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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4842

Senator TCHEN (1:26 PM) — Mr Acting Deputy President Brandis, may I congratulate you on your elevation to the chair. You may recall that last week, during the adjournment debate, I gave an example of the `can-do' spirit that pervades the Victorian community—that is, the refurbishment of the historic See Yup Temple and Memorial Hall in South Melbourne, which was a totally privately funded and managed project undertaken in celebration of the Centenary of Federation. Today I am saddened to say that I must speak to highlight the appalling performance of the Victorian Labor government and how Victoria is suffering because of the incompetence of that government.

Senator Robert Ray —Are you declaring your pecuniary interests?

Senator TCHEN —If ever the Australian public needed an example of Labor's talent for mismanagement, the Victorian Labor government is a prime example—or perhaps I should say that it is, again, a prime example.

Senator Robert Ray —Kennett put you here!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brandis)—Order! Senator Ray!

Senator Robert Ray —Just defending former Senator Synon.

Senator TCHEN —If ever Australians needed an example of why Labor should not be, and cannot be, trusted at the helm of government, they need look no further than the Bracks Labor government in Victoria and how they have completely botched the job. I speak of that most visible example, the Federation Square project. When the Bracks government won office in October 1999, they inherited a state with not only a strong and robust economy but also a series of major projects that would enhance the state's physical infrastructure and sustain the people's pride and vision for their community.

In the seven years that Jeff Kennett was Premier of Victoria, we saw the commencement and completion of an impressive list of major projects, including the Exhibition Centre—also known as `Jeff's shed', of course, to those who had forgotten that it looked like a bomb site for three years—

Senator Robert Ray —The tollway, the casino—


Senator Robert Ray —Why? Is he a protected species?

Senator TCHEN —after the Kirner Labor government ran out of money for a much smaller project. The list includes the Jolimont Sports Centre, the Regent Theatre restoration, the Old Treasury Building Exhibition and Reception Centre, the Albert Park Sports and Aquatic Centre, the old Customs House restoration and its development as the Immigration Museum, the Yarra Maritime Precinct, the new Arts Centre Spire, the Jolimont, Bayside and Beacon Cove residential developments, the City Circle Tram Network and the first stage of Docklands. The list goes on but I shall not continue because I must move on to something more immediate.

A number of other major projects were also well advanced at the time. Some of these, such as the CityLink project and the new Melbourne Museum, were so far advanced that even the most incompetent management could not delay them, and they were completed within the first six months of the Bracks government taking office. A number of other projects were not so far advanced, including the state library refurbishment and the National Gallery of Victoria renovation as well as the Federation Square project. Through the Bracks government's complete mismanagement of these projects, they are running significantly over budget and over time. Federation Square is the prime example of the Bracks Labor government's complete incompetence in handling major projects. They have messed with the design, they have mismanaged the project, and the responsibility rests firmly with them. The original completion date for the Federation Square project was December 2000.

Opposition senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Order! The persistent interjection of senators on my left is disorderly.

Senator TCHEN —That date has now been stretched out to December 2002, but no-one should be holding their breath for even that late date for this Centenary of Federation project to be completed. It took less time to establish the Commonwealth after the Federation referendum! The original estimate of the cost of the project was $110 million, of which the Howard government committed $50 million in funding. The cost has now been revised to $467.5 million. This is a staggering $357.5 million increase in cost, more than four times the original project cost. This project was designed to be a gift of a centre of Australian culture to the people of Victoria and the people of Australia for the celebration of the Centenary of Federation. It is now 2002 and we still have no Federation Square. The people of Victoria have been given by the Bracks government a $357.5 million bill in celebration of their incompetence.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Order, Senator Marshall! Let Senator Tchen make his remarks without persistent interjection.

Senator TCHEN —They have no centre of culture but, rather, a culture of debt. New South Wales is no better off, Senator Marshall, as you well know. The minute we can look at that balance sheet we will know. This Labor government will again leave Victoria with a legacy of debt. Under the Bracks government's stewardship of Federation Square, delay and variation claims worth $33.5 million have been lodged against the state. The contractor, Multiplex, was paid $70 million—more than double the original fee— after threatening to pull out of the project, and the Bracks government authorised a $25 million loan to the managers of Federation Square. How did this all come about? The Bracks government wasted millions of dollars altering the design of the project and axing what was known as the western shard.

The original design was the subject of a two-stage competition with an exceptionally qualified judging panel chaired by Professor Neville Quarry, a Royal Australian Institute of Architects gold medallist, which included the award-winning Polish architect Daniel Libeskind. Certainly there was no shortage of talent and expertise in the team that selected the original design. One only has to look up the official Victorian government web site for Federation Square to see that there is no shortage of laudatory remarks about this award-winning design. Surely it is bizarre that the Bracks government has seen fit to chop and change the winning design for the square with no regard for the expertise of the people who selected the winning design when its official web site is full of praises for the design.

Under the original design by LAB Architecture Studio of London and Bates Smart Architects of Melbourne, Federation Square was to be a striking heart of art and culture in Melbourne and Victoria linking with the existing arts precinct, comprising the National Gallery of Victoria and the arts centre nearby. The primary entrance to the square, opposite St Paul's Cathedral, was to have been flanked by two shards made from glass and zinc. The shards were to be at an angle and positioned about 30 to 40 metres apart. Together the two shards would have framed and highlighted William Butterfield's design of St Paul's Cathedral. They would also have served a practical need of housing the essential service mechanism for the project. However, as Peter Ward, reporting in the Australian newspaper back in February 2000, said of the change to the project:

... it will be gap-toothed without either, but that is what Premier Bracks has decreed, on the advice of a Labor mate, Melbourne University architecture professor and former Cain government minister Evan Walker, who was engaged by the Premier to review the design.

Peter Ward also said:

The commissioning of the review looked shabby and its outcome is both shabby and shaming to all involved in wielding the blue pencil, fudging the politics, and using rump pressures as the excuse.

Peter Ward is right: it is a shabby decision— a shabby, dirty decision that Victorians are now paying for, literally. Victorians are now paying an extra $357.5 million for the Bracks government's mismanagement. This project is now $357.5 million over budget and will not be finished until late this year, if then. That is unacceptable and demonstrates Labor's mismanagement.

I am not sure how many senators would be aware that the incompetence of the Bracks government in relation to Federation Square is now affecting the World Masters Games to be held in Melbourne during October 2002. Federation Square's function centre and atrium were to have been the central administration centre for the games, but we are now told that they will not be ready in time. Federation Square was to be where the games' approximately 20,000 competitors and their supporting staff would be administered from, as well as being the central information and accreditation centre. In place of using the function centre and atrium, the games staff have been offered the use of marquees in the plaza area of the square.

So we are now left with the administration centre for the World Masters Games being housed in a tent. This is Melbourne's chance to show off its city and its capability to host major events prior to the 2006 Commonwealth Games—and we are forcing the World Masters Games into a tent. If such an event were held in a historic cultural centre such as Rome, it might be appropriate to have officials working in the shadow of the Colosseum as a reminder of Rome's, and Italy's, spectacular past. But to house officials in a tent in the unfinished Federation Square serves only to remind Victorians and visitors of the inglorious record of the Bracks government. As a Victorian, I fear the next embarrassing development the Bracks government will deliver for Victoria in the lead-up to this important event. I dread to think of it. As my adjournment address to the Senate indicated last week, Victorians deserve better. We have the ability, the commitment and the vision to provide for our future and for our community—with the exception, of course, of the Bracks government. If we need an example of why we should never go back to Labor, we have an unfortunate living example in my home state.