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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 583

Senator ARCHER(6.14) —During the second reading debate we gave notice that we would oppose the legislation. As a result, I have listened to all the speakers and I have read Hansard very carefully. The position is really very clear. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr West) was very critical in another place-mainly by innuendo-of selected issues that he introduced as requiring improvement. The amendments indicate that he was looking for improvements in the commercial practices, the financial provisions, the redundancy provisions and in the broadening of the board. No Government speaker has covered any of the issues that we have raised. The Opposition expressed concern at the declining business, the declining numbers of staff, the declining profitability and the high contingencies. So far the Government has been unable to give us any of the information for which we have asked and we still have not yet seen the figures for the 1984-85 year or the projections for 1985-86.

The Government has not given one explanation to show us how this Bill would automatically introduce a turnaround in the operation of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation-not one. We are aware of how highly this business rates on its performance among the international design firms of the world and we give credit to it. We do not want SMEC to disappear. I want to see a strong, viable and profitable SMEC, as I said during the second reading debate. Most of all I want to see a home for many years to come for the excellent staff and management that goes with the organisation. However, I am concerned about what will happen now to SMEC, as a government organisation, if it has one more bad year. I believe we must consider first the position of the staff. I do not think that the staff of the organisation are being given adequate consideration at this time. What will the Government do if there is another bad year? The Government plan, through this legislation, will not provide security for the staff and the organisation, and no Government speaker showed us how it could.

I implore the Government not to take the sort of action which can do no more than allow the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation to just fade away. I am a great appreciator of the people involved; I greatly appreciate the work that they have done in so many places. I am not in any doubt that the present staff can continue to make a very adequate contribution in some way if they are given the opportunity, under the guidance of Mr Price and the operators that are now there.

I have looked at clauses 6 and 7 very closely. When one looks at the amendments one is reminded a bit of the old woodheap axe. By the time we change the Corporation, the functions and the powers, will it still be the same Corporation that we have been dealing with? While those changes have been proposed, I cannot see that they will really change the operation of SMEC in any way. I cannot see how the people of SMEC will see any difference as far as their future is concerned. Clauses 6 and 7 are props clauses; they are not reconstruction clauses. I would like to see reconstruction clauses. I believe it is necessary for SMEC itself and especially for the staff that we should make big changes which will alter the whole function. We have pursued amendments and I am sorry that they have not been universally agreed by our friends the Australian Democrats. I think it would be inconsistent if we did not support them in the light of the Australian Dairy Corporation case. It would be inconsistent if we did not pursue them, if the Government did not pursue them and, equally, if the Democrats did not pursue them.

Senator Siddons —Why didn't you introduce them when you first spoke about it?

Senator ARCHER —Senator Siddons asks why we did not introduce them earlier. As a matter of fact this matter was not picked up in the House of Representatives by either the Government or the Opposition at the time. It was not picked up in here until some time on Thursday or Friday and it has taken us quite an amount of time to get the wording right and to produce the amendments in a form that could go forward. It would have been absolutely delinquent of us once we had found this obvious deficiency, which surely must be totally patent to Senator Siddens, had we not brought it forward as soon as possible.