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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1153


Senator BARNETT (11:09 PM) —Labor waste is mounting up. There is an emerging trend of waste, inefficiency and mismanagement in the way that the Rudd Labor government is managing the Australian economy and its affairs in government. A pattern of behaviour is developing. The government’s spending fails to deliver value for money to the Australian taxpayer, fails to deliver on promises it made to the Australian people and demonstrates its inability to govern. Examples are mounting up. For laptop computers in schools there has been a 66 per cent increase, or an $800 million blow-out—mismanagement in the extreme. The GROCERYchoice website—what a farce! It has cost taxpayers $13 million to develop this website and it has offered absolutely nothing to consumers or shoppers. What a waste! In climate change advertising there has been $13.95 million of waste and inefficiency. Then we have the government’s $42 billion spending spree, where $28 million was used for just administration and advertising. Then there was the printing of the Garnaut report—$65,000 to pay for printing after they had sold off the rights to the publication. How about that!

What do we find in recent days? We find that the Rudd Labor government is spending more on consultants than any government in Australian history. The government’s own figures confirm that over $500 million has been expended on consultants since the government took office barely a year ago, and over $500 million in expenditure is expected in the 2008-09 financial year, which is equal to employing 5,600 public servants for one year. This is hypocrisy in the extreme. Labor promised prior to the November 2007 election to reduce spending on consultants by $395.2 million by 2009. Labor said the Howard government spending on consultants was ‘wasteful’. To quote further:

Complacency and lack of discipline by the Howard Government has allowed unnecessary spending to flourish.

That was said by Lindsay Tanner, the former shadow minister for finance, on 2 March 2007. I have the media release with me to verify that fact. Further, Labor planned to cut spending on political opinion polls and market research by $52.5 million by 2009-10.

The government’s AusTender website, www.tenders.gov.au, confirms the profligate and hypocritical approach to managing our economy being employed by the Rudd Labor government. It also confirms the government’s slack reporting regime, where departments consistently report weeks, and sometimes months, past their due date. The government’s own website also points to the fact that nearly one-third of the consultants are appointed by direct engagement rather than through open tender. It smacks of jobs for the boys. Despite Labor’s commitment before the election to reduce expenditure on consultants by almost $400 million, they now try to justify expenditure in excess of $500 million per year. The government’s actions are a supreme example of government waste, inefficiency and mismanagement. What did the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, say recently? When the Treasurer was asked on the ABC’s Q&A to confirm just how much Labor has spent on consultancies, he seemed to struggle for an answer:

TONY JONES: How much have you spent, though?

WAYNE SWAN: There is a substantial amount spent on consultancies, but it is not the amount that Joe is saying.

TONY JONES: But is it hundreds of millions?

WAYNE SWAN: Yeah, it probably would be in that vein, yeah.

What else is happening? We can see that consultants are being paid to work on the more than 170 reviews commissioned by the government since it came to office. Perhaps we need another review of this, Mr Rudd!

Let me highlight one other special consultancy. Earlier this year Kevin Rudd gave the nod to $1 million in spending on positive psychology seminars or ‘Happiness workshops’. This was very well investigated and highlighted by Senator Brett Mason just a week or two ago during budget estimates. The workshops, run by US celebrity psychologist Martin Seligman, were held in Victoria. The department was unable to provide an answer as to why an Australian psychologist was not used. The headline in the Australian on 26 February was ‘$1 million junket to keep fat cats happy’. Indeed, there were headlines all around the country thanks to the incisive investigative work of Senators Michael Ronaldson, Brett Mason and others. What about the Prime Minister’s travel? The headline in the Daily Telegraph, again on 26 February, states ‘Bid to ground Kevin. Jet-setting PM’s soaring travel bill stirs anger’ The article states:

Kevin 747—$3.4 million in 15 months. Kevin Rudd has racked up almost $3.4 million on overseas travel expenses for 15 separate jaunts since becoming PM in November 2007. Mr Rudd has averaged nearly one overseas trip per month and has spent one in six days of his time as Prime Minister of Australia out of the country.

It is amazing to think exactly what has happened to our government and to taxpayers’ money since Labor has been in power. I want to commend the Australian Financial Review and specifically Tom Dusevic for his article on 18 February headed ‘PM splurges $550 million on consultants’. It reads:

The Rudd government has awarded $553 million in new consultancy contracts since it was elected in November 2007, putting it on track this financial year to be the highest-ever spender on outside advisers.

An analysis by the Financial Review has found that Labor has been increasingly relying on hired experts from the private sector and universities to shape its policy agenda, especially in the areas of health, broadband, economic regulation, climate change, water and the so called ‘education revolution’.

The next day in the Australian Financial Review an article titled ‘$5.5 million more consultancy work disclosed’ reads:

A torrent of 68 consultancy contracts, worth $4 million, surged in yesterday from a single agency, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, which is establishing an unwanted reputation as the worst discloser in the federal sphere.

Two-thirds of the contracts reported by the department yesterday failed to comply with guidelines that require contracts worth more than $10,000 to be disclosed within six weeks.

There you go. Not only do we have the highest spending government in history on consultants but the government is breaching the guidelines and the disclosure rules. Of course, this point was well noted by Senator Helen Coonan, our shadow minister for finance, who said in a letter to the editor:

Excessive reliance on consultants shows a government having trouble implementing its policies. Just look at the policy paralysis that passes for the national broadband network.

Announcing agendas without knowing how to develop policies that meet Australia’s long-term interests in a cost-effective and efficient way simply highlights the hole in this government’s economic kitbag.

Rather than trying to justify it, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner must get a grip on this indulgence Australia simply cannot afford.

Indeed, Senator Helen Coonan highlighted in a media release the concern with the lack of monitoring of consultancy costs by the Labor government, specifically by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Mr Tanner. She said:

The fact that Mr Tanner is not actively monitoring the consultancy budget is obviously why costs have run up so high … the fact that Mr Tanner hasn’t bothered to monitor consultancy spending is unjustifiable.

Indeed, it is unjustifiable and it highlights the profligate approach to governing this country and governing themselves when you see such a high level of waste, inefficiency and mismanagement. We have been saying that the current spending spree by the Rudd Labor government is too large and fails to hit its target. These examples of waste are typical of how irresponsibly this government is squandering the wealth of future generations of Australians, creating debt with its self-approved $200 billion credit card. We will hold them to account.