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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3415

Senator CAMPBELL —My question is directed to the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services. I refer the minister to the report in this morning's Canberra Times which said that his department had seen, as a result of the report Australian Public Service Statistical Bulletin for 1992-93 which was released yesterday, a decline in staff numbers by 1,636. I further refer him to an answer that he gave me back in August this year, saying that the total number of office space staff in his department was 6,942; and, furthermore, to an answer to a question he provided me yesterday where he said that the staff numbers were actually 8,760—an increase of 1,818 since August. The question really is: how many people do actually work in the minister's department? How many of those people does the minister classify—as he said in his answer yesterday—as longer-term temporary staff?

Senator McMULLAN —Mr President—

Senator Ferguson —How many work, Bob?

Senator McMULLAN —That is another question; me sometimes. There is a significant difference in the two figures that Senator Campbell has quoted. Of course, I can only pick up the distinction in the way that he expresses the phrases because I have to confess—and the honourable senator may be shocked to know—that I do not remember the detail of the answer I gave to him in August.

  The distinction, as I understand it, is between staff in the department who work in an office environment and those who work, for example, on building sites and otherwise and, therefore, were not part of the question Senator Campbell asked about those within offices. That was a question directed to utilisation of office space, as I recall the question, although it was asked several months ago.

  There was in one instance an indication of a staff number that only referred to those who were orthodox, described, I suppose, as clerical, and other workers who work in the department in non-clerical occupations and would not therefore be involved in a review as it relates to office space. As I recall it, that is the distinction. But the first question goes back several months, so I am operating only from my memory with regard to that matter.

  It is true that the numbers in the department have declined very significantly since 1987. It has been a very well managed change by the department. Managing staff reduction is never an easy thing to do, but employment in the department continues in those areas that are subject to competition where the government has adopted the policy of opening businesses operating within the Department of the Arts and Administrative Services to private sector competition. It has led to pressure on employment in some of those areas with jobs moving, for example, to private sector competitors. It has led to increased efficiency and an improved bottom line return for the taxpayer—in fact, those businesses collectively, far from being a call on the taxpayers, have made a small profit in the last financial year.

  As I recall it—I have not counted the number of people in the department in the last day or two—that 8,760 figure looks like the accurate figure overall. There has been a significant decline, and I think that explains the difference. But, as I say, the question goes back to August, so I do not remember the detail as precisely as I otherwise might.

Senator CAMPBELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I seek from the minister an explanation for the difference. I think the logic he has applied is to say that there has actually been a decrease because he has taken out the tradespeople and so forth, as he explained in his answer yesterday. But in fact there has been an increase of 1,800 people since the August answer. What I want to know is: how did that increase occur and where are they? He has specifically told me that he has taken out people who work in workshops, laboratories, repositories, storage facilities and so forth. He keeps telling us, `We've decreased the number of people in employment', but the discrepancy between the August answer and yesterday's answer actually shows that the staff numbers have gone up by 1,800—which is one hell of a lot of people. Part of the explanation I think that he was trying to give in yesterday's answer is that there has been the inclusion of what he describes as `longer-term temporary staff'. What I would really like to know is how many longer-term temporary staff are employed. There seems to be an enormous difference there, and I would like to know what that is.

Senator McMULLAN —On my recollection of it, either the interpretation by Senator Campbell is not accurate or the answer is not precisely enough expressed. I am fairly certain—and I am operating from memory—that the interpretation Senator Campbell gives is not what was intended, but the problem may lie in the wording of the answer. So I will have to check and get an answer for Senator Campbell. But there certainly has not been a significant increase in staffing in the department.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.