Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- I support the views expressed by my colleague, the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), in opposition to this proposal. The Government is using the powers vested in it by the Public Works Committee Act in an attempt to have this matter dealt with on the grounds of urgency and so exclude it from scrutiny by the Public Works Committee. 1 do not think anybody could be satisfied that the Government has established the ground of urgency. As has been pointed out, this project has been before the Government for some considerable time. This motion is part of a pattern. The Public Works Committee is being bypassed allegedly on the grounds of urgency, but the urgency, if it arises at all, arises only because of the procrastination that has taken place prior to the presentation of the matter to the Parliament.

It is becoming traditional practice for the Minister to come into this House and try to establish a case for urgency, primarily on the claim that in building a bridge or carrying out a project of the type proposed here, seasonal conditions have to be contended with and two wet seasons will be encountered before it is completed. Such an argument would be very impressive if one did not know the background of the matter. The Public Works Committee and this Parliament have been deluged to a degree that is almost incredible with defences of this kind. These submissions reached such proportions that the Committee deemed it desirable to write to the former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, drawing his attention to the practices in which various Ministers and departmental heads were increasingly engaging.

To show the House how the Public Works Committee has been bypassed by the various departments, and to justify the Committee's complaint, I point out that between the years 1963 and 1965 the Government exempted from the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee 21 individual defence works, the total value of which exceeded $70 million.

Mr Freeth - The Public Works Committee cannot expect to examine all defence works.

Mr O'CONNOR - Whether a defence work should be investigated by the Committee depends upon the interpretation of " public interest ". The Committee has never sought, nor does it propose to seek, the right to have referred to it projects which involve the security of the nation. We have made that perfectly clear. I point out, however, that many of the defence projects that were exempted from examination by the Committee were exempted not on the ground of security but on the ground of public interest. Nobody could argue that there is any security risk involved in such defence projects as the building of barracks, laundries, or accommodation for troops.

Mr Freeth - Of course you can.

Mr O'CONNOR - Then let the Minister get up and make his point. The former Prime Minister does not agree with him and has said so in a letter to the Committee. We are hoping that, as a result of that letter from Sir Robert Menzies, the Public Works Committee will at least be treated in the manner in which the Act of Parliament governing its operations visualised it would be treated. 1 repeat that between the years 1963 and 1965 the Government exempted from scrutiny by the PublicWorks Committee 21 defence projects costing a total of$70 million. In that same period, it referred to the Committee three defence projects costing $5 million. Many defence works approved by Cabinet in mid 1964, were not referred to the Public Works Committee because it was argued, not that security was involved, but that they were urgent. But tenders for those works were not called until late in December 1965. So, the Committee is told that projects cannot be referred to it because of their urgent character, yet 1 8 months later, they are still waiting to go to tender. Those are the types of practices to which the Committee has stated its opposition in most emphatic terms.

As I have said before, the Public Works Committee has tried to make it clear to this Parliament on more than one occasion that it does not expect to have referred to it works that involve security. Nobody would be so unreasonable as to expect that, but, at the same time, the Committee does not expect to be bypassed in defiance of the terms of the Act in the way in which it has been bypassed up til! now. My colleague, the honorable member for Shortland, has established from the letter which the Minister for Territories wrote four or five months ago that there was ample time for this matter to be dealt with by the Public Works Committee if the Government really wished that to be done.

I think that what is being done in the north should be scrutinised by somebody other than departmental authorities. As has been mentioned, of all the beef roads constructed in the north, only one proposal was referred to us and, as a result of our investigations, we were able to prevent a scandalous waste of public money that would have occurred had the work been proceeded with in its original form. The Public Works Committee is entitled to receive better treatment from Cabinet, from Ministers and from departments than it has received in the past.

Suggest corrections