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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31561

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (4:30 PM) —As I was saying, and as the parliamentary secretary has confirmed, it is an unusual step to rescind a referral motion to the Public Works Committee. Therefore I am obliged to make some comments about the matter. It is fair to say that the Public Works Committee was put in a position of having to comment on what the government should or should not do in relation to this matter. This matter goes to the potential refitting and refurbishment of the buildings which the parliamentary secretary has mentioned; however, the amount we are talking about is in excess of $100 million and we believe that the Public Works Committee was not in a position to do anything other than what is happening now.

The reason we were not in a position to do anything else is that the government, in relation to this matter, failed to foresee that the lease of the building the Australian Federal Police are currently occupying is going to expire in September 2006. I contend the government should have been well aware of that fact and should not have put the Public Works Committee in such a difficult position. Of course we do not want to see the Australian Federal Police without a roof. We do not want to see them out of a home. Particularly in this current climate, it is essential that the Australian Federal Police are properly looked after. But it should not have taken the rescission of a referral to the Public Works Committee for this matter to be properly looked after.

It means that, given that the government has not foreseen the end of a lease that is currently in place in September 2006 because the government has not been focusing on its job in administering this matter, $100 million of taxpayers' money is going to be spent without any proper public scrutiny. I know I reflect the concerns of other members of the Public Works Committee that this matter has come before the chamber as a result of the incompetence of the minister in not foreseeing the end of the lease that the Australian Federal Police have for a particular building and not realising that the building owner is not in a position to or does not wish to extend that lease. For those reasons and because the government failed to have proper regard to those circumstances, we are now in a position where over $100 million of expenditure is not going to be properly scrutinised pursuant to the Public Works Committee Act.

I believe it is an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in. It is comparable to the urgency motion moved by the parliamentary secretary with respect to the reception and detention centre at Christmas Island, which I have to say was a complete bungling by the government. There has been definitely been an enormous amount of Commonwealth expenditure wasted in the way in which that was handled by the Department of Finance and Administration—DOFA—and by another department. Here we have DOFA again failing to indicate to the Public Works Committee that the committee will not be able to properly scrutinise over $100 million because the department did not foresee that the building owner may not want to extend the lease beyond September 2006. I think it is a shameful situation. I have to say that it was certainly under some duress that the Public Works Committee decided not to oppose what the government is doing today because we do not want to put the Australian Federal Police in a position where they are not adequately looked after, given the current climate. We believe the minister and the department should have paid more regard to these very important matters, given the heightened security needs of this nation.