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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1687

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(6.26) —It might be appropriate if I said something on this matter as someone who was a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the New Parliament House, one of the assessors on the new Parliament House design competition and, as such, as one who had a very close relationship with Sir John Overall, a gentleman for whom I have the utmost personal and professional admiration. I want to say simply that I will take up with the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) the points that have been made by Senator Lewis and Senator Missen. If it is the case that these gentlemen were not informed before the Press statement was released publicly, I say to both Senator Missen and Senator Lewis that I personally will express my reaction in the strongest possible terms that that occurred. If it is the case-I hasten to add that I am in no position to confirm that it is the case-that they were not formally notified by the Minister before the matter was made public in that way, it is quite inexcusable and I would not seek for a moment to defend what is obviously, if that is true, a piece of specular maladministration.

It is the case, I do know, that the possibility of the tenure of at least the two older gentlemen being terminated for that reason, and that reason alone, was canvassed with them at some earlier stage, or at least it had come to their knowledge at some earlier stage. I think that in that respect it has to be understood that sometimes governments are faced with difficult and sensitive decisions when it comes to reappointing people beyond a certain statutory age for jobs which have some longevity about them. I think it needs to be appreciated that the Parliament House Construction Authority will have a life substantially beyond 1987, even 1988, in wrapping up this project. There is a real policy difficulty and dilemma for governments when confronted with the reappointment of people who are over the age of 70 years in the context of an exercise of that kind. I do not want to be taken, from anything that I have said, to be acceding to the point that was made by Senator Lewis and Senator Missen about the age factor, but I certainly do acknowledge the force of the point that has been made about the notification issue. If it is the case that they were treated in that way, I repeat that I find that something for which I can only apologise very strongly on behalf of the Government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.