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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1832

Senator CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Sport, Territories and Local Government)(3.54 p.m.) —I will not delay the Senate for too long because I know that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Kemp) will seek to do personal injury to me if I do so. This report by the Auditor-General is one that I think the Senate should welcome. Senator Baume briefly alluded to the fact that it did come out of some actions taken by this Senate which were opposed, of course, by the then Labor government, which was most embarrassed by the performance of a number of its property operations, particularly involving Centenary House, but more lately Casseldon Place.

This Senate demanded that the former Minister for Administrative Services, Frank Walker, table a range of documents in relation to the Casseldon Place building. It showed at that time that the Labor government's failed attempt to construct a building in the Melbourne business district and to fill it with Commonwealth tenants had actually lost the Australian taxpayers in excess of $100 million. This report confirms that that loss is actually more like $110 million. Senator Baume has said that the report shows that that write-down of the valuation has gone up by $10 million.

What did then Minister Frank Walker, and therefore the former Labor government, say about that loss? He said, `Oh, but it is only a paper loss.'

Senator Michael Baume —Ha, ha!

Senator CAMPBELL —He is probably right, Senator Baume. There was a lot of paper collected from a lot of taxpayers, folding stuff ripped out of their back pockets and spent by the Labor government on this building. If the government sold Casseldon Place now, we would get paper for it, we would get a lot of folding stuff back. The difference between the paper stuff that was ripped out of the taxpayers' back pockets and the paper stuff that we would get if we put it on the market today is about $110 million worth of paper, to use Frank Walker's words.

We welcome this report because this government will finally bring some sense to the Australian government's property holdings. They will, through the task force established by the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr Jull), finally start tearing off the layers and layers of cover-up that were applied to this portfolio, firstly by Minister Bolkus when he was in charge of it and then by former Senator McMullan. God help Australia if he ever became Treasurer; he is now the shadow Treasurer.

Senator Sherry —He is not; Gareth Evans is.

Senator CAMPBELL —He was a disaster as admin services minister, an absolute disaster. Sorry, he is shadow industrial relations minister. But God help Australia if he even gets any job in a future government. Let us hope that he never does, because he was a disaster in this area and sought to cover up this $110 million disaster. Then there is Frank Walker.

Senator Michael Baume —Walker was a disgrace.

Senator CAMPBELL —Thank God for the new member for Robertson (Mr Lloyd), because Walker was a joke. He tried to cover up the Casseldon Place black hole. I am very glad that the audit office has done this detailed work on looking at the previous government's handling of property matters. The Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration also did a detailed report.

This report contains a lot of very useful information for all senators to look at to see what happens with this multi-billion dollar property portfolio. It was handled in such a way that if it was a private property trust that had dealt with it this way they would have been de-listed years ago. They would have been run out of Australia, run out of town.

People talk about Christopher Skase sitting in Majorca. Quite frankly, the ministers who were responsible for the cover-up of this disastrous management of billions of dollars worth of taxpayers' offices are really no better and no worse than Christopher Skase in Majorca. I commend the report to the Senate. I commend the new government's very positive action in appointing a property task force to start implementing the sorts of recommendations made in this report.

Question resolved in the affirmative.