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Tuesday, 8 February 1994
Page: 520

Senator FERGUSON (3.20 p.m.) —I will be brief because I know some of my colleagues want to speak on some other questions. This subject raises a couple of issues and I want to support the remarks made by my colleague Senator Bishop. I am very pleased that amongst the first of the recommendations in this report is the abolition of the Australian Customs Service, because `Australian Customs' it might have been, but `service' it certainly has not been. Another recommendation was that the position of Comptroller-General and other senior executive positions be abolished. Today, on the very day that the Comptroller-General, Frank Kelly, resigned because of this damning report on the Customs Service, he has been rewarded with a senior adviser position in the Department of Industry, Technology and Regional Development.

  It is a disgrace that just a few months after the government was forced to pay $25 million in compensation to Midford Paramount because of the irresponsibility and arrogance which led to that company's closure—and had it not been for that Midford Paramount inquiry it is quite possible that this independent inquiry may never have taken place—the most senior customs official should be rewarded under a jobs for the boys principle. Frank Kelly has gone from doing an incompetent job in customs to being rewarded with a senior position in the Department of Industry, Technology and Regional Development.

Senator Schacht —Wait till you hear my answer.

Senator FERGUSON —I wait with interest. This government has lost all notion of responsible government. Minister Ros Kelly will not resign after having no paperwork to back up her $30 million worth of sports rorts. Senator Collins refused to take any responsibility for the pay TV debacle. Ms Christine Goode, who resigned her position, popped up somewhere else in a senior position in the Public Service. It seems that the more incompetent people are, the better their chances are of popping up somewhere else in a good job. Senator Richardson has come back from the dead after the Marshall Islands affair, and now Frank Kelly has been reincarnated in the Department of Industry, Technology and Regional Development.

Senator Campbell —That is probably with performance pay as well.

Senator FERGUSON —Yes, performance based pay. I wonder how much money people have to cost the government before they have to go. It seems that $25 million is not enough. I wonder how many companies have to close down before a person has to go. Obviously the Midford Paramount case was not enough. But the thing that really concerns me is that in the last 20-odd years we have had some 20 different inquiries into the Customs Service. Over 300 recommendations have been made, but very few, if any, have been put into practice.

Senator Schacht —That is in the report.

Senator FERGUSON —Yes, I know. We need some assurance from the minister that the recommendations in this report will be put into practice. It is interesting to note that the report, amongst its conclusions, states:

Customs has not seen the occurrence of an external review as a warning of a possible failure of important practices or procedures or of its structure for managing. Rather, reviews are regarded as attacks on Customs' credibility, competence and image.

As far as the general public is concerned, it is important that the minister give us some assurance that the recommendations that have been brought forward in this report will be put into practice as soon as possible—unlike the recommendations that have been made since the Mahoney inquiry in 1983. Those recommendations have not been put into practice.