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Wednesday, 12 April 1989
Page: 1460

Senator CALVERT(6.16) —I wish to make a few remarks supporting my colleague Senator Alston and make a couple of comments regarding the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. I too agree with the thrust of the report. The aims first announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) were laudable. We heard all of this huffing and puffing and we had the appointment of Mr David Block. We were looking at something that I believed was long overdue in this country. After the debacle that has occurred we are faced with a situation where the likelihood of any Public Service reform or scrutiny has virtually gone out the window. It would be a very brave person or government that attempted to do something again in the wake of what has happened.

It is interesting to note that when the Prime Minister first started on this exercise and announced what he saw as the main objectives he was basing it on a scrutiny by Sir Derek Rayner in the United Kingdom that had lasted seven years and had reduced public service running costs by 2.3 per cent. How the powers that be could compare this particular effort with that one is beyond imagination. The upshot of it is that after such a short time we ended up with the dubious savings of 0.5 of one per cent. I suppose if we take into account even the cost of the Committee looking at the efficiency scrutiny program, that would have been quite significant. It seems a shame that something that offered so much gave us so little. If one could believe the aims of the original exercise, it was something that we could look forward to with a great deal of enthusiasm. But here we are less than three years later looking at something that I do not think anybody can be all that proud of. As we have said in our minority report, we have ended up with a short, shallow political exercise. I do not believe that even David Block expected that to happen when he set off on this rather daunting task. As my colleague Senator Alston has said, within three days of the Government returning to office in 1987 the whole thing was virtually scrapped. Even though it was revamped, it was finally put to bed in 1988.

A few people who gave evidence were concerned about the inadequate and superficial consultation that took place. Obviously it was a sloppy exercise from start to finish and it was not thought through in the way that it should have been. As an exercise that was set up to improve standards of management and accounting, as Senator Alston said a moment ago, it did not set much of an example for anybody, particularly as to the tardiness in replying to Senator Archer. I doubt whether anybody would be brave enough to try to attempt a similar exercise. It seems that the public sector will continue on its merry way without too many cost savings. I noticed a while ago the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) standing at the table testing himself out. I thought that we might be getting a sneak preview of what Australia is to expect over the next few months.

If this exercise is an indication of the way in which this Government performs, I feel that we have not much to look forward to. The position can be summed up by quoting the penultimate paragraph of the minority report of which Senator Durack, Senator Alston and I were the authors:

It is clear that Mr Block and the ESU had a transient and ultimately negligible impact on public service attitudes and practices save for the considerable time, energy and resources which the public sector was required to devote to what was essentially a public relations program.