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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 472

Senator SPINDLER —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. I refer to reports that a recent tender for Qantas aircraft maintenance was awarded to a British firm, threatening 700 Australian jobs at Aerospace Technologies of Australia Aircraft Services in Victoria. Is the minister aware of evidence that ASTAAS was disadvantaged in the tender process? In view of the purchasing policy reforms announced in the government's May white paper, and the fact that Qantas is still 75 per cent owned by the public, is the minister going to intervene to reopen the tender on a fair basis on the grounds that it is not right for an Australian government business enterprise to discriminate against Australian firms and Australian workers? Will the legislation to implement the white paper's purchasing reforms apply to government owned business enterprises? If not, why not?

Senator COOK —This question may better have been directed to the Minister for Transport, who is responsible for Qantas in his portfolio and to whom Qantas reports. I take the question on because of the industry elements of it, although I make the point up front that it is not my portfolio directly.

  What has been said here is that there is evidence of a tendering arrangement which did not suit an Australian company. I want to say, first of all, that what I would like to see is every Australian company that bids for a government contract succeed—and Australian companies succeed better than any other company in the world. That is indeed the whole setting of our industry policy, to encourage greater competitiveness, and I would like to see that.

  However, Qantas is an authority in which there is public sector shareholding and it is bound to conduct its tendering on an open basis and go for the best tender. What happened here is that an international company, British Aerospace, I believe, won the tender over an Australian company. I do not know that anyone can argue that there is `evidence' that this was an improperly conducted tender. If there is, I would be pleased if someone would put it on the table so that it can be inspected. Meanwhile, the allegation about so-called evidence should be treated as one of concern or as one of worry on behalf of the losing Australian tender.

  I understand that Qantas has put out a statement today saying what happened in the tendering operation, outlining the cost and experience factors behind its decision in awarding this contract to British Aerospace, and saying that it is also committed to maintenance work being done in Australia, including increasing its own maintenance operation here.

  While I sympathise with a losing Australian bid in this case, I cannot necessarily accept the allegation of an improper conduct of the tender and point to the fact that the government is not in a position to intervene with Qantas on this matter. Qantas, by virtue of its shareholding, is bound to conduct these affairs on an open and fair tender basis. I also point to the fact that Qantas itself has indicated that it would much prefer to give it to Australia, were the prices competitive.

Senator SPINDLER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister prepared to investigate the tendering process when he has a look at the detailed claims that are being made, which I will put on public record in a motion to take notice of his answer?

Senator COOK —I will refer Senator Spindler's observations to the Minister for Transport.