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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 241

Mr ROCHER(11.32) —It sometimes might seem traditional for Western Australians to complain that their State gets unfair treatment from the Commonwealth. It seems to be equally traditional for others to dismiss such complaints as Western Australian parochialism. But the complaint I am bringing to honourable members' attention tonight is amply justified by facts and figures . Put simply, it is this: The Department of Housing and Construction is discriminating against Western Australian professionals and firms when it contracts out design work. This matter was first brought to my attention by the Practising Architects Association of Western Australia more than two years ago. Since then I have been asking questions on notice and corresponding with successive Ministers in an attempt to find out the policy and the practice of contracting Commonwealth design work to the private sector. The answers provided have been inconsistent, sometimes implausible and, on at least one occasion, downright wrong. But after more than two years of trying I am now satisfied with the accuracy of the information I have.

This is the situation: For some years it has been Commonwealth policy to contract out to private practitioners some 50 per cent of the design workload for major construction projects. These practitioners are mostly architects, engineers and quantity surveyors, but interior designers and other specialists are also included at different times. The reason for this policy is straightforward; it is to save the Government taxpayers' money by allowing the Department to manage with a smaller design staff of its own. If the work were not contracted out, the Department would have to maintain a large enough design staff to cope with peak workloads that are only sometimes reached. For the rest of the time the departmental staff would be underemployed. Keeping a substantial proportion of the work within the Department of course ensures that expertise is directly available within the Public Service when it is needed. That was the policy and, as I understand it, it still is. It is not applied in Western Australia, but elsewhere it is applied.

In the financial year 1981-82, the 50 per cent target was very nearly reached for Australia as a whole. The figures show that 48.5 per cent of design work let by the Commonwealth went to the private sector. I do not quibble with that; in fact I support it: But for Western Australia the figure was 11.5 per cent. Over the last three financial years the average for Australia as a whole was 44.3 per cent; for Western Australia it was only 12 per cent. In other words, Western Australian consultants are getting little more than one-tenth of the design work for Commonwealth projects in Western Australia compared with a national figure of nearly half of the work contracted to the private sector generally. This is by far the lowest figure for any State. It is less than half the figure for Queensland which is the next lowest State. It is even less than the proportion for the Northern Territory.

The Department and its Ministers have not come up with any convincing explanation for this state of affairs. To me and to my constituents in the Practising Architects Association of Western Australia, it looks like a deliberate policy of discrimination against them as Western Australian professionals. I ask the present Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Hurford) to put an end to this discrimination by seeing that an equitable percentage of design and consultancy work is let to qualified Western Australians.