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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4774

Senator NEWMAN (Minister for Social Security and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women)(3.09 p.m.) —I seek leave to make a statement.

Senator Faulkner —On a point of order, Madam President. It is the opposition's usual practice to grant leave. I am sure we would grant leave to Senator Newman to make a statement, but it is ordinary to have some sort of understanding of what the statement is about and how long it is likely to take. No-one has indicated informally to us—

Senator Carr —Or informally.

Senator Faulkner —I said `informally'—what this is about. While it would ordinarily be our intention to grant leave, that is not the usual form of the Senate.

Senator NEWMAN —I apologise to the opposition for that. It is a very short statement. I wish to amplify some matters that are on the public record in the Senate.

Senator Faulkner —About what? What is it about?

Senator NEWMAN —About my office.

Leave granted.

Senator NEWMAN —During question time today and on previous days, issues were raised about the fit-out of my office in Launceston. It was suggested certainly by interjection today—I do not know whether it was in the question—that I had criticised Tasmanian tradespeople. I did nothing of the sort.

Senator Carr —Oh, cut it out.

Senator NEWMAN —I want that most emphatically on the record because I have serious criticisms of elements of the Department of Administrative Services who were responsible for the fit-out of my office.

Senator West —They were workers.

Senator NEWMAN —They were not the workers; they were the supervisors, Senator. The supervisors came from Hobart for a job that was being undertaken in Launceston and the workers were not supervised to the extent that, as I said in my answer the other day, there was a shambles. That was caused quite clearly by a lack of planning by the Department of Administrative Services and by a lack of supervision by those officers.

Labor Party senators are demonstrating by this little effort that they are humbugs because the total cost of the fit-out of my office was quite moderate in comparison with the fit-out costs of other MPs. I draw your attention to other Tasmanian fit-outs: Senator Murphy, who asked the question, $109,500—Senator Murphy, where was your cost control? Where was your interest in the taxpayers' interest?; Senator Lundy, who has only just had her office fitted out, $104,000; Senator Mackay, $64,000—

Senator Faulkner —On a point of order, Madam President. I understand now why Senator Newman did not give any indication to the Senate about what matter she wished to address us on. It seems to me that it would be appropriate, given that this issue was canvassed in question time, for a senator to move that the Senate take note of Senator Newman's answer. I understand that is the intention of Senator Murphy. It would be perfectly competent and proper in my view for this sort of contribution to be made by Senator Newman in that debate.

I do believe that we are now straying into an area which I think would be rather unfortunate. It would not be the opposition's intention in the future to give leave to ministers to widely canvass matters that have been dealt with in question time unless they believe they have been misrepresented.

Senator NEWMAN —I have.

Senator Faulkner —You did not seek leave on that basis, Senator; you sought leave to make a short statement in relation to yourself, whatever that means.

The point of order I take is a serious one. I believe this is bordering on an abuse of the leave that was granted by the chamber. I do not argue that Senator Newman has a right to make the contribution that she wants to make in the appropriate way, which would be speaking to the motion that Senator Murphy intends to move.

I ask Senator Newman to give very serious consideration to that in the spirit of the way that these matters have been handled previously in the chamber. Senator Newman, if this continues, then you will not have that level of generosity of spirit from the opposition nor could any minister expect it in these circumstances.

I do not believe that the point of order I am making is unreasonable in these circumstances. It is perfectly proper. I would ask you to give very serious consideration to it and to rule accordingly, Madam President.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Newman sought leave to make a statement and leave was granted without restriction. Had it been a matter of making a personal explanation, if that had been the case, I would suggest that Senator Newman has gone beyond making a personal explanation, but that was not a requirement at the time. I would just draw to Senator Newman's attention the places within the Senate processes where the matter could also be raised if it were to be debated.

Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Madam President. I would like to move, therefore, on to the detail of the fit-out—or refitting again—of my office. Following the federal election and my appointment to cabinet, there was a need for more office space to accommodate extra ministerial staff in my Launceston electorate office, which I have used since my election to the Senate in 1986. Discussions started in March with a DAS officer based in Hobart. Rather than fit-out and relocate to a new office at considerable expense and effort, it was decided to occupy the lower floor of the same building. Some security work was also carried out by Asset Services.

In mid-May I finally received a formal fit-out plan from Works Australia. Some discussions were held with a DAS interior designer who then went on three weeks holiday overseas and was never heard from again. There was no handover to anybody else in the DAS office, and there was no knowledge. Heating was disconnected and heater covers were removed on 4 June. The entire office area was left without heating in a Launceston winter. No replacement was provided, and my staff had to bring their own small fan heaters from home. The electrical wiring for the heaters—

Senator Patterson —Your workers were cold.

Senator NEWMAN —Yes, my workers were cold for two weeks in the middle of a Launceston winter. The electrical wiring for the heaters was left exposed, which of course is dangerous.

On 11 June the contracted carpet layers arrived from Hobart. Why Hobart tradesmen were engaged for Launceston, I do not know. They wanted to do the job in one day so that they could return to Hobart the same night. Works Australia had in fact scheduled the job over a couple of days, to commence the next day. There were no removalists organised to move furniture and office equipment so carpet layers were delayed and unhappy and had to wait for the removalists. So the removalists and my own three office staff spent the rest of the day moving furniture and equipment to allow carpet laying, and the job continued until at least midnight. It is worth noting that my staff assisted the removalists against the instructions of Works Australia operating out of Hobart.

Electricians arrived on 17 June to do the rewiring for the lighting, communications, phones and computers. This required pulling up the newly laid carpet as they required access under floorboards in order to put wiring through walls and ceilings for the lower floor. Again the removalists had to be called in to assist with the moving of furniture and equipment with the help of staff. It was then necessary for the office to be closed for two days. Wiring work was continued on 20 June, and the carpet, now looking the worse for wear, was being relaid. Some office furniture was put back in place and the rest had to be despatched to storage for the duration of the refit. Some of the carpet had to be lifted for a third time for some extra wiring work due to the poor planning.

When the painting, wiring and final carpet laying was finished, the office furniture was moved back from storage. There were still a number of outstanding deficiencies. The fittings for the lighting in the downstairs offices were excessively large compared to what had been ordered.

Senator Faulkner —My point of order is that the minister is reading from a document, contrary to the standing orders.

Senator Ferguson —What a pathetic point of order!

Senator Faulkner —This is something that, if you have got a statement, could easily have been incorporated in Hansard . This is an abuse of Senate processes, and you know it. Four paragraphs!

The PRESIDENT —Ministers are allowed to read matters that other senators would not be allowed to read.

Senator NEWMAN —However, I do not want to tire the Senate. I find it a very tiring and infuriating saga that taxpayers' funds should be wasted by people who are charged with the prudent management of them: that was Works Australia, a segment of the Department of Administrative Services. Despite what I heard from the opposition at question time, the project was not finally completed until late September. It was supposedly started straight after the election in March. The entire project was plagued by poor direction and management by Works Australia.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is too much noise in the chamber.

Senator NEWMAN —It was not plagued by changes of instruction from me. In fact, because the—

Senator Faulkner —Don't come in here again asking for leave. She will. She'll be asking for leave for her second reading speech—and she won't get it!

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner!

Senator NEWMAN —This is only delaying the matter. The problem is that I did not change the specifications as we went along. They were given to the original Works Australia representative at the beginning, and she hied it off to the Pacific and never came back. Her poor successor did not know any of this detail and had to go through it all again and guess what some of it was meant to be, because I was very busily engaged at that time in Canberra, getting on top of the portfolio of social security, as you well know.

In fact, I was not in the office very much at all, and I was certainly not bothering any workmen. There was certainly extra cost because of the lack of supervision by Works Australia. Nevertheless, having said all that, the total was still miles less than for my colleagues in Tasmania. For Senator Murphy, as I just pointed out, it was about $109,000, Senator Lundy, $104,000—

Senator Mackay —She is not a Tasmanian.

Senator NEWMAN —No, she is not a Tasmanian, but that is what has had to be spent on Senator Lundy. Mr Duncan Kerr, as a minister, had $114,000 spent on his office fit-out. Senator Sherry as a parliamentary secretary only had $86,000 spent on his fit-out. So the fit-out on my office was moderate, but it should have been much less. Anybody who has to raise carpets over and over again, anybody who provides expensive lighting which is not what is required, should be ashamed of themselves.

Senator Faulkner —I draw your attention to the state of the chamber, Madam President.

The PRESIDENT —A quorum is present.

Senator Panizza —Isn't it a fact in the standing orders that someone calling a quorum when a quorum is present is ejected for the rest of the day? Could you give us a ruling on that?

Senator Faulkner —I hope so!

The PRESIDENT —It is not the fact that that is the consequence, but Senator Faulkner perhaps needs to learn to count. Are there any motions to take note of answers?

Senator Murphy —Madam President, before you get to that, I seek your guidance because I would like to know whether I am permitted to comment on the contribution Senator Newman has just made. I would like to take note of this statement.

The PRESIDENT —You would be able by leave to seek to comment on the matters that Senator Newman has just commented upon.

Senator Murphy —I seek leave, Madam President.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Murphy has sought leave to make a statement on the same matter. Is leave granted?

Leave granted.