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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 480


Senator SPINDLER (3.24 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology (Senator Cook), to a question without notice asked by Senator Spindler this day, relating to aircraft maintenance.

Senator Cook pointed out that some of the questions would be better directed to Senator Collins representing the Minister for Transport (Mr Brereton), and I am grateful that Senator Collins stayed to listen to the reasons that I will advance for some intervention in this tendering process.

  Firstly, it should be noted that, according to information given to us by ASTAAS, Aerospace Technologies of Australia Aircraft Services, the tender was not advertised. No notification of the tender was given to ASTAAS whereas three other firms, British Aerospace, Sogerma—French—and Air France were invited to tender.

  ASTAAS officials read about the tender in the newspaper—not in an advertisement, but in an article in the business pages. Thereafter, ASTAAS officials approached Qantas on repeated occasions. Qantas kept saying that no decision had been reached about advertising for stand-down until early June. In early June, Qantas finally handed over—and, I must say, extremely casually from all accounts—not a letter of invitation but just specifications plus a scrawled note; in other words, tender specifications. The bid was submitted by the due date, 9 June.

  The tender specifications were drawn up by Qantas and some work orders were repeated. In mid-June ASTAAS revised the tender of the basis of the mistakes found in the tender specifications. Qantas was supposed to come back to ASTAAS on 22 June to negotiate aspects of the tender bid. The understanding was that it was to be a two-step tender and some negotiation would take place after the first tender was submitted. This was never done.

  Lance Strong, of ASTAAS, repeatedly asked Qantas what was happening and was told that no information was available. Finally, the union, through some Qantas flight attendants, found out that British Aerospace had got the contract on or about 11 August, and the union then informed ASTAAS.

  I might also put on record that ASTAAS was aware of other bids which were cheaper—but only because the tenderers were asked to tender on a different basis due to ASTAAS having incomplete tender documentation. ASTAAS had tendered on the basis of `examination and termination' while the others had tendered on the basis of `examination' only. This constitutes a major difference between the medical costs associated with diagnosis verses the medical costs of diagnosis plus treatment.

  ASTAAS felt that it would have had to be competitive based on an accurate tender process, given that it had agreed to 40 per cent lower labour rates to win the job. ASTAAS also felt that the `time required' of British Aerospace was technically not feasible.

  I believe that these matters I have put on the record on behalf of ASTAAS should be sufficient to cause the minister to take a very close interest in this tendering process. The minister has the authority to review this matter and put it back to tender. In addition, the Australian public, through the government, holds 75 per cent of the shares in Qantas.