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Official Committee Hansard


 Reference: Scrutiny of the Joint House Department

           TUESDAY, 4 MAY 1999


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                                            Tuesday, 4 May 1999

Members: Senator Gibson (Chair), Senator Murray (Deputy Chair), Senators Brownhill,
Conroy, Ray and Watson
Participating members: Senators Abetz, Brown, Colston, Coonan, Faulkner, Harradine, Lundy
and Margetts
Senators in attendance: Senators Brownhill, Conroy, Faulkner, Gibson, Ray and Watson
Terms of reference for the inquiry: Scrutiny of the performance of departments and agencies:
Joint House Department


BOLTON, Mr Michael, Secretary, Joint House Department . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .                                1

BRADLEY, Mr Fraser, Executive Leader, Business Services, Joint House Depart-
 ment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

WEDGWOOD, Mr Robert, Executive Leader, Building Management, Joint House
 Department . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

THOMAS, Mr David, Chief Architect, Joint House Department . . . . . . . . . . . . .                                  1
Tuesday, 4 May 1999                SENATE—Legislation                                 F&PA 1

  Committee met at 9.01 a.m.
                                         In Attendance
BOLTON, Mr Michael, Secretary, Joint House Department
BRADLEY, Mr Fraser, Executive Leader, Business Services, Joint House Department
WEDGWOOD, Mr Robert, Executive Leader, Building Management, Joint House
THOMAS, Mr David, Chief Architect, Joint House Department
   CHAIR—I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration
Legislation Committee, held under the committee’s powers to scrutinise the performance of
departments and agencies as provided by standing order 25(2)(b). I welcome the Deputy
President, Senator West, and officers of the Joint House Department. I understand that you
have an opening statement that you wish to make, Madam Deputy President.
   The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—I am here on behalf of the President of the Senate and I
make this statement on her behalf. Senators asked that matters relating to the expenditure of
the Joint House Department be notified as matters to be considered at the supplementary
additional estimates hearing of this committee. The Joint House Department has no requests
for funds in the additional appropriation bills, and no hearing on the department was held at
the time of the main hearings. The President considers that, in those circumstances, a
supplementary hearing of the department cannot occur. The basis of this is that the
supplementary hearings, as the name suggests, are intended to be supplementary to the main
   The President is anxious to ensure, however, that senators are not prevented from asking
questions about the operations of parliamentary departments and has therefore asked that I
appear, accompanied by officers of the Joint House Department, to answer questions relating
to the matters which were notified. In order to prevent foreclosing the procedural question
involved and setting an undesirable precedent, it has been agreed with the committee that this
hearing will be treated as taking place under the committee’s terms of reference in standing
order 25(2)(b) relating to the scrutiny of the performance of departments and agencies. I will
remain during the hearing of the Joint House Department in case there are any matters I may
need to respond to on behalf of the President or convey to the President.
   CHAIR—Thank you, Madam Deputy President. The committee has met privately and we
have agreed to have this hearing separate from the estimates in the interests of not wanting
to hide anything and to make sure that there is openness and transparency for the Joint House
Department. Are there any questions, senators?
   Senator FAULKNER—I will not canvass the Deputy President’s statement which was made
on behalf of the President. This is a matter, as I think you would be aware, Mr Chairman,
about which there are some differences of views, but I appreciate that all senators have worked
constructively in an effort to ensure that this examination by the committee is able to take
place. I certainly appreciate that. In the circumstances of Senator West’s statement, I think
it is possibly best if I direct my questions to Mr Bolton directly through you, Mr Chairman.
As I understand the nuances of Senator West’s statement, would that be appropriate or should
I direct my questions to Senator West? Could you clarify that?

F&PA 2                              SENATE—Legislation                   Tuesday, 4 May 1999

  CHAIR—I think that would be a decision for Senator West, but it is all right as far as I
am concerned as chairman.
  Senator FAULKNER—I do not mind—it is only a courtesy thing—whether I direct them
through the chair to Senator West or to Mr Bolton.
  The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—I have no problems with whichever way.
  Senator FAULKNER—I wonder whether Mr Bolton could perhaps outline for us what has
occurred in relation to the decisions to refurnish the Prime Minister’s office in Parliament
House—firstly, the issue of the desk that is in place in the Prime Minister’s office. Could Mr
Bolton let us know what the processes were that saw this change of furnishings take place?
  Mr Bolton—As I understand it, the desk in question was a desk which had been used by
previous Prime Ministers in Old Parliament House and had then been brought to this building
and used by clerks of the House of Representatives until, I think, the current Clerk, Mr Harris,
who when he became Clerk no longer wished to use the desk.
  For some reason or other, I was not involved in the discussions but, as I understand it, the
Prime Minister became aware that the desk was available, or was seeking a desk of that
vintage or that history, and it was arranged by the House of Representatives, not by the Joint
House Department, to move that desk to the Prime Minister’s suite. The Joint House
Department got involved to the extent that we were concerned about the desk that had been
designed for the Prime Minister’s office. We obtained that desk to make sure that it was stored
appropriately and its knowledge was known and its place in the design would not be forgotten.
So we took the desk into the custody of the Joint House Department.
  Senator FAULKNER—Had the particular desk that was in the Prime Minister’s office been
in the Prime Minister’s office since this building had been opened?
  Mr Bolton—That is right.
  Senator FAULKNER—Was that desk a specially designed desk for the Prime Minister’s
  Mr Bolton—It was part of a set of furniture specially designed for the suite.
  Senator FAULKNER—When you say that you have it in custody—when you arrested the
desk—what does that mean?
  Mr Bolton—If I could put this into a bit of context, the Joint House Department had become
concerned over time that, in various parts of the building, some issues relating to management
of furniture for the long-term needs of this building were not really being managed in a
coordinated way, because furniture had been distributed to various organisations that operate
in this building. The Prime Minister’s suite came within the providence of the people who ran
the Ministerial Wing in Parliament House who now belong to the Department of Finance and
  We had become aware over time that various things since 1988—right through previous
administrations—had been moved around, changed and taken out. In fact, we were most
concerned that a piece of furniture which had been designed for the sitting room of the Prime
Minister’s suite had gone missing. We conducted extensive searches for the piece of furniture
and consulted previous occupants of the unit responsible for the Ministerial Wing—because
people move and change their jobs all the time—and, to this day, we still have not been able
to find that piece of furniture.
  Senator FAULKNER—What was that piece of furniture, Mr Bolton?

Tuesday, 4 May 1999                 SENATE—Legislation                                  F&PA 3

   Mr Bolton—It was a writing bureau for the sitting room, so that anybody in that room who
might have been waiting to meet the Prime Minister, or even the Prime Minister’s wife, had
somewhere they could have access to paper, pens and that sort of thing.
   Senator FAULKNER—How often do you do that inventory of the furniture so that you
know whether something has gone missing or not?
   Mr Bolton—Just to finish that quickly: we discussed this amongst the parliamentary
administration and with the executive wing unit and it was agreed that, having had a lot of
purpose designed furniture and the fact that the building was designed to last for 200 years,
it would be in the best interests of the building if the Joint House Department took
responsibility for the furniture and furnishings in the Prime Minister’s suite, it being the
department at this stage that has the responsibility for the long-term management of Parliament
   The other problem with the furniture—and one of the reasons this Prime Minister raised it
as well—is that it had not even been properly maintained, so there had not been a regimen
of cleaning and looking after the fabrics and leathers, and therefore some of the furniture was
looking a bit grubby because of its style and type. Once again, Joint House wanted to get
involved so that it could go through a proper regimen of regular cleaning. The first inventory
done by Joint House was in the last 12 months or so. That is when we identified—
   Senator FAULKNER—The first inventory since the building was first occupied?
   Mr Bolton—It may have been done by the Parliament House executive wing unit, but at
that stage the furniture was not within our providence, it was not under our control. In the last
12 months we have done a couple of things. Firstly, we wanted to find out what was there
and we also engaged—
   Senator FAULKNER—When responsibility changed for this, they did not hand over to
you an inventory of existing furniture, noting what sort of condition it was in?
   Mr Bolton—No. We approached it in a different way. We went into the suite, we ticked
off items against the original records and we found that a piece was missing. We found other
pieces which had been moved to other parts of the suite, which always happens—people quite
often do not want all the furniture they are supplied with. We asked the original architects to
do some work for us—to look at the suite to see what was there, what needed to be done to
it and to formulate some longer-term plans for the management of the furniture in that suite.
   Senator FAULKNER—So when did you do that inventory and check against the original
furniture that had been placed in the suite?
   Mr Bolton—I could not give you a specific date, but it would have been around the middle
of 1998.
   Senator FAULKNER—I asked you before what you meant when you said that you had
taken the desk ‘into custody’. Could you let us know?
   Mr Bolton—We just wanted to make sure that that desk, like the writing bureau, did not
go missing. We believe that the writing bureau went missing basically because it was removed
from the suite at some time for some reason—which we do not know—and then it was
probably put into some sort of storage somewhere, we hope, and subsequently moved again.
But, with changes of staff, proper records were not kept and therefore the thing was not
   We are looking at the long-term issue of furniture in this building. A lot of furniture in the
building, as it gets to the end of its useful life, will be investigated and changed over—which

F&PA 4                              SENATE—Legislation                   Tuesday, 4 May 1999

is normal—but there is also a lot of furniture in the building which is what we would call
cultural contemporary heritage furniture which, hopefully, will also be here in 200 years time.
There is nothing unusual with that. I have been to various parliaments where they are still
using furniture, for historical purposes, which is over 200 years old.
   Furniture by its very nature is not large—it is small items. Quite generally right throughout
the public sector the value of assets is something that gets tracked when it gets to a certain
level, and generally that has been at about $2,000 and above. The issue in this case is that
most individual items are not worth $2,000; therefore they do not get tracked and managed.
However, if you aggregate them because they form a part of a suite or they form a series of
chairs which are part of the language of this building—as with the high-backed black chairs
you see around the building—they are a very substantial asset. I think they need to be managed
in that way rather than as individual pieces. We are doing some work on that at the moment.
We are concerned that they have been placed in this building and we need to have a stocktake
to know whether we still have the numbers of chairs we were given in 1998.
   Senator FAULKNER—That is helpful, but I was asking you what you meant when you
said you took the desk ‘into custody’.
   Mr Bolton—I suppose we took responsibility for it. We said, ‘We’re responsible for this
furniture now,’ and we took it out of the Prime Minister’s office and put it in a Joint House
   Senator FAULKNER—So it is in a store somewhere in Parliament House?
   Mr Bolton—Within the building.
   Senator FAULKNER—Where was the desk that the Prime Minister is currently using in
the Prime Minister’s suite located prior to coming into Parliament House?
   Mr Bolton—It was in the Old Parliament House. It was brought up here and used by the
   Senator FAULKNER—Was it on display at Old Parliament House or was it just in storage
   Mr Bolton—I am not sure because, as I said, it was treated as an item of furniture belonging
to the House of Representatives. I understand that it was used by previous Prime Ministers
for a long period and then at some stage it came into the custody of the Clerk of the House
of Representatives. It was used up until about 1996 by the Clerk of the House of Representa-
tives in this building. With a change of clerks, the current Clerk said that he did not wish to
use that desk anymore.
   Senator FAULKNER—Does Joint House have a view about the appropriateness or
otherwise of having such a desk in the Prime Minister’s office? In other words, the one that
was designed for the suite is now in storage and this other desk is there. Has Joint House
expressed a view as to the appropriateness or otherwise of that?
   Mr Bolton—Similar to the change in furniture, it would be that it is not an appropriate desk
for the space within which it sits.
   Senator FAULKNER—That it is not appropriate?
   Mr Bolton—No. That is based on advice to us from the architects and designers of that
space. I am not an interior decorator; I relied on getting some professional advice, and they
argued to me that it was not an appropriate desk.

Tuesday, 4 May 1999                 SENATE—Legislation                                 F&PA 5

  Senator FAULKNER—I appreciate you are not an interior decorator. I hope you have more
expertise in interior decorating than I do, however. Whose advice did you seek in relation to
the appropriateness or otherwise of this old desk being placed in the Prime Minister’s office?
  Mr Bolton—Quite frankly, Senator, I did not seek any advice in relation to that matter. I
only found out about the thing basically after it had happened. We were not asked for any
advice nor did we offer any advice in that regard. When we found out about it, we had our
  Senator FAULKNER—You mean the old desk was in place in the Prime Minister’s office?
  Mr Bolton—Yes.
  Senator FAULKNER—What had happened to the desk that you have since placed in
  Mr Bolton—It had been removed by the Parliament House executive wing unit people to
a place in the basement.
  Senator FAULKNER—So they stuck it down in the basement.
  Mr Bolton—Yes; in a storeroom.
  Senator FAULKNER—How did Mr Perkins, the Tasmanian master craftsman who was
responsible for designing the desk—is that right; was Mr Perkins responsible for the design?
  Mr Bolton—He was the craftsman who built the furniture, but the actual design would have
been done by the architect in consultation with him.
  Senator FAULKNER—How did he become aware of the desk being changed? I read some
press comments from him where he appears to be appalled by this. He described the Prime
Minister as ‘aesthetically bankrupt’, for example, and he said that the Prime Minister was
‘totally ignoring the architectural brief we all worked for for the Prime Minister’s suite.’ Was
he brought into the loop in some way?
  Mr Bolton—No, we did not approach him. The only way I can presume he got knowledge
of it was via media coverage. There was some media coverage a long while ago, when it first
happened, before his latest comments which I think were generated by coverage on another
  Senator FAULKNER—But you indicated the views that Joint House hold in relation to
the lack of appropriateness of this old desk being in the Prime Minister’s office. How are you
able to inform the committee of these views of the architects and responsible designers? You
said you did not seek their advice, but you seem quite confident in providing that advice to
the committee. I just wondered how you are aware of it.
  Mr Bolton—Of the architects’ views?
  Senator FAULKNER—Yes.
  Mr Bolton—We had a representative of the architects—a partner in the firm of architects—
doing other work for us in the building. We engaged the architects to provide for us a
dissertation on the essential elements of this building, the way they put it together, why they
put it together, why they put certain things in certain rooms, et cetera so that there will be a
record. When we have to make changes to the building in the future, as we undoubtedly will,
we can at least look at what the design intent was and see how far we need to differ. That
person has been doing a lot of work within the building, and I or one of my staff would have
drawn their attention to some press article or mentioned it to them. We knew about it because

F&PA 6                               SENATE—Legislation                    Tuesday, 4 May 1999

we had taken possession of the old desk and knew that this desk had gone into the Prime
Minister’s office. That person then just provided a view.
   Senator FAULKNER—Was this view provided to you verbally or did you get a note about
   Mr Bolton—Verbally; and, as I said, it was never communicated to the Prime Minister.
   Senator FAULKNER—But I just wondered if you had received any formal communication
from the architects or designers. Just so I am clear before we move off that: did the Joint
House Department encourage the Prime Minister to reverse the decision about the desk after
you found out that someone had put the new desk, designed for the office, in the basement
and rolled this antique version in? Did anyone encourage the Prime Minister or his office to
reverse that decision and try to maintain the architectural and design features and the integrity
of the Prime Minister’s suite?
   Mr Bolton—There was a whole series of discussions over a long period of time. As I said,
we engaged the architects subsequently to give us some advice on the suite when we had
formalised this issue of control of the furniture. As part of those discussions—I was not
personally involved in those—I am aware that the desk was mentioned from time to time. The
architects’ representative was at those meetings at different times and probably expressed views
to the staff of the Prime Minister.
   Senator FAULKNER—So it is fair to say that the Prime Minister’s office was encouraged
to try to maintain some design integrity in the office and stick with the furniture that was
designed and built in Tasmania for the office.
   Mr Bolton—Yes, they were aware of those views. We were seeking to give them briefings
and make them aware of the whole design intent of the suite so they would understand,
hopefully, why the desk might be an inappropriate item in the office.
   Senator FAULKNER—Was the new desk moved in before or after the chesterfields were
brought into the office?
   Mr Bolton—The new desk was in there well in advance.
   Senator FAULKNER—When did you become aware of the issue of the chesterfield
   Mr Bolton—So that I can give you accurate information, could I ask Mr David Thomas,
who is an officer of the department with the title of chief architect, to help me with this so
we get the exact timing?
   Senator FAULKNER—Yes, thanks very much.
   Mr Bolton—David, could you address the issue of when we became aware of the
   Mr Thomas—To put this part of the work in context, Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp were
engaged for a project to examine the whole suite and various elements of furniture, both that
which was not in the original position and that which had been moved around, to try to bring
the suite back within its intended design and place things back in the places they were
originally intended to be.
   As part of that work we were looking at the Prime Minister’s office, which included four
single-seater chairs and a sofa chair which, we became aware, the Prime Minister did not
particularly like the colour of. We went through several discussions over that, including
looking at possibilities of a different colour in a re-covering of the suite. That did not progress

Tuesday, 4 May 1999                 SENATE—Legislation                                 F&PA 7

to a final proposal, but it became clear that the Prime Minister felt uncomfortable with the
orange colour of the furniture and was seeking an alternative.
  Senator FAULKNER—Would this furniture, like the desk that was designed for the Prime
Minister’s office and the chairs that you are speaking of, be properly described as works of
art? Is that fair or is that putting it at too high a level?
  Mr Bolton—We put them in a category which we call ‘craft furniture’. They were designed
with a fair degree of artistic emphasis in their design, the quality of the product and the way
they convey a message. They are not standard pieces of furniture.
  Mr Thomas—They are one-off pieces of furniture which were designed in the sense of the
whole space, with the wholeness and integrity of the space taken into account. They were very
specifically designed for the place they were in.
  Senator FAULKNER—Who was the consultant you had working on this?
  Mr Thomas—Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp, the original architects of the building.
  Senator FAULKNER—Were there any other consultants?
  Mr Thomas—No, they were the consultants for that project.
  Senator FAULKNER—What was the cost of that consultancy for Joint House?
  Mr Thomas—Approximately $10,800.
  Senator FAULKNER—And was that consultancy limited to the Prime Minister’s suite or
did it include other suites?
  Mr Thomas—The consultancy was limited to the Prime Minister’s suite. It was undertaken
because we were aware that a lot of things had changed in the Prime Minister’s suite since
the time the building was opened. It looked at all of the rooms within the Prime Minister’s
suite; not the whole Prime Minister’s office but the main sitting room, foyer, office and dining
  Mr Bolton—Yes. There were some security issues to be addressed. Security staff had said
that the original entrance design did not allow them the proper scrutiny of people, so they
asked whether we could make some alterations that would give them better scrutiny of people
entering the space. As I said, certain furniture had been moved around and things had been
  The issue that we have been trying to get across to people is that design integrity does not
mean to say things can’t change. Things should change to meet the functionality of the space.
For instance, Prime Minister Keating worked in a certain way. He used to come in early in
the morning and want briefings from staff, ministers or whoever while having a very small
breakfast. So, rather than use his dining room, he wanted to use the sitting room to do that,
and tables and chairs were provided in there to allow him to do that.
  One of the issues that we were addressing was whether or not, in providing such a space
for a Prime Minister, we ought to be aware that various prime ministers work in different ways
and we should see whether we could bring some more functionality into the space. For
instance, we might need to have some other furniture built for the space which allowed you
to have, if you like, an option 1 and an option 2 suite. Various things have happened over
time. It was quite an extensive brief.
  Senator FAULKNER—This was at the initiative of Joint House, I assume? Is that right?
  Mr Bolton—Yes.

F&PA 8                              SENATE—Legislation                   Tuesday, 4 May 1999

  Senator FAULKNER—Did you get a written report from the consultants?
  Mr Bolton—Yes, we have a written report now. During the process at the time we obviously
discussed various elements of the brief.
  Senator FAULKNER—Would you be able to make that written report available for the
committee, please?
  Mr Bolton—We can make that report available.
  Senator FAULKNER—Thank you.
  Mr Bolton—But can I make the point that the Joint House Department does not necessarily
agree with quite substantial elements in that report. These are architects who, if you like, were
given a full opportunity to express their views. We are fairly practical business managers and
we have to operate within budgets. We do not believe that some of the decisions that were
taken in 1988 in the building of this building, where there was a lot of licence given, can exist
today. So we have our own views on that report which are substantially less than the
  Senator FAULKNER—If you could make that available, I would appreciate it. Mr Bolton,
the issue of these chesterfields caused a fair bit of angst, so could you explain to me how the
Joint House Department was involved in discussions? When did you become aware of the
Prime Minister’s or his office’s idea of bringing these new chesterfields into the office? What
took place in that process?
  Mr Thomas—Just taking up from my explanation before in terms of the running of the
consultancy and examining the Prime Minister’s furniture within his office, it became clear
that the Prime Minister did not particularly like the orange furniture. We were considering the
possibility of another colour that would work within the interior regime of the colours of the
walls—the Huon pine walls—et cetera that were in place in the office. But it became clear
to us that the Prime Minister was really wanting a suite that was covered in leather and one
that was more traditional in character. The suite that was there was a woollen fabric cushion
with a leather outer surround.
  Senator FAULKNER—Yes, I knew it in the old days. I have been in there.
  Mr Thomas—The direction in which we were going was not what the Prime Minister had
a particular preference for.
  Senator FAULKNER—So the chesterfields were the Prime minister’s idea?
  Mr Thomas—The scenario did develop. We did have meetings with the Prime Minister and
with the consultant, and with the Prime Minister and Mrs Howard—principally with Mrs
Howard rather than directly with the Prime Minister. I do not think there were meetings
directly with the Prime Minister. We were dealing through the Prime Minister’s staff. The
information we were getting was that the Prime Minister had a preference for an all-leather
lounge suite and had a view that that was really what he should have in terms of his
prerogative, I guess.
  Senator FAULKNER—Why was Mrs Howard involved in this?
  Mr Thomas—They were the Prime Minister’s internal office arrangements. We did not
question that particular matter.
  Senator FAULKNER—I gather things became pretty heated—I read in a newspaper, at
least, that things became pretty heated—as these issues were discussed. Is that right?

Tuesday, 4 May 1999                SENATE—Legislation                                 F&PA 9

  Mr Bolton—I do not know that that was the case. I questioned it, obviously, when these
issues were raised. It was raised with me by the Speaker’s Office that Mrs Howard was
concerned at the meeting. I raised it with Mr Thomas and the architect who went to the
meeting. I did not attend the meeting. They both assured me that, while they had vigorously
defended the design integrity of the suite, they had not in any way intended to upset the Prime
Minister’s wife.
  Senator FAULKNER—This was like a formal meeting, was it, Mr Bolton, to address the
issue of the appropriate furnishings in the waiting room?
  Mr Bolton—To try, if you like, to provide an explanation to the senior staff of the Prime
Minister’s office and Mrs Howard of what the design intent of the suite was and how the
furniture worked in the suite.
  Senator FAULKNER—Can you tell me who was at the meeting?
  Mr Thomas—Yes. Me; Ms Pamille Berg from MGT, the consultant; I think Mrs Stephanie
Simko from MGT; the Prime Minister’s personal secretary, Ms Barbara Williams; and Mrs
  Senator FAULKNER—But you see I read in the paper—and I am just quoting a newspaper
article—‘that a senior Parliament House bureaucrat had been forced to apologise to Mrs
Howard over an angry exchange concerning the controversial leather lounge’. Can someone
tell me who that so-called senior Parliament House bureaucrat was?
  Mr Bolton—It was me, Senator.
  Senator FAULKNER—Is that right? Did you apologise to Mrs Howard or others because
of the nature of these discussions?
  Mr Bolton—I wrote a letter to Mrs Howard where I expressed my concerns if she thought
the meeting was less than satisfactory—I think those were the words I used. I do not think
I used the word ‘apology’ anywhere in the letter.
  Senator FAULKNER—Could you make a copy of that letter available to the committee,
  Mr Bolton—Yes.
  Senator FAULKNER—Thank you. Was there effectively only one apology or so-called
apology? There was only one letter that went from you to the Prime Minister’s office in a
formal way about this?
  Mr Bolton—Yes.
  Senator FAULKNER—Has there been any exchange of correspondence between the Prime
Minister and his office and the Joint House Department on these issues, apart from that letter
from you?
  Mr Bolton—No.
  Senator FAULKNER—Your letter was to Mrs Howard?
  Mr Bolton—Yes.
  Senator FAULKNER—Did the Joint House Department strongly put the case that the
chesterfields—we have spoken about the desk, but let’s just look at the chesterfields—would
be inappropriate to place in that particular part of the Prime Minister’s office?
  Mr Bolton—I was not at the meeting; Mr Thomas was.

F&PA 10                             SENATE—Legislation                    Tuesday, 4 May 1999

   Mr Thomas—I think the Prime Minister’s office was aware of Joint House or what we call
Design Integrity’s views on the matter and, in fact, that was acknowledged.
   Senator FAULKNER—How strongly did you argue the case on that, Mr Thomas?
   Mr Thomas—In terms of the way the consultant also argued for us, the whole background
as to why things were the way they were was explained, and it was that meeting which was
the one that was reported in the newspaper.
   Senator FAULKNER—Mr Bolton, is it true that the Speaker of the House of Representa-
tives contacted you and suggested you apologise to Mrs Howard for what occurred at the
   Mr Bolton—What happened was that the Speaker’s senior adviser, I presume working at
his request, contacted me and said that he understood that Mrs Howard was upset at the
meeting—I think those were the words used—or upset at the outcomes of the meeting. I said
I would inquire into it and report back, which I did.
   Senator FAULKNER—Is it true that the Joint House Department has now appointed its
own architect to handle relations between the Joint House Department and outside consultants
as a result of this?
   Mr Bolton—No, Senator. The issue of the engagement of the architect is not related to the
Prime Minister’s office at all; it is related to the total building. During the process, we set up
some work using MGT as a consultant and another person who is also an architect well before
any of this arose. Subsequently, we have confirmed the position as a full-time position in the
department and Mr Thomas was appointed to that position during the course of this exercise,
but it has nothing at all to do with this exercise.
   Senator FAULKNER—Is it true that the chesterfield lounges cost around $10,000?
   Mr Bolton—That is true.
   Senator FAULKNER—Again I read in the press that they are Australian made chesterfields.
Is that so?
   Mr Thomas—I believe so.
   Senator FAULKNER—You believe so?
   Mr Thomas—They were made, I understand—we were not as directly involved in that—in
Chatswood, Sydney.
   Mr Bolton—They were manufactured in Australia.
   Senator FAULKNER—What do you mean you were not directly involved?
   Mr Thomas—The selection was made by the Prime Minister’s office.
   Senator FAULKNER—Who picked up the tab?
   Mr Bolton—We picked up the tab.
   Senator FAULKNER—Did you go and see what you were picking up the tab for before
you paid the money?
   Mr Bolton—We were buying a commercial product which is manufactured in Australia.
We knew of it. Because the Prime Minister had expressed a preference, through his staff—we
did not deal directly with the Prime Minister—Mr Thomas had gone to various people who
sell the same sort of product in the ACT and looked at the product. In fact, he was trying to
see whether he could find an alternative which might be a halfway house between what the
Prime Minister wanted in terms of very traditional, conservative furniture and the contemporary

Tuesday, 4 May 1999                 SENATE—Legislation                                 F&PA 11

furniture that was in the suite. We were not able to identify any, but Mr Thomas had the
opportunity to look at catalogues associated with this product and knew of its reputation.
  Senator FAULKNER—So you saw what you were forking out the $10,000 for beforehand?
  Mr Thomas—Yes. We had an idea of the scope, the number of items and the value, that
sort of thing. It was an understanding with the Prime Minister’s office that they were replacing
the same quantum of furniture that was already there.
  Senator FAULKNER—But you eyeballed it yourself?
  Mr Thomas—I did not see the furniture in manufacture, but I was aware that they were
building four single chairs and a four-seat sofa.
  Senator FAULKNER—Have you seen it since it has arrived?
  Mr Thomas—I have.
  Senator FAULKNER—How do you think it fits in there?
  Mr Thomas—I have not made a personal opinion of that to date.
  The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—It is not appropriate for Mr Thomas to give a personal
  Senator FAULKNER—I doubt that, Madam Deputy President, given that Mr Thomas is
responsible. I am glad I am not responsible for determining all these design and aesthetic
issues in Parliament House and that someone like Mr Thomas is responsible. It seems to me
that is his job.
  The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—To give his professional opinion, as opposed to—
  Senator FAULKNER—I am asking him for a professional opinion.
  Mr Thomas—I believe the Prime Minister’s office understands that our opinion is that we
would prefer the original furniture to be in the office.
  Mr Bolton—The Prime Minister acknowledged that in answer to a question from Mr
Edwards in the House of Representatives. He made that point that senior people in the Joint
House Department were unhappy with his decisions.
  Senator FAULKNER—When Mr Howard is no longer Prime Minister, will you whip this
inappropriate furniture out and put the stuff that is supposed to be there back in? Is that what
you plan to do?
  Mr Bolton—A midnight arrangement—I hope it will happen.
  Senator FAULKNER—A midnight arrangement?
  Mr Bolton—Well we have to let a former Prime Minister leave the office and we would
hope to move it—
  Senator FAULKNER—As soon as he has gone. So you will have a couple of blokes in
overalls in there and they will whip it out.
  Mr Bolton—We would hope to be in a position to restore the office and ask the incoming
Prime Minister if he was happy with that office and would live with that office. I might say
we have done this. There have been changes made in other suites we are particularly concerned
with. We believe there are five major suites in this building: the cabinet room, the Prime
Minister’s office, the Leader of the Opposition’s office, the Speaker’s office and the President’s

F&PA 12                            SENATE—Legislation                  Tuesday, 4 May 1999

  For instance, there were changes made in the Speaker’s office by previous Speakers over
the years and Mr Sinclair brought back into that suite the original furniture which had been
taken away and stored. Speaker Andrew has maintained that furniture. So probably for the first
time since occupation of the building we have that suite in the way that it was originally
designed to be fitted out.
  Senator BROWNHILL—Mr Bolton, you made the point that the previous Prime Minister
had different furniture in his lounge room for a different purpose, which then obviously was
taken out and replaced by the original furniture. Every Prime Minister basically has had his
own private influence on what he works in the whole time. We do not go into the suite very
often. I guess you do not go into it very often either.
  Mr Bolton—No.
  Senator BROWNHILL—I guess Senator Faulkner does not go into it much at all.
  Senator FAULKNER—It is a while since I have had an invitation.
  Senator BROWNHILL—The person who works in there obviously should at least be able
to have what they want. Everyone has their own personal choice. In our electorate offices we
have our own choice of colour and furniture, so why can’t the Prime Minister have his choice?
Seeing you have taken furniture into custody—the word you used—what have you done with
your detectives to find the one piece of missing furniture that departed the waiting room of
the Prime Minister’s suite? Did it disappear with the previous Prime Minister or did it
disappear overnight in the changeover at midnight?
  Mr Bolton—I do not think we can attribute it to a particular Prime Minister.
  Senator FAULKNER—That is not altogether correct. You can say it was prior to the
middle of 1998, can’t you?
  Senator WATSON—Mr Chairman, we have had nearly three-quarters of an hour of constant
questioning which has given a particular slant. The bureaucrats have been swept along by their
own self-importance, aided by the opposition, and I think it is about time government members
had a chance to ask a few questions.
  Senator FAULKNER—That is fine, as long as we come back and conclude my line of
questioning which is far more interesting.
  CHAIR—Mr Bolton.
  Mr Bolton—We asked some of the staff of the Joint House Department to make inquiries
of the Parliament House executive wing. We went into various storerooms that they have, with
their assistance, and made inquiries of previous people who have been associated with the
administration of that part of the wing, but we have not been able to find that piece of
  Senator BROWNHILL—Do you have any idea where it went?
  Mr Bolton—I have no idea, Senator. People have just said that it has gone.
  Senator BROWNHILL—You have a view on whether people should have a certain colour
of furniture in their office. So you should obviously have a view on whether a piece of
furniture has been stolen, taken, mislaid or whatever. You have got plenty of views on whether
people should have a certain colour in their office, but you haven’t got any views about where
a piece of equipment which you said was in an outside office for a certain purpose has gone.

Tuesday, 4 May 1999                 SENATE—Legislation                                F&PA 13

   Mr Bolton—The point I was making is that at that time this furniture was not under the
control of the Joint House Department. Subsequently, when we became concerned about things,
we found out that the piece of furniture was missing. In no way is it attributable to the current
Prime Minister or his staff. We just know that it has gone, therefore we have been trying to
find it. To date, we have just not been able to find it.
   Senator WATSON—As I observe these proceedings this morning, I am concerned that
bureaucrats are attempting to determine the way in which the Prime Minister seeks to work.
Functionality is essentially fairly subjective. It appears that the architects and others are
attempting to put their interpretation on the subjectivity of functionality. You have already
acknowledged that the previous Prime Minister changed the decor somewhat in terms of his
requirements of breakfasting in a particular manner. I cannot see why the Prime Minister of
Australia is not entitled to determine the functionality or the decor of his own office.
   I would like you to take this question on notice: how have previous prime ministers changed
the furniture arrangements, including colour schemes and coverings, since the original designs
and furniture were put in place? Can you go through this prime minister by prime minister
and, if need be, year by year? I also want to know whether the orange colour of the furnishings
in the suite was the original colour and the original coverings and who chose the particular
change in colour. Did the architects object with the same degree of stringency in relation to
the changes that were made by recent prime ministers to the Lodge furnishings, including the
Lodge gardens? Does a sense of history prevail about the need to preserve certain features
there? I have some concerns about the way this matter has been raised.
   The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—This is the Joint House Department. Did I hear you correctly
in your last question ask about the Lodge furnishings and the Lodge garden?
   Senator WATSON—Yes.
   The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—That is not within the purview of the Joint House
Department. It is not within Joint House’s control.
   CHAIR—That is correct.
   Senator WATSON—While that might be correct, it is still a place where the Prime Minister
spends a considerable amount of time.
   The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—I do not know whether Joint House will be able to provide
that information for you.
   Senator WATSON—In any event, I think the comparison is quite relevant. After all, the
Prime Minister does have a sense of history. I question the right of bureaucrats to challenge
the personal views of the Prime Minister in terms of what he has to use and what he is
supposed to inherit. I do not believe the desk is a new one. It has a place in history. We are
not talking about a parliamentary chamber, a gallery or anything like that, are we? We are
talking about a prime minister’s personal rooms where he entertains foreign dignitaries. I would
expect that the personal views and tastes of prime ministers around the world are reflected
in the furnishings of their own rooms. Therefore, I take exception to the manner of some of
the answers that have been given in an attempt to impose an authority on a prime minister
of this country.
   Senator FAULKNER—That is hilarious.
   The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—The Joint House Department will endeavour to answer as
many questions as it can, but there are some that it will not be able to answer because they
are not within its departmental responsibility.

F&PA 14                           SENATE—Legislation                  Tuesday, 4 May 1999

   Senator WATSON—I would ask the witnesses before the table to perhaps be more
respectful in the manner in which they are answering questions on some sensitive issues
relating to the Prime Minister and his furnishings.
   The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Senator Watson, the departmental officers are here in their
professional capacity. I do not think that they have been disrespectful. I think they have
answered the questions honestly.
   Mr Bolton—On no occasion were we trying to dictate. What we were trying to say was
that we wanted to get information into the Prime Minister’s office about the design intent of
the suite. When the Prime Minister did not accept that, which was his perfect right to do, we
met his wishes.
   Senator FAULKNER—Referring to the midnight heist that you spoke about—
   Mr Bolton—Some of my language gets me into trouble, Senator. What I meant was that
I would like to put the suite back.
   Senator FAULKNER—It happens in the building all the time, people’s language getting
them into trouble. I think we all understood what you meant. What interests me, obviously,
is what happens to the chesterfields after you have procured them in the dead of night. Is it
too early to say? Would Joint House just try to flog it and leave it all behind us—an unhappy
incident of yesteryear?
   Mr Bolton—It is probably too early to say, Senator. These are the sorts of decisions that—
   CHAIR—Senator, that is a hypothetical question and is out of order. You know that.
   Senator FAULKNER—It is an interesting question nevertheless.
   CHAIR—It is out of order.
   Senator FAULKNER—Can I ask whether Joint House shares Sydney interior designer
Suzanne Bristow’s view, as expressed in the Australian newspaper, that the chesterfields are
   Senator WATSON—That is a subjective issue, Mr Chairman.
   Senator FAULKNER—It is not subjective. I am asking whether the Joint House Department
share an interior designer’s view. That is perfectly reasonable. It is their job.
   Senator BROWNHILL—I think they have already admitted that they are not very good
at interior designing and they are also not very good at commenting on architecture.
   Senator FAULKNER—I don’t know why the government members of the committee are
so defensive about this.
   Senator FAULKNER—Why are you so embarrassed?
   Senator WATSON—We are not embarrassed. It is just an inappropriate question.
   CHAIR—Public servants should not be asked their personal views about issues.
   Senator FAULKNER—Of course they are embarrassed. What you are doing is putting
furniture in the Prime Minister’s office that would be more at home in the Commonwealth
   CHAIR—Order! I remind you, Senator, that it was with the good grace of this committee
that we gave you the opportunity to ask questions of Joint House. The original request was
for 30 minutes. We have already gone for 55. The request was to examine Joint House with

Tuesday, 4 May 1999               SENATE—Legislation                              F&PA 15

regard to the performance of the department. We have strayed a fair way from that. We have
been very tolerant with you. It is time to wind up so that we can get on with the estimates,
which is the real purpose of today.
  Senator FAULKNER—Thank you for those views, Mr Chairman. Can I ask Mr Bolton
whether the two items he has taken on notice—the consultant’s report and the letter that was
sent to Mrs Howard—can be provided to the committee as soon as possible. I hope you would
be able to do that this morning.
  Mr Bolton—Yes.
  CHAIR—I thank the Deputy President of the Senate and the officers present. That concludes
this session of the legislation committee.
                              Committee adjourned at 9.57 a.m.