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Wednesday, 27 October 1993
Page: 2606

Senator CARR —My question is directed to the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services. Given the level and importance of government purchasing to the national economy and its ability to make a significant contribution to the shape and direction of the economy and the significant public interest in the issue, what is the minister doing in respect of his portfolio, which has responsibility for government purchasing policies and procedures?

Senator McMULLAN —The annual purchasing of the Australian government is quite large. It is to some extent overestimated, but the best estimate is about $8 billion each year. That is, of course, a lot, but we have to get it in proportion: we are talking about $8 billion in a $300-plus billion economy. So let us not overstate it; nevertheless, it is a significant element. It is particularly significant in some areas—defence equipment, obviously; information technology; and motor vehicles, to name a few examples.

  Since 1989, purchasing policy at the federal level and the procedures associated with it have undergone significant reform and, in the main, those reforms have received bipartisan support. That mainly occurred while Senator Parer was the shadow minister. We thank him for that. We did not agree entirely, but there was substantial bipartisanship on issues of value for money—taking care of the taxpayers' dollar, competition and support for Australian and New Zealand industry. A range of initiatives have been taken to implement those policies. Those policies having now been in place and developed over the past four or five years, it does seem appropriate to review the pluses and minuses to see how we build on the strengths and what we do to accommodate any weaknesses that may occur.

  Honourable senators would be aware—I am sure Senator Carr in particular is motivated by this—that there has been concern within industry, within the community and within the public sector about administrative issues associated with purchasing with regard to training programs, information systems, et cetera. All those matters have warranted revisiting some of the issues concerned. To recognise the need for ongoing reform and improvement, there are a number of responses under way.

  Firstly, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, chaired by the honourable member for Brisbane, Mr Bevis, is reviewing government purchasing. This is providing a forum for industry and community input through a local inquiry process, and I welcome that. Secondly, my colleague the Minister for Industry, Technology and Regional Development, Mr Griffiths, has announced his intention to issue a major industry policy statement in the first half of next year, and that will have a major purchasing policy component. He has indicated quite correctly that he and I are working together on that.

  As part of the development of the response, I have asked my department to establish a task force headed by a deputy secretary to thoroughly and critically examine the current policies and procedures applying to Commonwealth procurement; to analyse issues of concern to local industry; to develop options to further reform purchasing policy and procedure; and to have, as the basis of further reform, the objective of a much greater commitment to enhancing local industry opportunities.

Senator Kemp —What has Nick Bolkus been doing?

Senator McMULLAN —I expect the first report of the task force by Christmas. The work of the task force will, of course, be made available to the Bevis committee, and to Mr Griffiths.

Senator Kemp —This is showing him up!

Senator McMULLAN —Those three initiatives being taken together give us a good chance of building on the basis of the good work that has been done in the past, including that by my colleague Senator Bolkus who is being so gratuitously attacked from the back benches over there. He is happily on the front bench over here and Senator Kemp is happily on the back bench over there. The result should be a comprehensive and coordinated approach providing the best possible outcome for taxpayers whose dollars we need to protect, for Australian industry and for efficient public administration.