CHAPTER 3: Cooperation Between the Parliamentary Departments

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CHAPTER 3: Cooperation Between the Parliamentary Departments

3.1 In Chapter 2 the Committee recommended against the proposed amalgamation of the parliamentary departments. However, the Committee was persuaded by evidence suggesting that there was scope for cooperation between the parliamentary departments, which would result in significant savings.

3.2 The Secretary of the Joint House Department, Mr Michael Bolton, said in evidence:

3.3 Mr Bolton added that the Joint House Department had expertise in procurement and contracting. He suggested that the Department could assist other parliamentary departments in this regard. Mr Bolton identified warehousing and the supply of stationery as areas where savings could be achieved. [2]

3.4 In a submission to the inquiry, Mr Gary Brown stated that savings could be made without amalgamating the parliamentary departments. He suggested, by way of example, that one department could be responsible for stationery and common supply orders, and another for building management. As an alternative, common functions might be located in one of the joint departments. [3]

3.5 The Media, Entertainments and Arts Alliance, while arguing against the two-department proposal, conceded that there was scope for some rationalisation of parliamentary administration. [4] Similarly, the Assistant Secretary, Corporate Development Program, Department of Parliamentary Reporting Staff, Mr John Walsh, argued that there were potential savings in program areas. However, he did not believe that significant savings would result from rationalising corporate services. [5]

3.6 On the other hand, the Committee heard evidence that it was not always appropriate for one department to do things on behalf of another. Mr Bolton said, 'quite often, in a small operation, you are better off to get exactly what you want, when you want it, running your own facilities and having it organised the way you need it'. [6] He said that the Joint House Department had experienced difficulties with a computer contract established on behalf of the parliamentary departments by the Parliamentary Information Systems Office. The contract had failed to meet the special requirements of the Joint House Department. [7]

3.7 The Committee heard evidence that the Department of Senate would need to retain some corporate services functions. The Clerk of the Senate, Mr Harry Evans, informed the Committee that there is 'a core area of the Corporate Management Office of the Senate Department which the Senate could not give away without imperilling its independence'. He suggested that the Office, which has first-hand knowledge of the Department of the Senate, was essential to provide advice to the President on financial matters affecting the Department. [8]

3.8 More generally, the Committee notes evidence of Mr Evans that democracy carries certain costs. Mr Evans suggested that:

3.9 The Committee notes these reservations. However, it is of the view that savings may be possible in some areas.

3.10 Evidence presented suggested that there ought to be a process to determine the overall funding priorities for Parliament House. Mr Bolton said:

3.11 The Committee notes that, in the context of the 1997/98 budget, the Joint House Department agreed, in effect, to transfer $2 million to the Chamber departments to enable the latter to fund items which were outside their running costs, including the replacement of ageing security equipment. The Committee commends this as a demonstration of effective cooperation between the parliamentary departments. The Committee wishes to encourage similar cooperation in the future.

3.12 Accordingly, the Committee makes the following recommendations.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Presiding Officers require each parliamentary department to identify annually items of expenditure where savings may be achieved, particularly by the rationalisation of functions common to two or more departments.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the funding of New Policy Proposals from savings made by the parliamentary departments be the subject of agreement between the Presiding Officers. [11]

3.13 In this regard, the Presiding Officers may decide that savings made by a particular parliamentary department should be used for the benefit of that department and/or another department or departments.

3.14 In making this recommendation, the Committee recognises that it will not be possible to fund all New Policy Proposals from these savings. From time to time the Presiding Officers will need to seek additional funds in the budget process, particularly for major asset replacements in Parliament House.

3.15 The Committee is firmly of the view that the costs of extra sitting days of the Senate, when initiated by the Government, should continue to be met by supplementary funding.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that all New Policy Proposals for the parliamentary departments be in the form of joint submissions from the Presiding Officers to the Government.

3.16 In this regard, the Committee envisages that, in preparing a joint submission, the Presiding Officers would have regard to any agreement they had reached concerning the allocation of savings made by the parliamentary departments.  


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[1] Evidence, Mr M. Bolton, p. 50.

[2] Evidence, Mr M. Bolton, pp. 50-51.

[3] Submission 14, pp. 7-8.

[4] Submission 13, p. 4.

[5] Evidence, Mr J. Walsh, p. 32.

[6] Evidence, Mr M. Bolton, p. 51.

[7] Evidence, Mr M. Bolton, p. 51.

[8] Submission 9, p. 5.

[9] Submission 9, p. 8.

[10] Evidence, Mr M. Bolton, pp. 45-46.

[11] An issue raised in the Working Group's report concerned the retention of savings achieved by amalgamating the parliamentary departments. The Working Group noted that in written advice the Department of Finance had stated that, as a matter of practice, where departments create savings by self-initiated reforms such as an amalgamation, government has not insisted that such savings be returned to consolidated revenue (The Way Ahead, p. 14).