Treasury gift investigation considered

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2011

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The state services commissioner is considering whether to investigate corporate freebies accepted by Treasury staff, after papers revealed that a culture of accepting gifts and hospitality goes back years.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman wrote yesterday to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, asking for an investigation.

Dr Norman has received documents showing more examples of giveaways to Treasury staff, including pool competitions and boxing tickets. "There is just no end to it. It just goes on and on and on. Clearly, this is a longstanding practice, particularly around the debt office," he said.

This week, the Treasury made public a register of gifts and corporate hospitality accepted by its staff in the past 11 months. Details going back to February 2007 emerged yesterday. They show hundreds more meals as well as car racing, tickets to the Top Gear show and a cruise on Sydney Harbour from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for the head of the debt office, Phil Combes.

Andrew Turner, the head of portfolio management, went to a golf challenge courtesy of Westpac, and KPMG shouted Warwick White, a senior analyst, to the Manfeild track day in 2007.

Matthew Collin, the debt office portfolio manager who emerged in the initial register as the recipient of 36 freebies in 46 weeks, again appears often on the longer list. Mr Collin took tickets to Top Gear from CBA and to the cricket from ANZ Bank. He and the assistant portfolio manager Briar Fergusson both went to boxing courtesy of Westpac.

Westpac also entertained five staff from the debt management office at the 2008 Wellington Sevens.

Dr Norman has called for an audit of the debt office to prove business decisions were not influenced by the freebies.

New Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf has indicated he does not think that is necessary, but has ordered a review of the corporate hospitality policy, which Dr Norman said was "an acknowledgement that there is an issue".

"But I also think the SSC needs to make a ruling on it. The SSC are the arbiters of the gifting policy for all public servants, including Treasury, so they need to make a ruling for the entire public sector about whether this kind of level of gifting is acceptable."

In his letter to Mr Rennie, Dr Norman asked for an investigation into whether the gifting practices of the Treasury from 2007 till the present had breached the State Services Commission guidelines for accepting gifts.

Mr Rennie said he was considering Dr Norman's letter and would respond as soon as practicable.

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- The Dominion Post

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