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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2271

Dr J F CAIRNS (Lalor) (Minister for Overseas Trade) - I refer to the first part of the amendment first. Over a long period the Government has given consideration to the proposal that the Secretary of the Department of Secondary Industry should be on the Board of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and, more recently, to a proposal that the Secretary of the Department of Minerals and Energy also should be on the Board. The Austraiian Industry Development Corporation is a public corporation. It has been set up by the Government of Australia with the approval of a great many members of the present Opposition. It has a responsibility as a public corporation. It is not merely a group of people who have responsibility in a private or commercial sense. It is true that their judgment must be exercised according to commercial principles. But that does not mean that they should be solely private, commercial or industrial people. It is a public corporation. All the members of the Board could have been government-type people, but the alternative was chosen because it is a corporation which is working very closely with industry and a corporation which has to a very large extent won the confidence of industry, although its operations are not great. It has only about S53m outlaid at the present time. The second reason why we considered this to be desirable is as follows: I do not know what was the experience of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) when he was a member of the previous Government, but my experience with departments and departmental heads has been that they are extremely competent people.

Mr Lynch - I agree with that.

Dr J F CAIRNS - They have a very experienced and capable judgment to exercise. I think the Corporation would gain if it had such men exercising their judgment, along with others, on its Board. There is room for 11 members on the Board, apart from these two. They will be two out of 11, 12, 13 or whatever it might happen to be. As far as I am concerned as the Minister, they will be free to exercise their judgment as responsible people. I would not at any stage attempt to influence their judgment. I would be very unfavourable if anyone else tried to exercise their judgment. I ask the Opposition to have a little respect for the Government as well as for itself in this respect. In saying that, I expect it to take that as being a statement of what will actually happen.

The third reason for wanting to include the heads of these 2 departments is that their departments are departments which have, to my knowledge and I am sure to the knowledge of some of those who sit opposite, a great ability to know the field of minerals and energy in one case and secondary industry in another and to know what is desirable to be done, lt is proper that they should be able to bring their knowledge and experience as the heads of 2 departments working continually in the field of minerals and energy on the one hand and secondary industry on the other to the use and service of the AIDC. It seems to me that there are 3 strong reasons - I can mention quite a number of others but I feel I do not want to take up time doing so - why the Government should take the decision it has taken. I do not mind reassessing it and looking at it again. Between now and the time of the Bill being introduced in the Senate I will do that. But I feel quite convinced at this stage that the decision made by the Government in this respect is a sound one.

I turn to the comments about the AuditorGeneral. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will have noticed that we have provided in the National Interest Division that the auditing shall be done by the Auditor-General because the National Interest Division will be concerned alone with transactions in relation to which the Government is guaranteeing the AIDC or where the Parliament will be appropriating funds out of its own sources - from revenue or from wherever else it may be able to acquire funds. The National Interest Division will be a public funds area. Therefore it is quite appropriate that the auditing there should be done by the Auditor-General. The previous Government - I understand its view on this was quite developed and incisive - con sidered that it was inappropriate to have other than a legally qualified private auditor auditing in the private area.

The other part of the AIDC's operations is a private area. It acquires considerable knowledge. In its books it has a considerable amount of detail on private companies in which it is investing. Because private interests are involved, because private companies come into the relations with the AIDC and because the AIDC's records have extensive information - sometimes very extensive information - about these private companies, I have accepted the previous Government's view that the auditing here should be done by a legally qualified private auditor. The AIDC has, as I understand it, one of the auditors most respected in the business community. Frankly, I see no reason to change the position with respect to the part of the AIDC's operations that involves private transactions in which decisions are carried out on ordinary commercial principles and in relation to which so much private information is available. It was a principle that the AIDC's operations in this field should not be opened too much or in an unlimited way even to the scrutiny of the Parliament. It makes reports to the Parliament and the Parliament can act on those reports. If it thinks anything is wrong it can bring people to the bar of the House or set up a committee of inquiry into the AIDC. The Government which enacted this legislation was careful to ensure that we do not go too far. As I see it, it is best to leave it as it is.

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