Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio
The Committee took evidence from the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio
on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 May 2007. The following issues of interest are
- Government advertising;
- APEC summit; and
- State Coach Britannia.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
The committee devoted a significant amount of time to scrutinising
expenditure on government advertising. As mentioned in chapter 1, it would
assist the committee if the department in future could include two additional
columns in the 'Active Campaigns' document regularly tabled by the department.
The committee notes the Minister has agreed to consider this proposal.
The committee gave particular attention to pending campaigns.
This issue was raised as a result of questions relating to the Workplace
Relations Minister's public statements that the recently commenced advertising
campaign on the new fairness test for Australian Workplace Agreements was a
'first tranche'. The committee heard evidence that the government would spend
$4.1 million on this campaign in the week 20–26 May 2007.
The department gave evidence that, for this financial year to 31 March 2007, the total advertising expenditure through the central advertising system
$116.1 million, comprising $81.8 million in campaign advertising and $34.3
million in non-campaign advertising.
Subsequent to the hearing, the department amended these figures. Total
advertising expenditure from 1 July 2006 to 31 March 2007 was
$170 985 996, comprising campaign advertising of $118 271 669 and non-campaign
advertising of $52 714 327.
There was extensive discussion regarding the classification of a series
of advertisements relating to the new fairness test as 'non-campaign advertising'.
The advertisements in question were full-page newspaper advertisements which
appeared on 5 and 6 May (prior to the fairness test taking effect on 7 May) costing
According to the Government Communications Unit’s website, non-campaign
...simple, no-frills advertising that generally appears only once
or twice and contains factual statements not intended to promote or advise on
policies or programmes of the government. [It is generally limited to]...staff
recruitment; public notices; auction and Tender notices; invitations to make
submissions or apply for grants; and notification of date and/or location
specific information (eg notification of a public meeting at 8pm on Wednesday 15 July at the Town Hall).
Opposition senators argued that as the advertisements were designed to
promote the fairness test changes they should not have been classified as
'non-campaign advertising'. However, Senator Minchin, the Minister representing
the Prime Minister, did not agree with the Opposition's assertions, arguing
their definition was incorrect.
The committee examined the APEC Taskforce regarding the expenditure on
several large preliminary meetings of the APEC summit in September 2007.
Discussion focussed on the cost involved in holding the meetings and the
security arrangements. Officials again declined to disclose the official dress
of the APEC summit on the basis that it would 'spoil the surprise'. 
State Coach Britannia
The issue of the State Coach Britannia was again discussed. The
committee re-visited evidence that a $250 000 grant had been given to provide
the private gift of a royal coach to the Queen for her birthday. The committee
heard that construction of the coach was yet to be completed and that further government
expenditure in the order of $100 000 is expected for transportation of the item
to the UK. Non-government senators were critical of the process of
approving the grant payment.
Other issues of interest examined by the committee included:
- A Freedom of Information request for files on the water policy
- The new PM&C building;
and the demolition of the former PM&C building;
- Appointment decisions by Cabinet;
- The Prime Minister's statement on nuclear energy;
- The Government business emissions trading task group;
- Estimates training for Government Communications Unit officers;
- Expenditure on capital and non-capital works and suppliers at the
- The COAG working group on indigenous generational reform.
Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
During examination of the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General
the committee re-visited the issue of the independence of the Council for the
Order of Australia, and in particular whether state government Council
representatives have the power to veto nominations. This issue was considered
previously at the Additional Estimates hearing in February 2007. The Official
Secretary to the Governor-General explained to the committee why he sought to
clarify the matter following the Additional Estimates hearing:
...I wrote to the committee because Senator [Bob] Brown had
indicated in the press release that I had said certain things in relation to
the way the independent Council for the Order of Australia worked and basically
asserted that I had confirmed his view that a state government representative
was able to veto a nomination. I said at the time of the hearing that that was
not the case. I noticed after the hearing, when the release was made, that that
assertion was continued. I felt that it was important that the committee know
that this was not the case, because I felt it cast aspersions on the integrity
of the honours process—which it did. That is the reason why I wrote and in the
terms that I did.
The committee pursued the following areas of interest:
- Administration of the Australian honours system;
- The building project for the Honours secretariat precinct;
- Capital works expenditure; and
- Maintenance of the buildings and grounds.
Australian Public Service Commission
During a relatively brief examination of the commission the committee
- Entitlement and employment conditions for staff who transfer
between agencies as a result of an administrative orders change;
- Redundancies in the Australian Public Service;
- Protection for whistleblowers under the Australia Public Service
- SES retreats.
Office of National Assessments
The committee addressed the following issues during examination of the
Office of National Assessments:
- East Timor;
- Iraq; and
- Climate change.
Australian National Audit Office
The committee spent considerable time scrutinising defence performance
audits conducted by the ANAO. The committee focused in particular on the Australian
Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV) report and management of army minor capital
equipment procurement projects. It also explored the difficulties defence has
had with GST invoices and foreign currency transactions. The committee
expressed concerns that Department of Defence and the Defence Materiel Organisation
(DMO) are not addressing the systematic problems that the ANAO reports highlight.
Mr McPhee, the Auditor-General, explained that it is difficult to assess
Defence's response to the audits:
...we only look at a very small proportion of major Defence
projects, and so it is very hard to give you a general response. The other
thing I would say is that we auditors are trained to be sceptical until we are
persuaded otherwise, and so my scepticism is still appropriately high until we
see evidence of changes seriously occurring on the ground. As yet, while there
are signs, our reports are still highlighting issues with contract management
and project management. I am the first to recognise their world is complex and
the risks are high, but it is only through the disciplined approach to
protecting the Commonwealth's interests and managing these projects with
greater discipline that DMO will get on top of it.
The committee heard that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and
Audit has recommended that the DMO produce reports on their top 30 projects.
The government is sympathetic to the recommendation and has requested the ANAO
and DMO bring forward a cabinet submission on the proposal for next year's
Other issues examined by the committee included:
- Breaches of the Financial Management and Accountability Act; and
- Audit of the Future Fund Management Agency.
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