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Tuesday, 11 February 1986
Page: 34

Senator SHORT —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations to a Commonwealth employment program project to build a swimming pool in the suburb of Footscray in Mr Willis's electorate of Gellibrand in Victoria at an estimated cost of approximately $3.6m, of which the CEP grant was to be $2.8m, with the remaining $800,000 to come from the ratepayers of Footscray. I ask: Is the Minister aware that the project is massively behind schedule and has major cost overruns? I ask the Minister whether it is a fact that a private company, formerly called Elate, but now called the Footscray Swim Centre Pty Ltd, appears to control the project and the CEP funds, rather than the Footscray City Council, which is the legal and authorised sponsor. If so, was this arrangement contrived to avoid the Hawke and Cain Governments' directives in relation to the Builders Labourers Federation? I ask also whether the arrangement has made the swimming pool project and the Commonwealth liable for State payroll tax and higher workers compensation charges. Finally, I ask whether the Minister will undertake to have all the circumstances surrounding this CEP project, which is rapidly taking on all the appearances of a major scandal, made the subject of urgent investigation, including the background to its initial approval. Will the Minister give the Parliament an assurance that no further CEP funds will be allocated to the project in advance of such investigation?

Senator WALSH —I have some information on this matter. I am advised that Commonwealth funds of $1.974m have been approved for this project and that the sponsor, the Footscray City Council, is to contribute some $850,000. That does not tally with the figures Senator Short has just given. I do not know whether there has been a cost overrun which accounts for the difference. The Footscray Swim Centre is not the precise name I have come across previously, but rather the Footscray swimming pool. I do not know whether that body has some association as a corporate identity or as a private or partnership trader with the project. My information, which is stated to be unconfirmed, is that the project consultants are a firm called Trojan, Owen and Associates, which is not the company to which Senator Short was referring. I do not know whether that firm has any association with the Footscray Swim Centre as a corporate identity. I understand that there is an unconfirmed report that one of these companies was associated with a bottom of the harbour operation a few years ago. If that is true, it may well be why Senator Short has one name and I have a different provisional name before me. However, at this stage I do not know. In regard to this matter and the other matters raised by Senator Short, I will contact Mr Willis and try to get Senator Short more definitive answers, including whether there is any association by any company, either in its present form or its previous form, with bottom of the harbour operations. Indeed, I am quite happy to make available to the Senate any information at all that I have about companies and individuals which have been involved in bottom of the harbour operations.

Senator SHORT —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I ask Senator Walsh again for an assurance that all the circumstances surrounding this project will be the subject of urgent investigation.

Senator WALSH —I cannot give that assurance because I am not the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, but I will seek such an assurance from Mr Willis.