CHAPTER 2: The Amalgamation Proposal

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CHAPTER 2: The Amalgamation Proposal

Managing the Parliament - The Way Ahead

2.1 In the report, Managing the Parliament - The Way Ahead, the Working Group considered a number of issues which would affect the implementation of the amalgamation proposal, including the:

2.2 The Working Group made 19 suggestions and recommendations. These are set out in Appendix 3.

2.3 The Working Group recommended the allocation of joint functions, that is functions for the benefit of both Chambers, as follows:

Senate Department House of Representatives Department
Parliamentary Library Hansard
Parliamentary Information Systems Office Sound and Vision Office
Facilities Management Parliamentary Security
Parliamentary Education Office Building Management
Guides/Art Works Parliamentary Relations Office

Review of the amalgamation proposal

2.4 The Committee heard a range of concerns about the proposed two-department structure. There were three areas of particular concern:

Estimated savings

2.5 In its report, the Working Group found that savings could be achieved by removing duplication in the corporate services areas of the five parliamentary departments. It estimated that longer-term savings from the elimination of duplication would be in the order of 40 to 50 staff, being 25% to 30% of the corporate services staff, which would generate savings in salaries of $2 million to $2.5 million. [1] The Working Group suggested that these savings were not insignificant, but that further improvement of services to senators and members would be contingent upon efficiencies being realised in both the joint and separate operational areas of the amalgamated departments. [2]

2.6 While the benefits flowing from the estimated savings in the form of improved services to senators and members are acknowledged, the Committee is conscious of the costs, both financial and non-financial, involved in any restructuring.

2.7 The Working Group found that the proposed amalgamation would be unlikely to bring about immediate savings because of the complexity of the integration task and the cost of redundancy payments. [3]

2.8 In evidence, the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Harry Evans acknowledged that redundancy payments could be as high as $1.5 million [4] and conceded that the 'proposed structure would not produce major savings of itself'. [5]

2.9 The Department of the Senate Corporate Links Committee argued that savings of $2 million out of a combined parliamentary budget were insignificant. It noted that savings would not accrue until some years after the amalgamation took place, and there were a number of costs associated with the proposal including capital works expenditure to redesign workplaces, costs involved in retraining and integration of information technology systems. [6]

2.10 In a submission to the Committee, the CPSU advised that the parliamentary departments had already achieved savings in the order of $14 million in the past 18 months. [7]

2.11 This was confirmed by the Secretary of the Joint House Department, Mr Michael Bolton, who acknowledged that funding for the Parliament had been reduced by 12 - 13 per cent in the past four years. [8]

Independence of the Parliamentary Library

2.12 Concern was expressed that the proposed amalgamation would compromise the Parliamentary Library's ability to provide independent advice to parliamentarians.

2.13 In an attachment to the CPSU's submission, workplace delegates for the Parliamentary Library argued that there should be a Parliamentary Librarian with responsibility for the operations of the Library and direct access to both Presiding Officers. The submission expressed concern that without an independent Parliamentary Librarian, the needs of parliamentarians as Library clients would suffer. [9]

2.14 Mr Gary Brown expressed concern that funding may not be made available for the replacement and updating of the Library's computing and audiovisual equipment [10]. Another area of concern was the possible transfer of Library staff to Senate committees, which would diminish the level of service available to individual senators and members. [11] Mr Brown contended generally that the current proposal, like other previous amalgamation attempts, failed to 'recognise the unique nature and unusual demands of providing services to a democratic national legislature'. [12]

2.15 The Committee considers that it is essential that the independence of the Parliamentary Library is preserved so that advice provided to senators and members is not compromised and the level of service provided to parliamentarians is maintained.

Administering joint services

2.16 The Working Group recommended that performance standards for the delivery of joint services be set out in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) agreed to by the two Clerks. The Working Group also proposed that a Parliamentary Joint Services Board of Management (the Board), comprising the two Presiding Officers and the two Clerks, be established to monitor compliance with the SLAs.

2.17 The Committee heard evidence raising concerns about several aspects of the Board. Questions were raised about the appropriateness of the Presiding Officers meeting with the Clerks on the proposed Board.

2.18 The Committee also heard evidence arguing that the Board was considered unworkable for a number of reasons including the:

Other issues

Extra Layer of Management

2.19 Evidence provided to the Committee was critical of the two department structure because an additional layer of management would be required to administer the integrated functions. It was argued in evidence that this would be contrary to the current trend towards flatter management structures. [15]

Achieving world's best practice

2.20 In formulating a two-department administrative structure, the Working Group examined other parliamentary administrations in an attempt to identify world's best practice in this area. It advised that, based on the information available, it was unable to do so. [16]

2.21 The Working Group found that:

2.22 Officers of the Corporate Development Branch, Department of the Parliamentary Reporting Staff, argued that the amalgamation may hinder best practice:

The integration of computing, telecommunications and television technologies places the department at the forefront of information service provisions. The department's unique position was recognised when it was invited to be a participating member in a Cooperative Research Centre sponsored by the Australian National University, CSIRO and major information technology companies to develop advanced computational systems. [18]


2.23 Given the level of savings that have been achieved to date in parliamentary administration under the current five department structure, and given the lack of evidence to support savings of more than $2.5 million in the longer term under a two-department structure, the Committee finds little justification in proceeding with an amalgamation of the parliamentary departments in line with the current proposal.

2.24 The Committee expresses its disappointment that the amalgamation proposal was not accompanied by a detailed cost/benefit analysis. [19]

2.25 The Committee acknowledges that the Working Group attempted to devise an administrative structure to ensure that the role and functions of the two Chamber departments would not be compromised.

2.26 However, on the basis of evidence before it, the Committee finds that:

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the Senate not agree to the proposed amalgamation of the parliamentary departments as described in Managing the Parliament - The Way Ahead.

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[1] Report by a Working Group to the Heads of the Parliamentary Departments, Managing the Parliament -The Way Ahead, ('The Way Ahead'), p. 17.

[2] The Way Ahead, p. 18.

[3] The Way Ahead, pp. 17-18.

[4] Evidence, Mr H. Evans, pp. 4-5.

[5] Submission 9, p. 7.

[6] Submission 9 (Attach), p. 1.

[7] Submission 12, pp. 6-7.

[8] Evidence, Mr M. Bolton, p. 48.

[9] Submission 12, p. 15.

[10] Evidence, Mr G. Brown, p. 35.

[11] Evidence, Mr G. Brown, p. 35.

[12] Submission 14, p. 1.

[13] Submission 4, p. 1.

[14] Submission 13, p. 2

[15] Submission 9, pp. 2-3; Submission 12, p. 8; Submission 4, p. 3; Evidence, Dr J. Uhr, p. 13.

[16] The Way Ahead, p. 3.

[17] The Way Ahead, p. 4.

[18] Submission 4, p. 5.

[19] Evidence, Mr H. Evans, p. 3.