Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon have senators threatened to dump the plates, tea cups and saucers at the Prime Minister’s office on Thursday unless the gift is accepted. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
They say to never look a gift horse in the mouth. But the Department of Parliamentary Services hasn't even acknowledged the gift was a great thought, instead it delivered a blunt message to the two senators who spent almost $11,000 of their own money on an Australian-made crockery set for Parliament House: we don't want it.
After discovering last year that the crockery in the Parliament House dining room was made in the United Arab Emirates, senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon bought a 750-piece Australian-made set as a replacement.
Brandishing it as a potent symbol of the lack of support for Australian manufacturing, the senators threatened to dump the plates, tea cups and saucers at the Prime Minister's office on Thursday unless the gift is accepted.
But the department responsible for procurement at Parliament House says accepting the gift would actually leave taxpayers out of pocket.
"There is no shortage of crockery at the moment," a spokeswoman for the Department of Parliament Services said.
"The Parliament House caterers have confirmed they already have enough stock for the foreseeable future.
"The senators have indicated that they have purchased 750 pieces. We understand that this could represent 120 settings, whereas we presently utilise 350 settings. If the crockery was to be accepted it is possible that a further 230 sets would have to be purchased for matching purposes. This could cost in excess of $20,000."
Although there is a coat of arms on the crockery bought by Madigan and Xenophon, the spokeswoman said it may not match the style and configuration of the existing set. She added that under Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines the department cannot specify where the crockery is made, only its design and standard.
Democratic Labor Party Senator Madigan, a former blacksmith, said he was shocked by the department's "pedantic" response.
"What is the problem? This is a gift to showcase what Australian companies are capable of," he said. "Nick and I have put our money where our mouth is."
'This government obviously doesn't care about Australian products anymore.'
The design on the pates was the "best match we could get at the time", he said.
Senator Madigan said the new set could be used in addition to the existing crockery.
Senators Madigan and Xenophon have instigated a Senate inquiry, due to start shortly, into how the federal government can support Australian manufacturing through procurement processes.