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Monday, 6 December 1993
Page: 3893


Senator COATES (6.24 p.m.) —in reply—I want to close the debate by making some brief references to the contributions of opposition senators on the Centenary House lease issue. I certainly will not extend this debate beyond 6.30 p.m., so that we can get on with the industrial relations bills, and so I will not have the opportunity to deal in detail with everything that was said by those opposite.

  The one thing that I think I should make clear is the role of the Department of Finance in relation to the lease and the resource agreement with the Australian National Audit Office. I suppose the thing that saddens me about the arguments of those opposite on this whole issue is that they only let into their heads the evidence that they wanted to hear. They ignored a whole lot of other evidence that was put before the committee and they misrepresented a whole lot of the evidence—even the evidence that they let themselves hear.

  In particular I want to refer to the Department of Finance issue. Once again we had opposition senators saying, as they have been saying over and over for some months, that the Department of Finance has said that this particular lease should only have a one per cent escalator clause in it. Of course, the fact is that the Department of Finance has had no involvement at all with this lease. There is nothing to show that the Department of Finance has made any judgment at all about this lease and the appropriate escalator clause in it. It has not said that this lease should have one per cent compared to the nine per cent that was negotiated and was recommended as appropriate by those from whom the audit office took advice.

  The Department of Finance's one per cent applies because that is the standard escalator that is used all around the country. As the finance department said in its evidence, if it were to have had anything different from the standard one per cent, it would have had to look at the lease in more detail and had an actual case put to it. The one per cent applies because the Department of Finance did not investigate the matter any further. The one per cent is based on overall rental arrangements all around the country—not just Canberra and certainly not just the Barton area, which is accepted as being one of the highest.

  It is sad, but also annoying, that the evidence about the Department of Finance's involvement keeps being ignored by the opposition. The Auditor-General himself said to the committee that he was not aware of a number of things, although I think he was talking personally rather than in relation to all people in his office, because obviously there were people in the audit office dealing with the matter with the Australian Property Group, the Australian Valuation Office and, in relation to the resource agreement, the Department of Finance. Of course, the resource agreement was to do with the overall issue of the resources for the audit office. There seems to have been some misunderstanding, at least on the part of the Auditor-General, as to what was being signed when there were agreements with Finance about that resource agreement.

  While I could deal with a whole lot of other issues relating to the contributions to this debate from those opposite, if there is one thing that I can get across and ask them to believe—if they will only read the evidence—it should be that the Department of Finance has not said that this lease should only have a one per cent escalator; the Department of Finance has made no judgment about it whatsoever.

    Question resolved in the affirmative. Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.