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Monday, 29 May 1989
Page: 2926

Senator BISHOP(5.42) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I am most interested to see the size of this document entitled Department of Administrative Service: External Consultants 1987-88 which has been tabled this afternoon. It is some several inches thick and it concerns external consultants employed by the Department of Administrative Services between 1987 and 1988 with an expenditure of some $70m. I am interested to see it for two reasons: first, under the guidelines of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), pursuant to the Public Service Act, it is a requirement that departments publish particulars of these consultants as part of their annual reports. It is significant to say at this stage that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is holding an inquiry into the annual reports of departments because two-thirds of all government departments-that is, secretaries to departments-although strictly required to include certain material in annual reports, have failed to so do. Indeed, they have been written to by the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet asking them to comply with the guidelines. The Committee has written to people and asked them to comply, and not even one response has been forthcoming. Consequently, this morning the Committee began its inquiry and has had the advantage of having Mr Codd, Dr Keating and others appear before it to be asked why the guidelines have not been complied with.

It is a significant matter because the total amount for procurement of goods and services in Australia annually is some $8 billion. There are some 3,500 people involved in spending that $8 billion. Here is a document accounting for $70m alone. The items included are diverse. There is a payment to a Mr Keddie, who is a consultant physiotherapist, for $90. He is being used by the Australian Construction Service central office because of a lack of in-house expertise. I find that curious. Then we go to something which is perhaps a correct use of consultants' skills. There was a need to assess the local wind and wave statistics at the submarine wharf, at a cost of $12,000.

As I go through the various items-as I said, the expenditure can range from $90 all the way through to over $100,000-what interests me is that under the Finance Regulations pursuant to the Audit Act there is a requirement that any expenditure in excess of $20,000-it was previously $10,000-requires a department to use the public tendering system. There is a provision under section 52aa (2) of the Finance Regulations to get an exemption from that procedure by getting a certificate from the Secretary to the Department of Finance. Similarly, there is a list of exempt categories where people may get expressions of interest and get quotes without going through the full tendering process.

The Public Accounts Committee has discerned that this requirement is observed rather in the breach than in the observance. So I would be most interested to know what percentage of this vast expenditure of some $70m has indeed met with the Finance Regulations or has been in breach. Many departments that have appeared before us have honoured this requirement in the breach rather than in the observance. It is a very serious matter because at a time when we are all speaking about letting the managers manage and asking for more efficiency in the Public Service there is an inability to comply with the law as it presently is. I think it is important that the Senate's attention be drawn to the fact that, if we are to see the Parliament being properly informed about the expenditure of public moneys which are meant to be for and on behalf of the public good, accountability needs to be stressed to both secretaries of departments and operatives within them. As I said, $8 billion is a lot of money to spend annually. This report alone represents $70m worth of expenditure. We do not know whether it has met with the requirements or whether those requirements have been honoured in the breach.