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Friday, 29 May 1987
Page: 3653


Mr TUCKEY(4.06) —The Opposition opposes this proposal for a shortening of the procedures of the Parliament. We have seen enough of that in this place. We have conceded to the Government on the point of its submarine program because of its great importance but we do not think this proposal has the same level of importance to national defence or anything else. If it were so important, the Government should have presented it to Parliament some time ago or otherwise had an election at a later date so that the procedures could have been completed properly. I direct attention to some of the statements that have just been made by the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services (Mr Uren), who said:

There will be a very substantial return to revenue and significant ongoing savings.

If the mini-Budget is correct, no doubt that will occur but there is certainly no evidence before this House. The Public Works Committee Act of 1969 is quite specific about these arrangements. It says that a public work, the estimated cost of which exceeds $2m, is to be dealt with in a particular way. We have heard figures of hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars for this proposal but the Minister's statement does not even do the House the courtesy of telling it how much the proceeds and the costs might be. I think to do that would be reasonable. That is why we have a Public Works Committee, to inquire into these arrangements and ensure that the Australian taxpayer gets the best possible deal.

I suppose we are also to understand that the `very substantial return to revenue' means exactly that and that the proceeds of selling what might be called the family jewels-the properties of the Australian people-are to be consumed in ordinary current expenditure. The Minister went on to say:

. . . which is sensitive to important aspects of the site, such as the traditional Japanese garden.

We do not know what is to happen with the Japanese garden. We understand it is of great importance in Tokyo and gives great prestige to our embassy. We do not know what will happen about it. It is apparently one of the few gardens that is available in the centre of Tokyo. The Minister continued:

The return to revenue will result from the sale or long-term lease of that part of the embassy site not required for this development.

Surely Parliament has some say in that but we are not even told whether the Government intends to sell it or to lease it, yet the Government wants a blanket approval from this place to rush in and do whatever the Executive Government thinks is best. To be quite honest, the Opposition, and I in particular, do not trust the Executive Government in these delicate matters. We have looked at its leadership and we do not see one person who is qualified in these financial matters who could take these sorts of decisions and we assert the right of the Parliament to have the say provided for it in the Public Works Committee Act 1969.

There is no need for this urgency, other than the Government's desperate need for money and to spend the money so that Government members can strut around the community saying that by one means or another they have reduced expenditure. They do not say: `We have this funny arrangement whereby we sell Australia's assets and get the revenue and then we boast that we are going to reduce expenditure'. No, they intend to spend the money, but that is a separate part of the problem. The problem for us is that we are not being told how this procedure will develop. We see, of course, that it is the Government's intention that the funds from the disposal will be received prior to the end of 1987-88. That is what all this rush is about, as I have just said, and it is admitted in the Minister's statement. He is saying quite clearly that the Government wants the money, and wants it for current expenditure. He says further on page 2:

A second element of urgency exists in that there are substantial cost savings to be achieved from the proposed development, and delays in finalising the work would significantly reduce these savings. We are presently paying over $4m a year to lease residential and office accommodation in Tokyo.

That is a huge amount of money, but we are not told what the cost of the net value will be. We are not told what the cost to the Australian taxpayer of these new facilities will be. We certainly do not know the extent to which there might be cost overruns or no investigation of the building activity in Tokyo, and how all this will be achieved.

I know that there are some constraints on time and I am of the opinion that I must give time to the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) on this issue. We are very much opposed to this move. It is not urgent in the context of the submarine situation. It is an issue that could be dealt with at another time. The only urgency is the Government's decision to have an expedient early election, contrary to the promises of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) because he does not want us to look at his Budget and at the gold tax that he will probably bring in if the Government gets back in. We, therefore, oppose this proposal.