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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2710

Mr WHITTORN (Balaclava) - jAs a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I feel that I ought to say a few things about the proposed change. Being a member of the Committee, I have discussed with other members of the Committee the possibility of increasing the mandatory minimum limit of expenditure for projects to be referred to the Public Works Committee from $750,000 to $2m. The debate on this proposal was initiated in the Senate on 24 May 1973 and subsequently was debated there on 29 and 30 August. Of course, the reason for the proposal was the increased workload on the Committee brought about by the increased number and value of the public and civil works programs of this Government and previous governments.

As has been said, the proposal now before us is to increase the mandatory minimum limit from $750,000 to S2m. I ought to say, as I think was said by the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly), that the Committee made a recommendation to the then Minister for Works and to the Government that the mandatory limit should be increased to SI. 5m. I think I should read out the section of the Public Works Committee Act which relates to the subject we are now debating, namely, section 18 (8). It states:

A public work the estimated cost of which exceeds $750,000 shall not be commenced unless -

(a)   the work has been referred to the Committee in accordance with this section;

(b)   the House of Representatives has resolved that, by reason of the urgent nature of the work, it is expedient that it be carried out without having been referred to the Committee; or

(c)   the Governor-General has, by order, declared that the work is for defence purposes and that the reference of the work to the Committee would be contrary to the public interest.

That deals with the area which we are discussing today and about which we are endeavouring to reach agreement on increasing the mandatory minimum limit. As I said, the Committee talked about this matter. I believe the honourable member for Wakefield has said that he agreed that the mandatory limit for works considered by the Committee should be increased from $750,000 to $2m. The work load on the Committee would make members of the Committee try to do something about reducing that load. The Committee's general report - a report must be submitted each year pursuant to the law - states in paragraph 6:

6.   The Committee met on 62 occasions in 1972. These meetings were held to transact private business, to carry out inspections or to take evidence at public hearings and were held in Canberra (31), Darwin (10), Sydney (6), Perth (4), Melbourne (2), Brisbane, Hobart, Lae, Port Moresby, Townsville, Amberley, Shepparton, Puckapunyal and Tennant Creek. Brief inspection visits were also paid to Bathurst, Canungra and Alice Springs.

That indicates the variability of the work load on the Committee and the extent to which it travels around Australia throughout the year. As can be seen from the report, 62 meetings were held during the year. The purpose of meetings of a private nature is to help the Committee to formulate its report and its future program.

I feel that something ought to be said about the various aspects of expenditure by govern ments on civil works programs. I say that because in 1969 the Committee investigated civil works programs totalling $157m and in 1973 the projected expenditure on civil works programs is S245m. I put this in the context that in 1969 the mandatory minimum limit for works considered by the Committee was $400,000 whereas the proposal now is to increase the limit to S2m. That is a fivefold increase since 1969. The work load on the Committee has not increased fivefold as the figures which I have mentioned concerning civil works programs show. Expenditure in 1969 amounted to $157m and it is expected to to be S745m in 1973. The relationship between $750,000 and $2m has no bearing on the expected expenditure on civil works programs. If we can relate these figures to the Budget figures we find that the 1969 Budget expenditure was $7,000m and the 1973 Budget expenditure is roughly $ 13,000m. In other words, Budget expenditure has not increased twofold since 1969.

Another relationship that could be arrived at is in respect of the gross national product. In 1969 the gross national product was $30,000m. In 1972 it was $41, 000m. So there is no relationship between the figures in this Bill and those I have just cited. I wondered what the problem was, and I came to the conclusion that this Government and its predecessors were spending far too much money on civil works. Before I get on to that area I think I ought to say that in volume the Committee inspects about 2 per cent of the total number of projects carried out by the Department of Works. In other words, for every 100 projects that the Department of Works initiates for various Commonwealth departments only two are inspected by the Committee. At the same time I ought to say that the value of the work inspected represents some 33 per cent of the total Department of Works expenditure. In other words, we look at the projects which are of real value.

I have already talked about the travelling that members of the Committee do. This has a bearing on the ability of a member of the Committee to carry out his work in this Parliament because he is away from it so often. Now that the House is meeting on Mondays as well as Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, there is very little time left for this Committee to do its work as it did in the past. In fact, the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) said in his second reading speech that members of the Committee do a tremendous amount of work for the Parliament. In that speech he said that about one week in four would be available for the Committee to make its inspections and to do the work that it has to do for this Parliament as an arm of the Parliament. But he did not say what the position will be in November. We will not have that week to spare because the Parliament is to meet for 5 consecutive weeks. I am not sure how the Chairman and the Committee itself will carry out the work that they are supposed to do in November. I know that the Minister for Services and Property has said that the one week in four we have available for Committee work is an average availability. Perhaps he was right from that point of view.

My main concern is that so much public money is being spent on civil works programs. The taxpayers have to find that money. Most of us in this place really determine that we can spend their hard earned money far better than they can spend it themselves. I believe that this Commonwealth Government and previous governments have tended to force inflation on to this country because of the tremendous amounts of money that they expect to get from taxpayers and spend from the public purse. Whenever we initiate a program - and there are many of them - we reduce the availability of materials to private enterprise and to private individuals. We make sure that materials are in short supply right throughout Australia. Not only do we take money away, not only do we take materials, we also divert labour from private enterprise, from local governments, State governments and private individuals, and that labour works for public enterprise, for the Commonwealth Government.

I believe this is a wrong approach for a Central Government to adopt. I believe that we should take up the slack in times of stress but that we should not be making the pace and ensuring that other areas of administration - State parliaments and local governments - and individual families and the people themselves have less in materials, in time and certainly in money with which to carry out the work that they want carried out for their own personal and family benefit.

The suggestion has been made that there ought to be a second public works committee. Obviously the Public Works Committee discussed this question. We came to the conclusion that we should not recommend to the Parliament that a second Committee of a public works nature should be set up. The second thing we discussed - and this was certainly mentioned in the debate in the Senate - was the suggestion that we ought to form subcommittees. In other words, No. 1 subcommittee would assess the prospects of a particular public works program and another sub-committee would assess the prospects of constructional work in an entirely different area. But we had in mind that all members of the Committee take the final responsibility for the report that is presented to the Parliament itself. In other words, it is very nice to be talking about sub-committees making a full assessment, presenting the report to a complete public works committee and then making sure that all the members of that committee agree with what the sub-committee says. I think we concluded that this was not a practical solution from the point of view of the Committee members themselves. They wanted to interest themselves in whatever projects they could and they wanted to take a proper part in the final report. As I said, the mandatory minimum limit for works considered by the Committee was $400,000 in 1969. That limit was increased in 1969 to $750,000. This Bill proposes to increase the limit to $2m. It was said in the Senate, and I think it bears repetition that the Public Works Committee assessed 18 civil works programs for the Parliament in 1969. In 1972 the Committee assessed 35 works and it is projected that this year, it will assess 54 works. I think the Leader of the House who is at the table, mentioned this when he introduced the legislation to the Parliament. That indicates the tremendous increase in expenditure on public works by this Government that is taking place throughout Australia. I feel that we are going too far too fast and spending too much of the public's money while doing very little to alleviate the problem of individuals and local government bodies, as well as of State governments.

Mention has been made of the fact - this section of the Bill was passed in the Senate - that the Public Works Committee should have a look at the tremendous expenditures of statutory authorities. First of all, I should say that there are now as least 60 statutory authorities in Australia and I think that one or two have been introduced in recent weeks which would add to that number. Each of them has what we call a one-line budget. In other words, they come to the Minister concerned before Budget time, make an assessment of the amounts they feel they can spend during the year and the Minister, being a convivial type, says: 'You had better go away and spend it. I will try to get it through Cabinet and the Parliament.' These statutory authorities and, more particularly, their expenditures are not scrutinised by the Parliament. For instance, the National Capital Development Commission in the Australian Capital Territory has an expenditure which is comparable to the civil works program which is scrutinised by the Public Works Committee. One statutory authority alone spends as much in a year as the value of the projects examined by the Public Works Committee in that year. Of course, the works at which the Public Works Committee looks are carried out under the supervision of the Department of Works, which operates throughout Australia. The work of the National Capital Development Commission is carried out only within the Australian Capital Territory and if this work and expenditure of the NCDC are not scrutinised, I believe that every member of this Parliament should say and should feel that some sort of scrutiny by the Parliament should be given to this statutory authority. We have established a national Pipeline Authority and here again, I believe that some members of the Parliament - I am not suggesting the Public Works Committee should do this - ought to know what sort of expenditure takes place in the new Pipeline Authority. We are responsible to the people of Australia because we take their taxes and we should be able to report to the people on how their money has been spent.

I have mentioned statutory authorities and I have also mentioned that we as parliamentarians and this Parliament have no scrutiny over their expenditures. I feel that this was reasonable some years ago when there were only 7 statutory authorities up to the year 1940 and they were not spending big money, anyway. But let us see how many statutory authories are in existence now. By 1950 there were a further 16 statutory authorities added to the list; by 1960 a further 13 authorities were added to the list; by 1970 there were another 16 statutory authorities; and, as far as I can assess, in the 1980 decade there will be at least another 10 statutory authorities because we have already established an additional 7 authorities since 1970 and it is fair to assess that there will be at least another 10 authorities before 1980. All of these bodies are spending taxpayers' money and all their expenditures should be scrutinised by this Parliament. I am suggesting that another committee - not another Public Works Committee - be established to have a look at the statutory authorities and their expenditure. I am suggesting that, as we have more than 60 statutory authorities, some of them are not doing the work that originally they were intended to do and they could become obsolescent. I believe that some of them could be amalgamated. Certainly, their expenditures should be scrutinised by this Parliament. We have had a proliferation of these statutory bodies and there ought to be a good look at their activities and, particularly, their expenditures and even if we do not set up another committee to examine their activities, I believe that the Joint Statutory Committee of Public Accounts which more or less has been eliminated from looking at their expenditures, should enter this field to look at the activities and the expenditures of statutory bodies. I know that these bodies are responsible in some form or other to a Minister and I know that to all intents and purposes the Minister is a responsible person. But I believe that we as members of Parliament have a right and a duty to examine the expenditure of the statutory authorities to find out where the money is being expended and whether it is being expended efficiently.

As I said earlier, I feel that Government departments are trying to go too far too fast and are spending too much of the taxpayers' money. As an instance, I have mentioned the NCDC and its expenditure in the Australian Capital Territory. Obviously, we will set up another body to cater for the expansion which will take place in the Albury-Wodonga area. We will have public servants there in a few short years and here we will establish another statutory body which will go to a Minister, ask for funds and receive funds and the people will have to pay. This will apply not only in Albury-Wodonga but also in Bathurst, Geelong and all the other areas where there must be and will be tremendous expansion. These expenditures should be looked at by the people in this Parliament and should be scrutinised by the Parliament itself. Therefore, I suggest that a body should be established to look at the operations and expenditures of these statutory bodies.

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