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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3281

Senator MacGIBBON(4.57) —I commend this report to the Senate. It is a very carefully written report, the contents of which are of great importance to all members of the Senate. It has been worded with great care; it has been worded that way because the Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House does have some very real concerns about the way the new Parliament House is going. I have a personal interest in this because I stood for election to the Committee after the 1984 election and I have served on the Committee as one of the representatives of the senators and members of this Parliament for two years. When I first went on to the Committee, it met infrequently and a huge load of paper was presented at each meeting. It was rather reminiscent of the description of the Australian Bicentennial Authority given by Mr Ranald Macdonald on his resignation. The Committee changed its practices after the 1984 election and we now meet regularly every month when the Parliament is in session. The Committee works very hard and very conscientiously. The meeting day once a month is a big day and there is still a very big paper load. I will read from the motion that went through both Houses of the Parliament when the Committee was set up. It stated:

That a joint standing committee be appointed to act for and represent the Parliament, as the client for the new Parliament House, in all matters concerned with the planning, design and construction of the new Parliament House and all matters incidental thereto.

That the committee consider and approve the developed design for the building . . .

That the committee determine user requirements . . .

That the committee be authorised to provide, on behalf of the Parliament, all necessary information concerning the functional requirements for the new Parliament House and matters incidental thereto direct to the Parliament House Construction Authority . . .

In other words, the Committee was set up to report to the Parliament House Construction Authority on the client's requirements. Any reasonable person would assume that that would be the sort of relationship that exists between an architect and a client and that the requests put forward by the client would be met by the architect. Unfortunately, this is not so.

Two meetings ago, on 21 November, the matter of furniture for senators' and members' rooms came before the Committee. The Committee was told that a decision had to be made on the spot because the Parliament House Construction Authority wanted to let the contract that afternoon. The matter had been under consideration for years and yet we were presented with a decision having to be made on the Friday morning for a contract to be let in the afternoon. The problem arose because, of the two tenderers that were selected, the one selected by the Parliament House Construction Authority was not the tenderer selected by the Committee.

Everyone who saw the mock-ups for the furniture acquisitions-the architects who built the building, the officers, the Clerks of the Parliament, the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) and, above all, the Sub-committee of senators and members-unanimously agreed that the furniture should be provided by one of the tenderers, which was called Unifor. But the Parliament House Construction Authority stuck out in favour of the other tenderer, a company called Co-Design Pty Ltd, on the grounds that it offered a higher Australian content and it was cheaper. The fact is that we are talking about a contract of about $3m and Co-Design was cheaper by about $150,000-an infinitesimal difference. The Parliamentary Committee asked the architects to do an assessment of a 20-year life-cycle cost of maintaining both sorts of equipment. They came up with a figure of $1.5m for the life-cycle of the Co-Design tender, which was the design proposed by the Construction Authority, as against a figure of $450,000 for the Unifor tender, which was the design which the Committee recommended. The Unifor furniture was much more robust and much more flexible in its layout.

One of the factors which the Construction Authority said was important was the degree of Australian content. It said that the Co-Design company's furniture would have about an 85 per cent Australian content, whereas Unifor, being an Italian company, would reach an Australian content of only 76 per cent. But Unifor came back before the Committee and guaranteed an 83 per cent Australian content, by using Australian sub-contractors. So the difference was only 2 per cent. But the interesting thing is that the Co-Design company turns out to be a New Zealand company, owned by Feltex New Zealand Ltd and, in turn, owned by a takeover merchant, an asset stripper, and the Hong Kong banks.

There are other unsavoury elements to this contract. Every member of the Sub-committee of the Joint Parliamentary Committee who looked at furniture acquisition was contacted by, and received long telexes from, Co-Design, putting the case for that company. When the matter came before the Committee, we supported the Sub-committee's decision that the tender be awarded to Unifor. We made a request, as we were legally entitled to do, to the Parliament House Construction Authority that that was our wish and we said that if it felt that the selection of the tenderer had to be made in a hurry, it should at least come back to the Committee over the weekend with its decision so that we would have an opportunity to meet and discuss its rejection of our proposal.

At that Committee meeting I moved that the matter be held confidential-that Co-Design and Unifor not be told about the decision of the Parliamentary Committee, in light of the lobbying that had gone on previously. Yet at least one member of the Committee was rung up and threatened-in his own words-by Co-Design if Co-Design did not get the contract. I do not know how Co-Design found out about the determination made at the Committee meeting held in this building.

I am not imputing any improper motives to the Parliament House Construction Authority. I think it is impeccably honest. But one does have reservations about its competence. The contract price for the building started out at about $170m and it now looks like costing over $1,000m to finish. It seems to me that the Parliament House Construction Authority is making a big thing out of itself by saving money at this stage-and saving very insignificant amounts of money; $150,000 out of $1,000m-just to make sure that the public knows that it is careful with money. But the truth is that it has wasted and frittered away hundreds of millions of dollars. That great monument on the hill is testimony to the way in which it has let it run out and blow out through the course of construction.

Senator Gareth Evans —Come on!

Senator MacGIBBON —I come back to this report. I advise Senator Gareth Evans and every other senator to read it, because the problem is that the Parliament, in good faith, set up a committee to represent senators and members on both sides of the Parliament in regard to the building of the new Parliament House. We are representing senators and members to see that the building is built properly, as a Parliament House.

Apparently, we have no power. We made what would have been determined in any circumstances a reasonable and proper request to the Authority to comply with our requirements. It turned that request down, and we have nowhere to go. The only recourse we have under the Act is to pass a motion in both Houses of the Parliament-the House of Representatives and the Senate-to give force to our wishes. That is a completely impracticable way to go about it. The Committee considered it at its last meeting. But in view of time constraints we could not proceed in that way. But it is because of the frustration we feel that this report was presented to the Parliament this week. It is important for honourable senators to read it because we do have to reassess our position. The Parliament House Construction Authority apparently is guided only by itself. The place on the hill is a monument to how it is going.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.