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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2708

Mr DALY (Grayndler) (Minister for Services and Property and Leader of the House) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Bill introduced in the Senate was to amend section 1®(8) of the Public Works Committee Act to increase the mandatory limit for works considered by the Public Works Committee from $750,000 to $2m. .During 1972 the Committee, through the extensive efforts of its members, examined a total of 35 proposals, 17 more than in any previous year. This general increase in the number of references to Committee is continuing with 54 possible proposals listed for 1973 on the current basis of reference. On present planning the Committee would have to deal with an average of 6 projects per month. However, during the parliamentary sessions an average of only one week per month is available for inspections and hearings. It is obvious that the Committee could not possibly investigate such a large number of proposals as thoroughly and effectively as it has in the past.

In addition, the Committee has found that the cost level in real terms above which Commonwealth works proposals must be referred to the Committee has been diminished over the years by inflation. As a result the Committee is now examining proposals which, in the past, would have been valued below the statutory limit. Consequently, relatively minor projects are being delayed, and this increases the time and cost involved in presenting evidence before the Committee. The figure of $2m was set after due consideration of the number of works projects which the Government contemplates, and the relative amount of time available to the committee to look at these projects. This figure would have resulted in 36 projects to be investigated by Committee - in other words a program similar to that of 1972.

However, the Senate passed an opposition amendment to the Bill which, in its intention, would require the Public Works Committee to examine all capital works in excess of $2m undertaken by statutory authorities as well as Government departments. It is obvious that such an amendment would negate the original purpose of the Bill, resulting in the Committee being further burdened with works referred to it by the sixty or so statutory authorities.

The Government wishes to remain flexible on this matter, and has already launched an in-depth examination by an inter-departmental committee of the full range of works undertaken by all arms of the Australian Government in an attempt to draw up a more rational method of selecting those works which should be referred to the Public Works Committee. In committee, therefore, I will move an amendment which will have the effect of deleting the amendment passed in the Senate and restoring the Bill to its original form with the undertaking that the in-depth examination be undertaken and pursued as a matter of urgency.

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