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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2834


Senator BISHOP (5.02 p.m.) —The Statement of Heads of Expenditure and amounts charged thereto, pursuant to the Audit Act, gives one a good outline of the manner in which unforeseeable circumstances can arise and, indeed, errors can be made in looking at the requirements of implementing government policy. As my colleague Senator Short has indicated, the figures are useful in that they show how accurate or otherwise government departments are.

  In addition to that, as a result of questions that I have asked at Estimates committee hearings, there has been an undertaking from the Department of Finance that it will now keep a register of all applications that are made in respect of the Advance to the Minister for Finance, including the number that fail. The interesting statistic will be which departments are more efficient than others and, in fact, get their figuring right in the first place, and those which cannot even get their first application for an advance correct. I think that will be quite a useful indicator.

  I wish to draw on material which we gained today. It is interesting to look at the particulars of payments made from the Advance during October and to see how the claims compete in terms of worthwhileness. I would like to compare two such claims. The first is an advance of $3 1/2m to the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services relating to emergency relief. The notes put forward in support of that Department's application are really quite revealing—it is information which otherwise does not see the light of day. The notes state:

  This unforeseen additional requirement arises from the Government's recent agreement to increase the overall provision for Emergency Relief to $14.342m. This decision recognises the high demand for Emergency Relief assistance being experienced as a result of the recession and especially related to the high unemployment levels. There is an historical peak demand period of call on Emergency Relief assistance in Nov-Dec and as agencies are currently drawing more heavily on the existing allocations than in the same period in past years, there is an urgent need to build up the quickly diminishing supply.

It goes on to say that, with the announcement that that money will be made available, there is an expectancy of quick delivery and, therefore, it is necessary to bring forward the December payment and to predicate the need for a subsequent additional payment to be made.

  One could say that those payments are perhaps unforeseen. However, as the Government has told us that we are having a recession that we had to have—a recession which it personally planned—we could say that it should have made provision for the payments in the Budget itself. Nonetheless, the payments are being made to ease the enormous hardship that is being suffered in the community by individuals through no fault of their own but because of government policy.

  I want to compare that drawing with an application made on behalf of the Governor-General's Office by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. If one looks at drawings against the Advance in terms of need and, perhaps, compassion, one wonders why it is necessary, in this period of hardship, to spend an additional $600,000 on a new kitchen in Government House and to `refurbish'—that is the word used in the supporting statement—the state guest rooms. One state guest who was coming—President Bush—is now not coming. One can only wonder whether these rooms were being refurbished so that he could stay in them. When we realise that a progress payment of some $147,000 was required for these rooms, we can only imagine the sumptuousness of the curtains, carpets and other titillations that will attach to those rooms.

  I am not saying that it is not proper that we should have proper state accommodation for visiting dignitaries; I am not even saying that Government House may not need a new kitchen. I am saying that in a time of great hardship, when every dollar should be used to relieve the hardship of ordinary Australians, there is a great need for the Advance to meet additional payments for emergency relief. Despite this, we find that there is another plea, which has equal standing, to provide money to tart up—a phrase I have used previously—a few rooms in Government House. Perhaps this could have been postponed.

  At a time when belts are being tightened, perhaps the tightening has to apply to everything. There is certainly a need for increased funding for emergency relief, although I say that the Government should have foreseen that that would be necessary. But I wonder whether it is necessary to spend that additional money simply to refurbish Government House.