Philip Dorling June 30, 2012
Labor senator John Faulkner has savaged the conduct of some senior public servants over maladministration at Parliament House, calling it ''the worst and most disgraceful behaviour I have ever seen from an agency or from any witnesses at a parliamentary committee''.
The Senate finance and public administration committee has found Parliamentary Services falsely claimed in a Senate estimates hearing that a heritage assessment had been made before two historic billiard tables were sold. A senior officer later directed that a heritage assessment be fabricated to support the misleading evidence given to the committee.
''I know of no other comparable example of evidence being fabricated or deliberately designed to deceive and mislead a Senate committee,'' Senator Faulkner said. ''This is the lowest of the low.''
The ''billiards table affair'' has claimed the scalp of the former department secretary Alan Thompson, who announced his early retirement in January. Other senior officers associated with the scandal have left, been moved to new duties or are on leave.
The department came under scrutiny in February last year when questioning by Senator Faulkner revealed the two billiard tables had been sold for $5000, both to departmental officers.
The chief financial officer, Judy Konig, told the Senate estimate committee hearing: ''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.''
Mr Thompson later apologised for providing ''misleading and inaccurate information'' to the Senate, adding his department's conduct was ''inconsistent with our commitment to serve the Parliament honestly, diligently and competently''.
Nearly $100,000 was spent on reviews arising from the sale of the tables that yielded $2000.
The Senate committee's report this week condemned department executives for ''a series of events which at best can be called slipshod and at worst a complete lack of understanding of the duties of officers of the Parliament''.
The Senate committee inquiry has also heard of Parliament House architect Romaldo Giurgola's ''extreme distress'' that Parliamentary Services failed to consult him on changes to the internal design of the building.
Mr Giurgola and colleagues from his firm revealed the department had over eight years failed to finalise a document intended to guide the long-term preservation of Parliament House, and custom-made furnishings and fittings were sold off or discarded in skips.