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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1294

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (20:30): I will not keep the Senate much longer. The article that I mentioned in The Canberra Times, under the heading of transparency—for those who want to have a look at it, it is The Canberra Times, Tuesday, 7 February 2017 at page 7—amongst other things, says:

Senior public servants control most government spending. They decide which businesses are invited to tender for government work; they sit on assessment panels for contracts and jobs. Their conflicts of interest are a far greater threat to good government. Yet the public knows almost nothing of them. Their conflicts, and expenses, are disclosed in secret to agency heads and no one else.

It's inevitable that this lack of transparency encourages indulgences, and worse. Most senior public servants are, of course, upstanding and deserving of respect; indeed, some sacrifice a more luxurious lifestyle to work in government. Others, however, will succumb to temptation. A little more public scrutiny would go a long way towards reducing the number of those who do.

That is my point. I do think this authority could be expanded in a relatively simple way to bring about that accountability. Sure, there is some reporting and some accountability, as is mentioned in this article, but it is not something the taxpayers know about. I just think this is the right time to widen the net in a very broad way that can be done relatively simply. The amendments that I propose are not complex. The minister has acknowledged that I had referred to the fact that we cannot impose the cost in a bill in the Senate at this time, but it gives an intention and, really, a direction to the government that this is how you go about paying for what I accept would be a fairly substantial increase in cost. It is important that we do this.

The minister, I think, mentioned there have not been a lot of complaints. I am not sure what part of the world the minister moves in, but, everywhere I go, people raise with me the money that is paid to presenters on the ABC.

Senator Dastyari: Where do you go?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I might say—

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Back ): Please continue, Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is some noise, not even from the chamber, just from people here.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I noticed that, and I am sure the person in the assistants' gallery knows that he should not have spoken. I ask you to continue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Labor staffers and a Labor senator may think this is pretty funny, but, given the record of the senator that is laughing, one would think that he would be the last one to be laughing about accountability issues.

Everywhere I go, people raise with me what is paid to the ABC—their ABC, supposedly. The money that some of these ABC presenters allegedly get would be interesting. Mind you, I do not expect to get much of a run on the ABC. Well, I will get a bit of a run, just not a very favourable run, but I never do with the ABC—and who cares? There is that issue, and the awful approach of the Human Rights Commission to just one incident, the QUT issue, has had a large number of my constituents saying: 'What are they paid? What do they do? Why are we paying them to do this sort of thing?' The issue about Australia Post has already become quite public, as I mentioned. They are just three. I could spend the next 20 hours going through every agency. I will not, but I think the intention is there, so I would certainly hope that the parliament would agree to this. I cannot imagine a taxpayer out there in voter-land who would disagree with this proposal, so I am asking all senators to follow their populist bent and support this amendment, which will bring accountability right across the board.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Back ): The question is that amendments (1) to (18) on sheet 8045 be agreed to.

Question negatived.