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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3273

Mr FORREST (Mallee) (15:53): by leave—I wish to make some remarks on the supplementary statement in this report. The Public Works Committee has been operating for 99 years. It will be 100 years in September next year. It is a very good committee that does not bother with partisanship. It operates purely on the principle of what is in the best interests of the people of Australia, who provide the money that the agencies spend. Coalition members on the parliamentary joint standing committee feel very strongly about the exemptions that tend to keep occurring. This annual report, the 75th of this committee submitted to the parliament, makes reference to two of those—the Aboriginal land trusts exclusion and the exclusion of the National Broadband Network from scrutiny by the parliamentary Public Works Committee.

I think this is a travesty. I know the member for Pearce spoke on this at the resolution on the Aboriginal land trusts, but what needs to be understood quite strongly here is that the executive of the parliament does not own the money that gets spent by the agencies it regulates. It belongs to the people of Australia. The executives and governments of the day have very clever and creative ways of extracting this income from Australians. I think it is beholden on every single member of this chamber to exercise their responsibility to make sure that every single cent of those dollars is spent wisely and in a way that honours the objectives the parliament sets.

Back in 1913 the Public Works Committee was established after a long and tortuous debate to establish:

(a) the stated purpose of the work and its suitability for that purpose;

(b) the necessity for, or the advisability of, carrying out the work;

(c) the most effective use that can be made, in the carrying out of the work, of the moneys to be expended on the work;

(d) where the work purports to be of a revenue-producing character, the amount of revenue that it may reasonably be expected to produce; and

(e) the present and prospective public value of the work.

Also, it was to ensure the procurement processes satisfied the high standards of probity for Commonwealth projects.

I have served on this committee all of my parliamentary life here and I have rigorously pursued those principles. It has been an excellent committee where partisanship has been left at the door. I commend the current member for Page, who currently chairs the Public Works Committee, for continuing the tradition which has been operating, as I said, for close to 100 years. The committee has dealt with some very sensitive political subjects. It does not matter who is in government. I can remember times on the committee when we dealt with refugee detention centres. We got through that sensitively and in a way that observed those principles I made reference to.

I think it is a travesty that this has occurred. It is not sufficient to satisfy me that another joint standing committee has been established to supervise the activities of the National Broadband Network. I argue very strongly that that committee does not have the powers of the Public Works Committee. We have the capacity to subpoena uncooperative witnesses. The reality of dealing with commercial-in-confidence material in camera in a way that the people who provide it can have confidence that there will be no leaks comes from a commitment that is signed by every member of the committee to observe those principles.

The coalition members—for the first time ever, I believe, in an annual report of the Public Works Committee—have submitted a supplementary statement. I was grateful for the chair's cooperation to at least record some of the facts about those two exemptions. But we as coalition members did not think it went far enough and we wanted the House to note our concern and our desire that this trend for no other reason than to hide must stop if the parliament, including every single member of this place, is to observe our most critical responsibility—and that is to ensure that every cent from money that is provided by Australian taxpayers is spent wisely and judiciously. This committee has a reputation for rigorously pursuing those objectives. Coalition members thereby record their objections.