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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1557


Mr HUMPHREYS(5.13) —I join in the debate which is now taking place on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and the further consideration in Committee of the proposed expenditures for the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Housing and Construction. It gives me very much pleasure to see the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford) and the Minister for Administrative Services and Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) present. They are two very important Ministers in the Hawke Australian Labor Party Government in relation to Labor's reconstruction scheme. It is very important that they be present to listen to the debate today. That goes to show the interest these two Ministers pay to their portfolios. Mr Deputy Chairman, you know what a tremendous job they have to do in trying to bring this country back on to the road to prosperity and the disastrous economic situation which prevailed when they took over their portfolios. They are doing a marvellous job, and I pay tribute to them.

Today I want to speak mainly about the Department of Administrative Services. Most honourable members would be well aware that the portfolio of Administrative Services is a major business undertaking which provides the central focus for the provision of support services to departments and instrumentalities. The Department administers property, transport and storage, purchasing and disposals , printing, publishing, advertising and surveying services. Until recently when the Hawke Labor Government took over the treasury bench the Department of Administrative Services also administered the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Electoral Office and honourable members' entitlements which are now with the Special Minister of State. Honourable members can see that it is a huge department which requires special attention and special mention in this Committee today. We have a special Minister in control of that Department. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) has done a marvellous job in the few months in which he has been the Minister for Administrative Services. Later I will put a few questions to him with regard to certain areas of the portfolio he controls. I think they are very important questions. Hopefully, he will be able to give me an answer on certain issues.


Mr Hodgman —Are you asking about koalas?


Mr HUMPHREYS —No, I will not be asking him about that. He has more important things on his mind. The support services are a major cost in the delivery of government programs and require increased attention in relation to cost effectiveness and efficiency. The 1983-84 Budget reflects a number of key initiatives in this area, including increased capital expenditure on office constructions and vehicle replacements. These are designed to reduce the overall operating costs. I say to the Minister that some areas in his portfolio require more effective and more efficient administration. I am sure he will be paying attention to those areas. I make a quick point that the purchasing and disposals area needs tidying up. I think certain aspects of that area could be tidied up and modernised.

I can remember the times when I was in business and I had to go to the auction sales conducted by the Department of Administrative Services some 20 years ago. If one goes to those auction sales today one sees that the only thing which has changed in those 20 years is that people are given a number instead of having to have their names called out. At these special auctions employees run around everywhere taking down people's names. I believe the disposals area could be tidied up. At those sales many people run around with pieces of paper to be signed. A person has to sign one piece of paper before he goes in the door and then he has to sign another piece of paper. He has to queue for hours to try to obtain and pay for what he bid for in the auctions. I feel that a lot of areas could be tidied up, especially in relation to the sale of motor vehicles. It is interesting to see that special money is being allocated by the Department to build new storage areas for the Department of Administrative Services at Cannon Hill in my electorate.

When one goes to those auction sales one sees the motor vehicles sitting outside in the weather. They are open to all the abuses that any motor vehicle which is exposed to the weather would be liable to suffer. At times when a person purchases a vehicle he finds that hub caps, gear levers, bulbs and all sorts of things are missing because the local thieves have been stealing from the motor vehicles. Sometimes local thieves work within the Department. I am not accusing anybody, but I know that most of the people who go to those auction sales are very concerned when they purchase a motor vehicle. I know that they can read all the fine print which the auctioneer reads out, but I think the Minister could tidy up lots of areas. Some of the cars could be cleaned, detailed and sold by auctioneers and I think the Government would recoup more money than it does today. For many years the New South Wales Government handed over all the motor vehicles it sold to, I think, Sydney Motor Auction which was a subsidiary of Suttons Motors Pty Ltd in those days. They were cleaned, detailed and housed in warehouses. They were guarded and protected. One could usually be sure when one bought a vehicle there that it was all in one piece and it was not ratted, as the saying goes in the motor vehicle area. I ask the Minister to pay special attention to that matter.

I would like to draw honourable members' attention to page 135 of the explanatory notes which refers to areas where the Department of Administrative Services also operates with the Department of Housing and Construction. I see that there is expenditure of $31,000,978 in this area. These items provide for the erection of new Commonwealth offices and storehouses, new works in Commonwealth-owned buildings and premises to accommodate Commonwealth departments. If we go to page 137 of the explanatory memorandum we see that the first item explained relates to an expenditure of $11,500,000 for the erection of a new Commonwealth office block in Townsville. I do not have a great deal of time available. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Public Works when it approved the construction of that building many years ago under the previous Government. It was a disgrace that in those days the razor gang decided that the Government would not go ahead with that building. On Friday, 3 June 1983 the Minister said that he had approved the construction of the $12m Commonwealth office block. I think the cost will probably be more than $12m by the time the block is built. I want to refer honourable members to a question I placed on notice to the Minister for Housing and Construction on 24 February 1982. I asked :

(1) When will the Commonwealth Building in Townsville be completed.

(2) What was the original budget expectation for the building.

(3) Was the work halted on construction because of a Government directive; if so, (a) for how long was work halted . . .

I will not read all the answer. I want to explain how the maladministration of the previous Government cost this nation and the taxpayers of this nation many millions of dollars. The answer in part was:

Following examination by the Parliamentary Works Committee an expediency motion was passed in the House of Repesentatives on 24 September 1980 to allow the project to proceed to the stage of tender readiness at an approved limit of cost of $8.7m (August 1980 prices).

Today it will cost $12m plus. I just mention that to give the Committee an example of the maladministration of the previous Government. The taxpayers in Australia have to pay an extra $4m as the result of total incompetence. As I have said, the Minister for Housing and Construction and the Minister for Administrative Services will be responsible for erecting the new office block. The approved amount is only for the construction cost. Can honourable members imagine how much it cost the taxpayer in rents? The estimates of this Department show how much that we will pay in rents. It is $140m or some such amount. I must give full marks to all the Ministers concerned, especially the Minister for Administrative Services, for taking the matter on board and encouraging private enterprise to build Commonwealth office blocks on a lease-back basis.

There is another matter which I would like the Minister for Administrative Services to explain to the Committee. In a Press release dated 21 September, the Minister called on companies and developers to express an interest in constructing office buildings in north Queensland and Tasmania. I would like to know how many developers have shown an interest in this special program that the Minister and the Government have undertaken. When we note from the Departments estimates how much rent we are paying for office blocks, we see that this is a great idea which will enable us to own our buildings.


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.