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Friday, 29 November 1985
Page: 2573


Senator WALSH (Minister for Finance and Acting Minister for Resources and Energy)(10.27) —I do not intend to speak for very long, but I wish to make a couple of comments on the reasons that have been given by the Opposition for opposing the Pipeline Authority Amendment Bill 1985. Before doing that I should point out that although the provisions of this Bill really relate only to the construction of new facilities in the pipeline or extensions to the pipeline and for representation of the Australian Gas Light Company on the board of the Pipeline Authority, it is part of a package deal, so to speak, resulting from the renegotiation of the gas haulage agreement. This renegotiation provides for full cost recovery by the year 2006 by the Authority and for compression stations to be constructed as necessary. In that renegotiated agreement the construction of the spur to Orange, Bathurst and Lithgow is also provided. That is a significant achievement because had that haulage agreement not been renegotiated or some equivalent action taken, depending upon the discount rate assumed and the rate of inflation and so on, in 2006 dollars, within a reasonable range of probability for discount rates and inflation, the Authority would have been left with a deficit of something between $1 billion and $2 billion. It was very important, therefore, that the agreement be renegotiated and Senator Gareth Evans should be commended for having organised that renegotiation with a company which has not always been easy to deal with in the past, as I am sure Senator Sir John Carrick would know.


Senator Sir John Carrick —I certainly acknowledge that.


Senator WALSH —Yes. The reasons given by the Opposition for opposing the Bill include its doubts about AGL having a member on the Pipeline Authority. Prima facie I think that is a reasonable objection on the ground that there may be seen to be some conflict of interest. However, the major issue on which the conflict of interest question could arise is the renegotiation of the agreement and that has already been done. Although it is fair enough to acknowledge that, I think the risk is slight. The Opposition's second objection is that the legislation removes the requirement for parliamentary scrutiny of pipeline spurs and other major capital works. That would have been a reasonable proposition if it had come from an opposition or a political group which had consistently applied the principle of accountability to Parliament for the expenditure or availability of public moneys. The present Opposition, the Liberal Party of Australia, however, has no such record of having consistently applied that principle.

I need go back only to 1979 when the present Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr Howard) and then Treasurer stitched up an arrangement-a bit of cosmetic accounting-with Telecom Australia under which a total of some $600m was loaned back, to use the euphemism used by the Treasurer of the day, to Telecom in order to reduce Telecom's borrowing requirement for capital works and therefore achieve a consequential cosmetic reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement. That loan back arrangement was never approved by Parliament. No interest was payable by Telecom on the loan back until this Government came into office and corrected that in the 1984 Budget. No formal repayment obligation was imposed on Telecom. In other words, the present Leader of the Liberal Party, who was then the Treasurer, presumably with the knowledge of his Cabinet colleagues and the rest of the parliamentary Liberal Party of the day, had no qualms at all about handing over to Telecom $600m free of interest, with no obligation to repay and no requirement for parliamentary approval. It was never endorsed by Parliament. I find it somewhat distressing that a political party with that sort of record could come in here and sermonise about the need for accountability by Parliament and parliamentary scrutiny of the expenditure of public money.

I gather from Senator Mason's comments and from what other people have told me that the Australian Democrats will support the legislation, and I thank them for that. Therefore, the Bill will be passed. I endorse Senator Mason's comment about the Bathurst-Orange-Lithgow spur; something which has been on the agenda for a very long time and something which is likely to be achieved-I think it could be said to be guaranteed-in the not too distant future.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.