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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2581

Mr SNOW —I refer the Minister for Transport to representations made to me by private contractors, stating their concern that the New South Wales Department of Main Roads, by tendering for national and arterial road works under the Australian bicentennial road development and roads grants programs is prejudicing private contractors and their employees. Are there any grounds for those concerns? Similarly, are there any grounds for the concerns expressed by DMR employees in New South Wales that the Department of Main Roads will not be able to retain its work force unless it obtains a fair share of projects under the tender provisions?

Mr PETER MORRIS —The question raised by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro is a vexed one. I should explain that the legislation of the previous Government requires that tenders be called by State road authorities for construction projects on national highways and arterial roads that are being financed under the ABRD program. Since that legislation came in, the States and the relevant unions consistently have made representations for relaxation of that inflexibility in the legislation. The case that they have put is a strong one and has considerable substance. In the way of this Government, there have been extensive consultations with the States and the unions concerned and with the Australian Federation of Construction Contractors.

I have given the States an assurance that I will be bringing before the Government for consideration a proposal to introduce an element of flexibility into that compulsory tendering process. The nature of that flexibility will be along the lines that a State Minister may put a case in respect of a particular project to the Federal Minister for Transport seeking an exemption from the calling of tenders. There would need to be guidelines in respect of that operation. It could cover instances such as the remoteness of the project, the unavailability of other contractors-these things are happening-and the low unit value of the project concerned. In some cases the State road authorities are going to tender for works costing about $100,000 with the bureaucracy and paperwork being quite disproportionate to the cost of the roadworks involved.

With respect to the impact of the legislation on private contractors, the record shows that since the new scheme came in, 90 per cent of the contracts let have been let to private contractors. State road authorities are able to tender as are, in some circumstances, local government units. They have won about 50 per cent of the tenders in which they have participated. They tender only for selected ones. Following on from that, in regard to the concern for employees of private contractors and employees of State road authorities, let me say this: Both groups of people suffered considerably under the previous Government. There was a substantial slash in Federal road expenditure of some half a billion dollars over a period of seven years. Under the new deal for roads from this Government and under the top priority accorded jobs and roadworks by this Government the 49 per cent increase in Federal expenditure this year on roads will mean some 19,000 new jobs in those areas for Australians. I think that will offset much of the concern of the employees of private contractors and also means that there will be a lot more work and a lot more jobs available for the State road authorities.