Archive for December 1st, 2006

Leaking Members in Senate Shenanigans

I originally posted this on The RiotACT last year, but it is amusing enough for a re-run. This week’s Friday Funny is an extract of proceedings from Senate Estimates…filled with leaking members, buildings which are falling apart…and somewhere in there they discuss money thrown into ponds.

Senator FAULKNER—On another issue, what happens to all the money—not that there is many millions of dollars—the coins that are thrown into the fountains here at Parliament House?

Ms Penfold—I have known the answer to this, but I cannot remember.

Senator FAULKNER—I was not suggesting that you keep it yourself.

Ms Penfold—According to my recollection, I think it goes into our general revenue.

Senator FAULKNER—Really? It does not go to charity?

Ms Penfold—No.

Senator FAULKNER—Why do you think people throw coins into these fountains?

Ms Penfold—I wish I knew. It seems to be something—

Senator FAULKNER—It goes into general revenue?

Ms Penfold—I suppose it goes into supplementing—

Senator FAULKNER—Do we know how much money has gone into general revenue?

Ms Penfold—No, but we can find that out for you.

Senator FAULKNER—Who fishes the coins out?

Ms Penfold—I can understand why you think people might throw it in there in a charitable frame of mind, but I am not sure how we could work out which charity to donate it to.

Senator FIFIELD—How do you determine the mind of somebody throwing a coin?

Senator FAULKNER—You could easily work it out. There are staff charities here at Parliament House. We are asked to contribute to those on a regular basis.

Ms Penfold—There are dozens of them—that is right.

Senator FAULKNER—There are dozens of them, so pick one.

Ms Penfold—So 25c each?

Senator FAULKNER—No. I suspect that some of the visitors who do this do not actually think that this money is effectively going into your back pocket as the head of the Department of Parliamentary Services and into consolidated revenue. I suspect that they think, ‘I’ll put a 50c, $1 or $2 coin in there.’ If it is possible to imagine there is a more worthy organisation than the Department of Parliamentary Services, they might be the beneficiaries of it.

Ms Penfold—You do not think we ought to divide it amongst all the senators and members?

Senator FAULKNER—No. I am suggesting that you might consider that it would be appropriate to donate those moneys to charity. What do you think, Mr President? You are going to save the situation for us, are you?

The PRESIDENT—I would just like to point out that, of course, there are signs up asking people not to throw coins into the fountain. They seem to be working very well! I will have a talk with the Speaker and perhaps we may seek to have those moneys given to a charity—the Lions Club of Parliament House for instance. We just launched here the other day a very significant initiative that the Lions Club of Australia are putting forward to help with the research into spinal cord technology. We may, on a year-to-year basis, decide to give that money to a certain charity. I think it is a very good idea.

Senator FAULKNER—Good.

The PRESIDENT—But I would make the point that we try to discourage people from throwing money into the fountain.

Senator FAULKNER—I know you do. That is accepted. It does not work. People still chuck coins in the fountain. They even sing songs about such things.

The PRESIDENT—Perhaps if we took the signs away we might get twice as much money.

Senator FAULKNER—There are a lot more than three coins in the Parliament House fountain, I can tell you. I think it would be a good idea to check that out. I am surprised that someone cannot tell us how much money this generates for DPS. You can take that question on notice.

Ms Penfold—I suspect it is not material, but we will find out.

Senator FAULKNER—I accept that it would not be millions of dollars, but it might be money that some charity might be very grateful to receive.

Senator FIFIELD—A parliamentary wishing well.

Senator FORSHAW—Peter Costello is always—

Senator FAULKNER—I was going to say that with this great line up of Peter Costello supporters, a parliamentary wishing well is what you really want! I dawdled past the fountain in the centre of the building a couple of weeks ago. Is it called the black fountain, that square fountain? What is that fountain called?

Ms Penfold—The reflection pond, I am told.

Senator FAULKNER—My God, is it really—the reflection pond? There we are. I was reflecting on the fact that I was walking past when it was raining and there were all these buckets around catching all the drips from the roof. Is there a problem there? Is the roof leaking?

Ms Penfold—There is a problem.

Senator FORSHAW—You could use the money from the fountain to fix the roof.

Ms Penfold—It would take a long time.

Senator FORSHAW—Take the signs away then.

Mr Smith—We have had a problem with the roof skyline structure for a considerable amount of time. At this stage, we are investigating repairs to it but we do not have a solution that we can economically implement at this time.

Senator FAULKNER—So the roof is leaking?

Mr Smith—Yes, it is.

Senator FAULKNER—What part of the roof?

Mr Smith—It comes from the glazed skylight.

Senator FAULKNER—Which is a large skylight, isn’t it?

Mr Smith—It is a rather massive structure, yes.

Senator FAULKNER—Are these leaks getting worse?

Mr Smith—I do not think it is getting worse.

Senator FAULKNER—You are not going to wash someone away in a major downpour?

Mr Smith—No. It is a fairly predictable leak. It is just a couple of leaking members. But, as soon as we fix those, we generate leaks in other places.

Senator FAULKNER—Did you say ‘a couple of leaking members’?

Mr Smith—A couple of leaking members in the roof. The glazed skylight is made up of a lot of different glass panels and a lot of aluminium structures.

Senator FAULKNER—There are more than a couple in the caucus. So that is not going to be fixed?

Mr Smith—We are investigating further into that, but at this stage we do not have a fix for it.

Senator FAULKNER—The joint has sprung leaks all over the place, really, hasn’t it? Did you fix the leak in the forecourt water feature?

Mr Smith—Yes, the forecourt water feature leak has been fixed. We replaced all the sealants in the floor and repaired some of the sealant on the cascading slat structure. The water that we are using in that pond now is purely related to evaporation, backwashing and cleaning.

Senator FAULKNER—So you fixed the swimming pool leak?

Mr Smith—The swimming pool leak was fixed in the recreation centre refurbishment.

Senator FAULKNER—So the roof is leaking. Are there any other leaks around the joint at the moment?

Mr Smith—In a building of this size, we are always going to have leaks in any given year. We have actually fixed a number of leaks which have been around in the last 10 years. We recently fixed the leak into the loading dock. Every time it rained we used to get water flowing in there. We recently fixed that one. We fixed the leak outside the recreation centre, where every time it rained we used to get water into the basement. That has also been fixed. A building of this size will generate leaks as it ages, and we have to get on top of them as quickly as possible.

Senator FAULKNER—Yes. So which ones have you not fixed?

Mr Smith—I think the skylight is the biggest example of a leak we have now. From time to time we do get failures in various pipe systems throughout the building. We fix those as we find them. However, I am not aware of any other leaks that we are currently working on or that we currently have.

Senator FAULKNER—I read an article in the Canberra Times about the loading dock leak. Is that now fixed?

Mr Smith—I have not seen that article but, if it refers to the leak I talked about, yes, it has been fixed.

Senator FAULKNER—Did that involve moving two Chinese lion sculptures?

Mr Smith—Yes. It required us to do a fairly major excavation in the formal gardens, so we took the lion sculptures out for conservation work at the same time. It also kept them out of harm’s way from the excavation equipment.

Senator FAULKNER—How long had that leak been around for?

Mr Smith—No-one seems to know, but we estimate that it has been around for 10 years or longer.

Senator FAULKNER—What was the cost of repairing that leak?

Mr Smith—I do not have a figure on that with me, but I can take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER—Did you say the leak was there for a 10-year period?

Mr Smith—We estimate that. We do not really know.

Senator FAULKNER—Is it true that about 100 million litres of water leaked during that period?

Mr Smith—No. The leak there was purely related to stormwater getting into the building. Every time it rained the leak generated. It was not related to the water systems in the building as far as pipe water goes. I have just found the figure. It cost $32,000 to fix that leak.

Senator FAULKNER—What was the cost of repairing the fountain out the front?

Mr Smith—It cost $46,000.

Senator FAULKNER—I raised at the last estimates committee, Ms Penfold, the issue of the lost lustre and clarity on the steps on the Senate side of the building. What did that cost to fix up?

Ms Penfold—The figure is here somewhere. Off the top of my head I thought it was about $6,000 or $8,000, but I will find the list. It was $8,176.

Senator FAULKNER—That turned out to be a bit of a waste of money, didn’t it, because something went wrong with the lustre and clarity in that staircase recently?

Ms Penfold—Something happened to it, yes.

Senator FAULKNER—Could you explain to us what happened?

Ms Penfold—My understanding is that someone dropped a bottle of red wine on it.

Senator FAULKNER—Have you rounded up the culprit?

Ms Penfold—No, we have not rounded up the culprit. The culprit reported it immediately to the appropriate people, and the cleaners were down there as quickly as they could be. But, as you would have seen, it left quite a stain until this morning.

Senator FAULKNER—In fact until late last night, when I could not walk down the steps because there were two gentlemen there wanting to make sure it was all cleared up before Senate estimates—which was very kind of you, and I wanted to thank you very much for that.

Ms Penfold—I have said already in other forums, Senator, how useful this process is.

Senator FAULKNER—Yes. How much did that cost?

Mr Smith—The cost of the repair was $800.

Senator FAULKNER—You are not going to charge the culprit for that, are you?

Mr Smith—No. I believe it was a genuine accident and the person did the right thing by reporting it straightaway so we could get the cleaners onto it.

Senator FAULKNER—I agree. So you can assure us now that it has all been refurbished appropriately?

Ms Penfold—The main spot where the wine was dropped was looking pretty good to me this morning, although possibly not quite as shiny as after the last lot of polishing. There are still a few little stains from where it dripped further down which I imagine may be dealt with or may be left for next time we do the full polish.

CHAIR—Would this be a convenient time for a break?

Senator FAULKNER—I think it would be a very convenient time for a break.

CHAIR—That would be wonderful.

Proceedings suspended from 10.32 am to 10.53 am

CHAIR—Ms Penfold, did you have some information you could help the committee with regarding coins in fountains?

Ms Penfold—Yes, Senator. The advice I have now is that we clean out the coins about once a month. We get about $10 to $15 a month in Australian coins, which, as we have said, goes into our consolidated revenue, so we are talking about perhaps $120 to $200 a year. We also get a lot of foreign coins. In fact, they have been sitting in the CFO’s office while we wonder what to do with them. As a result of the discussion I have just had with my people, we have decided that we might see if we can feed those into the scheme that Qantas runs with UNICEF—

CHAIR—The Change for Good program?

Ms Penfold—A Change for Good! Absolutely.

Senator FIFIELD—That is inconspicuous compassion.

Senator FAULKNER—That is a sensible thing to do and I appreciate the secretary’s quick work and good sense.

CHAIR—Are there further questions for the department? You had the floor, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER—You can have a little break from me and I will come back later on.

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3 comments December 1st, 2006 at 10:02am


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