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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5210


Senator CALVERT (5.24 p.m.) —I would like to make some comments on two of those reports, the report on Badgerys Creek airport development, stage 1, and the report on the York Park offices at Barton. In particular, I wish to refer to the report relating to the proposed new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offices at Barton, which is just adjacent to the place we are in now.

  As one of the members of the Public Works Committee from this side of politics who signed the dissenting report accompanying the report that has been tabled, I would like to say that in this day and age when we have a million people out of work and an overseas debt in excess of $200,000m, I do not see how the Government can even contemplate building a Taj Mahal, as it is called in the report—I believe it is affectionately known among other people as a `Gareth Mahal'—at a cost of some $267m, taking into account the refurbishment of the old administration building. This is typical of the attitude that this Labor Party and this Labor Government have to money. There is no doubt that to fund this building the money will have to be borrowed, therefore increasing our overseas debt.

  That is a quarter of a billion dollars. I do not know how some honourable senators can go back to their electorates and justify to the unemployed and poverty stricken people there the building of another new structure in Canberra along the lines of the Parliament House we are standing in now at a time of recession engineered by the Prime Minister. The funny thing about it all is that there is a great question over whether it is really needed. When this particular proposal was put to us, involving a cost of $187m just for the sumptuous new offices, one of the reasons put forward for it being needed was that the old building was too cramped. In fact, the Foreign Affairs and Trade Association pointed out in its submission to the Committee that the new building will be about the same size as the one the Department is leaving. I quote from the dissenting report:

The York Park development is a bigger building than the existing Administrative Building yet provides only the same amount of working area.

That would lead one to suggest, of course, that the building itself was going to be an extravagant building—a bigger building but the same work area, at the cost of $187m!


Senator Harradine —There are a lot of people in the hungry world who would like that.


Senator CALVERT —Exactly. Coming from the land, as I do, the last thing I would do in the middle of a drought if I had considerable debts would be to go and buy new machinery and put myself further into debt. At a time when, as I said earlier, we have over a million people out of work in this country, another million people who are underemployed, and an overseas debt of huge proportions that is growing every day by $1m, the Government will waste $187m on a sumptuous new structure for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Up until about three years ago, the preferred option was that the old administration building down the road be totally refurbished, including an annex, giving a greater floor space area than the new building would have, at a cost of something like $102m.

  But no, the Government made a decision—not recommended by anybody—to go ahead with this building. We already know that the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Senator Evans) in the old building has been refurbished in the last couple of years at a cost of $240,000. That is just for the Minister's office. He has been in it a handful of times. I know it is used for visiting dignitaries and visiting ambassadors when they come to Australia.

  One of the reports says that the two floors—the fourth and fifth floors—of the communications centre were `not in need of refurbishment'. So we have a building which has—as proposed back in 1989—a new annexe which provided 240 extra car spaces and an extra 14,000 square metres. One could take one floor at a time in that new annexe and refurbish the building over a period of time. That was the original proposal. It was approved, no problem at all, and out of the blue, because the Government wished to build another edifice to its great 10 years in office, it is to waste $187m plus another $80m on top of that to refurbish the old building—a total of $267m—so it can put the employees of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in another building of the same size.

  On the other report concerning the Badgerys Creek airport development, there is not enough money in the kitty to build a full length airstrip. The Government cannot afford the extra $40m or $50m. The Badgerys Creek airport has great ramifications for trade, freight and infrastructure in Sydney. There, the Government has to go for the cheap option—a 1,800 metre runway—because it does not have the money, yet in this case we can throw in $267m for a new Taj Mahal here in Canberra.

  I pay credit to the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils which lobbied very strongly to increase the length of the runway. In fact, the Committee has recommended that the initial development should provide a 2,900 metre runway as against the 1,800 metre runway that is proposed by the FAC. Again, we believe it is short-sighted. WESROC, as it is affectionately known, believes it is short-sighted. The new airport is in the best interests of the western Sydney region. We agreed with the proposals put forward by WESROC. It will promote growth in the area and expand the trade between Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. It is not only a freight runway but an alternative to Kingsford-Smith Airport.

  I return to the York Park Offices. Earlier today someone said what a great job the Public Works Committee did on the York Park Offices report. I am disappointed that two of my colleagues, who very vocally opposed the York Park building, were heavied and leant upon at the last minute to change their opinion. As of last night, one of the members of the Committee who was going to put in his own dissenting report was pressured into not doing so.


Senator Collins —Heavied by whom?


Senator CALVERT —He was heavied by the same person who heavied Senator Collins over the previous report, the same person he tangled with. The Chairman persuaded two members of the Committee who were going to present a majority report not to do so when it looked as if the Chairman would have to present a minority report. At the end of the day, the numbers came out the other way. I guess that is politics. The point I am trying to make is that most members of the Committee, at one point or another, had grave misgivings about this project—and we still do, as do members on the other side. I point out that at this time in Australia's economic history, this is an extravagance that we can do without.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.