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Shadow Minister discusses further delays in joint defence headquarters development at Bungendore.

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Thursday, 2 November 2006




MIKE JEFFREYS: Here we are rolling into November and a story that long-time listeners will know we’ve been following for quite a while now, since 2001 at the very least—this is, what’s going to happen with the joint headquarters development at Bungendore. Apparently it’s been put back again. Now, the very latest is that construction work was to start in September, then last month, now it’s been put back to mid-November.


Senator Mark Bishop has been sitting in on Senate estimates and asking questions on how it is going with the joint headquarters development. Senator, good morning. Thanks for your time.


MARK BISHOP: Good morning, Mike. How are you?


MIKE JEFFREYS: I am well, thank you. So the short answer to how it’s going would appear to be slowly or a certain indefinite quality still? What do you think?


MARK BISHOP: I think the accurate answer, Mike, is that we really don’t know quite what’s going on in terms of either the construction date, the reasons as for the delay or the actual costs of the entire project. Every time we have a session in estimates asking questions, we seem to get a different response and we seem to get a different reason as to why the entire project is delayed or is not going to go ahead as previously advised.


MIKE JEFFREYS: Now, it’s been put back—this is the most recent development as I understand it—until the middle of this month. Is that right?


MARK BISHOP: Yes, we were advised yesterday afternoon that the date for construction was going to start now in mid-November, that there had been no construction work even commenced on the site out there in Bungendore, that they had purchased some workers’ huts for the eventual construction work and they were being located in Canberra for the time being. The immediate problem now appears to be a rediscovery of some 400 Aboriginal artefacts.


MIKE JEFFREYS: I thought that was all cleared up. I thought the Aboriginal artefacts question had been answered some time ago.


MARK BISHOP: No, well, that was my understanding. They apparently were aware of the Aboriginal artefacts back in 2003. We’re now told that it has become an issue again, that they are awaiting clearance from the New South Wales Department of Environment and they don’t know when they are going to get that clearance.

But the real problem here appears to be that every time we do have a set of questions—we ask what’s happening with over a billion dollars of taxpayers’ funds—we’re assured it’s going to happen but nothing seems to go ahead. And we really do need the local member of parliament, Mr Gary Nairn, to come clean and for him and the government to set in stone a date for the construction of the Bungendore joint headquarters. It must be causing a lot of alarm out there to local residents, to local business who are intending to construct support facilities and businesses attached to the construction project, but it’s not going ahead.


MIKE JEFFREYS: Now, internal fit-out at Bungendore was estimates to cost $55 million, $65 million but apparently, yesterday, you were told that the figure has not been finalised. Is that right?


MARK BISHOP: Indeed, neither the figure has been finalised. We were again told that was the ballpark but the contract hasn’t been set and, again, I say it seems to be consistent, with a range of government defence projects, that it goes for an enormous amount of time, that the costs seem to increase and the final contract is not signed. The whole project is anticipated to be operational some time in 2008 but yet the contracts for the command and control fit-out aren’t even set.


MIKE JEFFREYS: The tender is not yet named, is that right?


MARK BISHOP: That’s right. There were five tenders who originally indicated an interest—that’s now been reduced to two. The government’s apparently considering their applications to do the job and they are unable to advise when that will be finalised.


MIKE JEFFREYS: One of the two tenders short-listed for the fit-out is a company called Kaz…




MIKE JEFFREYS: …has the $200 million contract to deliver IT services to Defence but there are some questions about Kaz.


MARK BISHOP: That’s right. There’s two problems there: one, we only have two tenders—Kaz and ADI—to do the command and control, and that doesn’t seem to suggest that we’re going to get a real amount of competition on the eventual product that the government purchases and, secondly, it was also disclosed yesterday that there’s huge problems within the department as to support services provided to Defence in a range of their sites in the ACT and regional Australia—and the company that’s got that job is Kaz. And the government indicated yesterday, via its spokesperson, that unsatisfactory performance or poor performance or non-attendance to details in previous contracts would not have a bearing on the awarding of this contract for the command and control fit-out of Bungendore joint headquarters. A most odd situation I might suggest.


MIKE JEFFREYS: Yes, indeed. Just one more thing on the Aboriginal artefacts—up to 400 pieces of flint apparently. It’s hard to guess why all this wasn’t discovered now. Moving them is not an issue to local Aboriginal groups apparently. So if it is not an issue to the local Aboriginal groups then why the hold-up on those grounds?


MARK BISHOP: Again, I really can’t help you. I was surprised when the government spokesperson said that it had become an issue again. They identified 400 flints. There had been apparently a stone quarry worked over by Indigenous people many, many years ago. But the government spokesperson said that they were in very, very constructive negotiations with the local Indigenous groups. It wasn’t going to be a major issue. It wasn’t a major problem. They didn’t anticipate it being a problem in terms of construction. So why it’s raised now is unclear to me. My only fear is that we might not have a firm commitment to going ahead with the construction of that site out there in Bungendore and perhaps the government is looking to find any reason or any excuse….


MIKE JEFFREYS: So the 400 pieces of flint might be just a bit convenient?


MARK BISHOP: Well, that was my take on the remarks. You can hardly say it’s an issue when in the same breath you concede that the Indigenous groups, around Act and New South Wales who are interested in this site, have been involved in lengthy negotiations, they have been cooperative and they have indicated that it’s not going to be a problem. So why would you raise it if you could have your negotiations in private and seal off the deal?


MIKE JEFFREYS: So Senator, here we are, it’s the beginning of November—you know a certain attitude takes hold as we roll into Christmas. If you were a betting man, would you be betting that work will commence on the JHQ in this calendar year of 2006?


MARK BISHOP: I can only advise, Mike, as to what the government advised us yesterday. They were repeatedly asked whether it was going to go ahead and we were advised they were hopeful, it’s an important site, it’s a major piece of work for this region but, Senator, we do need to get the tick-off from the relevant New South Wales Department of Environment and Heritage. That seems like a bit of code to me that perhaps the government and the local member, Mr Nairn, aren’t as committed now to this project as you and I have been led to believe.


MIKE JEFFREYS: Well, Senator, once again I appreciate your time. Thanks for coming on the program.


MARK BISHOP: Thank you, Mike.


MIKE JEFFREYS: Senator Mark Bishop, talking about the JHQ.