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Wednesday, 10 June 1970

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) - On behalf of the Austral an Labor Party, I move:

Omit the clause.

The Australian Labor Party believes that the functions of the consultative committee, which is the subject of clause 16 of the Bill, could be fulfilled by the Director of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. Perhaps I should quote clause 16 for the benefit of those people who are sufficiently interested to read Hansard. Clause 16 states: (1.) For the purposes of this Act, there shall be a Consultative Committee, consisting of six mein bers, namely:

(a)   four members appointed in relation to engineering works in Australia and elsewhere, of whom two shall be representative of the engineering profession; and

(b)   two members appointed in relation to engineering works outside Australia (2.) A member of the Consultative Committee -

(a)   shall be appointed by the Minister; and

(b)   holds office on such terms and conditions as the Minister determines. (3.) The manner in which the Consultative Committee shall conduct its business (including the manner in which it is to reach decisions) shall be as determined by the Minister in writing. (4.) The Minister may request the Consultative Committee lo advise him whether a function of the Corporation under the next succeeding section should be exercised by the Corporation in respect of a particular engineering work and, if so, how that function should be exercised bv the Corporation in respect of that work, and the Committee shall advise, the Minister accordingly. (5.) Where a member of the Committee disagrees with the advice that the Committee proposes to furnish to the Minister on a matter, that member may furnish his separate advice to the Minister on that matter. lt is quite clear that clause 16 has been included in the Bill to hamstring the Corporation and to protect the consultative engineering firms in Australia. This ties in with the vague notions which the Liberal Party of Australia has about protecting private enterprise. Because of its notions on private enterprise, which are supposedly the base of its ideological outlook, the Liberal Party seeks to hamstring this Corporation. One has only to look at the history of statutory corporations in Australia to appreciate my argument. Trans Australia Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd are 2 examples. A better example is the Export Payments Insurance Corporation. This organisation was offered to private enterprise in the mid-1950s, but it was rejected. Finally, the Government set up a statutory corporation. It has operated so efficiently and made such a colossal profit that premiums have been reduced to such a point that it would be probably the cheapest form of insurance. This organisation operates to insure exports against non-payment.

The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation should be free to operate anywhere in the Commonwealth as a statutory corporation. Clause 16 has been included in the Bill because the Liberal Party is afraid that the Corporation will operate too efficiently and too competitively for private enterprise. Why should it not be able to operate in competition with private enterprise? I refer to clause 24 of the Bill, which states:

In the exercise of its functions the Corporation shall pursue a policy directed towards securing, in each financial year, revenue sufficient -

(a)   to meet the expenditure of the Corporation properly chargeable to revenue of thai year;

(b)   to enable the Corporation to make provision for income lax; and

(c)   to permit the paymentto the Commonwealth of a reasonable return on the capital of the Corporation.

In other words, the Corporation must meet its own costs, must pay income tax and must make a reasonable profit. If the Corporation is to operate commercially at a profit why should it be hamstrung by a provision that it can take on only those jobs which the consultative committee recommends to the Minister it should do. Honourable members may have noticed that clause 16 of the Bill provides that 2 members of the consultative committee shall be representatives of the engineering profession. The clause does not state that the consultative committee must consist of 2 members who are professional engineers; it states that it must consist of 2 members who are representatives of the engineering profession. So that a representative of a consultative firm which is in competition with the Corporation may be sitting on the consultative committee and he may say to the Minister: Do not let the Snowy Mountains Corporation come in on this one'. This is an iniquitous proposition. This clause should not be included in the Bill.

Another requirement is that the other members of the consultative committee shall be public servants. I have never known a public servant who has been able to make a quid in his life. I would not like to see members of the Commonwealth Public Service in this organisation because its object is to make a profit. If this corporation is to make a profit it has to operate along commercial lines. The Director of the Corporation should be given complete discretion over the way in which the organisation is run. He should not have to seek the opinion of a committee which consists of representatives of private enterprises which refers propositions to the Minister. If the consultative committee holds up its deliberations on the merit of a proposition and the Minister holds up any decision the Snowy Mountains Corporation could miss out on aquiring the consulting job which it wishes to apply for because of the time factor involved.

I do not think I need to say very much more about this amendment because it is self-explanatory. This provision in relation to a consultative committee is included in the Bill so that the committee can be made to operate as an agent of private enterprise in the engineering consultative field in Australia. This ties in with the general Liberal approach to statutory corporations because the Liberal Party believes that this statutory corporation once set up will operate far more efficiently under a Labor Party administration. If the Corporation is to operate as a commercial undertaking as the Government intends, the Government must be consistent and at least allow the Director of the Corporation the right to direct its affairs in the way he sees fit. The Government should agree to the deletion of this stupid clause relating to the consultative committee. I ask the Committee to support the amendment.

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