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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 692

Mr WHITE —I remind the House that this is the second question in nearly 20 minutes.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! It is the third question.

Mr WHITE —My question is directed to the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism. I refer to the Government's backdown in calling tenders for the major audio-visual contract for the Australian pavilion at Expo 88. This morning on radio station 3LO Mr Don Morris of Mojo MDA stated that previous Expo pavilion proposals from Australian companies had been given to an American company. These Australian companies and the American company are now all tendering for the same contract, with the American company having the clear advantage of knowing all the other proposals. I ask the Minister: How could such a breach of confidentiality occur? How can Australian companies now compete on an equal footing? What does the Minister intend to do about it?

Mr JOHN BROWN —It is true that the Government has decided to re-examine the tenders for the main audio-visual contract in order to see that justice is not only done but seen to be done.

Mr Cobb —What was in it for you?

Mr JOHN BROWN —What was that? Say it louder.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! I would not repeat it if I were the honourable member.

Mr JOHN BROWN —I think he said: `How much under the table?'.

Madam SPEAKER —The honourable member will withdraw his comment.

Mr Cobb —I withdraw.

Mr JOHN BROWN —There has been a deal of speculation over the last couple of weeks, on the Schildberger radio show, to which the honourable member referred, and also on the 7.30 Report. Most of it has been inaccurate, most has been fairly misleading and some has been mischievous. In fact, Schildberger has had the indecency to accuse me twice publicly of misleading this Parliament. I can assure all honourable members that I have not misled this Parliament on this or any other matter.

Mr Cadman —Are you going to sue him?

Mr JOHN BROWN —Yes, I am going to sue him. I must say that a lot of the mischief has been stirred up and to some extent motivated by the honourable member for McPherson who parades himself in here as my shadow Minister. I have yet to find one positive statement that he has made on either sport or tourism during his term in that position.

To return to the facts surrounding the Australian pavilion at the Brisbane Exhibition--

Mr Carlton —What is life like on the North Shore? How is Parramatta these days?

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Mackellar will cease interjecting.

Mr JOHN BROWN —How is the car that you left sitting outside the Intercontinental until 6 o'clock one morning? If you want a bit I can give you plenty.

Opposition members interjecting-

Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will continue with his answer.

Mr JOHN BROWN —The committee that I appointed to examine the Australian pavilion in Brisbane and to appoint various people to supply the various parts of that pavilion has, for nine months, been trying to find an Australian company that is capable of doing this. One of the people who have been making the most noise-and, as I understand it, the honourable member for McPherson has been ringing him daily for some weeks-is a man called Browning who took three or four months of my time while I, with my committee, examined the proposition that he had put forward for a theatre in Brisbane. The first proposition was $5m and eventually that increased to $10m. The film that was to be made to take place in this theatre was supposed to be provided by one of Australia's largest banking institutions as a bicentennial gift. The banking institution did not seem to know anything about it and when I eventually investigated the company with which we would be dealing, I found that it was a $2 company or a $200 company with two one-dollar shares issued and that it owed a considerable amount of money to the Northern Territory Government for early research into this experimental theatre. This is a man who is claiming that he has never had a fair go.

Nevertheless, the committee asked Bob Rogers, an eminent American expo expert, the man who provided the first, second and third winning exhibits at Vancouver, to be an adviser to the committee. He agreed to that. Very early in the piece-about last August-one of the committee members wrote to Mr Rogers and asked him whether he would be in favour of providing an exhibit for Australia. He responded in very brief terms that he would, that he would be happy to reproduce his exhibit in Vancouver called `Spirit Lodge' and it would cost about $5m. That was a private letter between one member of the committee and Mr Rogers. Thereupon Mr Rogers came to Australia at the request of Qantas Airways Ltd for which he was doing a theatre at that stage. Mr Rogers advised my committee not about his theatre, but about expos generally. He is considered to be the world leader in expositions. I must say that his advice has been very valuable in terms of the total pavilion at Vancouver. He was never considered to be a tenderer or a prospect for the Australian theatre.

The Australian Film Commission advised my Department of four very prominent Australian audiovisual companies that should be asked to tender. They were asked to tender. They were briefed orally by my committee about the sort of display we wanted and the brief, to a great extent, revolved around the sort of theatre that Rogers had in Vancouver and which was the smash hit. That was the sort of theatre that we wanted. We briefed the companies verbally and then a tender paper was formulated asking them to tender for this type of theatre. Five companies responded and I must say that the committee was not terribly impressed with their propositions. Most of them were experimental; very few, if any, had a proven record of the sort of reliability that I think all honourable members would want in an Australian pavilion. Nevertheless-I make no bones about this, and the honourable member for McPherson knows this because I briefed him confidentially the other night-at the end of the tendering arrangement it was discovered that the committee was not happy with any of the tenders. Then, as a last resort after spending all that time trying to find an Australian company to do the job, the committee decided to invite Bob Rogers to provide the theatre. It then came to light that one of the committee members had innocently and naively given the Australian submissions to Bob Rogers for comment.

Mr Cadman —What a series of coincidences.

Mr JOHN BROWN —Well, if the honour- able member has a suspicious mind he will have suspicious thoughts. He is in fact impugning very well credentialled and highly respected Australians who are members of the committee.

Opposition members interjecting-

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will continue his answer.

Mr JOHN BROWN —When it was brought to my attention that Mr Rogers had been given a look at the Australian submissions I realised that a technical breach had been committed. That is why no contract has been formulated. Despite the avowals of many people, no officer in my Department has refused to sign a contract that was never even drawn up. I notice that the 7.30 Report last night made a very big issue of the fact that this officer had suddenly gone on leave. This officer has been going on leave on this date for the last four months and he is constantly in touch with me. If people are looking for him, they will find him in his cabin down on the south coast; he has not disappeared into space. Knowing that a technical breach had been committed, I took the proposition to the Cabinet and the Cabinet has now decided, quite properly, that a new--

Mr Sinclair —That sounds very suspicious to me.

Mr JOHN BROWN —Well, everything sounds very suspicious to you. That is not unusual.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will ignore the interjections and continue his answer.

Mr JOHN BROWN —The Cabinet has now decided, at my request, that a new committee should be formed and that all the tenderers shall be asked to resubmit their proposals. They are being given whatever time they want to present their proposals. I suppose that Australian Audio Visuals, which is supposed to have Mr Browning on subcontract, might even bring him along this time. AAV did not see fit to bring him along to the last display of its credentials. This time it might. I hope it does. It is my earnest hope that an Australian company can come up with a proposition that will enable us to have an Australian audiovisual company supply this main complex at the Brisbane exposition.

However, it strikes me as very strange that Australia has suddenly developed this feeling of pride. Three or four years ago it was hard to get Australians to feel proud about anything. I, as much as any member of this House, have been very busy trying to build up Australians' faith in themselves, through the Hogan campaign and the Buy Australian campaign and now it seems that anything that is not Australian is bad. I remind honourable members that almost every pavilion-almost every theatre-at Vancouver was organised by an American. Almost every pavilion at Brisbane, including the Queensland Government's, will be organised by an American. This just happens to be their field of expertise. I did not see 260 million United States residents jumping up and down in anger when Rick Birch, a very eminent Australian, provided the opening and closing ceremonies at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, just as he did at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games because he happens to be the greatest expert in that field. All I want is the best possible exhibit for Australia. With the evolution of a new committee which will be chaired by a high ranking officer of the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services who is in charge of government purchasing and which will include Peter Faiman and hopefully Peter Weir, Tim Burstall and Geraldine Paton, who was the chairman of my original committee, I hope that the right decision will be made and that every Australian company will have the right to parade its wares as best it might. It is my fervent hope that one of them will win the contract. I should add that Mr White was also invited to appoint a representative to that committee and has declined to do so. I do not make any comment on that, but we offered the opportunity to appoint a member to that committee to make sure that justice is done.