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Tuesday, 14 December 1993
Page: 4526


Senator CALVERT (5.00 p.m.) —I wish to make a couple of comments on the same report, principally because, as chairman of the opposition's waste watch committee of which Senator Campbell is a member, from time to time I come across very extravagant and bizarre waste of public moneys. But I must say that, looking through this report, the potential for misuse of funds on all sorts of things is quite incredible.

  I think this report and the report that was presented earlier this afternoon certainly strengthen the case for the Auditor-General and the Australian National Audit Office to be retained. Perhaps some of those on the other side who have been critical of the Auditor-General and seek to dilute his authority should think again after seeing what he is bringing forward to the parliament.

  As Senator Campbell said, the Australian Federal Police Association, in its submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Banking, Finance and Public Administration, said in regard to the level of fraud in the Commonwealth, `The simple fact is that we just do not know'. I have seen evidence where departments have set up their own fraud control units but still do not know what the level of fraud is within the departments.

  When this credit card system was set up, the government thought it was going to save money. But one should look at some of the facts that the Auditor-General has uncovered. If one believes that it is cheaper to use credit cards than cheques, one should look at this case: $354,000 was spent for the purchase of 202 containers. This generated a merchant services fee of something like $4,606, whereas the cost of paying by cheque would have been $12.60. One has to start asking oneself what this really is all about.

  The potential to rort the system has been highlighted in this report. For instance, take the travel and hospitality area. The report instances the case of a traveller who received a cash advance for his travel allowance and then payed his hotel and restaurant bills with a credit card. In other words, he is double dipping. What took my eye was that part of the report in which the Auditor-General identified particular areas. I note that nothing was spent on undertakers, cemeteries and crematoriums; nor was anything spent on massage parlours.

  But I note that there were two transactions for men's hairdressing totalling $155 and seven transactions for women's hairdressing totalling $2,631. One would have to ask: for what reason would any Commonwealth public servant use credit cards for nine transactions totalling something like $2,786 for men's and women's hairdressing? It is just quite bizarre.

  Other areas include doctors, dentists and camping equipment. As Senator Campbell said, the potential for fraud in these areas by using credit cards is quite immense. The figure for cafes and restaurants is $295,000; licensed hotels, $1.4 million; and private hotels, motels and other accommodation, $2.1 million. People have the right to use their credit cards in those areas. But it is interesting to note that between March and June there were 10,600 travel and travel related transactions totalling $14.8 million, and that included in that total was $307,000 paid to five star hotels and $205,000 to 4 1/2 star hotels. One wonders how these expenditures can be justified.

  It is a damning report of more and more government waste and potential government waste. I hope that, as a result of this, potential fraud within our Public Service is looked at once again and that proper arrangements are put in place.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.