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Thursday, 22 October 1970

Mr JAMES (Hunter) - My remarks concerning the Commonwealth Department of Works estimates will be of praise on the one hand and of minor criticism on the other. The Department of Works employees in the Northern Territory, led by Mr George Redmond, are doing a wonderful job. All honourable members should be aware of their extensive activities in the Northern Territory. As a member of the Joint Statutory Committee on Public Works I have had to visit the Northern Territory on numerous occasions and have been able to assess the value of the work of employees of the Department of Works. Now I come to some points of criticism. We find that in New South Wales there has been considerable retrenchment of employees of the Department and more is intended. I refer particularly to the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base where much consternation is felt because of the retrenchments of Department of Works employees. These have comprised tradesmen, particularly carpenters. These retrenchments do not encourage competent tradesmen to seek employment in the Department of Works because they cannot be assured of continuity of employment. Employees of the Department should feel secure in their employment.

I also believe that the Department should not be retrenching employees but should be carrying out a programme of expansion. If this were done we would find that the employees of the Department would be a body of contented men. They would also be a body of efficient men, even more efficient than they are now. There is an old saying that a contented employee is an efficient employee. We know that at defence establishments there is always a contingent of Department of Works employees, and the volume of work rises and falls from time to time. In these circumstances, and with present planning, it is difficult not to have to retrench from time to time, but I believe that there should be some more wide ranging plan for Department of Works employees so that when jobs are completed on defence establishments, whether they be at Puckapunyal, Williamtown air base, the Singleton Army camp or somewhere else, the employees can be transferred to other work in the regions. They would then never have to fear unemployment. They should be like permanent members of the Services who know that when they finish one job they will still have security and permanency of employment.

I may be asked where else these men could be employed. There are plenty of urgent public works, particularly in the Newcastle region with which I am particularly concerned, that the Commonwealth should undertake but which are too big for local government authorities and even State governments. I might mention, for instance, the Swansea Channel which provides an inlet and outlet for the beautiful waters of Lake Macquarie. For years this channel has been silting up. Protests have come from organised bodies, local government authorities and the State Government. The Swansea Channel could and should be dredged and the banks should be reinforced. What money has been spent on dredging from time to time has been virtually wasted. If the money had been allowed to accumulate and spent on one attack on the problem perhaps the banks of the channel could have been protected for all time by reinforcement and the siltation prevented. There would be no authority more capable of doing this work, in my opinion, than the Commonwealth Department of Works. I believe that special Commonwealth financial assistance should be given towards overcoming this problem of siltation in the Swansea channel. I understand it would cost not more than $400,000.

At one time it was argued that there were not sufficient ratepayers in the Lake Macquarie area to warrant a Commonwealth grant for this purpose. In 1947 the population of Lake Macquarie was only 42.000. Today the population is 130,000. By the turn of the century it is expected to reach 300,000. I hope that the charter of the Department of Works can be expanded so that when a job is completed in a particular area the men employed on it can be transferred to other important public works such as the one I have just referred to. I gathered information only today by telephone that private enterprise is now looking at 2 sites in the Swansea or Central Coast area where it proposes to build breakwaters into the ocean for the purpose of loading coal for export to Japan. These ventures would be adjacent to some beautiful beaches. If these projects are allowed to go forward there will probably be a justifiable outcry from the people in the region similar to that with which the people of the Wollongong area and in the electorate of Hughes have been bombarding the honourable member for that electorate. Similar coal loading projects are planned, we are told, for that area. We know that we must export but we should not allow our public beaches to be ruined just so that some exporters can get what is known as a fast buck. 1 believe the Government should consider expanding the activities of the Department of Works to enable that Department to carry out projects such as I have already suggested. I point out, without being overcritical, that the Commonwealth spends vast sums of money on projects such as the extension of airports to accommodate international aircraft. I refer particularly to the Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport, the Tullamarine Airport and the Avalon Airport which is being extended for the purpose of training urgently needed jumbo jet pilots for Qantas. The Perth airport, I believe, has been extended and improved facilities are being provided at the Wagga defence establishment. Millions of dollars are being spent in these areas. Millions of dollars are about to be spent on the provision of new barracks and amenities for sailors at HMAS 'Cerberus'. I think that the Commonwealth could spend some money on the project to which I have referred.

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