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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 917


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(6.22) —This report is an unfortunate one, but the Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House had no alternative but to come up with the conclusions that it did. Those conclusions were that in effect the landscaping of the New Parliament House, which is an essential and integral part of the structure because of its relationship with the environment, is to be deferred in part because of lack of money and that other matters relating to the functions of the building should proceed with the limited funds available.

It is important that the reasons that the Committee came to this regrettable decision be stated. I quote from the report, which stated:

The Committee has always regarded the deletion or deferral of the landscape as a serious matter and has expressed this view in correspondence to the Prime Minister and in its November report to Parliament. The Committee regards the landscaping as essential and has stressed the need for it to be completed in accordance with the approved design as soon as funds become available.

It also added that it should be noted that the reduced landscaping, which will now proceed, will allow for the building's surrounds to be graded and grassed and will provide minimal tree plantings-however, of a most unsatisfactory nature, I add. Another point that the Committee made was:

Faced with the alternatives of a partly completed building with full landscaping or a functional building with minimum landscaping, the Committee considered that the provision of adequate functional accommodation must take priority.

Of course, the important question is why the situation developed so that, because of a lack of funds, the building cannot be completed as it should be. Naturally, the simple answer is that large amounts of money have in effect been wasted on this building, as the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee demonstrated in a very detailed announcement earlier this year. To some extent this point has been acknowledged by the management of the Parliament House Construction Authority, who said that the fast track method of construction has probably cost about $100m. We say that the waste is about $200m. It is evident that there is justification for the building costing about $800m-which I know is an extraordinary amount compared with the $240m initially estimated-but there is no justification whatsoever, beyond serious mistakes, for the amount exceeding $1,000m. I add, by the way, that that amount became public and became authoritative only as a result of the activities of the Waste Watch Committee which could prove that it will cost $1,000m, and that has now been admitted.

This fast track arrangement is of serious concern for the landscaping and is one of the reasons for the problem with the landscaping. Many non-essential items were proceeded with ahead of the landscaping, which is, of course, essential. In other words, fast tracking has meant that matters that could well have been deferred-for example, the collection of some of the art works-have been proceeded with. Things could have been deferred had there been a more rational approach to construction or if the Government had not required so many changes or other alterations for various reasons-for example, to the actual size of the building-as the building progressed. Changes were made after construction had started.

But what concerns me particularly about this is what happened when the Waste Watch Committee drew attention to serious problems-for example, to things like a plumbing contract, supposedly for $1.7m, which by March this year had not been completed and had already reached $6m, and when we could point to things such as the 25 major contracts on the new and permanent Parliament House which had exceeded their contract price by 25 per cent, quite apart from the impact of inflation or any additional work that had been included in those contracts. It was clear that something was wrong with construction up there and with the manner in which it was proceeding. The Waste Watch Committee made comments on those things and released a very detailed document which outlined the specific contracts involved and revealed items from secret reports. One in particular was from a gentleman called Norman McCain, who was brought out from England to provide a report to the Parliament House Construction Authority about the cost control measures. That report has never been released. I say now to the Construction Authority that unless it releases that report, I shall make an application under the Freedom of Information Act to get access to that report.

The response on radio from Mr Peatey, the Chief Executive, to these allegations made by the Waste Watch Committee was that I was wrong in fact, that the blowouts on these contracts did not exist, that there were not 25 major contracts that had exceeded their cost by 25 per cent, and so on. Mr Peatey has not yet been able to substantiate the denials he made on radio of the points that I had made. He has not put into writing or made any firm statement to back up the absolute nonsense he spoke in response to my very detailed and well documented revelations about the blowout in contracts on the new and permanent Parliament House. Instead of his examining what had really happened and revealing to the Senate what he regarded as the truth, we have had a most disgraceful campaign in which people have effectively been terrorised-former consultants, present consultants and others. I have been advised that people have been asked: `Did you speak with Senator Baume? Did you dare to reveal anything that is factual about Parliament House?' It did not matter to the Authority whether what had been said was right or wrong; people were asked only whether they had spoken to Senator Baume. This kind of harassment of contractors and other people-many of whom, as I understand it, did not speak to me but have also been pursued-is disgraceful.

It fits in, unfortunately, with a letter I received some time ago from a friend who wrote to me as follows:

Last week I raised the possibility of a friend of mine and a work colleague of his, joining you and I for lunch tomorrow to discuss the question of waste at the new Parliament House site.

Unfortunately, they have both decided, on reflection, that the issue is potentially too hot for them to become involved even on an anonymous basis. They fear that any information may be traceable and that as a consequence, their jobs may be in jeopardy. When honest people have such worries which inhibit them-quite apart from their interests as taxpayers-then something is wrong.

I can assure the Senate that something is wrong up there. Something has been wrong, and that is evident from the waste of something like $200m on this project. I believe that Mr Peatey must back up the denials he made on radio of the claims of the Waste Watch Committee. I believe that it is absolutely vital that this Parliament be properly informed and that we be given a substantive response to the substantive clear evidence provided by the Waste Watch Committee of the sort of waste of money which has brought about a situation where the landscaping now cannot continue because of a lack of funds. I believe this will be of major moment to the building. It will cost a lot more to complete the landscaping, so it is a false economy to chop out the landscaping saying that it will save money. When it is eventually carried out it will be much more expensive. I understand that many of the trees have already been purchased and are in nurseries, but now will not be planted because of the unfortunate requirement by the Government that spending be reduced, as stated in this report by the Joint Standing Committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.