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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18511


Mr LATHAM (Manager of Opposition Business) (9:11 AM) —In response to the honourable member for Warringah, I am all for the getting of wisdom for the tories after a century of getting this matter wrong. I am all for the getting of wisdom and it is good to hear that, after a century of opposition to this proposal, the tory parties in this place are coming on board.

As the Leader of the House pointed out, this has been longstanding Labor policy. We are the only political party that has served continuously through the life of this parliament—100 years and more—and the only party that has taken a consistent stance on this issue. I do not have in detail the speeches that were made by the predecessor parties to the Liberal and National parties—the Protectionists, the Nationalists, the UAP; all those rag-tag parties that formed in the 20th century—but I can say that the Labor Party has always been firmly committed to the amalgamation of parliamentary departments. The Leader of the House has pointed out that this was the proposal of former Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher in 1910. I am informed it was the proposal of Andrew Fisher from the time of his first ministry, which ran from 1908 to 1909. He came back a second time, from 1910 to 1913, and then a third time, from 1914 to 1915. Whatever the historical debate, there is no doubt that Andrew Fisher can be seen as the father of this proposal.

Coming here as a newly elected member in 1994, I thought it was absurd that we had one building and, I think, at that time five departments. I could not understand how we needed so much administration for the running of one self-contained—albeit large—building. It is a beautiful building but, in my assessment, it cost too much to build and it has always cost too much to run. So it is a welcome change to move towards a streamlined administration and departmental amalgamations. We need to set a very good example to the public about efficiency and the effective use of taxpayers money. People in my constituency always come up to me and say: `Goodness gracious, we have the highest taxing and highest spending government in Australia's history. What can we do to find better value for the taxpayers dollar?'

I join with you, Mr Speaker, in congratulating Mr Podger and the review team. I also congratulate the Presiding Officers—you, Mr Speaker, and the President of the Senate—and your staff for the consideration and the work that has gone into this proposal. It is not easy in a large and politically diverse building like this to arrive at a good policy position, but I think the review team has done a good job. It has certainly worked hard for an important public purpose, and that is to be welcomed.

I also note that some of the savings that it is hoped will be reaped from the amalgamations would be paying for the improved security arrangements in the building. That is an important purpose. None of us can afford to compromise at any stage on national security. As we work in this building, it is always a sobering thought that, while we love our work and we love to serve the Australian people in these troubled times, we are working inside the national parliament, where there are concerns about national security. In that environment we need to take a leadership position and assure the public that nothing is being done to compromise either our safety or theirs, nothing will be done to increase any amount of risk and everything will be done to lower risk and keep Australian public institutions and the Australian people as safe as possible. Again I congratulate the Presiding Officers and the staff who have been involved in the security upgrade. It is not an easy task but I know that members on this side are very appreciative of the work that is going on, as I am sure the Australian people are.

This proposal that is before us goes back a long way. It goes back to the Fisher government. There were two major attempts during the Hawke and Keating years to reform the parliamentary departmental structure. At that time, the Liberal-National coalition, aided and abetted by the minor parties in the Senate—Senate obstruction can be a terrible thing, as we hear from time to time, but there it was during the Hawke and Keating government—strongly opposed the suggested measures of Labor's Presiding Officers. They supported Senator Georges's proposal that any such amalgamation needed prior approval of both houses of parliament. The Senate passed a resolution that was binding and it seems to have also required the involvement of the House of Representatives. If the current proposal is to go forward, the assent of the parliament is needed.

I mentioned earlier the security issues. Following September 11 and the Bali bombing, security measures at Parliament House have been reviewed in great detail and many changes and improvements have been put in place. New physical measures have been instituted, new staff recruited, old staff retrained and many of the measures previously in place have been extended to members of parliament. Initially, costs for some of these changes were absorbed within the budgets of the parliamentary departments. In the most recent budget, $6.8 million was allocated in this financial year to sustain these new security measures. In the three out years, no such funding is available. As a result, the five parliamentary departments must, through savings measures, generate $6.2 million in the out years, through to $6.4 million in 2006-07.

Those savings are important goals, but I note that there are some doubting Thomases, as ever in a parliamentary democracy and as ever in a building like this. The Senate Appropriations and Staffing Committee, for example, remains unconvinced that the level of savings indicated in the Podger report is achievable. The Labor Party position is that we want the savings to be achieved. We believe, as we have for 95 years, that the amalgamation of the parliamentary departments is an important measure. It is a leadership measure and an efficiency measure that is much needed for the good running of this institution. We want these savings to be realised, but we also acknowledge the doubts. Budgeting and cost saving can never be a precise exercise and it is our belief that, if the savings are not harvested, if the savings are not realised, there should be some assistance from the government to ensure that the security measures for this building are upgraded and that the full program of security enhancement is achieved. For that reason, I move:

That the following paragraph be inserted:

(1A) any savings achieved by the amalgamation may be used to offset increases in costs of security measures approved by the Presiding Officers for Parliament House, but if those increases in costs exceed those savings, the appropriations for the parliamentary departments are to be supplemented for the excess; and”

I hope my amendment can find bipartisan support in the parliament. It is saying that Labor want the amalgamation to proceed. We want the savings to be realised, but we also recognise that, if the savings are not realised, there is an ongoing need, in terms of our commitment to national security, to ensure that the upgrade of the national parliament's security arrangements is achieved in full. We hope that the government, as part of its own commitment to national security, would see the parliament no differently from other departments and other agencies which are receiving important resourcing for what is a vital task of upholding and maintaining the safety and security of the Australian people and major Australian buildings and public institutions. That is the Labor Party position. I would not expect the government to have any difficulty with that. It might even reflect its own position, not necessarily stated by way of amendment. I hope that you do not have any difficulty with that amendment, Mr Speaker.


The SPEAKER —I am certainly prepared to seek a seconder for it, if that is the inquiry being brought forward.


Mr LATHAM —Yes. I have some enthusiastic colleagues behind me, and I commend the amendment to the House.


The SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?


Mrs Crosio —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.