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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2039

Senator MARGETTS(4.05 p.m.) —I also rise to speak today on the appropriations and staffing report. The inter esting thing today is not so much just the implications for the Senate but the fact that this is what has been cut by the Senate in the knowledge that the Senate does have the ability to review such issues. I gather it is going to be worse than the House of Representatives and the joint committees, largely because the Senate does not have the ability to look at what is being done.

If anybody is assuming that we are being asked to make `efficiency cuts', they should ask, `What is the definition of efficiency?' My definition of efficiency is that you are able to do the job you are required to do by using fewer resources. Then you have to ask, `Has the Senate got less work?' No. In fact as time goes on the Senate is being asked to deal with more and more pieces of legislation which often have great complexities. If you are dealing with issues of government business enterprises, the sale thereof and so on, you are dealing with extremely intricate issues that involve a great deal of important and careful consideration.

Do committees need less to operate than what they used to before? What can you cut out? There seems to be $200,000 that is being cut in administrative savings. What do you do? Do you go to fewer places for hearings? Do you offer fewer people airfares or cost contributions to attend hearings?

A particular favourite one of mine is that we should be moving towards the ability to use more multimedia in the way we have hearings. Unfortunately, the way things work at the moment the committees are being asked to shoulder the cost of any telecommunications link-up, though these kinds of issues have not been dealt with in any Telstra bill. But committees are being asked to shoulder those burdens.

Other departments look after senators airfares and so on. But, if a committee were to hear evidence or be attended by a committee member or a participating member by videoconference or teleconference, the committee ends up shouldering that responsibility and the cost. They shouldn't have to, because they do not necessarily have to pay the airfares of senators. It should be balanced off between what the taxpayer has to pay. But at the moment what is standing in the way of enabling greater participation, greater access and greater equity is the fact that committees are being asked to pay.

I can see that that will probably be out of the question. You will have to say, `What functions of this committee are we going to drop off?' What happens when it comes to the crunch and the committee says, `We have run out of money. We have done the things we are supposed to do in the normal way, but there is no more money so we have to stop this inquiry.' What sort of democracy is this? What right, under the constitution, does a new government have to say, `You have been elected as senators. You have this much work to do. This is what the community expects you to do, but we are not going to let you do it. We are going to slow down the process. Each committee will handle fewer inquiries—that is the inevitable aspect of providing fewer resources—and then we are going to blame you if the work is not completed on time.' Is that the implication of this report?

This report talks about things like catering at estimates hearings being terminated. When we are working until 11.30 at night there will be no cup of tea, there will be nothing, for those people who may not be able to leave the estimates committee hearing because they do not know at what point they can ask their series of questions. Basically, you are saying to the people in the small parties, who cannot pick and choose the representatives they want at those estimates committees, that they either miss out on a part of the estimates if they need a cup of tea or biscuit to survive until 11.30 at night or they do without. These are silly things, but they relate to the good running of this place.

The report talks about printing costs of $30,000. I assume you are saying that you can cover that through privatisation. What control and accountability does the Senate have if that system does not work. Some $115,000, half of the $230,000 allocation, is going to be taken off staff development. When we need people to keep up on the issues and when we need to understand new technology that means you are not going to provide them. Who are you going to blame when those situations become obvious? We do not need staff development any more; is that what people are suggesting? Will we then blame the individuals if problems result from less staff development.

There are going to be cuts to the Australian Protective Service. That must mean that we do not need them any more and there are no security problems in Australia and things must be getting better. The government's definition of efficiency is that things are getting better therefore we do not need the Australian Protective Service.

You obviously do not understand the issues surrounding computers and computer technology if you expect us to deal with the fast changes in technology using systems that are out of date and which you think are acceptable. The newspaper supply is going to be cut by one-third. You will say to us, `We will not make available to you one of your daily newspapers.' We will have to choose which of our papers we can do without. This is outrageous.

The report talks about security attendants. We will have to send a message to the general public saying, `Please make sure that any security threats occur during the daytime.' It is like saying to customs, `Please make sure that anybody wanting to smuggle anything into Australia, such as drugs, contraband, et cetera, does it during the daytime.' That is like what you are saying in relation to security. If there are going to be security threats, they have to make them when you have people on security.

It is not that this is the greatest outrage I am seeing at the moment. This is the thinnest bit of what we are seeing throughout the community. The outrage is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with efficiency. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything except an ideological push to cut expenditure on the assumption that cutting is good. I think you are actually taking some things away from the people who have voted for us. They have voted for us to do the job we were elected to do. If the Senate needs another select committee because of the work we are required to do then there is no choice I believe except for that to be funded. It is not the government's place to stop the democratic process of review which the Senate is charged with.

Basically, I think this is an atrocious report. The real problem is that this is happening not just to us but right across the system. Just about everybody who is presented with these kinds of figures—that is, if they are presented and quite frankly they usually are not—is finding that they are having to do more with less. That is not efficiency.