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Tuesday, 4 May 1971

Senator CANT (Western Australia) - I turn now to division 210 which deals with the Department of Customs and Excise. I refer to subdivision 1, item 01, salaries and allowances. The additional appropriation, required by the Department is $2,309,000. This represents an increase of 11 per cent on the original appropriation. The original appropriation was $20,541,000. The national wage case decision granted an increase of only 6 per cent, arid there was an increase in the salaries of Third Division officers under determination No. 355 of 1970. I ask the Minister: When was the decision in the determination given? Was it expressly stated that any increase granted in the determination, whether it was granted before, after or during the national wage case, would absorb any increases granted in the national wage case? What was the percentage increase under determination No. 355 of 1970?

The item that mainly intrigues me is set out in the explanatory notes. The explanatory notes indicate that almost $900,000 is required as the cost of filling new positions and reclassifying the existing positions. What is the state of the Department if it does not know that its activities will require such a huge amount of money for filling new positions? I do not know what percentage of the $900,000 is required for new positions but I do know that a statement was made some few months ago by the then Prime Minister that there would be a brake put on recruitment into the Public Service in order to put a check on what was said to be an inflationary spiral existing in the Australian economy. But on examining the supplementary estimates for several of these departments I have found that there is provision for recruitment. Many young people have come to my office in Perth to ask me whether I could get them into various departments of the

Commonwealth Public Service. When I contacted departments in Perth I was told that under instructions issued from Canberra they were not allowed to take on recruits. But then we find that there is provision in the supplementary estimates for this very thing.

Whatever percentage of the $900,000 is used for the purpose of filling new positions, the balance is then to be used for reclassifying existing positions. I appreciate that people receive promotions in the various sections of the Department, but this does not come within the category of reclassification. When public servants want increases in salaries, very often they cannot get them through determinations and other means of wage fixing . within the Public Service so the whole section is reclassified and everybody moves up one step. This is not an uncommon practice in the Public Service. I have no objections to it at all, but in a period of inflation when we are all asked to cut down on spending - the Commonwealth Government, I suppose, is the biggest spender in Australia - and great play is made by the then Prime Minister of $75m being saved in Commonwealth expenditure, I find it difficult to understand when looking at these estimates that under this one item almost $lm is going down the drain.

I now turn to subdivision 2, item 02, office requisites and equipment, stationery and printing. The Budget appropriation for this item, plus this supplementary appropriation, will increase the expenditure this year to $103,691 more than the expenditure last year. When I made notes about this I wondered why this increased expenditure would be required up to 30th June but I am now advised that it covers increased costs over the whole year, particularly where the item refers to increased post and telegraph charges. It is interesting to look at the expenditure on paper, letterheads and envelopes. A department should make ample provision for these things in its budget estimates. Surely it would not run out of them. Have the letterheads of the Department been changed so that something new has had to be printed? What is the position? It is only a small amount of $2,050 but this does not seem to me to be the kind of thing that should be provided for in the supplementary estimates. The Department claims that printing costs have been higher than was expected. There is an additional appropriation for printing of $35,000, and the Department says also that expenditure on general stores has been higher than was estimated. The additional appropriation for that item is $22,150.

Expenditure on the purchase of office machines has been higher than was estimated and the additional expenditure is estimated at $24,100. It amazes me that these sorts of things can come from a department. If the Department wanted to justify this additional expenditure and say that printing costs have been higher because of wage increases or something of that nature, that would be all right. Let us examine it on that basis. Let the Department say, in effect: 'The expenditure on general stores has been increased because the storemen's wages have increased'. That would be something outside the control of the Department, but it does not seem to me that those sorts of things are outside its control. We require a little more information on these supplementary Estimates. I now wish to deal with item 11 relating to computer services. We are asked for a supplementary appropriation of $108,000. In 1969-70 we spent $54,522 and in August last we appropriated $55,000. This makes a total expenditure of $217,522. The explanatory notes are interesting. They state that provision is made under this item for the development of computer facilities for the Department - that is an admirable objective - and that at the time of preparing the original estimate a decision had not been reached by the inter-departmental committee and Cabinet on automatic data processing and on the future of the Department's ADP project. Accordingly, provision was made in Appropriation Act (No. 1) for only those costs for which the Department was firmly committed. Early in the current year Cabinet approved the continued development of the Department's ADP project. The additional appropriation is required for consultary assistance in the preparation of specifications and a detailed systems design. If this additional appropriation is approved we will have spent $217,522 and be no nearer to having computer services than we are now. When will we get something for our money? When will we have an expenditure by this Department which will return something to us?

I know this is a very important department which is expanding because of certain events within the community. I think it requires computer services but we should have been looking at them long before 1969-70. Perhaps we were, but I cannot find any expenditure on this item before 1969-70. I now find we are spending almost $250,000 for nought, for advice. Surely there is some integration. Other departments have computer services. Surely we can get advice from them on the type of computer services which are required, the type of machines which should be installed and where they should be installed, as well as the conditions under which they should be installed instead of having this expenditure thrown onto one department without co-ordination with other departments. This will mean the taxpayer's money going down the drain and nothing being seen for it.

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