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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1897

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(10.37) —The Government, in seeking to reinsert clause 5 in the Australian Bicentennial Road Development Trust Fund Amendment Bill, indicated, both in the second reading speech and in previous Committee debates, how much it believes this provision is integral to the success of the legislation. The Government announced in February this year that these would be the operative processes when the legislation was determined by the Parliament. The Government has undertaken a great deal of discussion with the smaller States in particular with a view to reaching a common position in respect of the main characteristics of clause 5. It is somewhat surprising therefore to find that Tasmania and Queensland have taken an attitude that negates the patient consultation and agreement that was reached with those two States. For example, the Minister for Transport, Mr Morris, has provided me with a telegram from the Minister for Main Roads in Tasmania which states:

I wish to advise that Tasmania--

that is the Tasmanian Liberal Government-

supports the relaxation of tendering procedures provided for in the Bills, and the following is the content of a telegram I forwarded to all Tasmanian senators , urging their support for the amendments:

I will read that telegram:

In the interests of the Tasmanian civil construction industry and the Tasmanian government's efforts to encourage development of that industry, you are urged to support the Commonwealth Government's relaxation of tendering procedures as proposed in the Australian Bicentennial Road Development Trust Fund Bill 1984 and the Roads Grants Amendment Bill 1984.

The telegram is signed by the Hon. I. M. Braid, MHA, Minister for Main Roads in Tasmania. I therefore find it rather difficult to understand and appreciate the obstinacy of the Opposition. Of course, I understand that when the Opposition determined its attitude in respect of this Bill it was probably not sufficiently aware of the desire of the Commonwealth Government to recognise and legitimise the views of those States where a tendering process would enable some flexibility, particularly as it relates to local government. In particular, it failed to take into account the importance of the local government authority and the local constructing authority. Of course, that was based on the experience of the 1982 legislation.

When it was proposed to amend the legislation detailed discussions were held with the States that had expressed some concern about the inflexibility of the previous legislation. It is interesting to note that while Queensland and Tasmania have conservative governments, those governments are supporting the initiatives of the Commonwealth in respect of this legislation. It was indicated to me by some National Party senators that they believe that a sensible approach is being adopted by the Commonwealth in this matter but that they are bound by a party decision. As I understand the processes of the Senate, when facts are brought to public examination the Government and the Opposition should seek a means of re-examining the legislation. If we are to be a House of review one would think that the Opposition would reconsider its dogmatic position taken earlier, in the absence of the knowledge of the views of those two respective governments, to which I have referred.

I have sat in the Senate long enough to know that Opposition senators are constantly stating that they are representative of the State view and that they are here as the State's representatives. It is rather incongruous then that we should find ourselves in a situation where, notwithstanding the expressed views of the States and the misgivings of National Party senators from Queensland, the Opposition still persists in endeavouring to delete the important provisions of clause 5. They are obviously ignoring what the Minister in the other place has said and the assurances he has given and what I said last week in respect of the debate in the Committee stage when it was contemplated that clause 5 would be deleted from the Bill. It is clear that we are confronted with a dogmatic and obstinate position.

I reiterate what was said: Those States that want this flexibility and want to exercise that flexibility on the basis of a direct representation to the Federal Minister will be expected to justify why their own or the local government constructing authority would not be successful in securing the contracts. We are not opening the door to unrestricted denial of private sector activity. We are opening the door only as it applies in respect of representations by the States themselves. The Minister will expect the State to make that representation in detail, stating how many employees may be affected by the inflexibility processes and how many employees may be retrenched or made idle if a particular tender is not won. This will enable the Minister to make an assessment of the number of employees affected and the effects upon the local economy. Senator Bjelke-Petersen stated in her contribution that it is important to recognise the very basic influence that the local government authorities in very many parts of Australia have over the economic viability of small regions.

A State government will have to give reasons why those employees cannot be employed on other State or local government projects. So the States will have a rather tortuous job to place that before the Minister. Importantly, the Minister will have to look at the cost factor, which the Government appreciates is a part of the motivation of the Opposition. It is not solely the prerogative of members of the Opposition to adopt a cost competitive position. At a time of economic restraint it is essential for us to get the maximum out of every dollar that is spent, whether it is spent in the private or public sector. In this case, where public funds are involved, we want to get the most economic use out of every dollar too. The Minister will be looking at the expected cost of the project if performed by day labour. The Minister will not automatically, perforce of the fact that a State has made representations, give a certificate of exemption. He will look at it to see whether some comparison can be made with a tender price in a comparable area.

In every way we seem to be confronted with bloody-mindedness. It is not the Government's philosophy that is being applied to this legislation. It is the Opposition's philosophy that the Government has been prepared to accept; that is , the right of the States to have an opportunity to make their representations to the Commonwealth. In the light of that very generous concession, which I believe the Minister has accepted, we have the support of the States to which I have referred. They have taken what I would regard as a very interesting step- not an unprecedented step-of circulating their views by telegram to the Tasmanian senators and suggesting that the Government's legislation, not the Opposition's approach, should enjoy the support of the Senate.