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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3422

Senator REID(5.36) —I move:

That the Canberra Commercial Development (Amendments) Ordinance 1983 contained in the Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 51 of 1983 and made under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910 be disallowed.

The motion that we are discussing seeks to disallow Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 51 of 1983. Perhaps it is not so much a strange coincidence but a true indication of this Government's attitude to private enterprise that this Ordinance No. 51 is so close to Ordinance No. 53, the one we discussed yesterday which is associated with the shameful way that the Government treated the hotel convention centre project when it wanted a casino instead of it. Together, these Ordinances effectively said to the private sector that this is a government town and that is the way the Government wants it and the private sector is not terribly welcome.

The Ordinance which we are seeking today to disallow is an extension of the Canberra Commercial Development Authority Ordinance of 1974. That Ordinance was created for the purpose of that Authority developing a shopping centre in the Belconnen area. The quite simple amendments to the Ordinance in this instance merely seek to extend the Authority's jurisdiction:

(aa) to construct and conduct a shopping centre in the District of Tuggeranong;

And otherwise to change 'that shopping centre' to 'those shopping centres'.

The centre in the Tuggeranong area has caused some controversy and there is debate in the community on whether it should be built now and the size that it should be. But they are not the matters which are under discussion this afternoon. There is certainly an imbalance of retail space in that area and there is a large population in that area which is not adequately served by shopping space at the present time. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that there is an excessive retail trading space in Canberra at present and there are difficulties for many traders in balancing their books and earning a living. But , as I said, that is not the substance of the motion today. What we are really talking about is the question: Who is to build this shopping centre?

It is proposed to be about half the size of the Belconnen Shopping Centre, about the same size as the Monaro Mall, and it is planned to provide 14,000 square metres of retail space and later 5,000 square metres of service and agency space. The necessary changes to the city plan of the Territory have been approved by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australian Capital Territory so that the site is available and can be made available for development.

The next step one would think would be that the site should be put up for auction and those who wished to be involved in the development could then bid for the block and go ahead with the project. If the Government really wanted to have the CCDA involved, it could have said that the CCDA could compete with the private sector. I would not approve of that proposal, but at least that would have been one way of dealing with it. However this is not the case. We are told firmly by the Government's attitude that the Government is still in the business of building and running shopping centres. We were confronted on 19 October with a Press statement from the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) telling us just that-that is, that the Authority would be enabled to build and to operate the proposed Erindale shopping centre.

The Chairman of the Authority was delighted. Of course he took it as an endorsement of everything that he had done previously and is reported in the Canberra Times as saying:

The success of the authority speaks for itself. Our results are second to none and would match those of any private-enterprise development in this country.

There are not too many operations which are run as efficiently as this one.

He also claimed that the decision was:

indicative of the confidence the Government has in what this authority has achieved.

That is a statement that bears further investigation. There is no doubt that there are private developers in this area who have the funds and who would be anxious and willing to participate in bidding for this block of land on which to build a shopping centre. I have referred to the Belconnen Mall, which is a government shopping centre. It is the only one in Canberra that has been built and is operated in that way. The other smaller centres-Southlands, Jamison, Kippax, Curtin and Cooleman Court-are all built and run by small developers. The larger ones, such as the Monaro Mall which I have referred to, and the Woden Shopping Square, are also privately built and run.

What is the background of the CCDA? It was set up through the Ordinance in 1974 and its function then, as set out in the Ordinance, was:

(a) to construct and conduct a shopping centre in the District of Belconnen;

(b) to carry on such other undertakings related to that shopping centre as the Minister approves and;

(c) to provide community facilities related to the conduct of that shopping centre.

I immediately wrote to the then Minister and told him that I thought the decision was wrong, that is was very harmful to the development of the private sector of Canberra that this decision was made, and I asked him to rescind it.

Mr Deputy President, this is an example of doctrinaire socialism at work where the Government wants to control absolutely everything in this town, it cannot even resist being involved in shopping centres. Perhaps that would be all right if the Minister for Territories and Local Government was honest enough to say that out and about in the community or if he had been honest enough to say it prior to the last election, but that is not the case. The Government says one thing at meetings and it says other things in a decision such as this. There can be no doubt that there is a need for the private sector to develop and to be encouraged in the Australian Capital Territory.

The speech that was given in this place only yesterday on the White Industries matter stressed the need for jobs, the need for development and the need for diversification of the Australian Capital Territory economy. If I had the time I would read to the Senate what the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt), who represents in this place the Minister for Territories and Local Government, had to say on these needs just yesterday afternoon. I am sure all honourable senators will remember those words.

The Public Service employs most people in the community at present and that is always likely to be the case. We have a very high level of youth unemployment. The only way we are going to get a better balanced economy is to encourage the private sector to come to Canberra, not to tell it that the Government will do everything and it is not welcome. We hope that the technology part of the economy will be developed by the private sector. Even that was under attack the other day by the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) when he said that he thought government assistance for the development of sunrise industries could go to other capital cities over Canberra.

Really, very little incentive is being shown by this Government for private enterprise to come to Canberra to diversify the economy, to increase the range of job opportunities for our young people. Not every young person will have the opportunity to get a job in the Public Service. Not every young person wants to have a job in the Public Service. We do not want all our young people to have to leave Canberra. There are no benefits to the community, the consumer or the retail operator in the proposal to build this shopping centre. I have no doubt that we will be told that the construction of the shopping centre and the running of shops will provide roughly the same number of jobs, whether it is built by this authority or whether it is built by the private sector. That is not what we are talking about. What we are talking about is the encouragement being shown to the private sector that it is welcome in Canberra, that we are serious about wanting to diversify our economy. What it is really all about is whether or not we are serious about providing jobs for young people. In view of this decision, I question the Government's sincerity in that regard.

There is a high level of youth unemployment. At the National Economic Summit Conference the Minister for Territories and Local Government said:

Canberra's pressing problem of youth unemployment is exacerbated by the very limited range of employment opportunities.

He referred then to 58 per cent of employment being in the government sector. He sounded then as though he knew what the problem was. He sounded sincere. He sounded as though he had a comprehension of the problem. I think most people believed that he really wanted to do something about it. That certainly is open to question.

We have had comments from many organisations in the Australian Capital Territory which are dismayed at the decision on two grounds, namely the disincentive to the private sector to develop and whether or not, in any event, this authority is an appropriate authority to be entrusted with more shopping centres. The Building Owners and Managers Association of Australia Ltd has written to the Minister for Territories and Local Government calling upon him to reverse the decision with regard to the development of the shopping centre by the Canberra Commercial Development Authority. The Association said:

We believe that the private sector is capable and keen to compete for the development and ownership of the Erindale shopping centre, and in the interests of the public should be allowed to do so.

I and members of the Association well recall your remarks at the May CARD luncheon when you called upon the private sector to play its role in the continuing development and the creation of economic opportunities in the Canberra Region.

The letter goes on to remind the Minister of the statements that he made, of the calls that he made to the private sector to do its bit. What does he do when he gets the opportunity? He goes ahead and builds a shopping centre himself.

The Canberra Chamber of Commerce has written to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). That organisation said to him:

We are concerned at the decision that the Erindale Shopping Centre is to be developed by the Canberra Commercial Development Authority.

The concept of broadening and diversifying the economic base of Canberra has been overwhelmingly accepted both non-partisan politically and in the local community.

We think that you will have perceived that there is a ground swell of self-help determination to achieve this by leaders within the Canberra regional business community, supported by others who are enthused by the idea of improving employment opportunities for their children and those of their friends and colleagues, in a more balanced local economy.

The letter goes on. The Canberra Association for Regional Development Inc. has written to a number of Ministers, including the Prime Minister. It says, in part , having drawn his attention to this decision:

In our view this goes against the whole approach to the private sector enunciated on behalf of your Government during the election campaign, at the April Economic Summit and subsequently . . .

That organisation, too, refers to the address that the Minister gave at its luncheon in May of this year. It went on to say to the Prime Minister:

Potential investors as well as the private sector established in Canberra have, therefore, received a severe setback to their confidence with the announcement that a public sector body employing public funds will be given a monopoly on the development and management of commercial facilities with the Canberra private sector being excluded.

There is more to that letter. The Master Builders Association has joined with the Canberra Association for Regional Development in its approach to have this decision overturned. It has indicated to me that there are three members of its association who have indicated their interest in being involved in the development of this site. The Australian Chamber of Commerce has commented and sent a telex to the Prime Minister. I understand the Real Estate Institute of Australia has done likewise. The Australian Chamber of Commerce said:

The private sector is prepared to bid for the land and build the shopping centre. The Commonwealth Government would be able to sell the land to the private sector for up to $5 million, and the private sector would subsequently be entirely responsible for the success or otherwise of the project.

If the CCDA were to proceed with the project, the taxpayer would forgo literally millions of dollars and bear the risks of the project.

There is no evidence with the Belconnen Mall that the taxpayers have got anything significant back for having given the piece of land away. There is no evidence that this will happen in this case either. Again, we have not been given any economic statement which would justify this decision or show any benefit to the community from this decision.

Once again we are faced with hollow words from the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) in his statement of September of this year when he promised that financial impact statements would be given on all matters. I acknowledge that this did not include ordinances. However, I cannot imagine that he seriously would have excluded and discriminated against the Australian Capital Territory in the way that one could conclude.

The Real Estate Institute of the Australian Capital Territory Ltd also wrote to the Minister for Territories and Local Government. The Institute said:

The proposed amendments to the Ordinance would permit the government, through the authority, to usurp the traditional role of the private sector. We believe that the current proposal is contrary to the Government's stated policy of encouraging the private sector in Canberra.

The Canberra Development Board in its 1981-82 report commented on what it had been doing. Reporting to the Minister it said:

Consistent with your instructions, the Board continued to pursue opportunities to enlarge the private sector and increase employment opportunities in the ACT. An active program promoting Canberra to investors, property developers, industrial and commercial groups, professions, associations, tourists and visitors has been maintained.

The Board went on:

The development of new industry in Canberra was never expected to be an easy task because of private sector resistance to establishing what was seen as exclusively a city of government administration. It has taken time to get Australian industry to think positively about establishing operations in the National Capital, but the Board's efforts are now bringing results.

What are we confronted with now? The Minister has made a decision which totally flies in the face of that and is totally destructive of all the good work that has been done.

We need to look at another aspect of this matter, and that is what the electors of the Australian Capital Territory were entitled to think about what the Labor Government, if elected, would do. At a meeting introducing the Australian Labor Party candidates to the Press and the electorate the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly), as reported in the Canberra Times of 8 February this year, is quoted as saying:

. . . 'Canberra-bashing' would be a thing of the past under Labor, and a better balance would be established between the Territory's public and private sectors.

Well, when are we going to see the elimination of Canberra bashing; when are we going to see any decisions made that lead towards a better balance between the Territory's public and private sectors? The same honourable member was reported as having attended on the following day, another meeting at which the policy was launched. A report in the Canberra Times referred to her remarks in these terms:

Insufficient economic growth under the Fraser Government had made Canberra ' stagnant', and she advocated an economic-development program with balance between public-and private-sector growth.

Again, I say that it is time we saw a bit of it. At a meeting at which the honourable member for Canberra was accompanied by the then shadow Attorney- General, and in which 140 Canberra business people took part, reference was again made to the private sector. In fact, you might almost say that it was stressed, but perhaps that was the place to stress it. I wonder if those people will be so gullible as to believe it again. A Press report of the meeting read:

Mrs Kelly said that private enterprise nationally would be better off under Labor policies . . .

Mrs Kelly said Labor believed in stability and long-term development as the keynotes of Canberra's future.

Labor promised 'moderate growth' for Canberra, in which the private sector would share.

She made some other interesting comments, about the White Industries proposal, as well. But it did not just end there. The promises were not all forgotten on 5 March. The process went on. The Minister for Territories and Local Government, as I have said, was at the National Economic Summit Conference and, in part, said:

We have a private sector whose confidence to plan and invest has been undermined by the volatility of government policy.

No doubt he was referring to Fraser Government policy decisions. I ask him: ' What has changed since you became the Minister for Territories and Local Government?' I have already quoted his comment that 'Canberra's pressing problem of youth unemployment is exacerbated by the very limited range of employment opportunities'. We were entitled to expect that he meant it and would do all he could to encourage diversity, development and the attraction of the private sector to Canberra; but, as I have said, in the first real opportunity that he had to give meaning to this rhetoric he has failed. He also said:

. . . We should be interested at this Summit not only in identifying ways of relieving the current hardship of unemployment through short term programs but of linking the short term recovery to the longer term challenge of structural change.

If we fail to make that connection we will miss important opportunities for the nation as a whole and for Canberra. In relation to Canberra we will risk the entrenchment of a community in social and economic isolation from the nation of which it is the capital. We cannot let this happen!

What has he done about it? He must have forgotten that he ever made the speech. He also said-he had not forgotten the theme then:

Canberra is entering the era when diversification of its economic base is the priority-diversification through new forms of economic activity; diversification through a bigger private sector.

He concluded:

. . . the Government sector and the private sector will have to work in partnership;

I wonder, Mr Deputy President, whether the rest of the Summit was as hollow as this part of it was. When the Minister went to the Canberra Association for Regional Development on 12 May he said:

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you about the development of the Canberra region. It is a topic close to my heart. I have long had, and I continue to have an affectionate relationship with Canberra. And, as many of you would be aware, I have an enduring commitment to the pursuit of balanced regional development.

Hearing all this you would think that the shopping centre would be safely placed into the hands of the private sector. He added:

Canberra lacks the diversity of economic activities and employment opportunities apparent in other cities.

He went on to quote the figures and to add:

There is a need, in the context of a youth unemployment rate of 35 per cent in the ACT, for an expansion of job opportunities in Canberra.

He was referring to private sector development and added:

. . . employment expansion and diversification to be established through a stronger private sector effort in Canberra. To meet these inter-related needs it is essential for the government sector and the private sector to work together in a co-operative partnership. There should not be and there need not be a competitive stand-off between the public and private sectors. There should be and there can be a complementary development of private and public sector roles.

As I have said, what is proposed is not even competitive, let alone giving the private sector any sort of opportunity at all. There is more in all of this. Of course, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), waxed eloquent at the Sydney Chamber of Commerce about three weeks ago. This produced a headline in The Australian of 11 November, which read 'PM: We won't get in way of recovery'. The report states that he said:

In the next financial year and beyond we intend limiting the Commonwealth's borrowings to levels that are consistent with strong growth in private investment in the course of recovery.

We heard, of course, from the Treasurer (Mr Keating) about recovery being in the hands of the private sector. Presumably all of this, for some reason that I do not understand, is to occur in the rest of Australia but not here. There are aspects of the financing of the Belconnen Mall-$38m worth of current outstanding loans, together with the moneys that would be needed to raise for the Erindale Centre, a commitment altogether of about $60m in either direct funds or loans- which certainly make it a case of the Government competing in this area.

There is no doubt, as the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button), who is present, knows-he referred to it yesterday-a need for the development of office space in the Australian Capital Territory. The shortage is severe. We need to encourage money to come to Canberra for development purposes. There have been other discouraging government decisions. There was the White Industries Ltd decision. As I have mentioned, the Budget provision for tourist promotion is down. There has been a cutback, effectively, in the incentives program. There has been a failure to appoint a new Executive Director of the Canberra Development Board following the retirement some months ago of the previous holder of the office. The Housing Industry Association wanted to become involved in land development. The Minister for Territories and Local Government has agreed to one small project at Latham but had made it very plain that it is a one-off deal. The sale of Havelock House has been stopped. The sale of Belconnen Mall has been stopped. Not much has been done to encourage the private sector but a great deal has been done to discourage it. I ask the Australian Democrats to support the proposal to give Canberra an opportunity to develop itself and to develop jobs.

I come back to the question as to whether or not the Authority is a fit and proper body to deal with this development, if the Government is determined that it is to be a government project and not a private sector project. What are the real benefits to the community and what account has the Government taken of reports of committees of the Parliament that have considered the matter? I refer to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and the Senate Finance and Government Operations Committee, which have been critical. What are some of the realities of the differences between this Authority and, say, a private sector development body? The Authority is required to carry out its functions in accordance with principles of sound commercial practice but they are not really spelled out. The directors of a company are really much more accountable to the shareholders. The objects and powers set out in the articles of association spell out what the directors can and cannot do. They can be held to account, but there is really nobody to whom the Authority has to report. As I have said, the directors of a company are answerable to the shareholders.

Again, how does the position of the Authority compare with that of some other government authority? Both Telecom Australia and Trans Australia Airlines can be directed by their Ministers to perform functions or provide services in particular ways. The CCDA is not, except that it must provide information as the Minister requires it on its operations. It is required to submit a report containing audited financial statements to the Minister and to inform him from time to time about the conduct of its operations. TAA and Telecom are required to submit such further reports as the Minister requires. The financial controls over the CCDA do appear to be a great deal looser than those imposed on other authorities. TAA and Telecom have been set up in such a way that they are geared to achieve a precise return on their capital but the Authority need achieve only a reasonable return on capital. There has been debate on the subject in the Parliament previously and I am sure that comments will be made again today. The report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the CCDA, which was tabled only yesterday, refers to important matters which warrant a look. In paragraph 1 .10 it quotes the Chairman of the Board as stating to the Committee:

If we have to rush to government departments continually to get approval we will be hamstrung.

If we are bound hand and foot with a huge bible of terms and conditions of employment where people believe that once they are a member of an authority or government department they are there for life, then we cannot work in that area.

Honourable senators can draw conclusions, from those statements, about his attitude. If in fact a statutory authority is not a proper body to be running a shopping centre, the Government should not be in the business of doing so at all . I do not see that the Government can have different rules to enable this Authority to do as it likes. In paragraph 1.4 of the report it is stated:

This Committee continues to be concerned that there is little sanction available to Parliament against statutory authorities which have been the subject of continual criticism and adverse report and which are prepared to act contrary to legislation.

Giving everybody the benefit of the doubt in the best possible way, surely it comes into the category of 'when in doubt, don't'. If the Government is prepared to ignore the conclusions of some of the Parliament's own committees, surely it ought to be prudent in the way in which it acts in relation to a matter such as this. I think the arguments are perfectly clear that it ought to be in the hands of the private sector in any event. Even if the CCDA were the best possible group on earth to run the centre, it should not run it because it should not be in the business of running shopping centres. But given that there are questions about the Authority and the way in which it operates, I think the Government ought to take the prudent decision, sell the land so that it gets the money from it-taxpayers throughout Australia of course would be affected otherwise-and get on with providing what needs to be provided in a more appropriate way.