keep the Min­

ister abreast of any criticisms that I might make· of him in my particular role or the criticisms that any other shadow Minister might make of a Minister in regard to other departments.

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.10 p.m.)—I would not draw that inference. In terms of the role of the clippings and

how they are used both by Ministers and public servants, it is very easy for us here to have a purely political perspective of the role of Ministers. Obviously, there is

a job to do in terms of administering a department as well. It should be recog­ nised that those clips are useful to Min­ isters as well as to senior public servants in the administration of departments.

As I have said, Senator Parer may have taken one perspective of it. But I suppose, as in all areas of activity, one needs to know what is going on within a depart­

ment or an enterprise with which one is involved. These clips are quite useful to that extent.



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liniy by my col- equested a list of vemment uses in compared to the olkus has pointed

do this. As far as a whole new ball

south Australia— :ive Services) (5.09 tor Parer goes any m. As I said, I did /as circulated. But ;cted might be the

ppings are in fact epartment of Ad- taff. They are not 'hat is the practice ppens in other de- ey are of use not

office but also to departments to en- ment is on top of epartments as well.

Queensland) (5.10 t the Minister has secondary purpose, is to keep the Min- ticisms that I might irticular role or the

er shadow Minister nister in regard to

(South Australia— ative Services) (5.10 Iraw that inference. )f the clippings and

th by Ministers and fery easy for us here itical perspective of Obviously, there is

of administering a It should be recog­ ; are useful to Min- .nior public servants

of departments.

ator Parer may have : of it. But I suppose, tivity, one needs to on within a depart- ;e with which one is s are quite useful to

Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.11 p.m.)—I have two more questions' in re­ spect of this. Do all transcripts of all me­ dia—which I understand is the reason for the sudden increase in the cost of this— go to the Department? The other ques­ tion, to which I referred earlier, was asked by Senator Kemp. We thought the an­

swers we got covered all the consultants and the National Media Liaison Service. As I have pointed out, it seems that we

have a brand new ball game here and that hidden away in departments within their budgets is another, but externally con­ tracted, national media liaison service— which probably makes the National Me­

dia Liaison Service look pretty attractive. As the Minister is responsible for provid­ ing the answers in regard to ministerial consultants, can he advise us to what ex­ tent this practice exists in every other

department of this Government. Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.12 p.m.)—I think it is pretty easy to build sandcastles in debates such as this. The

first point to make is that, from my un­ derstanding of the definition of the word, we are not talking about consultants to Ministers; we are talking about the pro­

vision of services. There are a number of services provided to Ministers by depart­ ments and provided jointly for both Min­ isters and departments. This is one of

them. We are not talking about a parallel National Media Liaison Service; we are talking about a privately contracted serv­ ice to the process of government.

In terms of other departments, it is not something that is paid for by the Depart­ ment of Administrative Services. I think probably the best thing that Senator Parer

could do is to take the matter up with other responsible Ministers. I would not draw from this any suggestion that we are talking about organisations such as Croll,

Monitair and others as being on a con­ sultant arrangement with government; they provide a service. Senator PARER (Queensland) (5.13

p.m.)—I asked a question earlier about whether the average cost was $8,000 to $9,000. When can the Minister provide that information to me? Also, can he tell

me whether in the past couple of

months—say, March and April—it has risen from-$8,000 a month to $18,000 a month? When does the Minister expect to be able to provide this information?

Senator Bolkus—I will try to get it today.

Senator KEMP (Victoria) (5.13 p.m.)— I wish to pursue one or two questions relating to consultants, a topic that was discussed by Senator Parer. On the last

day that this matter was debated, the Minister promised to obtain some figures on the total am ount. of money paid to consultants over a number of years. I

would just like to see what the status of those figures is. It would help if we could have them on hand. Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Admin­

istrative Services) (5.14 p.m.)—I am ad­ vised that that information is not as yet available but I have asked that we have it at least by as late as tomorrow.

Senator KEMP (Victoria) (5.14 p.m.)— I have one final question on the issue of consultants. In respect of the 30 or so consultants that the Ministerhas listed in answer to my question, is it possible to

make any general comment on whether the contractual arrangement with these people is typically for one year, three years, or is there no typical contractual arrangement?

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.15 p.m.)—I am advised that there is a max­ imum prescription in the Act, in terms of

the employment of service, of two years. I am also advised that that is the average as well. I do not think I have anything further on that.

Senator KEMP (Victoria) (5.15 p.m.)— If the Government were to lose office, what would happen to those contracts? Presumably they would be finished. I think

the Minister responded in that way to a question I put to him before. Are the contracts then paid out for the remaining amount of the term which is unused?

Senator BOLKUS (South Australia— Minister for Administrative Services) (5.16 p.m.)—I am advised that there are termi-