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Key Coalition claim quashed by department

One of the Coalition’s central claims about waste in the federal public service - that a department spent more than $180,000 studying ergonomic chairs - is wrong.

The opposition did not check the accusations with the Department of Human Services before putting the claim on hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of campaign material and in the middle of Tony Abbott’s keynote speech to his campaign launch.

DHS told Fairfax that $51,000 had been spent on workplace ergonomic assessments among its 36,000 workers and that nobody from the opposition had checked with the department before going public.

The allegation has formed a central part of the Coalition’s attack on “Labor waste” and has featured in advertisements on TV and other media.

At the Liberal campaign launch in Brisbane on Sunday, Mr Abbott used the claim against as an example of Labor’s “small waste,” in one of the most important speeches of his election bid.

“We'll end Labor's small waste - like the $180,000 that the Department of Human Services spent studying ergonomic chairs,” Mr Abbott told the party faithful.

The assertion first surfaced on August 6 in a press release from opposition parliamentary secretary Jamie Briggs that claimed the “Department of Human Resources” – which does not exist - had “spent over $185,000 on Ergonomic Assessments on the chairs of its staff”.

In his release, Mr Briggs alleged that public servants were “sitting pretty while families do it tough” and said he based his $185,000 on contracts published on the AusTender website.

But a departmental spokesperson rubbished the claim on Tuesday.

“The Department of Human Services did not spend over $180,000 on special studies on chairs,” the spokesperson said.

 “The $185,896 on the AusTender website is the maximum value of contract amounts for ergonomic assessments for individual staff members for 2012-13 – it does not represent the actual amount spent.

“The department’s actual spend on ergonomic assessments for these contracts in 2012-2013 was $51,000.”

DHS is the government’s largest department employing more than 35,000 staff across the nation in frontline agencies like Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.

The department has been recognised by federal workplace safety authority Comcare for its efforts to improve health and safety, and to bring down the bill for taxpayers for workers’ compensation claims by its employees.

“These assessments are completed occasionally when the department is trying to prevent injury or return injured staff to work, and are just one of the department’s strategies to reduce risk of injury,” the DHS spokesperson said.

Neither Mr Briggs’ office nor Coalition campaign headquarters responded on Tuesday to questions about why the claims were not checked before being included in the opposition’s campaign material.

26 comments

  • This is one of many reasons why the coalition is hiding the details behind its policies and costings. Most of their claims are based on unreliable gossip or something they just made up. Once a bit of light is shone on the detail their claims are found to be baseless.

    Commenter
    Peter Stanton
    Date and time
    August 29, 2013, 12:23PM
    • One slip up gives Labor the edge - you've got to be kidding.

      In the heat of the battle for votes Labor is no better in getting its facts wrong as we edge closer to Sept 7.

      Rudd in his typically chaotic style of management doesn't consult resulting in his Labor colleagues being incapable of governing in a competent manner. When Rudd resumed his Prime Ministership (and rightly so) - all of the capable folk in his team left citing difficulty working with the guy.

      Labor are unstable government and need to go.

      Commenter
      View
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 1:26PM
    • Just wait until chaotic Tony Abbott becomes PM, if he becomes PM, all you LNP voters will be crying.

      And tell your precious, spoiled, Gen Y, prat LNP children to pay for their own babies.

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 6:01PM
    • I wont lose sleep waiting for the very plausible Mr Briggs to apologize for his misleading claims. Any more than I will expect Mr Abbott to stop trumpeting the so-called black hole error of the Government regarding the dribbled out accounts of spends and saves with which he tantalises in the most infuriating fashion the Australian voter.

      Commenter
      Clive
      Location
      Manly West
      Date and time
      August 30, 2013, 7:20AM
  • Ah yes, just another one of the dozens . . . no wonder they're changing their name to The Lieberals.

    Commenter
    Prose
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    August 29, 2013, 12:26PM
    • whether it's 50k or 200k, how is spending money on preventing workplace injurues, which will save the tax payer from potential lawsuits or sick leave payouts a waste?

      Commenter
      a d
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 12:32PM
      • SUrprise, surprise. Tony Abbot told a lie. Compared to the lies told on how the Coalition will pay for their wealth welfare this was a minor lie. No doubt this story will not get a run in Rupert's newsless papers.

        Commenter
        Fact checker
        Location
        Queensland
        Date and time
        August 29, 2013, 12:39PM
        • Well they would say that - AUSTENDER is the public disclosure of the value of the contract and the only bit that is transparent. Just because they have not yet reached the value of the contract does not mean that they won't

          Commenter
          Irene
          Date and time
          August 29, 2013, 12:43PM
          • And what if they do?

            How is spending money preventing workplace injuries a waste? Would he prefer massive compensation claims?

            Commenter
            Freddie Frog
            Date and time
            August 29, 2013, 2:05PM
          • The contract has been completed so the costs are the $51k as stated in the article. Must be an LNP stooge.

            Commenter
            Big Bird
            Location
            Wollongong
            Date and time
            August 29, 2013, 3:45PM

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