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Wednesday, 10 March 2004
Page: 21268

Senator McGAURAN (4:41 PM) —On behalf of Senator Ferguson, I present the 67th annual report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate the tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

This Report gives an overview of the work undertaken by the committee during 2003.

The reporting year was a very busy one for the committee, with 17 reports being tabled, including the 66th Annual Report.

Works reported on by the committee in 2003 included:

the proposed fit-outs of new leased premises, for the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne and the Australian Customs Service in Sydney;

the development of off-base housing, for Defence at Adamstown and Defence at Queanbeyan in New South Wales;

the provision of facilities, for the Australian Capital Territory Multi-User Depot, HMAS Harman and the collocation and re-equipping of the 1st Aviation regiment at Robertson Barracks in Darwin;

the redevelopment of the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra;

the construction of new chancery buildings, for the Australian High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka and New Delhi, India;

the refurbishment of staff apartments at the Australian Embassy Complex in Paris, France;

the construction of a perimeter security fence at RAAF Base Tindal, in Katherine, Northern Territory and the RAAF Base Richmond Reinvestment Project in New South Wales;

a new main entrance and the proposed redevelopment of Radiopharmaceutical Building No. 23 at the Lucas Heights Science and Technology Centre, New South Wales; and

the proposed respecified Immigration Reception and Processing Centre and the proposed community recreation centre on Christmas Island.

The value of the works inquired into by the committee during 2003 amounted to over $547 million.

On 15 April 2003 the committee and secretariat participated in a Public Works Committee Training Day organised by the Defence Infrastructure Asset Development Branch. The aim of the training day was to instruct officers of the branch in the role and functions of the committee and to assist them in understanding the inquiry process. The training day met with a very positive response both from Defence and the committee and an undertaking was made to conduct a similar event in 2004.

Two committee members attended the annual conference of parliamentary public works and environment committees, held in Perth and Karratha. The conference brought together parliamentarians and key staff from public works and environment committees throughout Australia and included delegates from the relevant New Zealand committees. The theme of the 2003 conference was The Sustainability of Regional Development—Addressing the Triple Bottom Line.

A number of significant issues arose out of the committee's deliberations in 2003. The issues included:

confidential proceedings;

security measures;

quality of evidence;

the definition of a `work'; and

conduct of inquiries.

In 2003, the committee found it necessary to reiterate that confidential briefings contain commercial in confidence information related to detailed project costings as the presence of unauthorised attendees had the potential to jeopardise or cast doubt over the tendering processes and contractual arrangements conducted in relation to the project.

In response to the increased global threat environment, enhanced security provisions were an important focus of works brought before the committee in 2003. Two of the committee's inquiries dealt specifically with improved security arrangements while most others included increased security elements to guarantee the safety of building occupants and Commonwealth property, both within Australia and offshore. The committee was of the firm view that in the current global environment, agencies should place a high importance on security issues in the construction and refurbishment of premises overseas.

On a number of occasions in 2003, the evidence submitted to the committee by some referring agencies was such that the committee needed to request additional documentation on building plans and costings in order to complete its deliberations. Other agencies, however, presented clear and comprehensive evidence and were commended by the committee for facilitating the inquiry process.

The problems surrounding the disaggregation of works projects which were reported in the committee's 66th Annual Report (namely the omission of demountable buildings from works proposals) continued in 2003. In view of this, the committee wrote to the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator the Honourable Nick Minchin, and expressed its view that the disaggregation of works projects impedes the committee's fulfilment of its primary function, which is to oversee and ensure value for money in expenditure of public funds. The committee's approach to the minister was successful. In April 2003, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration, the Honourable Peter Slipper, advised the committee that he believed it appropriate for large construction projects making extensive use of demountable buildings to be referred to the committee, and proposed to make a regulation to the Public Works Act to this effect. In February 2004, a draft of the regulation was forwarded to the committee.

Throughout 2003 the committee continued its efforts to streamline its inquiry and reporting processes, in order that agencies might not be delayed in the execution of capital works projects. The committee achieved this by condensing reports, reducing the time taken for report drafting and consideration and forming sub-committees so that hearings might proceed when a majority of members could not be present. Such measures enabled the committee to complete 16 inquiries in one year.

In closing, I would like to extend my thanks to all of the members of the committee for their continued hard work and support throughout what proved to be an extremely busy year. I would also like to express my gratitude to the secretariat, for continuing to provide a high level of support. The committee is also grateful to other staff in the Parliament who provide services to the committee secretariat and those officers in the Department of Finance and Administration who play an integral role in facilitating references and expediency motions.

I commend the Report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.