Senator Cory Bernardi has accused a senior executive from the Department of Parliamentary Services of deliberately misleading the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee last year.
After a cordial beginning, the committee’s Estimates hearing today quickly became a baptism of fire for the new DPS secretary, Rob Stefanic (pictured), who has only been in the job for eight weeks.
Stefanic told the senators he went into the job with “a full understanding of the challenges that lie ahead” in turning the department around after “various negative issues” that have been reported publicly. We also learned the new secretary is “indifferent” about how parliamentarians pronounce his name but once the pleasantries were dispensed with, chair Bernardi quickly turned up the heat.
In the cross-hairs was the assistant secretary in charge of the DPS security branch, Erin Noordeloos, for attempts to explain how a woman with no Parliament House security pass drove into a secure car park by “tailgating” another vehicle and made it through a security checkpoint. She was not present at the hearing as she was on sick leave.
“To come in here and try to snowball us … is simply outrageous,” Bernardi said, appearing to blame Noordeloos for what he saw as inconsistent and evasive responses to his questions about the incident over four months last year.
It was “entirely unacceptable” that it took from May, when Bernardi initially asked about the incident in a hearing, until September to eventually extract “even a semblance of the truth” from the department, the government senator said. Details of the story changed as increasingly detailed answers were provided to the committee’s inquiries on the matter, he said.
After making it into the secure parking garage, the “unidentified woman” simply put her belongings on the metal detector conveyor belt at the checkpoint to enter secure areas. The security guard simply thought she was a Member of Parliament.
“No-one asked her for a pass so she continued on,” explained Robert Barns, a first assistant secretary who heads up the building and asset management division.
Stefanic agreed that responses given by his staff in relation to the tailgating matter were not good enough and pledged to hold another investigation into the way the questions were handled.
“You’ll get no defensive response from me,” he told Bernardi, who acknowledged that the incident and his frustrated attempts to investigate it occurred before the new boss took over.
In his opening statement, Stefanic said he was impressed with the dedication and professionalism of “most of” his staff and intended to build on the department’s capacity based on his experience running the equivalent agency in New South Wales.
Update: Stefanic has contacted the committee to advise that Erin Noordeloos has resigned from DPS.