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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2394


Senator VIGOR(6.29) —I have several questions on the sale of the Belconnen Mall and the Canberra Commercial Development Authority and the housing loan schemes, which I would be quite willing to put on notice if I can have an undertaking from the Minister that they will be answered.


Senator Ryan —Certainly.


Senator VIGOR —I seek leave to incorporate the questions in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The questions read as follows-

-Belconnen Mall Sale:

I wish to follow up some answers about Belconnen Mall provided to Estimates Committee F.

It seems strange that the government is stripping a major revenue-producing asset on the verge of A.C.T. self-government. Since the Whitlam government injected $1 million in the midseventies, the people of the A.C.T. have essentially paid the interest on the $40 million loan needed to fund the Belconnen Mall project.

That debt has been reduced to about $34 million, and the Canberra Commercial Development Authority has reserves of around $10 million. In a few years time, the Mall could have produced the equivalent of about $8 million at current value, for the local governing body. I don't want to go into the chopping and changing since the A.L.P. was in opposition, not since the time when the previous minister instructed the Canberra Commercial Development Authority to prepare the new shopping complex at Tuggeranong.

However, about $600,000 was used on planning work under ministerial instruction. Will that money now be returned to the people of the A.C.T.?

My second point on Belconnen Mall is about the sum promised for the building of community facilities that the Canberra Commercial Development Authority has not been allowed to undertake. Different sums have been mentioned by different government sources. $5 million is one amount given, $4 million has been mentioned by others at public meetings, and there has been a further suggestion that only $3 million will be provided if the successful tenderer guarantees occasional child-care facilities at the Mall in perpetuity.

I ask just what the people of the A.C.T. will get out of this sale?

My next point is about child-care facilities at Belconnen Mall. Both the Department of Local Government and Administrative Services, and the Canberra Commercial Development Authority, wrote to the Estimates Committee F that tenderers needed to guarantee child-care facilities for two years.

The Authority was a lot more enthusiastic than the Department about retaining the child-care facilities indefinitely.

I ask the Minister whether such undertakings will count for anything when tenders are evaluated, or will the government just accept the highest bidder automatically?

I also draw to the minister's attention the fact that the provision of child-care facilities at a peppercorn rental is a condition of tender for the Tuggeranong site. Why has Belconnen been treated differently?

Can the Minister say when the Canberra Commercial Development Authority was told about the sale of the Mall?

What arrangements have been made with the staff of the Authority over its winddown?

Department of Territories-Homelessness and social welfare problems:

On Page 95 of the Estimates Committee F written replies booklet, we are told: ``The Department has examined the Homelessness Report and has acted on a number of its recommendations. A report on implementation progress, together with recommended responses to the remaining recommendations is being prepared for the Minister's consideration.''

The Homelessness Report was published in January 1984. When is the Department's report on implementation likely to be available to the Minister? When will we be getting a statement on what is going on? Why has it taken so long to get even this far?

At page 93 of the written replies booklet circulated by the Estimates Committee F, we are told that an inter-departmental committee has given the government its work on the Vinson Report. When will the government's response be available? Will the interdepartmental committee's paper be made public? When are we likely to get an indication of changes in administrative operation that are said by the Department to be in train or in prospect?

On 18th July 1985, the Minister for Territories announced that he would appoint a consultant to look at various alternative housing strategies for the A.C.T. When was the list of names of people competent to make the review handed to the Minister? Why have there been such delays in making the appointment? Will the Department be able to provide the consultant with backup information and analysis on successful community housing programs in other states?

On page 93 of Estimates Committee F written replies, we find that Mr Fisher conducted his investigation of the Commissioner for Housing Loans Scheme independently of the Department. What opportunities did he have to question staff? What problems did he identify, and what action has been taken to deal with them under the new arrangements announced for the re-start of the scheme?

Commissioner for Housing Loans Scheme:

In the Canberra Times of 2nd November, the City Reporter, Frank Longhurst, wrote that the Commissioner for Housing Loans Scheme had lost nearly two thirds of the applicants from its waiting list.

What further developments have there been since that time? How many people on that list have now written to say that they still qualify for assistance and are keen to buy a house or unit?

Is there a cut-off time by which those people who were frozen out last year, have to respond before they lose their previous place in the waiting list?

I am seeking information about reporting structures for staff within this scheme last year, and to follow up a most unsatisfactory answer that Estimates Committee F received.

I asked this question on notice:

``What steps were taken in July last year and the first half of August, to alert the Minister to the potential magnitude of the commitments made? Who, if anyone, took such steps?''

This is what we have received:

``A briefing was provided to the Minister by the Commissioner for Housing on the 20th August 1984 concerning the overcommitment of loan funds.''

The 20th August is not in the first half of August in my calendar. This opens up the whole area of reporting structures within the Department. I find it nearly beyond belief that senior officers were not demanding regular reports as soon as the problems surfaced-up-to-date information at the close of business every day or couple of days was definitely needed. Can we get a statement of how the reporting processes changed during the crisis period so that appropriate lessons can be drawn?

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Department of Local Government and Administrative Services

Proposed expenditure, $535,978,000

Rent (Defence)

Proposed expenditure, $70,776,000

Acquisition of Sites and Buildings (Defence)

Proposed expenditure, $41,763,000