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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3433


Senator JACK EVANS(8.18) —Honourable senators might be wondering just what it is we are debating this evening and have debated this afternoon. They might be wondering whether we are debating the development and ultimate control of a centre for the Australian Capital Territory, whether we are debating the accounting system of the Canberra Commercial Development Authority, or whether we are debating the personalities and the occasional human shortcomings of the members of the CCDA. It seems to me that we are debating practically everything except what would be good for the people of the Australian Capital Territory in the development of this proposed complex. To put the debate into some context, I will read from the 181st report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. These seem to me to be the major criticisms that have come from that report. The first is:

It was clear to the Committee that the Authority ignored the Parliament by its disregard of the provisions of its Ordinance.

That is potentially a serious matter, depending on just what the effects were of ignoring that Ordinance. The next criticism by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts was:

The Committee believes . . . that the Authority's managers, commercially pragmatic though they may be, have never been able to comprehend, much less accept the responsibilities attaching to a public authority.

This is a report presented in September 1980, so we are going back several years . At that stage the Authority was seen to be commercially pragmatic but as having a bit of difficulty, according to the Public Accounts Committee, in dealing with its role as a public authority. The third criticism was:

The Committee is concerned at the lack of adequate machinery and sanctions available to government to investigate and control an authority which has been the subject of repeated adverse report and public comment and has been prepared to act contrary to its legislation.

I want to stress that in reading out these criticisms I am trying to give a balanced point of view and not just see one side of the picture as it has been portrayed by previous speakers. It would help if we looked at both sides. The fourth criticism was:

. . . the Committee does not accept the Authority is justified in capitalising all expenditure net of income merely, as it appears to the Committee, to avoid potential criticism of its profit performance.

Honourable senators will see that we are talking once more about criticism of its accounting methods-not just of accounts in the sense of profit and loss but its method of accounting for its performance. The fifth criticism reads:

In the Committee's view it is incumbent on a statutory Authority, particularly one engaged in a commercial undertaking and the recipient of Commonwealth Government benefits to adopt a high standard of disclosure. If such a high standard could be shown to be the detriment of the Authority, then a case could perhaps be made for following practices which have been adopted by private enterprise developers. However, the authority has been unable to demonstrate to the Committee in what manner inclusion of revenue earned during the period 1 July to 8 November 1978-

that is important; we are talking about five years ago-

in the Profit and Loss Account would be to its commercial disadvantage.

The final criticism was.

. . . the Committee is of the view that all revenue earned during the period 1 July to 8 November 1978 should be included in the Profit and Loss Account. In relation to the period 18 February to 30 June 1978 the Committee notes that the Department of Finance reluctantly agreed to recommend approval of the Authority' s accounts, resulting in the capitalisation of net expenditure incurred during that period. The Committee does not approve of the practice adopted and considers the authority should have, as initially requested by the Department of Finance, publish such revenue in a Profit and Loss Statement.

That was a harsh criticism; it was criticism of a period some time back and possibly it was justifiable. I was not a member of the Senate at that time and I can only pick up from the record-or at least reading between the lines of the record-the implicit criticism of the Authority's modus operandi at that stage. The next report which came from the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, No. 214 of 1983, says, to quote concisely from the report:

In its 181st Report this Committee hoped that its criticism would not obscure the benefits the community has derived through the Authority. Whatever the justice of criticism of its cost it was a daring commitment to the future and exceptional in that it was constructed quickly, to the schedule and close to budget. As such, it is a commentary on the enthusiasm and ability of those involved in its establishment.

I am surprised that we have not heard that quotation tonight. When we are looking at a matter from the point of view of the future development of the Australian Capital Territory, surely to goodness we can get a more balanced perspective of the history of the CCDA.

I am also concerned because not only have we had an unbalanced picture portrayed but also the whole debate surrounding the motion has been conveniently but misleadingly divided into a public sector versus private sector battle, and that is a gross misrepresentation of the situation. The debate concerns the right to operate the proposed Erindale shopping complex at Tuggeranong in the Australian Capital Territory. That is what it is about. It should be stressed that we need to make the point about the meaning of 'operate'. Just what do we mean by that term. The whole point of it is to give the CCDA the operating authority and not to lock out the private sector. It is not aimed at locking out the private sector and in fact the tenants will be from the private sector and the contracts for construction will be let to the private sector; the whole complex will be designed, built and tenanted by the private sector.

But-the distinction needs to be drawn here-we are talking about two different parts of the private sector. Previous speakers have been referring to the sort of big business that we have in the Australian Capital Territory at the moment, represented in a wide range of developments, including Cooleman Court, Monaro Mall and the Woden Shopping Square. They are already controlled by Lend Lease Corporation Ltd. Lend Lease also owns a lot of other Canberra property. I will just run through the list so that we are not picking out only two or three major developments. They include Akuna House, the Braddon Offices, the Civic Permanent Centre, CML House, Derwent House, Ethos House, the MLC Tower at Woden, Macarthur House, the MTIA building, the National Mutual Centre, Qantas House, Tasman House and the Wales Centre. We are not talking about a little private enterprise; we are talking about an octopus, about a massive developer and entrepreneur which has its tentacles into Canberra, and I suspect into the Liberal Party, which is a strong supporter of big business but not terribly concerned with small business. In this debate I have not heard one word from members of the Liberal Party in support of the small businesses that will benefit from having a landlord-tenant arrangement similar to that enjoyed by the businesses in the Belconnen project. They are very satisfied with the CCDA.


Senator Peter Baume —Are you alleging that we are taking a client role? You will not answer that.


Senator JACK EVANS —What I am saying is that the CCDA is already a proven valuable asset to the people of the Australian Capital Territory. It has a track record of success in Belconnen, so why should it be denied the opportunity to repeat that success in the new development? To answer the interjection of a moment ago, yes, I am suggesting that the big developers of Australia are the major influence on the Liberal Party in this debate.


Senator Peter Baume —I rise on a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. If there is any suggestion that senators on this side, of which I am one, in any way will cast their vote as a result of influence being put on us, directly or indirectly, by someone that the honourable senator alleges to be a backer of the Party, I believe he is in breach of the Standing Orders. If he alleges that about senators on this side, I am one of those senators and I find that a most offensive suggestion. I ask him to indicate that it does not apply to any of the senators here who will be voting, because if it does he is breaching the Standing Orders.


Senator Mason —Mr Acting Deputy President, may I speak to the point of order? I do not see what standing order Senator Baume took his point of order under and I would be glad of your interpretation of the position. A statement has been made by Senator Jack Evans here which is a perfectly reasonable statement. It is up to Liberal Party honourable senators later in this debate to refute it at the proper time.


Senator Watson —Mr Acting Deputy President, I wish to speak on the point of order. Senator Jack Evans has cast an aspersion on the integrity not only of myself--


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Senator Watson, what is your point of order?


Senator Watson —It is in relation to the aspersion that has been cast that I would be speaking and voting because I was influenced by large developers within Canberra. He not only knows that that is false, but also that it is misleading and I think it is intolerable that an honourable senator should make these untrue accusations knowing them to be false.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I was listening carefully to Senator Jack Evans. He mentioned a particular party but he did not mention any people individually. Now there can be some argument about whether casting an aspersion on a party is worse than casting an aspersion on a particular individual, but I think at that stage Senator Jack Evans was making an argument that a certain party was backed by or had some affiliation with the particular business rather than making the aspersion which I think Senator Watson referred to. I rule that there is no point of order and I ask Senator Evans to continue.


Senator JACK EVANS —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I wish that my Senate friends would listen more carefully to the debate. Let me just put what I have said into context. I have said that the Liberal Party has been influenced by large businesses. Let me say quite clearly that the Australian Democrats have also been influenced by small businesses. We have carried out our research and we have asked the questions of the small businesses of the Australian Capital Territory. We have been influenced by their arguments. I suggest that the people who protest have not carried out adequate research or they would also have been influenced by small businesses. The point I stress is that they have been influenced by large business, and that is the reason for them carrying the debate on behalf of large businesses, on behalf of the multi-millionaire developers who would benefit--


Senator Peter Baume —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The situation has now changed. The honourable senator is now relating his remarks directly to those who have spoken in the debate, saying that they have been influenced by large business. At this stage it is not a statement about a party. It is a statement about those who have spoken in the debate. The honourable senator has no way of knowing whether his statements are correct. It is a statement based upon his own personal prejudice which reflects personally upon those honourable senators, including me, who have spoken in the debate. I ask you to afford them the protection of the Chair.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, I again rule that there is no point of order but I think the area you are traversing might be a little touchy. I ask the honourable senator to continue but to leave that argument to one side.


Senator JACK EVANS —Certainly, Mr Acting Deputy President. I think it is important in this debate to recognise that there are multiple influences, each of which and each of whom is playing a part in this decision. I am quite unashamedly saying that we have been influenced by a number of the people who have a direct interest, an involvement and a potential benefit which will flow from the decision. I am talking about the consumers of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory. I am talking about their representatives, the members of the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly, who were elected by the people of the Australian Capital Territory. The people of the Australian Capital Territory had a very small influence on the composition of the Senate and this Parliament but they had the only influence on the representation in the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly. Their representatives voted 11 to six in favour of the CCDA being the authority to control this development.

Now there has had to be a great deal of soul searching by a number of people before the case was put to and considered by the Senate tonight. The people who I believe should be heard are the people from within the Australian Capital Territory. That is why I made the earlier comment that the overwhelming opinion from the people within the Australian Capital Territory, the people who are going to be affected and the people who are going to benefit from having the right decision made tonight in this Parliament-are the shopkeepers and the people who are already satisfied with the ongoing operations of the CCDA.

The Australian Democrats do not believe that the Senate should override that clear expression of opinion of the House of Assembly on behalf of the people of the Australian Capital Territory. We believe, and here we do side with the other Opposition parties, that the private sector should be the prime mover in the economy. But where we may part company is that we oppose monopolies, whether they are government monopolies or private monopolies. Frankly, the monopolies in the Australian Capital Territory are there for us all to see, as I described earlier tonight. One needs to recognise that government monopolies are no better and no worse than private monopolies. When the crunch comes, when the decision has to be taken, one needs to look at what ultimately will benefit the people here. It appears to us that the private sector, in terms of small businesses, in terms of the builders and subcontractors, is going to suffer absolutely no disadvantage whatsoever if the CCDA is the developing authority, whereas there are reasonable grounds for suggesting that the other major development at Woden does not have quite the same acceptance by the retailers at present and does have the problems that are inherent in privately controlled shopping centres around Australia where the profit motive, the benefits of the landlords, the owners of the complexes and the entrepreneurs, is foremost and those of the shopkeepers have to trail behind. I do not believe that letting the CCDA operate the proposed new Erindale Centre will in any way push the private sector out or will in any way establish a government monopoly. We have a successful example of the CCDA's operations in the Belconnen Mall-


Senator Watson —How much tax does it pay?


Senator JACK EVANS —The honourable senator asks a question about taxes and perhaps we need to put that into perspective too, because in considering this whole matter I have had to look at the taxes that are being paid by the big business developers such as Lend Lease and they receive very valuable tax concessions. Senator Watson may be interested to know that Lend Lease's General Property Trust, its main activity and the largest such trust in Australia, is free of any tax. So that was not the question for the honourable senator to ask at this time. Lend Lease property investors do not pay tax to this Government; so that is a non-issue. It may be proper for them not to pay tax, but let us not hear any more of this misleading nonsense that private enterprise costs the taxpayer nothing. These generous tax concessions cost you, the Acting Deputy President, me, the people of Canberra and the people of Australia, dollars.


Senator Watson —The shareholders who receive the dividends get the benefits and pay tax on it. You know it. Stop misleading the Senate.


Senator JACK EVANS —That is not misleading. The honourable senator should do his own research and he will find that what I am saying is absolutely correct. Mr Acting Deputy President, the Australian Democrats will not support the disallowance motion because we believe that the best interests of Canberra and the people of the Australian Capital Territory are served by a mixed economy with emphasis on small business, not big business, and by the Senate respecting the clearly expressed views of the House of Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory.