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Stanhopian tantrum over questions

By johnboy 12 June 2009 54

The ABC had an interesting story yesterday on Chief Minister Stanhope’s anger in the face of 2,550 questions on notice lodged by the Greens and Liberals in the course of the estimates hearings.

The Chief Minister says it’s going to cost $1.5 million to answer all the questions.

The examples I’ve heard him use (yet to see a statement on this from his office) in interviews have included questions about the cost of green paint and money spent on temporary footpath repairs.

My question would be what sort of system are they running where these questions are difficult to answer? How on earth can you responsibly decide to undertake these actions without already having numbers on projected cost and performance against budget?

UPDATE: Brendan Smyth is very excited by more cracks appearing in the Labor facade and John Hargreaves thoughts on the quality of questions:

    ‘It’s not so that the questions in fact were trivial, I believe, I think they were quite reasonable questions. (ABC 666 12/6/2009).

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Stanhopian tantrum over questions
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weeziepops 7:14 pm 14 Jun 09

Not wondering any more, that’s for sure!

Woody Mann-Caruso 6:53 pm 14 Jun 09

Makes me wonder whether that regular work is actually needed or effective.

Just another day for you, I guess – wondering about stuff you know nothing about, then posting about it online.

Hells_Bells74 6:10 pm 14 Jun 09

oops I just finished telling my bf in a forum posting to use his i before e except after c rule and I just stuffed that one hehe .. receivables* and consignment*.

Promised myself I would stop double posting like a dick too. OOPS! Sorry!

Hells_Bells74 6:06 pm 14 Jun 09

Oh, like the auditors at CIT. I was in charge of the rollbooks and files in 7 faculties we looked after among so much else and phones for constant enquiries, reception, bookings, accounts payable and recievable on cosignment from the Regional shop and none of that work mattered when the auditors were coming. Oh, the damn panic when it reached the bosses level. They DO NOT understand or take no for an answer (I only needed to try once, wasn’t game for a rematch). So I could imagine how unsettling these things would be in most departments. But as someone said, all part and parcel. Me and the auditors were like that *crosses fingers* 😉

Gungahlin Al 10:43 am 14 Jun 09

A final thought: keeping accurate records (you know – the filing? As in NOT in your personal Inbox), and being able to provide that information to whomever asks for it (estimates, govt, public, FOI) is part and parcel of working in government. If it wasn’t we’d be in it deep as a country/democracy.

I’d suggest if it burns someone up too much to deal with that simple fact, than they are in the wrong job.

Ian 10:13 am 14 Jun 09

#45 WMC – I agree that scenario is more likely than not, however, it need not be if the place had its act together with its systems and processes.

The fact that they get 2.5k questions on notice probably also says something about the quality of the briefing that was done by the departments for estimates. I know when I was in the circus we’d spend days pulling together briefings on just about everything we could think of that was likely to be topical and asked about by the committee. Clearly in these estimates the briefs were either lacking or not taken in, or the questions totally out of left field. The latter is always going to happen, but not thousands of questions worth … unless the people answering questions were woefully unprepared and not across their budgets.

Also, I think Stanhope is playing with figures to get to his 2,550 questions. I think Smyth and Hunter claimed on the radio it was more like 500-700, but some were multipart questions, ie is it the case that xxxx? if so, yyyyy? In that case, its likely the same piece of work provides the answer to several questions, and the total workload is not as big as Stanhope is attempting to portray.

weeziepops 9:54 am 14 Jun 09

Boo hoo. Some public servants have to think about what they do and what it costs. My heart bleeds. And a whole branch shuts down while the questions are being answered, meaning that their regular “work” is not getting done, eh? Makes me wonder whether that regular work is actually needed or effective.

housebound 7:25 am 14 Jun 09

What GA said.

Plus estimates is the only time the government actually has to answer the questions. In questions time, government MLAs just tend to fob off any questions and answer with spin.

Gungahlin Al 5:57 am 14 Jun 09

I don’t like the way the Libs are playing opposition for its own sake either, rather than getting on being a part of the parliament. And I think this is Stanhope’s way of trying to tar the Greens by bundling it all together with the Lib’s games.

But that’s the cost of democracy. Would you prefer we went back to what we had last term when they had a majority and just said get stuffed?

And as I said before, if they didn’t put a serious effort into estimates, and something serious went unnoticed, then everyone would be baying for blood. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

Woody Mann-Caruso 12:07 am 14 Jun 09

in the case of the cost of green paint, I’d have thought it fairly simple to find out.

Let’s say it is as simple as you say, and they’re all that simple. That’s 2,550 lots of ‘a couple of hours work’, or about 5,000 hours. A public servant works 1,725 hours in a whole year (46 weeks a year, 37.5 hours a week, no sick leave). So already this ‘relatively simple’ job is worth the same amount of time as taking two or three APS staff for a whole year. We’re already up to a quarter of a million in costs, and we haven’t involved any senior public servants at all yet, or factored in the time of the people these mythical APS3s have to talk to.

But of course, it’s not even that simple.

“Hello, Roads? It’s Budget. I need to talk to somebody about paint.”
“Who would I talk to about finding out how much the paint for Project X cost?”
“I have no idea. Can I get back to you?”
(Two days later)
“Well, that was Bob, but he left…I’ll find out who has the info now and get back to you…”
“I need this info quickly.”
“Yeah, well we all have real jobs to do as well.”
(Three days later)
“Phil thinks he might be able to help you, but he’s on training this week – can he call you next Wednesday?”
(the following week)
“I know how much they bought from the file, but we’re not sure how much they used – some of it went to Project Z, and there’s 1500 liters in storage…”

Repeat ad nauseum for all 2,550 questions and you’re easily getting to the $1.5m quoted by the CM.

My branch grinds to a halt in the week leading up to Estimates. A whole branch. A whole week. Fifty grand in productivity down the tube, and we rarely get asked anything. What must it cost a department? The service? All so stupid little boys and girls can use the public service to score points against their equally stupid friends across the chamber.

Cobrico 11:12 pm 13 Jun 09

farnarkler said :

Does anyone know what question 1,786 is? Just curious.

I’ve checked the ACT Parliament website but can’t manage to find any of the questions. Where are they hidden?

Anyway, let’s keep a close watch on question 1,786. What is the question, what is the answer, how long will it take to answer, what will our worthy MPs do with the answer, and was it all worth it?

Ian 10:32 pm 13 Jun 09

#42 WMC – in the case of the cost of green paint, I’d have thought it fairly simple to find out. Ask the Roads people in TAMS who the paint supplier is, query the accounts payable system to find out all the invoices from that supplier, dig them out and add them up in a spreadsheet. A couple of hours work for a low level clerk I’d have expected.

Woody Mann-Caruso 7:39 pm 13 Jun 09

Costing is not that complicated.

For any ordinary person, your fair estimate would be enough, but these aren’t ordinary people – they’re looking to hurt somebody, and they’ll happily chew you up and sh.t you out to do it. “Would the Senator be satisfied with a ‘fair estimate’ based on ‘reasonable assumptions’? We don’t know an actual figure, but we reckon this is near enough!” doesn’t play well in real life, and setting out your dodgy assumptions makes you look incompetent, particularly when the politician in question is asking for ‘a very detailed answer’. They’re not asking how much a project or a program cost – something you could spit out of any decent finance package – they want to know about _paint_, ffs.

The elected official need only call another area of your department (or even just call you again next session) and get a bunch of different assumptions handed to them to make all of you look like chimps with desks. Alternatively, they could ask “Why did you make that assumption?”, or even better, “Why do you need to make assumptions at all? Why don’t you actually know?” and you’ve got a stuttering, clueless public servant on a pike. You need a Secretary or a Minister with guts to say “ off – we’re not answering that question, because it’s stupid, and you don’t really need to know at all.” I recall Nick Minchin doing this quite often for the Department of Finance when he was minister. Hilarious to watch.

And what dommie said +1.

Granny 7:38 pm 13 Jun 09

Lenient said :

I’d be mildly annoyed if someone asked me 2,500 questions.

Happens to parents all the time ….

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