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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1900

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(10.58) —What has emerged during the debate clearly shows that a different philosophical position is being introduced into the debate, one which I suppose can generally be described as the bent that the Opposition has overall of privatisation. However, leaving that aside, clearly what is not understood by either the Opposition or the Australian Democrats is that the Government sees clause 5 as an important ingredient in the processes of road construction but not the major characteristic of the process. We do not see it as the general rule; we see it as the one-off case that will be made to the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) given a particular circumstance. The Minister in no way will be involved in encouraging the Victorian, Tasmanian, and Queensland governments, or any other government, to bypass the private road construction authorities. That is not what is intended in paragraphs (e) and (f) of clause 5. That was not what was intended either in the Minister's debate in the House of Representatives or in my contribution in the Senate. Of course, we believe in consultation and, to some extent, consensus, but that does not mean at the disadvantage of the particular circumstances that will arise in paragraphs (e) and (f).

I am sure that Senator Peter Rae will agree with me, even if he does not like the description of the Tasmanian Government as being conservative, that it is not a government committed to an extension of the day labour processes. It believes in providing opportunity for private sector construction. Similarly, I am sure that Queensland senators would say that that would be the overwhelming theory and practice of the Queensland Government. It was Mr Hinze who criticised the legislation that was introduced by the Fraser Government. He wanted the right and the opportunity on occasions to exercise the flexible approach to which I have referred. That is why we have the submissions to us. I concede that some ground has been made in respect of maintaining portions of clause 5 but, after all, it was the Senate, at the initiation of Senator Peter Rae with the support of Senator Jack Evans, that voted to delete clause 5 completely. I accept that there has been some movement, but that has occurred on the basis of representations made to the Minister whom I represent in this place by the very governments we are seeking to help, not with the view of driving a bulldozer through the legislation; rather, of letting a fly escape on the odd occasions when the Minister will be so requested on the initiative of the State.

Can honourable senators imagine the Queensland or Tasmanian Minister taking advantage of paragraphs (e) and (f) with a view to ignoring completely the private construction authorities? I think that is manna from heaven. That is out of the realms of possibility. Rather they will be giving emphasis to the points that Senator Jack Evans and Senator Peter Rae have made. The last thing they would do would be to deny the right of private sector involvement in road construction. But they want the right, where circumstances exist, to come to the Federal Minister and say: 'In these circumstances it cannot happen. We cannot get the best deal and we therefore have to have an opportunity to let the local authority be the construction authority without the tortures of the tendering system.' I am advised that the cost of the project would have to be approved, based upon the project itself. That is inherent in the whole of clause 5. If the costs were to be excessive because of the day labour component, the Minister would have to negotiate, even under the basic principles of the clause itself.

The Government accepts the fact that the majority view in this place obviously prevails. But I just want to try to allay the suspicions and concern that have been expressed that somehow or other this is a backhanded method of denying the private construction industry opportunities that advantage them in any of the tendering processes. It is the Minister's anticipation that these will not represent more than a handful of cases in the thousands of road construction projects under the bicentennial project. Having said that, the Government accepts the inevitability of the view that the construction authorities could be accused of having a vested interest in this matter. One does not carry consultation or consensus of view where a minority view becomes the majority view. We have a majority view that is made up of a State like Tasmania-I will not use adjectives which might upset senators-that does not normally agree with the Federal Government and a State like Queensland that I do not think even agreed with the previous Liberal Government on many issues. They have been prepared to say that the legislation has value. I would have thought that would be sufficient to allay the suspicions of even the most difficult Liberal Party, National Party or Australian Democrat senator.

We will be persisting with the view, as I have endeavoured to do in my contribution, that the legislation should stand. The legislation has been worked out in consultation with the appropriate authorities. It is an expression of the co-operative federalism which I believe was a cornerstone of Liberal philosophy. The Minister has gone out of his way to accommodate that view and to that extent we will persist with our attempts to have clause 5 stand as printed.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Jack Evans's amendment) be left out