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Friday, 20 March 1987
Page: 1249

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia) —by leave-Quite obviously the extent to which the new Parliament House dominates the Canberra skyline means that everybody in this place knows that it is being constructed. I think most people in Australia know that it is being constructed. However, at a time of economic distress in thousands of households around Australia and on just about every farm in Australia where the prospect of survival for many is bleak, I think the general character of the expenditure on the new Parliament House has taken on a new dimension. While all of us in this place have been privy to resolutions that have detailed the day by day progress of the project, there have recently been elements of expenditure about which we on this side of the House have had reservations. For example, the wholesale removal of Camp Hill behind this Parliament House seems to me to have been one of those projects which could have been deferred until a later time. Landscaping of that character is not essential to the completion of the new Parliament House. In no way will it affect the suitability of the new building for those of us who are going to use it. Indeed, the removal of Camp Hill could have been deferred to some future year when funds could be made available in the Budget.

The second and very real concern that many of us have is the degree to which an extraordinarily lavish amount of money has been spent on the road approaches to the new Parliament House. One can see this work when driving around the building. The roads around the new Parliament House are of a standard and order of which people living and working in ordinary Australia could only be jealous. There are magnificent bridges. There is a wonderful tunnel. I think it is the best lit automotive tunnel in Australia.

Mr Carlton —In the world.

Mr SINCLAIR —In the world, I suspect. While I accept that at some future time it might be desirable to have the biggest and best road access, frankly, I do not find it necessary, desirable or acceptable that that amount of money should be spent at this time.

Thirdly, all of us would know that not far to the east of this building, stone walls have recently been built around a number of magnificent pine trees that over the years have lined the approach to Capital Hill. We are now seeing earth being filled in around them. I do not know how on earth that type of expenditure can be justified on the road approaches. This work has nothing to do with the function of the building. As far as I can see the money is being spent to construct bigger and better road access that would make every ordinary Australian green with envy. Indeed, many people in my electorate have pot-holes in their roads or do not have bitumen. There are thousands and thousands of miles around Australia in every State that do not have bitumen. If the people in these areas saw how much money was being spent on providing access roads for a few tourists and a few parliamentarians, they would really understand how mad this Government has gone in terms of expenditure.

Fourthly, I understand that a number of expenditure cuts have been made within the building. I am not aware of the detail of how those cuts will affect the efficiency of the end design. But to me it would seem desirable that if there are to be cuts, those cuts should be made in respect of the fittings and the appurtenances rather than the building itself. I hope that in the supervision of this project maximum care will be taken to ensure that work that is not required for the completion of the building can be added at a later date. I refer to items such as murals and art collections. I frankly suggest that such work could well be deferred until a later time. The priorities at this time have to be to try to ensure that the building itself is completed according to the required standards and not that money is just spent on the general project.

The fifth matter of concern to me is that in the nature of the whole building there has been without doubt a tendency to require everything to meet the original 1988 schedule. I believe that at a time of economic distress we have to marry the need for contracts to be completed with the availability of money and the alternative demands on the public purse. I am not sure that in the character of the economic decay in Australia at present it is desirable for that rigid adherence to the 1988 schedule to be maintained. Were we on this side of the House in government, there would be at least a $4 billion cut in Federal sector spending in the mini-Budget which is to be presented on 14 May. One cannot accommodate that sort of cut without starting to affect the benefits that are available to ordinary Australians. As far as I am concerned, parliamentarians in the new Parliament House should be included within that category. Certainly there are difficulties in aborting contracts which have been let. But a forward schedule with an understanding of the effect of these expenditures should have been formulated at a time when it was possible to determine that the 1988 schedule could have been extended and perhaps in this way some economies could have been achieved. While I note that the Minister said in the statement he delivered today that the completion date is still on schedule, I believe that that is an area in which the Government could have used greater flexibility than it has.

Sixthly, I notice from the statement that a sum of nearly $14m has been provided to cover the cost of industrial disputes, exchange rate fluctuations and insolvencies of contractors. The Minister went on to commend the industrial record of the Parliament House project. Frankly, that can only make me concerned. From what I see and know of that project, many of the people working there seem to have been dealt with far more generously than has any farmer in my electorate, far more generously than any small businessman around Australia and far more generously than any person trying to raise a bit of money to buy or build a house. They have been treated far more generously than ordinary Australians. One matter that is increasingly apparent is the arrogance of the man who is Treasurer and the arrogance of members of the Government in approaching areas of ordinary expenditure-that is, the areas which affect the ordinary men and women of this country are matters of no concern. Frankly, we are highly suspicious when an amount of nearly $14m is set aside predominantly to try to ensure that the industrial record of the new Parliament House is sound. For my money it would be a lot better if that money were set aside for ordinary people instead of being wasted in trying to ensure that the conditions of the work force on the new Parliament House are better than those anywhere else in Australia.

The project is of importance. Everyone in this place recognises that the facilities in the present Parliament House are not as good as they should be but the amount of money that is being spent and the time in which the project is being completed must be measured against the other demands on the public sector purse. I am concerned that far more has been omitted than included in this brief report that has been presented by the Minister this afternoon. For our part, we believe that at a time when there is to be a mini-Budget, when major cuts are essential in the spending program of the Government, excess expenditure of any kind cannot be condoned. On that basis, I hope that the Government ensures that when the project is completed it brings to this place a full accounting of all of those areas in which there perhaps has been unnecessary expenditure or where unnecessarily generous provisions have been made to the work force involved in the construction of the new Parliament House.

Mr Scholes —I will not reply to the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). He should have thought of those things when his Government commenced the project.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Is the Minister seeking leave--

Mr Scholes —No, I want to inform the House that the statement which the right honourable gentleman said that he had not received was delivered to his office at midday.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! If the Minister wants to contribute something he has to either seek leave or take a point of order. He cannot just stand up and speak.