Senators Cory Bernardi, Dean Smith and Bridget McKenzie in discussion during Budget Estimates hearings. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Experts say training budgets for federal bureaucrats should not be attacked following claims of "extreme waste" in a parliamentary Estimates hearing.
Almost $400,000 was spent on training at the Peppers Manor House in Bowral and at Lake Crackenback Resort in recent years, prompting Liberal Senator Dean Smith to grill Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick in an Estimates hearing late on Monday night.
He also zeroed in on $500,000 in catering from Idelic in Kingston by saying it struck him as a "significant quantum of money" but added "perhaps the sandwiches are exemplary".
National public service manager for recruitment company Hays, Kathy Kostyrko, said "up-skilling" and re-skilling were essential for a productive workforce that gave value for money to taxpayers.
"You wouldn't want them to go to McDonald's to do their training," said Ms Kostyrko, who added she could not comment on the value for money of specific government contracts.
"We can't stop spending money on training even though there's less money in the budget."
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Australian Human Resources Institute chief executive Lyn Goodear said public service managers generally receive less pay than private sector counterparts and developing their skills can be seen as a way to attract talent.
"Employers invest in their people for no other reason than to get return on investment," she said.
It comes as Labor Senator Kate Lundy says the Liberals' Cory Bernardi, who chaired the meeting where the claims were made last night, shut down questions from the opposition.
About 9pm Monday, Mr Bernardi called an end to the hearing while Labor senators still had questions to ask.
The lack of time prompted Senator Lundy to submit 45 questions on notice at the end of the hearing.
"I was really disturbed and concerned the Coalition senators used their numbers to shut down the opposition," Senator Lundy said.
"It wasn't good conduct and it was unprecedented in general terms.
"There had been co-operation during the day until that point."
She said she believed the money spent on the training programs was legitimate and that the questioning of Mr Sedgwick was extreme and part of an offensive against the professionalism of the public service.
Senator Bernardi told the Finance and Public Administration hearing the committee had been running over time.
He said Senator Lundy had had the opportunity to ask a number of questions at the start of the Public Service Commission's session.
"It's unfortunate that Senator Lundy wasn't able to reach agreement with other Labor senators over the allocation of time – that is her principal role as deputy chair of the committee," he said.