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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3272


Ms SAFFIN (Page) (15:49): On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works I present the committee's 75th annual report incorporating a supplementary statement and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a Parliamentary Paper.

Ms SAFFIN: by leave—The committee is required to present a report of its proceedings during the calendar year just ended, under section 16 of the committee's act. The year 2011 was a busy one for the committee, in which it conducted inquiries into 11 works with a combined total cost of $782.7 million. Appendix A of the report lists all inquiries completed by the committee in 2011 and the costs of the individual works. The committee also considered 48 medium works projects, with individual budgets of between $2,000,000 and $15,000,000. In 2011, the combined cost of all medium works notifications was $433.3 million. These projects are listed at appendix B of the report. The committee held 36 meetings and hearings throughout Australia during 2011, in Canberra, Brisbane, Albury, Darwin, Christmas Island, Point Cook, Scottsdale, Sydney and Nowra. These meetings are listed in appendix C of the report.

There are a few matters I would like to highlight. The committee takes very seriously its obligation to consider and report on each work as quickly as possible. In 2011, the average time from the referral of a work to tabling its report was 15 weeks. A number of works were deemed exempt from committee consideration in 2011, including the National Broadband Network Co. Ltd and Aboriginal Land Trusts. The committee's regulations were amended to include NBN Co. as a Commonwealth authority and therefore exempt from the committee's scrutiny. However, the NBN Co. is still subject to parliamentary scrutiny through the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network. The honourable member for Mallee, the deputy chair, and his coalition colleagues on the committee have made a supplementary statement on this issue, which the member for Mallee will speak to.

The Aboriginal Land Trusts were exempted through an amendment to its own establishing legislation, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. There may be genuine reasons why some agencies require an exemption from parliamentary scrutiny. For example, these could be for reasons of urgency or national security. However, the committee remains concerned that some agencies may seek to amend establishing legislation to avoid the scrutiny of the committee. Rather than being an impediment, the Public Works Committee inquiry process should be viewed as an opportunity for agencies to demonstrate that their project represents value for money and is fit for purpose.

Regarding the two matters that I just talked about, I would like to put on the record an assurance to the two agencies and ministers that they can have absolute confidence in the Public Works Committee, in its competence and in the way that it approaches the tasks that are before it. It does that in a very professional, technical and non-partisan way. That has been my experience on the committee to date.

I would also like to give special thanks to officers of the Special Claims and Land Policy Branch of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, who assist agencies in preparing their proposals for committee consideration. I thank members and senators, past and present, for their work throughout 2011. I particularly thank the deputy chairs of the committee in 2011. That is currently the honourable member for Mallee and previously was Senator Judith Troeth. I commend the report to the House.