THE federal government has spent $1 million this year delivering positive psychology workshops to staff and teachers, a Senate hearing has heard. The opposition says the "happiness'' workshops were an extravagance that couldn't possibly have increased productivity or well-being as intended. American psychologist Martin Seligman, who heads the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, ran the residential workshops at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria during January. The commonwealth spent $642,000 sending 100 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) staff to a five-day course. It also spent $350,000 sending government and non-government teachers to two other five-day workshops earlier in the month. Under questioning from coalition senators, DEEWR officials told the Senate estimates hearing that Prof Seligman, the author of numerous self-help books including Authentic Happiness, had up to 15 support staff at Geelong. "That's larger than the prime minister's entourage,'' Liberal senator Brett Mason said, adding that the cost was too high given the climate of belt-tightening and the global financial crisis. Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson said the department should have used a local provider instead of someone from the United States. He also questioned the effectiveness of the workshop for DEEWR staff. "Did you have to be unhappy to get one of the gigs (at the conference)?'' he asked the Senate committee. "Why would you be paying $6,500 for people to be taught how to be happy when you didn't actually know if they were unhappy?'' DEEWR deputy secretary Ewen McDonald said the staff workshop was all about investing in skills. "Part of that is building the sort of organisation that is as productive as it can be and as motivated as it can be,'' Mr McDonald said. "Good productivity and motivation comes from people being able to deal with adversity as it arises.'' The department said that when staff were unhappy they weren't productive. Staff rated the course 4.5 out or five, Mr McDonald said, which led Senator Mason to quip: "So everyone was happy''. DEEWR secretary Lisa Paul told the estimates hearing similar management courses often cost up to $12,000 per person, even when using local providers. Senator Kim Carr, representing Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard, accused the coalition of belittling an international expert and a standard training program. "You are simply trying to denigrate and ridicule individuals,'' he said.