Senate debates

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee; Report

4:57 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the interim report of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee on the performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

by leave—I move:

That the final report of the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee on its inquiry into the performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services be presented by 28 November 2012.

Question agreed to.

I move:

That the senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to have my tabling statement incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

The Senate referred the inquiry into the performance of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) to the committee in June 2011. The committee received both public and confidential submissions. These submissions covered a range of issues including the sale of the billiard tables and management of the heritage of Parliament house.

The committee, to date, has held two public hearings. At the first hearing in November 2011, the committee heard evidence from Mr Romaldo Giurgola, Mr Hal Guida and Ms Pamille Berg. The committee particularly wishes to thank Mr Giurgola, Founding Partner of Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp and Design Principal for Parliament House, for making himself available to speak with the committee.

The evidence provided by Mr Giurgola, Mr Guida and Ms Berg highlighted the design process for the building which encompassed not only the architecture but also the furnishings, art program and landscape design. The evidence also pointed to the architect's concerns for the survival of the design integrity of the building as it nears its 25 year anniversary.

Mr Giurgola argued that there were no effective checks and balances to ensure that any changes to the building are undertaken to preserve its inherent architectural and design integrity.

At its hearing on 2 May 2012, the committee canvassed

heritage issues with outside experts.

The committee also sought evidence from DPS on the sale of the billiard tables, the culture within the Department and touched on heritage issues, including the completion of the Central Reference Document.

The committee considers that it has not completed its inquiry as there are some issues still to be explored. One of the issues is the delivery of information services and equipment.

The committee has received little evidence to date but notes that the Presiding Officers have initiated a review of information services for Parliament House. The committee also notes the Parliament-wide survey of DPS services being conducted by ORIMA Research.

The committee therefore seeks an extension of time to finalise its examination of outstanding matters.

However, there are two significant issues which the committee discusses in this report:

the sale of two billiard tables in 2010; and the overarching heritage strategy for the protection of the design integrity of Parliament House.

In relation to the heritage issues, the report canvasses issues but does not make any recommendations as the committee considers that further evidence is required in relation to specific projects before it can make any recommendations on heritage issues.

Nevertheless, the committee has made one recommendation for the completion of the Central Reference Document (CRD).

The CRD was first commissioned by the former Joint House Department in 1999 and the draft was completed in 2004. Some eight years later the draft is still to be finalised.

The CRD will provide an enduring record of the architect's design intent for Parliament House to be used to govern the approach to proposed changes to the building.

This is a significant document and its completion should be undertaken as a matter of urgency given the age of Mr Giurgola and other members of his design team.

I commend the report to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

4:58 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to speak to this. As I have indicated around the chamber, I will speak briefly. I am well aware that Senator Whish-Wilson will soon make his first speech to the Senate. In my very brief remarks today, I want to focus on chapter 2 of the report that has been brought down by the F&PA committee relating to the disposal of two billiard tables. On 22 July 2010, two billiard tables were removed from the staff recreation room. In the following month, on 9 and 26 August, the tables were sold through an online auction site with no consideration of their heritage value. At Senate estimates on 21 February 2011, the F&PA committee members questioned officers of the Department of Parliamentary Services about the heritage value of these items. Ms Judy Konig, then the chief financial officer, said: 'We have a policy that requires the heritage assessment of any items that the department is getting rid of or that have been declared surplus. In this case, these were assessed as having no heritage value.' DPS undertook to provide on notice to our committee a copy of the heritage assessment.The heritage assessment provided to the committee consisted of a pen script annotation that said: 'Given tables purchased by PHCA around 1989 and are about 20 years old, thus no heritage value.' That was signed but not dated by the disposal delegate. At the next estimates hearings, on 23 May 2011, and after further questioning, DPS witnesses were unable to provide to the committee the exact date the assessment was made, but later in the hearing the Deputy Secretary of DPS, Mr David Kenny, informed the committee that the undated annotation had been written after 21 February, so it was after the estimates hearing in February. In fact, Mr Kenny said it was 'not long after the estimates hearings'. The fact is, only after sustained questioning at the committee did DPS finally admit, despite earlier misrepresentations, that no heritage assessment had been made before the billiard tables were sold off. Worse still, the committee established that a heritage assessment was created; it was fabricated to conform with the misleading evidence that had originally been given to the committee. So the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee had been deliberately misled by officers of the Department of Parliamentary Services. A heritage assessment had not been undertaken but it had been dishonestly fabricated.

I am sorry to say that this represents the worst and most disgraceful behaviour I have ever seen from an agency or from any witnesses at a parliamentary committee. All this was from a parliamentary department which should be setting the best example of all. Madam Acting Deputy President and honourable senators, this has been a shameful and dishonourable episode, and the Senate should not treat it lightly. This falsification passed all the department's checking and oversight measures and then was presented to the committee. In fact, the committee learnt that after it had asked to see the purported heritage assessment a senior DPS officer asked a subordinate employee to create a document that was then presented as a heritage assessment allegedly made before the sale. The truth is: the Department of Parliamentary Services failed to act in line with DPS policy, failed to act with common sense and, most importantly, failed to act with integrity. I know of no other comparable example of evidence being fabricated or deliberately designed to deceive and mislead a Senate committee. This is the lowest of the low. How shameful it is that this whole episode relates to a parliamentary department, the Department of Parliamentary Services!

Finally, I look forward not only to Senator Whish-Wilson's first speech but also to the finance and public administration committee over the next six months continuing to finalise its inquiry into the performance of DPS, particularly its consideration of issues such as bullying and harassment, staff selection processes and the management of heritage values here in Parliament House.

In the interests of other senators who would like to contribute to the debate, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.