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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1899

Senator JACK EVANS(10.44) —I move:

Proposed clause 5, paragraph (d), proposed paragraphs 23 (2) (e) and (f), lines 20 to 30 leave out the paragraphs.

I would like to just make it quite clear that the amendment omits from the proposals and the requirements of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) two of the four exempt classifications. I have had prolonged discussions with a number of people, including the Minister, the shadow Minister and the private contractors which, I notice, comprise the forgotten group in the debate from the Government side. The Minister keeps referring to the consensus that has been achieved by the parties which are involved in this legislation and its flow-on effects. The Minister needs to be reminded that a major party which has not agreed to this proposal is the representative group of the private contractors. It is all very well for the Federal and State governments to come together in a cosy arrangement which will exclude private contractors from certain categories of work and then for the Minister to claim that he has consensus simply because two arms of Government, or two levels of government, have reached agreement. That is not consensus; that is one group benefiting at the expense of another group. I think it needs to be quite clearly understood that we are not endeavouring to give an advantage to private contractors. We are endeavouring to redress an advantage that was going to be given to State and local governments at the expense of private contractors. All this amendment will achieve will be to ensure that all parties are in there with an opportunity to do this work. That means that they will each have to tender.

I wish now to make two other points. The exemption would apply to works, the whole of which are:

. . . of a kind that are usually carried out by a Department of State of the Commonwealth or of a State or by a particular person by virtue of a law of the Commonwealth or of a State, not being a Department or a person responsible for the construction of roads--

That sounds nice and simple. It may indicate that we are talking about only relatively small amounts of work which are done. Odd departments might do a few hundred dollars worth of work to clear up an electricity problem, a water problem or a railroad problem that, strictly speaking, is not the responsibility of a main roads department or a roads department. But it goes much further than that. I think the Minister needs to be aware of this when he is reading and taking cognisance of telegrams from Tasmania. That cosy little group of departments includes the Hydro-Electric Commission of Tasmania, a body which is not known for its backwardness in using influence of a variety of kinds on the Government of Tasmania, which Government would then transfer that pressure on to the Federal Minister.

I believe that my amendment literally lets the Federal Minister off the hook. He certainly has not said this but I have a feeling that he will be quite relieved when this amendment is passed. It removes, by deleting both paragraph ( e) and paragraph (f) of clause 5, the possibility of having the gun pointed at his head by State Ministers and State governments, either on their own behalf or on behalf of local government bodies, to refrain from calling for tenders simply by the means which would be allowed under the Government's Bill of saying: 'We are about to lose jobs. Please do not call for tenders. Give us the work without going through that process. Do not put us into a competitive situation'.

Of course, the Minister has missed one other vital aspect in this part of the Bill. Under this clause not only would tenders not be called but also there would be no requirement for the work to be budgeted. Therefore, it is quite possible under this clause for a State government to come forward and say: 'We want to do the work on a cost-plus basis and for it to proceed along those lines with no limit set because no tenders have been called. Therefore, there is no requirement, under the legislation as proposed, for a Budget to be agreed by the Federal Minister'. We are not willing to accept that that sort of blank cheque could be written under pressure from State governments, particularly in the sensitive area of contracting when there is a potential loss of jobs in both the private area and the public area. We believe that cognisance needs to be taken of all the considerations, including the price for this work to be done.