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Tuesday, 2 June 1987
Page: 3807

Mr TUCKEY(6.02) —The Opposition does not oppose the motion. This proposal has gone through the procedures of this Parliament, unlike those which were brought before the Parliament last week. On one occasion, a motion relating to the embassy in Japan was moved and in, fact, carried over the protests of the Opposition. No defence commitment was involved on that occasion. It was a question of the Government needing to sell some of its overseas property for the purpose of getting some cash in the bin so that the Treasurer (Mr Keating) could carry out his mini-Budget commitment which he told us was a matter of cutting expenditure, whereas it appears that the bulk of the savings will come from selling our assets, particularly those in Tokyo. While I would concern myself with cutting expenditure in some of our embassies and embassy property, in view of the importance of Japan to us in the area of trade and so on, I certainly would not consider our expenditures on the embassy in Japan or the property we hold in Japan a misplacement of Australian taxpayers' money. Nevertheless, that proposal was forced through this Parliament. Justice resides only in the numbers in this place.

I am pleased to see that the proposal before us has gone through the proper processes of this Parliament. I congratulate the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) on that. I am sure that had he had his way on the proposals which he brought before the Parliament last week they also would have gone through the proper processes with due consultation and investigation by the Joint Committee on Public Works, which I am sure you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker, is a very important committee of this place. It is probably almost as important as one of the committees in which you are involved. It is a committee that is a watch-dog for the Australian people. It ensures that the people's rights are protected, because a huge amount of their taxes goes into projects of this nature. We know that the Committee has approved of this proposal. The Government has brought it to the Parliament in the proper fashion, the Parliament has sent it to the Committee and the Committee has reported favourably.

The proposal would appear to have merit because it will improve the capacity of the Royal Australian Air Force to deliver the goods-quite literally in this case, because storerooms and specialised equipment and racking to provide an automated pallet processing system will be installed. High technology is involved in terms of equipment and goods storage. Obviously the proposal will save the Government money in the future in terms of its costs and wages. Of course, the Government needs to save some money now on defence because part of its infamous mini-Budget was to cut $350m from the expenditure of the Department of Defence. The Government intends to make the cuts not in areas such as the one which the Minister brings before us today but in areas of recurrent expenditure-the operations side. The Government has told us quite clearly that there will be no cuts in capital works, such as this proposal, which means that it can continue to have its submarines built, of which it is so keen to make political capital. I guess that the Government will be able to conclude the purchase of the FA18s-the aircraft which we need to defend our country.

But the question that must be asked now is: How many people will there be to fly those aircraft and how many skilled submariners will there be to go in those wonderful new submarines, as a result of the pressure that the Government is putting on the personnel within the organisation of our defence establishment? The proposal obviously will make life better for personnel in the defence establishment because it will give them better working conditions and a mechanisation which will reduce the load that they would otherwise have to bear. I hope that the proposal is not an indication that the Government will approve of the rather foolish arrangement of limiting the amount which people may lift to 16 kilograms. That was a recommendation of one of the quangos which the Government created at a cost, as I recall, of about $40m a year and which the Opposition opposed at the time-that is, the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. We felt that the State governments had plenty of money to spend on such things.

The Commission's first recommendation to us which would be applicable in the proposed storerooms is that no human being should lift an item weighing more than 16 kilograms. The weight limit of a bag which people can carry on aircraft on an interstate or international flight happens to be 16 kilograms. I have seen slips of girls arguing like steam with people behind the check-in counters because their bag is about 10 kilograms over the permitted weight and they are trying not to pay excess baggage. Those girls are able to throw their bags on to the check-in scales with no trouble at all. Yet, a Government department says that no strong man should do such a thing. The proposal provides for a high degree of mechanisation and, therefore, people will not be required to do a lot of personal lifting. However, I hope that the men and women working in that facility will not be subjected to a stupid law which suggests that 16 kilograms is all that we human beings can handle. We know that we can handle more.

The proposal talks of inflationary pressures. I think that we must query that. The Minister has told us that, whereas last year the cost of the proposal was $10.1m, it is now $10.34m and that is the result, purely and simply, of inflation and does not represent the inflation component in full. The Minister has said that the Government has had to cut back on the proposal because of inflation. If the facility were built in Germany it would be able to be built for $10.1m, with all the goodies. There is no inflation in Germany. There is very little inflation in the United States of America and in other countries. It is only Australia, under the Hawke Government, that has inflation. Australia has an inflation rate of 9 per cent and it is now impacting on government, as the Minister described. If the builder or any of his contractors have to borrow money they will pay 20 per cent interest on it; whereas a contractor in Germany gets it for about 5 per cent and a contractor in Japan for about 3 per cent.

Having made those brief remarks. I draw the Government's attention to the fact that if it were a better manager it would get the building more cheaply and that would be to the benefit of taxpayers. It goes round the full circle. When there is an incompetent government which cannot manage the economy, which lets inflation and interest rates blow out, taxpayers-in this case the military establishment-pay for that and, eventually, we get a lesser building. The Opposition does not oppose the proposal. It wishes the Minister well and hopes that the Treasurer (Mr Keating) will come up with some new ideas to contain inflation so that the cost does not blow out too much.

Question resolved in the affirmative.