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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3453

Senator MURPHY(6.34 p.m.) —I would just like to say few words with regard to the committee's 59th report and the fact that I was appointed to this committee on 10 February 1995. Initially I was not too interested in the committee. I was not quite sure what it was supposed to do—as sometimes seems the case with some committees. Certainly in the time that I have been involved with it, with regard to the staff of the committee, I have to say—not unlike Senator Calvert—that it is one of the best staffed committees that I have seen. Peter Roberts and Denise Denahy certainly deserve congratulations. Michael Fetter and, of course, the other staff of the committee made it run it as efficiently as it did.

The committee had 23 references in one year and reported on 20 of them. I think it is a fairly reasonable effort, particularly when you consider the amounts of money and the projects that the Public Works Committee deals with. One thing I have found somewhat concerning is how often departments come forward with projects that seem to have a fixed price. It is never a fixed price and it blows out quite substantially. In fact, so much so in some cases that it is almost unbelievable.

There are three in particular that I would like to make reference to: the proposed decontamination of the former explosives factory at Albion in Victoria, the refurbishment of Australia House in London, and one—yet to be reported on and a decision taken—which relates to the rock fall defence on Christmas Island. That was rather interesting. The department had spent some $12 million or thereabouts refurbishing some buildings below a cliff. Within 12 months they had decided that somehow some rocks might fall down, so they had to shift the population out of those buildings which had been refurbished. They wanted to spend another $22 million building new buildings somewhere else.

I was rather curious about it in terms of the rock fall: when the last rock fell and what the percentages of opportunity might be for people actually being killed or creating some liability for Commonwealth. Of course, most of the people who lived in that area in those buildings actually thought it was some big con job to get them out so as to make it into tourist accommodation. It was rather interesting.

More recently, we had the Federal Police, the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, and the Department of Industrial Relations put up proposals to us here in Canberra for building new accommodation buildings within the Barton centre. This is another very important aspect of this committee's work as it relates to the ACT and the development and management of it, and also the Commonwealth's responsibilities that continue within the ACT.

There seems to be very little cooperation or discussion that takes place between the various bodies that have some responsibility for the planning of the ACT at an ACT government level. Recently, when the public works committees met in the ACT Assembly, I actually put a question to the chairman of that meeting about why it is that there seems to be very little communication between the three bodies that actually have some responsibility for planning within—

Senator Calvert —Two planning bodies doing something.

Senator MURPHY —Yes, two planning bodies that do not seem to talk one another. When we were actually dealing with the applications of the various departments for new buildings within the Barton centre—or the Golden Triangle as it is known here—the ACT Assembly opposed them, as did a number of other local interests and local government groups. Because Canberra is basically a bunch of satellite type cities, the planning was given no consideration as to where these things ought to be located in terms of the best interests, the other resources and also the services that need to be provided.

In the 59th report we dealt with some very important issues: the decontamination at Maralinga, Defence housing and the planning for Defence housing. Clearly, some departments have their act together but, in so far as many of them go, the issue of cost overruns is an unacceptable practice. Hopefully, as time goes by, we will see a greater ability on their part to bring proposals before the committee ultimately responsible for making recommendations to the government, or to the minister responsible for the expenditure of funds, in a more efficient and exacting way because it will be the only way that we will allow for a more exact expenditure process—in terms of the budget process—overall.

In the very short period that I have been on the committee, I was quite amazed at just how often departments would come back for very sizeable increases in expenditure. Quite often, it was for things that you would have thought ought to have been staring them in the face in the first place. Even though the departments were quite often questioned about these matters by the committee in the first instance, we were quite regularly given assurances that it would not be the case that they would be back for another bucketful of money. The reality was quite different.

Like Senator Calvert, I commend the report. I would also like to commend the former chairman, Mr Colin Hollis, who, I have to say, ran the committee in a very efficient way. We always had to be on time. If we were not on time, we always got a kick up the backside. The now chairman, Neil Andrew, who was the deputy chairman, is also doing an admirable job of chairing the committee. The committee provided me with the opportunity to see a great number of places, many of them very interesting. I commend this report to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.