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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1301

Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Minister for Aviation. I remind him that last Wednesday, a week ago, I asked him a question concerning the new coastwatch contract that the Government had entered into with a body known as Amman Aviation Pty Ltd. I then asked a series of questions relating to that new arrangement which is to take effect as soon as, I think, 1 May this year. To my astonishment, the Minister in reply said he had no information in his briefing papers. I now ask him whether he has a brief on the subject, and will he please answer the question today? If not, when will he answer the question, bearing in mind the seriousness of the matter as far as the surveillance of our northern approaches is concerned?

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I apologise for interrupting at this stage but I rise on a point of order. I understand that at the end of the last answer the Minister for Finance made reference to a large sum of money going into the Queensland Premier's back pocket. If that is so I ask for an immediate withdrawal.

The PRESIDENT —I am afraid that I did not hear the remark attributed to Senator Walsh. Strictly speaking, the point of order should have been taken at the time. Senator Walsh, did you make the remark that has been attributed to you?

Senator Walsh —I said I will be trying to get back the $80,000 before it follows Alan Bond's $400,000 into Petersen's back pocket. If we want to be pedantic, that is not strictly accurate-it disappeared into a bank account and not the back pocket.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Walsh, I ask you to withdraw that remark.

Senator Walsh —Certainly, Mr President.

Senator GIETZELT —It is true, as Senator Durack mentioned, that he asked me a question about coastal surveillance on 18 March. I would have thought that he would have been aware of the media release that the Minister for Transport, Mr Morris, issued on that very day in response to some concern that has been expressed. It is true that the Minister's response did not specifically refer to Senator Durack's question as such, but in my view, and I think in the view of any reasonable person, it did deal with the subject matter in a factual way. As that statement was issued on the same day I would have thought that a prominent front bench member of the Opposition parties would have been aware of it and would have been able to draw his own conclusions from it. If he did not, of course, that only shows how relaxed he is about the problem. Maybe he has some other motivation.

The honourable senator asks me now whether in fact a brief has been supplied to me. Yes, I do have a brief and the brief confirms what Minister Morris said on 18 March. It shows also that the answer I gave on that day was factually correct; that is to say, the proper tendering pro- cesses were followed and the Minister had insisted upon that process. There was some ha, ha-ing from the Opposition at the time I responded to Senator Durack's supplementary question. The facts are that the organisation called Amman Aviation Pty Ltd did submit a very satisfactory tender. There was as a result of the acceptance of that tender a saving of $2 1/2m and I would have thought that that would have enjoyed the support of the Opposition, which is always concerned about government expenditure. The company, although it is new in the aviation world, has been assessed by specialists in the Department of Transport and the Department of Aviation as meeting the technical requirements of the tender, and is considered financially secure. Of course I also made my own investigations because Senator Durack suggested some impropriety, or raised some suspicion about the Government's obligations in this matter, and found that the same sorts of circumstances existed when Skywest Airlines Pty Ltd, which he is obviously representing in his questions to me, won the contract during the period of the previous Government. It was at a similar stage of establishment.

It is very difficult, therefore, to understand why Senator Durack is so excited about this. I can understand the position of those persons whose tenders were not accepted. There were other tenderers besides the two parties that have been mentioned by the Minister and me. The Government did what it was logically required to do; that is, satisfy itself about the technical capacity of the lowest tenderer. There appears to be some concern in Senator Durack's mind about the staffing arrangements. I understand that the successful tenderer is prepared to take all the necessary steps to take on staff who, as a result of its successful tender being put into operation, may be displaced. Those staff will be offered the opportunity to work for Amman Aviation.

Senator DURACK —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. For the second time Senator Gietzelt has spent a great deal of time not answering the question. It is not for me to scout around getting the answers to questions that I ask of Ministers in the Senate. It has always been a courtesy extended by Ministers, when they get information-the Minister got this information a week ago-to provide it to the Senate as soon as possible. All the Ministers seem to observe that courtesy except for Senator Gietzelt. I asked him several specific questions which he has not answered. Apparently he now has the answers in his brief and I ask him again when he will tell the Senate the answers.

Senator GIETZELT —I believe I have answered Senator Durack's question in accordance with the brief that is required of me. The media release is made available to every member of parliament. If Senator Durack is too lazy to look it up himself, that is his responsibility.