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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4014

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Works) - in reply - I think the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) would be the first to concede that a committee such as the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works does not exercise the preprogative of determining such matters as defence and foreign policies. The Public Works Committee in particular has always been quite constrained in seeking to assume such a role. It does not take the view that it has the right to challenge Government policy on such matters. It looks at the ramifications of the works project itself. I explained to the House that the change in the timetabling of this program related to the fact that a review of the naval destroyer replacement program is under way. That is not to say that the Goverment underrates the significance of defence in any way. In fact, the Australian Labor Party has always had as a very prominent part of its policy the firm and precise commitment to provide adequate defence for Australia. But it is apparent that we do not have to do that in precisely the same way as our predecessors did it.

The destroyer program is being reviewed and obviously that permits the existing facilities to be used for a longer period and to bring other facilities into operation at a little later time. Another matter that hardly needs mentioning again is the decision to base the oceanographic ship on Williamstown. This will take some little time to eventuate. Again the time factor which we have proposed is very much in compliance with the Government's objectivity in that connection. I rose mainly to make it quite clear that the Government is mindful of its defence obligation and is setting about it in what we regard as a far more contemporary, desirable and efficient way than the way in which our predecessors in office sought to do it.

We have a very real appreciation of the role of the Public Works Committee and the need to avoid pre-empting its attitude. Those principles will be firmly upheld in the future, as we have endeavoured to ensure that they should be on this occasion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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