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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2713

Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) - I do not wish to waste the time of the House. We will have another opportunity to discuss this matter. The Bill that we are discussing is only to increase to $2m the mandatory limit for works considered by the Joint Statutory Committee on Public Works, although I know that the members of the Committee have expressed the opinion that the limit should be only $1.5m. Personally, I regard $2m as a realistic figure. However, the Senate has added to the work of the Committee the task of examining statutory bodies and I do not know how this Committee will ever get through the work it is supposed to get through.

I should like firstly to thank the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson), a former member of the Public Works Committee, and also my colleagues, the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) and the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn). All of the members of the Public Works Committee dedicate themselves to their job and I can say without hesitation that politics has never played a part in any decision that they have made. The Public Works Committee is a watchdog over the expenditure of public moneys. Like the honourable member for Wakefield, I think that a limit of $2m is a reasonable figure. As a matter of fact, of the projects to come before the Public Works Committee for examination, only two come within the category of costing less than $2m. I do not think that that is of great importance when one considers that the Parliament or the Cabinet still has the right to refer any public work, irrespective of cost, to the Public Works Committee. But the figure of $2m suggested by the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) is designed to limit the amount of work that this Committee must do. The Committee cannot meet while the Parliament is sitting. Therefore, it must meet during the recess and all the time that the Committee spends in the recess is spent outside of Committee members' electorates. Consequently, many Committee members would like to have more time to spend in their electorates.

I shall not go over the whole of the ground again but last session, as the previous Chairman of the Public Works Committee will remember, we had to seek the permission of the Parliament for the Committee to sit while the Parliament was sitting. This can be done, if Parliament agrees.

Mr James - Of both Houses, is it not?

Mr FULTON - No, only the House of Representatives. Permission was granted for the Committee to sit while the Parliament was sitting but the Committee members were not happy about it because debates were going on in Parliament in which they were interested but in which they could not take part or to which they could not even listen. This is not a good thing at all. I would not recommend it for the future. However, we are looking at ways and means of streamlining our procedures when examining projects.

Already we have introduced some new ideas which will assist the Committee in its work. I do not agree with the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn) that we are moving too fast and a lot of work should not be proceeded with because State governments, private enterprise and all the rest are involved. As far as I am concerned every project that is referred to the Public Works Committee is urgent and needed. I refer to sewerage works, power houses, schools, laboratories and so on. Money is not being spent foolishly or unnecessarily. Such projects are necessary for the advancement of our nation. I feel that the work load on the Committee must be kept up. I feel the Committee will be able to do the work provided we can streamline some of the methods which we have adopted in years gone by. If we could streamline the procedures, the references could be considered more quickly. On the question of work of statutory authorities being submitted to the Public Works Committee, I feel sure that the suggestion of the honourable member for Balaclava will be taken into consideration. I feel that a lot of the work of statutory authorities could be dealt with by some authority other than the Public Works Committee.

I, like my colleagues on the Public Works Committee, feel that a lot of works are being undertaken and public money being spent without the scrutiny of some authority of Parliament. This is not a good thing. It is not right. I think the matter should be looked at. If the work can be handled by the Public Works Committee, well and good. If it cannot be handled by the Committee it should be handled by some other authority from this Parliament. I do not know how such an authority would be set up but these problems can be thrashed out between the Ministers and the Public Works Committee. I feel sure that the Committee can carry on as it has done in the past even if such work is referred to it. We will have to streamline our methods and get through the work as best we can and as quickly as we can and still give it proper consideration. After all it is most important that proposals for the expenditure of public money should be scrutinised to ensure that it is used to the best advantage for the nation.

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