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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3454

Senator CAMPBELL (6.04 p.m.) —I will not be able to deal with what Senator Coulter has contributed in his speech because the short time I have been given, which was agreed to by my whip, allows me only a few minutes. I did not really want to talk about the nub of the issue—that is, the establishment of the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation. I am sure that will be dealt with across the chamber by people such as Senator Gibson, Senator O'Chee and other colleagues of mine, who will be able to refute some of what Senator Coulter has said. I look forward to hearing the contribution by my Greens (WA) colleagues, Senator Chamarette and Senator Margetts, on what I am sure will be similar forest issues.

  I wanted to make a contribution to the debate because what we are witnessing is a not unique thing in Australian political history; it is, indeed, the birth of a quango. I have been making a study of quangos for some time—

Senator Coulter —A small, furry animal?

Senator CAMPBELL —A quango is not a small, furry animal that lives in a hollow log somewhere. It is actually a quasi-autonomous national government organisation. Far from being an endangered species, it is something that is growing very rapidly in Australia. Indeed, the research done by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, which publishes an annual list of so-called Commonwealth bodies, known more colloquially as quangos, has shown that during the 10 years of the Labor government the number of quangos has expanded by nearly 100 per cent.

Senator Sherry —You are talking to the legislation, are you?

Senator CAMPBELL —I will be in a roundabout way. One of the problems with the establishment of these bodies is that once they are actually created it is very hard to find out where they were created and they seem to have a life that goes on forever, unlike trees and animals of the forest.

  I refer to what I thought was a funny quote from a book on quangos. It is by a person called Harriet Beecher Stowe. I presume it is a work of fiction. I do not know; I am not that literate. The book talks about the birth of quangos. There are something like 800 quangos in Australia at the moment—that is federal government quangos, not taking into account the state ones. The quote reads:

`Who was your mother?' `Never had none,' said the child, with another grin. `Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?' `Never was born,' persisted Topsy; never had no father, nor mother, nor nothin'. I was raised by a speculator.' . . . `Do you know who made you?' `Nobody as I knows on,' said the child, with a short laugh.. . I `spect I growed.'

There is not doubt today about the birth of this quango. This legislation is being passed by the parliament and it will indeed impose some burdens on the industry. It will create a corporation. That corporation will have members of the board, it will have secretarial services and, like most other quangos in Australian history, and indeed in the history of governments around the world, it will tend to grow.

  There are some redeeming features which have encouraged me to vote for this bill—apart from the fact that I do not want to make a scene by crossing the floor and voting against my party room—which the minister has referred to in his second reading speech. One of the redeeming features of this legislation is that the second reading speech contains a commitment—I have yet to see it in the bill; it may well be there—to ensure that there is a review of the operations of the corporation after 1995-96.

  I cannot see a sunset clause in the legislation. I am not particularly impressed by the operation of sunset clauses in relation to quangos anyway. Even though sunset clauses saw the demise of a few quangos over the last couple of years, some 200 more replaced them, so the growth of quangos goes on.

  Another redeeming feature of this legislation is that this quango will be required to make a report to the parliament annually. That means that all parliamentarians can indeed keep an eye on the activities of the new corporation and ensure that it is not wasting government money or the money of those who indeed contribute the levies.

  It needs also to be noted that the industry has called for the creation of this. However, I must point out that I do not think that, where an industry calls for the creation of a quango, it necessarily means that that quango is a good idea.

  I certainly do not pick on the forestry industries group itself because in my dealings with it I have found it to be a very genuine, well-intentioned representative of its industry, but there is an enormous incentive for industry groups which are private, voluntary and cooperative to become quangos because they get given money by the government, they get offices paid for by the government and contributed to by their membership and they really do become part of the state.

  It is a lot cosier being in the cradle of the state than being out there trying to get levies collected voluntarily, going around trying to convince the members that they should contribute to research. Altogether, things become a lot harder if you are out there in the cold, hard, voluntary, cooperative area. It is always nice to be part of a cosy quango where you are guaranteed some funding from the government and where the levy is collected statutorily by the force of the sort of legislation we are passing today.

  Since I have made a commitment to my whip and I am a person of my word, I will not go on. I conclude by saying that I think the growth of quangos generally in Australia is an area that requires further examination by the parliament. I know that the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration is a heavily burdened committee. The committee system in this parliament is continually being stressed by reductions of funding from the executive and I do not think that the finance and public administration committee can do a lot more work on this to actually solve the problem of quangos.

  I wrote a letter to the Auditor-General just last week to suggest that he may find this an area that is worth while to study. There is an enormous range of quangos that chew up millions and millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Many of those quangos do not report to parliament or even to the minister and I think there needs to be a lot more work done on how money is spent in this way. Having said that, I will conclude my remarks and leave matters more germane to the bill to my colleagues.