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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31562

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (4:34 PM) —One can at times sense when there is an election in the air, just around the corner or a number of months away, when we find that the bipartisan committee process is politicised by a person of no less senior position than the deputy chairman of the Public Works Committee. I think we all agree that, in this parliament, the committee system works very well. There is a very high level of cooperation. Before you held your current august office, Mr Speaker, you were chairman of this committee, I believe. Certainly you are aware that the work of the committee could not proceed without a very high level of cooperation.

There is very little controversy with respect to these matters. The government very strongly supports the principle that matters ought to be referred to the Public Works Committee, and this matter was in fact referred to the committee. I think my department has an excellent relationship with the Public Works Committee. I see the member for Burke is conceding that point and nodding. I spoke about this matter over lunch to the honourable member for Pearce, who is the chair of the committee. She agreed that there is a great deal of cooperation between the government and the committee. We reject the allegations—perhaps election-driven allegations—by the member for Burke that the government has in some way been incompetent or dilatory in referring the matter to the Public Works Committee.

But, as the member for Burke would be well aware, there is a great deal of public works infrastructure carried out by the government. There is a lot of work referred to the Public Works Committee. In a democratic society, every three years we have an election. As we approach the end of a parliamentary term, there are certain matters that just have to be got through. While it would be desirable to subject this project to the usual thorough, competent, cooperative scrutiny of the Public Works Committee, I think the member for Burke in his contribution even conceded that in this case that is not possible. We are at one that it is not possible to have this matter dealt with by the committee. It was referred to the committee. The committee then wrote to the government pointing out that it might not be possible to follow due process in time. In fact, I have a letter here from the honourable member for Pearce, who says:

The committee therefore recommends that the referral of the work be withdrawn and that the work be made the subject of a motion in the House of Representatives to the effect that it is expedient to carry out the work without referral to the committee.

So in effect the committee and the government are in agreement that this matter ought to be withdrawn. We as a government reject the party political allegations of the deputy chairman, the member for Burke. We have not been dilatory; we have not taken our eye off the ball. The government at all times have been timely with respect to this matter. I would be remiss if I did not also reject the allegations made by the member for Burke with respect to the Christmas Island matter, which of course is a matter quite different from the motion that is currently before the chamber, but in his remarks he did take a gratuitous sideswipe at the government over that matter. I am particularly pleased to be able to commend this motion to the House.

Question agreed to.