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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2270


Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - One of the many claims made by the Australian Labor Party in seeking election to government and early in government was that it disapproved strongly of the principle of the previous government in substantial leasing or renting of premises and that its policy would be to alter that arrangement radically and to provide accommodation in its own buildings. I draw the attention of the Committee of the Whole to attachment 4 as circulated. It contains information supplied in reply to a question by me. I asked whether there was an increase in rented premises. It will be noted that from 30 June 1972 to 30 June 1974, which is substantially the period of office of this Government, owned accommodation has increased by 14 per cent and leased accommodation by 41 per cent. I think that that should be clearly noted. The Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) in his reply might reverse that policy as one by one Labor Government policies have been reversed. Lest there be any doubt about the document from which I am reading I seek leave to have attachment 4 as circulated to honourable senators incorporated in Hansard.


The CHAIRMAN - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

ATTACHMENT 4

SENATE ESTIMATES COMMITTEE B

Additional Information to that Provided at Hearing on IS * October 1974

Division 523-Rent $34,037,000

Senator Carrick

Hansard Reference- Page 89

Question- I have the impression that the overall volume of rented space has very considerably increased in the last year or two. Has the Department any statistic, not measured in money for rental but measured in actual space rented, which would either support, or give the lie to my belief? In other words, has there been a substantial increase in space rented? Can we measure it other than in costs?

Answer- The following table provides details of Government office accommodation from 1969 to 1974.

 

shown in the table above exclude the statistics for country areas as these are available only in respect of 1973 onwards.


Senator CARRICK -I thank the Senate. I draw the attention of the Committee of the Whole to a quite serious matter. I refer to the latest report by the Auditor-General. On pages 196 and 197, the Auditor-General reports that a substantial number of buildings which are rented or owned by the Government throughout Australia remained unoccupied and unused for extremely extensive periods. Let me quote from the Auditor-General's report:

In one case, a property purchased in December 1971 for $1,050,000 was still only partially occupied. Another property, purchased in February 1969 for $190,000, had been vacant since acquisition. A third property, purchased in June 1973 for $198,854 and intended for ultimate demolition, had been vacant since acquisition. A site purchased in October 1972 for $60,000 had been found unsuitable for the intended purpose and its development was in doubt.


Senator McLaren - What date in 1972 was the purchase?


Senator CARRICK - A site was purchased in October 1972.


Senator McLaren - Under what government?


Senator CARRICK - Precisely 4 weeks before we finished as the Government it was purchased and has been found unsuitable for the intended purpose by this Government. The AuditorGeneral goes on and says -


Senator McLaren - You purchased it. You cannot blame this Government for that.


Senator CARRICK -Not surprisingly the Auditor-General holds views slighty different from those of Senator McLaren. I would worry about the qualifications of the Auditor-General if he did not. The Auditor-General listed a series of other properties which had been unoccupied. The report said:

Instances were also noted of properties remaining unoccupied long after having been vacated by the holding departments.

A property valued at $ 1 ,200,000 was still unoccupied after having been vacated in August 1972. Another property valued at $2,425,000 had been vacant since November 1972. A further property valued at $110,000 had been vacant since August 1972.

I draw attention also to the Auditor-General's statements regarding occupancy of leased premises. He pointed out:

In one instance, in excess of $1 10,000 had been paid in respect of unoccupied areas of leased space and there were indications that the figure could ultimately exceed $500,000. In another 2 cases, the respective amounts involved were approximately $ 1 50,000 and $ 146,000. The remaining cases ranged from approximately $ 12,000 to $80,000.

I asked for information to be supplied as to the nature of the circumstances and honourable senators will note in Attachment 2 some four or five pages in which property after property is set out For example, workshop premises at Concord West, being unoccupied Government premises, were purchased by the PostmasterGeneral's Department and contracts were exchanged on 17 December 1971. Settlement took place on 9 June 1972 and the premises were not occupied after the best part of 1 8 months had elapsed. A property in Blackburn purchased at a cost of $190,000 in February 1969 is still not in use. In the case of a property in West Street, North Sydney, there is a similar situation. There is list after list of properties owned but not occupied. And when we come to unoccupied leased premises we see property after property leased, rents paid for years, but no occupation. Here we have Bridgegate House in Elizabeth Street, Sydney. A lease for this was made for the PostmasterGeneral's Department and commenced on 9 November 1973 at a rental of $347,588.80 per annum. It is understood that the premises are not yet occupied. There was a similar situation in respect of a lease at Central Square. Ship News House at North Sydney was leased from 7 June 1971 at the request of the Postmaster-General's Department. It is understood that the property was progressively occupied between March and June 1972. The rental paid from the commencement of that lease until the premises were occupied amounted to approximately $ 1 46,000.


Senator McLaren - Your Government again.


Senator CARRICK - On the contrary, what the honourable senator does not understand, because no doubt he is incapable of reading the Auditor-General's report, is that the AuditorGeneral explains that for an initial period of 6 months or more it is obviously necessary to put the carpenters and decorators in to refurbish the place before it is occupied. The Auditor-General is referring to the year 1973-74 in which, tragically for Australia, the Whitlam Labor Government was in power. The criticism by the AuditorGeneral is of the Labor Government.


Senator Milliner - What did you buy them for?


Senator CARRICK - If the honourable senator queries whether it was right to buy them, he is hoist with his own petard. If it was wrong and if the Whitlam Government says it was wrong why has it held on to them and not sold them? Why has it kept these premises if it was wrong? The Auditor-General, on the contrary, says that there is some anticipation that they will be used. It seems to me that honourable senators on the Government benches are not helping their own cause by their interjections so I urge them to continue. In respect of the Carlton Centre in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, on the unoccupied portions of an area of 35, 1 38 square feet leased from 19 March 1973 at the request of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, the rental amounted to approximately $80,000. Similar situations prevailed in respect of premises in Grosvenor Street Sydney where the cost was $12,000; at Miranda Fair, Miranda, at a cost of $12,750; at Aviation House, Brisbane, at a cost of $35,000; at Scottish Amicable House, Parkside, South Australia, at a cost of $ 16,000.

The basic policy of the Government in terms of services and property was that the Government would build its own properties and occupy them and cut down on leasing. The simple fact is that no government has expanded with such Parkinson tendencies as has this Government. No government has equipped its Ministers and its officers with such elaborate premises. In Sydney their premises are among the most elaborate and attract some of the highest rentals in Sydney. It is not good enough for Ministers to set themselves up in government buildings. Honourable senators will find that they have gone into elaborate buildings. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) at least for some time was in the tower building at Australia Square. Wherever one looks there is this tendency. I rose on these estimates simply to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the AuditorGeneral as usual has done a great service to the Parliament in drawing attention to defects. The information supplied by way of questioning has illustrated a series of quite grave defects which I hope will be rectified shortly.







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