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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2505

Mr PRICE —by leave-I agree with the remarks made by my colleague the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) that this has been a particularly difficult report. Indeed, quite a number of inquiries into this aspect of the Commonwealth's activities have been undertaken. I assure the House that in making its recommendations the Committee was very mindful of being pragmatic, constructive, and at least giving the Government the opportunity to make advances should it decide to adopt the key elements of the report. The honourable member for Dundas has already referred to setting up the Central Property Agency. I want to make a few comments in connection with the Property Advisory Board and about some of the other recommendations.

Firstly, I feel it is very important that, in looking at government undertakings, we ought not to try to approach them from philosophical points of view but rather from the aspect of what is really needed. Given the evidence presented to the Committee, and notwithstanding the competence and dedication of the officers concerned, it is quite clear that much had to be done in terms of getting a degree of outside expertise into the organisation and we have recommended that that be undertaken by way of a Property Advisory Board.

I point out to the House in particular that a sunset clause has been included. One can always recommend a Property Advisory Board, for example, but if the Board does not function or the Minister does not see value in the Board or the permanent head tends to white ant it, there is little point in creating such a Board in perpetuity. So, quite rightly, the Committee has recommended that a further report be made should the term of the Board need to be extended. I refer specifically to another principle on which I would like to dwell and which applies throughout the report, namely, that if departments or agencies are to be held accountable it is essential that they be given responsibility for the tasks that they undertake. That is being done in a number of ways-by removing overlap of responsibilities, by allowing flexibility to get advice in-house, or from outside, whether in relation to valuation or legal opinions. I commend those aspects of the report to the House.

I am pleased to say that the Committee has recommended that the statutory authorities, Australia Post, Telecom and the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, should be given immediate exemption from the Minister's delegation under the Land Acquisitions Act. I am sure that that would provide those authorities with a greater scope to undertake their important functions, which are commercial functions but nevertheless also in the national interest. That is why a safety net has been provided, namely, that they must respond to ministerial direction. I suggest to those organisations that, should the Government accept the recommendations of the Committee, they provide in their annual reports full information about all their property undertakings. There is nothing in this report to suggest that they do not need to retain a sense of social responsibility in their undertakings, particularly in respect of property matters. I certainly commend the report to the House. I am looking forward to the Government's response. I want to thank those staff who contributed so much, particularly in the difficult later stages, to the finalisation of the report.