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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2087

Senator VIGOR(3.25) —On Tuesday I was speaking to the excellent report of the Committee of Review on Government High Technology Purchasing Arrangements chaired by Sir Brian Inglis. I drew attention to the attitudinal problems of purchasing officers which is mentioned on page 80 of this report. Dozens of instances of specifications written directly for overseas products were brought to the Committee's attention within a very small time. The problem must be confronted head on. Departmental officers should know that they will need to justify purchases that are made overseas.

There should be legislation to force them to do this and to force them to check with Australian industry first before they purchase or consider purchasing an overseas product. If this is not possible, we should require from those purchasing officers reasons in writing as to why they have to purchase overseas. If the industry capacity is not there in Australia that ought to be reported and a program for doing something to reverse the situation should be instituted to generate that capacity in Australia. If we use our large purchasing organisations in this way we will be able to find out where the holes are in our manufacturing capacity. If we keep the records properly in this area and maintain vigilance in trying to assess what is required we will be able to improve the industrial base and infrastructure which will allow us to become a strong exporting nation.

The Inglis report indicates that 31 per cent of high technology purchases are made by Telecom Australia and that 50 per cent are made by the Department of Defence. Unfortunately, these are two of the worst offenders in buying overseas, as we have found during Estimates committee hearings. The Department of Defence seems to have a fixation about the shiniest most brand spanking new gadgets irrespective of how they fit into our operational activities. Equipment is sometimes left in mothballs and nothing is done with it. It is part of the all-singing, all-dancing gold plated syndrome, the obsession with perceived status rather than a concern to get something which will perform effectively and to maximise the benefits to Australian industry as well as provide us with an effective defence capacity. Telecom earlier this year announced the award of its electronic funds transfer point of sole network equipment contract to Honeywell-NEC, an overseas consortium. Australian developed and controlled technology which is installed and working well in some exchanges was overlooked despite its success in very competitive markets in the Asia-Pacific region just to our north.

We need to ask not only why these things happen but also how they can be allowed to happen. I am pursuing the particular case of tender CS1149 through other channels and I would encourage Government Ministers, particularly the Ministers responsible in the two areas concerned, also to do so through their departments. I remind the Senate that digital radio concentrators for use in outback communications were developed in Australia but the technology was licensed overseas because apparently we had no one here capable of handling it. That is a disastrous state of affairs.

Senator Button —Which was that one?

Senator VIGOR —I agree with the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, who has brought out the point that this is just one amongst many, many opportunities which Australia is missing. We have the case of Australia Post forgoing Australian developed and controlled technology in its choice of electronic counter services equipment. Management in Australia Post has put its head in the sand and pretended that there is nothing to be concerned about. It is disgraceful that Australian jobs, Australian export earnings and the wealth of this country are being sacrificed. We need to maintain our capability to add value added. We need legislative action to deal with the more obstructive authorities, agencies and departments. The Inglis report provides many excellent ideas about what should be done in that legislation and I commend to the Government that it get on with it quickly. It will have the support of the Australian Democrats, and I believe it is also likely to get support from the Opposition, which is making similar noises. This is a priority for Australia. We should be implementing the recommendations of the Inglis report as fast as possible and I recommend that action to the Government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.