Committees - Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - Report
Senator John Faulkner
27 June 2012
Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (16:58): 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.