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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2301

Senator CAMPBELL —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Last month the minister announced the government's construction division, Australian Construction Services, as the successful bidders for the first stage of the $100 million clean-up of the Maralinga nuclear test site. He selected ACS from a group of tenderers which included some of the most successful engineering and nuclear safety consortiums on this planet. As this is the most complex and dangerous nuclear site clean-up in Australian history, has the minister made a point of reading or being briefed on the review of the Australian Construction Service by the Melbourne based consultants Corporate Dynamics that variously describe the ACS as `inward looking'; `plagued with productivity problems'; `a parochial, fear driven autocracy'; `suffers from factionalism, leadership which is perceived to be weak and aloof, and lack of direction'? With this alarming report coming on top of concerns raised by me and the ACEA about the competitive neutrality of the ACS bid, will the minister suspend the appointment of ACS pending the outcome of the Auditor-General's inquiry into this matter?

Senator COLLINS —Of course we will not. This is drawing a very long bow. As Senator Campbell knows full well, the ACS is simply not involved in this project on its own account. The expertise and experience of the specialist agencies that operate with the organisation are beyond dispute.

  The team includes the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. I thought that the opposition was heavily into kowtowing to and tugging the forelock at anything British. I am surprised that it would argue against this. As Senator Campbell well knows, the reason that that organisation has been chosen is that it is one of the few agencies in the world with a proven track record of dealing specifically with plutonium. Its expertise in that regard is absolutely unquestioned. As for the other engineering firms, their expertise in clean-ups is also unquestioned.

  I again point out to Senator Campbell—he knows this full well—that the people who assessed the successful tenderers for this project were independent assessors whose expertise and qualifications in engineering in this particular field are again unquestioned. The scientific advisers to the assessment panel were Dr Costello from Radwaste Pty Ltd and Mr Parkinson from Kylwind Pty Ltd.

  As Senator Campbell knows, we went over their professional expertise, tertiary qualifications and decades of experience in clean-ups of this kind at some length. There is no question—and this was clearly established at the Senate estimates committees—that an appropriate tenderer has been chosen for this project.  For Senator Campbell's benefit, I again point out the contract issued was the management contract and, as Senator Campbell knows full well, that will not necessarily preclude other people who have tendered for this particular contract from being successful in getting contracts for the carrying out of the actual work.

Senator CAMPBELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am aware of just about all the information that the minster has given but it does not answer the central question. Since the time of the assessment, Corporate Dynamics has done a report which described ACS in extremely bad terms—inward looking, factionalism, leadership perceived to be weak and aloof, lack of direction, plagued with productivity problems. None of the other private sector organisations had lost $150 million in the last three years; none of the other organisations had had reports written about them in such bad terms. I am asking the minister whether he will suspend the appointment until the Auditor-General's inquiry presently being undertaken has reported—

Senator Vanstone —Send it off to the public works committee.

Senator CAMPBELL —As Senator Vanstone has interjected, why did the government avoid sending it to the public works committee?

Senator COLLINS —The tender has complied with all the requirements of the public works process. To the best of my knowledge, it was below the actual level required. Senator Campbell knows full well that the attention given to the tenderer was scrupulous. From the answers that were given—Senator Campbell had the opportunity to canvass this during the estimates process, and he did at length—no one could question the experience of the assessors. There is no question about it; people with the appropriate background and expertise—

Senator Ian Macdonald —They chose Thomson.

Senator COLLINS —Yes, they chose Thomson—again, I might add, after a million bucks to Mr Macphee. I do not think that the environment movement, the Aboriginal landowners and, frankly, the South Australian government would thank me for suspending that project, and I am not going to. (Time expired)