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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4266

Senator CAMPBELL —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Finance. I presume the minister has read the front page of today's Australian Financial Review which relates to the $360 million credit card chaos which is to be revealed in next week's Auditor-General's report. I do not need to remind the minister of the dismissal of two housekeepers from the Lodge recently for their alleged failure to follow financial directions for the use of a single credit card with a $200 limit. Is it not a fact that holders of government credit cards are not allowed to withdraw cash using their cards and that almost $550,000 has been withdrawn, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Australians are struggling just to pay off their own credit cards at Christmas time? When is someone in the government going to take responsibility for the continuing financial mismanagement in light of this matter, Mrs Kelly's sports rorts affair and Mr Keating's lavish Lodge decorating spree?

Senator McMULLAN —I have not read the front page of the Australian Financial Review but I know what Senator Campbell is referring to. I will not pursue him down the road of the irrelevant side issues he raised subsequently, but I accept that the introduction, use and control of Australian government credit cards is important. As Senator Campbell said, the scheme is under the responsibility of the Department of Finance. It was introduced as part of the 1987 reforms to public administration.

  The government takes very seriously any proven misuse or inefficient use of public money. The report, at this stage, is a draft report from the Auditor-General. I know that some departments are strongly contesting some of the elements of the draft report. Nevertheless, when the audit report comes down in response to those audit findings, departments will be required to examine those matters and take appropriate action, particularly where there has been any breach of the proper guidelines.

  The Audit Act does include stiff penalties for people convicted of misuse of credit cards—a fine not exceeding $20,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years, or both. It is not something we take lightly. There is wider concern about issues of purchasing which are tied up with this and which are the subject of investigations by House of Representatives committees and internal task forces. Every transaction on the list provided by the audit office is being examined to ensure it was undertaken within Public Service and departmental guidelines, and for official purposes. Any which do not conform to these requirements will be thoroughly investigated and, if necessary, action will be taken against any user.

Senator CAMPBELL —I thank the minister for his answer and ask: can he direct his attention to the part of my question that claimed that those people are not allowed to use the cards to withdraw cash? I understand that that is one of the financial guidelines. I ask him to inform the Senate about that. I am glad that the department is looking into these cash advances. Would it be possible for the minister to table before the Senate details of the 906 cash advances for the year 1992-93—on average, $600 each—hopefully before the adjournment tonight and include the names of the agencies and the amounts of these advances, agency by agency?

Senator McMULLAN —There is a problem in so far as this is a draft report and some of the facts are in contest. With these reports, the Auditor-General normally provides a draft and people can query the facts in the draft. That then goes back and the Auditor-General releases the final report. When the Auditor-General brings down the final report, if any of these allegations are sustained, the action to be taken will be that which I have outlined. If there is an indication that people are undertaking improper transactions of any sort, I will be happy to look into what further information can be provided to the Senate.