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Thursday, 17 November 1983
Page: 2869

Mr HAND —My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Territories and Local Government, concerns the decision to include a casino in the international hotel convention centre and office complex proposed for Canberra. How was this decision reached? Who was responsible for it?

Mr UREN —This proposal for a complex which will take in an international hotel, a convention centre, office accommodation and a casino was the result of a collective decision of the parliamentary Labor Party. Discussions on the matter were held within the Cabinet committee, within Cabinet, within the Legal and Administrative Committee of the Caucus and within Caucus of the parliamentary Labor Party. Although a few members of our parliamentary party had reservations about the proposal, it was overwhelmingly supported by other members within our party.

The White Industries Ltd proposal which I put before the Cabinet had a difficult passage. The former Government's proposal was for a minimum subsidy of $13m. Officers in the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Finance put the subsidy at between $20m and $30m but I have always argued that, in my view, it was about a $13m subsidy. Some of my colleagues felt that it was not a viable proposition.

In fact White Industries Ltd sought from me a deferment of the hotel complex. Indirectly, through the Canberra Development Board, that company requested me to give a greater guarantee on the use by the Government of the convention centre. I said that we would go no further. It does not matter what honourable members' views are on the casino. When the former Minister for the Capital Territory put this proposal forward the then Cabinet was divided. I have been informed that that Cabinet vote was 10 to 7. So there was fairly strong feeling about this proposal. I do not know what the democratic processes were but at least it was a 10 to 7 decision in the Fraser Government. There was much more overwhelming support within our Cabinet. There were people with reservations about it, but very few, not only in the Cabinet itself but within the parliamentary party. I want to make that clear.

As far as the economic proposition is concerned, I do not care what anybody says: If people examine this proposal rationally, the economic viability of this complex with a casino is a far sounder proposition than a complex without a casino. We have to look at the question whether we need a convention centre in Canberra that will seat 2,500 people. We have no such convention centre at which international organisations can meet in this country. No convention centre throughout Australia can deal with these numbers. The matter involves not only this issue but also the question of employment. If we look at the problem of the construction industry which we inherited from the former Government we see that last year it was 14 per cent down. This year it will again be 14 per cent down. If we can get this whole complex started, it will make a contribution generally not only for the construction industry in Canberra but also for the whole nation . We know that a convention centre in Canberra will be a great asset to Canberra itself. It will help to diversify the base of industry in Canberra as we know that at least 58 per cent of people in Canberra are actually employed in the public sector. I can see the former Minister for the Capital Territory nodding in agreement with everything I am saying. There has been a suggestion of something sinister in the Prime Minister's support of this complex. I wish I could get his support on every issue on the Australian Capital Territory that I put up. If I could I would do well. I stress clearly, without any reservations, that this is a collective decision of the Labor Government and the parliamentary Labor Party; it is not one man's opinion. I am the Minister who is responsible and I accept that responsibility. I ask honourable members opposite to examine the ordinance which we put before both Houses. It contains stringent conditions which are superior to any applying anywhere in Australia.

Mr Ruddock —Not as good as Queensland's.

Mr Sinclair —Look at Queensland's.

Mr UREN —If the honourable members interjecting can suggest to us where we can strengthen the ordinance we will strengthen it. Let us be clear. It is a collective decision of the Government, of the parliamentary Labor Party; it is not one man's opinion or one man's thought.