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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4995

Senator BRANDIS (2:03 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz. Is the minister aware of any new opportunities for Commonwealth agencies to locate in Barton? Do these new opportunities represent value for money for the Commonwealth?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Brandis for his question. I am advised by the Department of Finance and Administration that the demand for property in the Barton area is always quite strong. Because of this demand, it is invariably the most expensive area for office space in Canberra, generally around $280 to $350 per square metre. According to a recent L. J. Hooker commercial flyer, office space is available for lease in Barton. The space is described as:

A grade with 360-degree views, a quality fit-out and within walking distance of Parliament House—in short, high-quality office space.

Given Labor's unconscionable rent rort of the Centenary House building, also in Barton, where Labor, while they were in power, fixed a lease with a government agency for 15 years with a nine per cent minimum increase per annum, I thought a comparison might be instructive. At the moment, taxpayers fork out $845 per square metre into Labor's coffers for this lease, so I did a comparison with the rental for this newly available office space. Given Labor charges the taxpayer $845 per square metre, what do you think this other A-grade office space in Barton is going for—$850? Wrong! Seven hundred and fifty dollars?

Senator Kemp —$700.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Kemp, you are wrong. How about $650, $550 or $450? Wrong, wrong and wrong! What about if we were to try $350 per square metre? You would be wrong again. You can pick this space up for $320 per square metre, or 38 per cent of Labor's rip-off. Those of us with a forensic mind may well ask: what is the comparison between these two buildings? Closer examination of the L. J. Hooker flyer tells us that the office space is, yes, in Barton and guess what: it is also Centenary House.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators on my right, please observe the standing orders.

Senator ABETZ —Labor's sleazy and unconscionable rent rort will cost taxpayers $36 million above market rates over the life of the lease. Labor senators opposite can shriek, but the simple fact is that Senators Faulkner, Bolkus, Cook, Ray and others had their feet under the cabinet table at the time that this lease was entered into, and if they deny any knowledge of it let them say so and let them repudiate this dodgy lease. Let them get up after question time and say that they repudiate the lease and its terms, and that they seek that the lease be repudiated.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator Conroy —You are a liar.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, withdraw.

Senator Conroy —Mr President, I withdraw.

Senator ABETZ —Let them disassociate themselves from this $36 million rip-off of ordinary Australians.

Senator Lightfoot —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I understood that Senator Bolkus had used an unparliamentary remark directed to Senator Abetz as well.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Lightfoot, I did not hear that, but there were quite a few interjections. I will look at the Hansard.

Senator ABETZ —The Labor Party are very sensitive on this issue and quite rightly so. Mr Crean and the Labor Party are confronting a test of leadership. Mr Crean knows what he should do. He needs to stop the rort, and he needs to repay the $36 million being ripped off from the Australian taxpayers. This is a test of integrity, character and leadership. Mr Crean's ongoing failure to address this issue shows that his leadership is fatally flawed because of his incapacity to address these issues of integrity and character.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, whilst I know there is an important game of football on Saturday—and I know what you have under your jacket—could you cease barracking for today and leave it till Saturday. Senator Bolkus, if you did make an improper interjection, I would ask you to withdraw. If not, I will look at the Hansard.

Senator Bolkus —Mr President, I thought that all interjections were improper.

The PRESIDENT —An imputation on a minister then.

Senator Bolkus —Mr President, I will withdraw this one but, as I said in my interjection, I never say anything unparliamentary about him anyway.