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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 907

Senator MacGIBBON(5.05) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This report deals with the supply of materials for pavements at the new Brisbane International Airport, and it reviews the actions of the Department of Housing and Construction in the matter of the supply of crushed rock by Blue Rock Quarries and the legal actions that ensued when the Department terminated its contract. The author of the report, Professor Stevens, of Melbourne, a Professor of Civil Engineering, found in general that the action to terminate the contract was justified. The fact that Professor Stevens was required to report on this matter has accentuated concern in Queensland as to just what is going on in the management of the Brisbane Airport contract. Professor Stevens makes this point in paragraph 2:

It is concluded that certain deficiencies existed in the Specifications when considered in a legalistic rather than in a technical sense. It is apparent that close attention should be given to prescribing the form and content for projects of that magnitude.

Professor Stevens was saying that, while the Department was entitled to cancel the contract with Blue Rock Quarries, some of the blame from a management point of view clearly rests with the Department of Housing and Construction.

There is increasing concern in Queensland about the new Brisbane Airport. The construction of the airport was undertaken years ago by the Liberal Government. It is important to Australia, given the congestion we have at Sydney and the fact that Melbourne is a long way away from the tourist traffic, if people want to go to the Great Barrier Reef and so on. There are two levels of concern. The first is at the way in which the Labor Government has cut back public funding. We wonder whether that cutback has had an influence on the management. In the 1983 mini-Budget, the first thing that the Labor Government did was to chop $20m out of the budget that had been approved for that year for the Brisbane Airport. We had the fatuous comment by Mrs Darling, the local member, that that cutback just meant that the landscaping of the airport would be deferred-not delayed. A sum of $20m for landscaping takes some feat of imagination to comprehend. But then, in the 1984-85 Budget only $61m was allocated. The Minister for Aviation at the time, Mr Beazley, announced that there would be constructional delays because of the funding cutback.

At another level, however, there is concern about the management by the Department of Housing and Construction as to the way the project is going. In a letter to the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West), reported in the Courier-Mail, the Government Whip in the other place, the Labor member for Griffith, Mr Humphreys, made several points. I shall quote them-not out of context and not attributing an incorrect meaning to them. He said that the Blue Rock Quarries case:

. . . points very clearly to major bureaucratic bungles within the Department.

He further said:

As the economic managers of this country, we--

talking about the Labor Party--

have a responsibility to ensure effective administrative decision-making.

Finally, he made this point:

An out-of-court settlement to Blue Rock of $750,000, plus extra legal costs, as a result of poor decision-making will be seen rightly by many as an unnecessary burden on the Australian taxpayer.

It is common knowledge in Brisbane that many contractors have gone broke. The word of mouth figure on that is that probably a couple of hundred sub-contractors for the Brisbane Airport have gone broke as a consequence of being involved in the construction. It is also said that a great deal of money is owed to some of the principal contractors. It is up to this Parliament to look at the accounts and management of this new airport to find out just what is going on. The easiest thing is for the Minister for Housing and Construction to come clean and give an honest report as to what are the difficulties and what is happening there. Failing that, the Senate will have to take it up in Estimates committees to get to the bottom of this matter.