A Parliament House ‘institution’, Aussies Café had been keeping the politicians, staffers and media corps of Parliament House fed and caffeinated for more than 25 years. Owner Dominic Calabria’s tenancy expired in early 2015 but two years later, the lease had yet to be renewed. Meanwhile he and his landlord, the Department of Parliamentary Services (the Department responsible for the management and maintenance of Parliament House) were locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over a proposed rental increase of 70%, amongst other matters. Soon after the disagreement made headlines in the Australian Financial Review, DPS Secretary Rob Stefanic appeared at a Senate Estimates hearing to explain how the situation had evolved and why the Department wanted to impose what appeared to be unfair and onerous conditions on Aussies. Senators were especially concerned since DPS had recently retaken control of Parliament House catering operations and had essentially become a competitor. Stefanic countered that the situation had been inaccurately reported and that Calabria had been largely uncooperative during their attempts to broker a new deal.
This was only the latest episode in the Department’s chequered past. The previous Secretary departed in acrimonious circumstances, meanwhile the Senate and Auditor General had been critical of DPS’s performance for several years, especially its asset and contract management. However, stagnant funding levels and increasing workloads over the past decade had made it difficult to recruit enough sufficiently skilled staff. Now, as he sat before the Senators, Stefanic was faced with unhappy tenants, unwanted scrutiny and conflicting demands with no obvious way forward.
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