Secretary retires in wake of Senate probe

ONE of the Federal Parliament's most senior executives has announced his early retirement as a Senate committee probes allegations of maladministration and bullying in his department.

ONE of the Federal Parliament's most senior executives has announced his early retirement as a Senate committee probes allegations of maladministration and bullying in his department.

Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Alan Thompson sent staff a memo last week announcing his intention to retire with the expectation of finishing as agency head in early April.

Mr Thompson said it had been "an honour and a privilege" to serve the Parliament over the past 3? years.

Mr Thompson's early departure comes as the Senate finance and public administration committee pursues a wide-ranging investigation into the performance of his agency, which employs 800 staff and spends $120 million a year providing services within Parliament House.

Parliamentary Services came under the political spotlight last year when questioning by Labor senator John Faulkner at an estimates hearing revealed two historic billiard tables inherited from Old Parliament House had been sold for a knock-down price of $5000 without any heritage assessment.

Mr Thompson was forced to make an unprecedented apology for providing "misleading and inaccurate information" to the Senate, adding his department's conduct was "absolutely not acceptable" and "inconsistent with our commitment to serve the Parliament honestly, diligently and competently".

More than $100,000 was spent on external and internal reviews arising from the sale of the billiard tables that yielded only $2000 after auctioneer's and removalist's fees of more than $3000 were taken into account.

The "billiard tables affair" triggered a wider Senate committee inquiry into the general administration of Parliament House.

The committee heard award-winning Parliament House architect Romaldo Giurgola's "extreme distress" that bureaucrats failed to consult him on major changes to the internal design of the building.

Giurgola and colleagues from his firm revealed Parliamentary Services had over eight years failed to finalise a key architectural design and planning document intended to guide the long-term preservation of Parliament House, while numerous custom-made furnishings and fittings were sold off or discarded in skips.

New Parliamentary Services guidelines for disposal of property still provide for the option of "destruction" for furnishings and other items identified as having enduring "cultural or heritage significance".

However, it is expected the Senate inquiry will now proceed to other issues including serious irregularities in contracting and what former and serving departmental officers have described as a "toxic" and "paranoid" work environment characterised by bullying and harassment.

In its submission the Community and Public Sector Union reported one-third of Parliamentary Service personnel had experienced bullying, but very few reported it for fear of retribution and lack of support from senior managers. The security team and the Parliamentary Library have been pointed to by insiders as areas where bullying and harassment are especially prevalent.

Senator Faulkner has said the inquiry's terms of reference are "broad, deliberately so" and "the committee has only just started . . . and is very determined to pursue the task it has in front of it".