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Thursday, 31 August 1972
Page: 1083

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Like the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) and the honouable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) I believe that this is an important matter and that the Parliament should not hesitate about referring it for quick and, I hope, positive inquiry and determination by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works because that Committee has had a fair bit to do with the problems of Tennant Creek and has been able to identify the fact that people there live in disadvantaged circumstances. As a member of that Committee, even at this late stage preceding the elections, I would be prepared to make some sacrifice and go to Tennant Creek to help the residents with the difficulties they encounter. Recently the Public Works Committee was asked to resolve the sewerage problem in that area and this was accomplished with satisfaction. Nevertheless I think it is important that the Parliament should recognise that some politics is being played in respect of the whole process of referring matters to the Public Works Committee. There is a great flurry of such referrals. The Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Wakefied (Mr Kelly), who spoke a few moments ago, said some very sensible and accurate things, but he could have gone further and said more. He could have said, for example, that this year - election year - the Committee looks like undertaking about twice as many inquiries as have ever been undertaken in the history of the Public Works Committee.

The Committee is tearing around the countryside at frantic speed. It is not simply a matter of the members of the Committee being disadvantaged. Sometimes the public are disadvantaged as well because there should be proper notice and sufficient time to enable the democratic process to run its full race and to go the full course. Sufficient notice should be given to enable people to consult with one another - for groups to discuss these matters and prepare evidence to submit to the Committee. However the Committee is going at such a rate that people are hardly given time to prepare properly. Next Monday morning the Committee sets off on a week of examinations and inquiries. In my case, I leave Sydney at 7 o'clock on Monday morning and fly to Papua New Guinea - to Lae and Port Moresby - and return via Canungra, Amberley and Townsville arriving back in Sydney on Friday, This is a valuable week in this pre-election period as I am sure you, Mr Speaker, will recognise.

Other matters are yet to be referred to the Committee, including telephone exchanges and, I think, a chancery in Papua New Guinea. So there will be this mad rush, and it just is not good enough. I want to cause the Parliament to know that there is an obvious playing of politics here. I can understand the 'honourable member for the Northern Territory being enthusiastic, because every time the Committee goes to the Northern Territory he sets out very effectively, I might say, to give the people of the Northern Territory the impression that it is his representations which have resulted in these works being undertaken. This has happened in the past and, of course, he would like the Committee to go back to the Northern Territory as many times as possible before the election. But we should not be exploiting the Public Works Committee or this process for miserable election purposes.

It is important to draw the conclusion that this mad rush that is now evident on the part of the Government to squeeze all this work through the Public Works Committee process demonstrates the incapacity of the Government to properly organise and harness the release of work to be undertaken by various contractors. The Department of Works obviously must come under undesirable pressure as a result of the spasmodic flow of work. Additionally when one takes a place like the Northern Territory and throws all the work into the programme at one time pressure is put on contractors and probably on prices at the expense of the taxpayers. All this is being done for electoral purposes and it is not good enough. It certainly is not fair to members of the Parliament who are involved with the Public Works Committee to be rushing projects through at the expense of the obligations they have to their electorates. I know that some members of the Committee are not coming to

Papua New Guinea next week. Last week some members were not present at Committee inquiries and I venture to say-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I have been fairly lenient with the honourable member for Hughes in relation to this matter but I suggest he returns to the motion.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will, Mr Speaker. Regarding this proposed referral I confidently predict that it will be impossible for a number of members of the Committee to participate in the inquiry. Obviously this is undesirable but the reason is that so many inquiries are coming forward in such a short period of time. So I protest. I protest also about the fact that this motion was not on the notice paper for today. The Leader of the House (Mr Chipp) knows of my personal interest in democratising the work of the Public Works Committee and I should have liked to have known that this matter was to be referred to the Committee. I hope that he does not make this kind of mistake in the future. It would be a good thing if the Committee were not required to undertake much more work before the elections because it will be skimmed over. It will be done in a relatively inefficient way and many people will be deprived of the chance to give the considered evidence which the Committee invariably likes to have.

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