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Thursday, 6 March 1980
Page: 649

Senator McLAREN (South Australia) - The Senate is debating the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Amendment Bill 1980. 1 say from the outset that the Opposition is giving full support to this legislation. When Senator Puplick commenced his remarks today I wondered whether we were going to hear a complete repeat of what he said last night, because while he was talking today I was reading the Hansard of last night and for the first five minutes he repeated every word that he said last night. I was wondering what his purpose was. Is he going to get copies of his speech and send them to some of his colleagues? That must be so. He did not want the interruption in it. However, during the course of his remarks last night he made some comments which I want to repeat because I interjected. He said:

As honourable senators would be aware, the decision of the Government is that the Fawnmac companies, which were purchased by the Whitlam Administration, should be put to tender and sold.

That, of course, is in keeping with the policies of this free enterprise government. They are of the belief that any instrumentality that is run by the Government is not efficient and runs at a loss. If the honourable senators look at the report of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission they will see that quite the reverse is the case. Senator Puplick went on to say:

I understand that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories is one of the parties interested in acquiring the Fawnmac companies and integrating their activities and projects into its own. Without necessarily endorsing their remarks which Senator Grimes made in terms of wishing CSL well in its bid for Fawnmac, I hope that, in the interests of a rational policy on pharmaceutical products in Australia, CSL would not be disadvantaged in its attempt to acquire Fawmac and that it would be treated in exactly the same way as any other tenderer might be treated.

Of course, those remarks mean that he hopes that the Government will accept the highest tender. That is what this Government is all about. He went on to refer to the making of dollars. I interjected and said:

CSL should not have to bid for it at all; it should be handed over to CSL.

Senator Puplickthen replied:

I can appreciate Senator McLaren's desire to hand over large sums of money without any degree of control.

It is quite obvious that Senator Puplick, in most of his remarks today quoted from the CSL report which was tabled in the Parliament last year- he quoted it verbatim, practically- but it is quite obvious that he has not read clause 25 of the Bill which we are discussing where it states that the Auditor-General has an oversight over the activities of CSL. But the honourable senator said that he could appreciate my desire to hand over large sums of money without any degree of control. It is quite obvious that he has not read the legislation. He talks about handing over large degrees of money but I point out that it is already a government instrumentality. As Senator Grimes pointed out, and as Dr Klugman pointed out in the other House, the Fawnmac group of companies was purchased by the then Minister for Health in the Whitlam Government, Dr Everingham, on behalf of the Government. At one stage we found that shortly after the election in 1975 this Government was going to do all it could to unload Fawnmac back to private enterprise. I am afraid that that might be the end fate of Fawnmac, that CSL might not be able to get it. As I have said Fawnmac should be handed over to CSL so that it can work in conjunction with the successful enterprise which CSL already operates.

Senator Puplickwent on to talk about some of the things in the Bill and some of the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry which have been agreed to. He said that Dr Forbes was going to be chairman of the new commission. We well recall that during the time of the Labor Government from 1972 to 1975 we were repeatedly told that the then Labor Government was finding jobs for the boys. Nothing could be nearer the truth than what has happened in this case, because Dr Forbes was a one-time Liberal Party member for Barker in South Australia, and a Minister for Health. It would appear that this is a job for the boys. I hope that people in the community are not misled by Dr Forbes title and think that he is a medical man because he is not. Although he was a Minister for Health, he is not a medical man. He is a doctor of something else. I do not know what it is. It could be philosophy, but he is certainly not a medical man.

I am one of the Federal members of Parliament who have been fortunate to spend time at CSL's headquarters at Parkville and more than half a day on its farm at Woodend. I cannot be too high in my praise of the work that is done at Parkville and, in particular, on the farm. I only hope that more members of the Federal Parliament will avail themselves of the standing invitation to visit Parkville and the farm at Woodend. It would do them good to see how dedicated the people in both places are and what a valuable asset they are to the Australian community. I do not know whether Senator Puplick has been there, but he displayed in his remarks today a great deal of knowledge about the workings of the CSL. If the honourable senator has not been there, I advise him to get out there as quickly as he can and look at the work that is going on. That goes for every honourable senator. Anyone who is a lover of horse flesh can see at the farm at Woodend the wonderful percheron horses. There are very few of them in Australia. I think CSL has most of them. It also has cattle and sheep on its property. It opens one's eyes to see what is done there. I cannot praise too highly the work of CSL.

I refer now to a matter in this legislation that has attracted my attention. It relates to clause 25, which refers to the role that the Auditor-General plays. I am not saying that I have any doubts about the accounting procedures of CSL, but I have doubts about the accounting procedures of some other enterprises. Clause 25 of the Bill, in proposed new section 41 ( 1 ), states:

The Auditor-General shall inspect and audit the accounts and records of financial transactions of the Commission and records relating to assets of, or in the custody of, the Commission and shall forthwith draw the attention of the Minister to any irregularity disclosed by the inspection and audit that is, in the opinion of the Auditor-General, of sufficient importance to justify his so doing.

That provision applies to most pieces of legislation which come before the Parliament, but it is not always carried through. I remind honourable senators that in the case of Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd the Auditor-General reported to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon) that things were not all that they might be and a subsequent audit was held. The Minister has refused consistently to table that report in the Senate. There are two notices of motion on that subject on the Notice Paper. One of them is in my name and was given on 22 November 1979 and the other is in the name of Senator Walsh and was given on 20 February 1980. We are now at the end of the third sitting week of the autumn session and we still have not had that AuditorGeneral's report tabled in the Parliament, as is the case with all other bodies. We are wondering why. Whilst it says in the Bill that the AuditorGeneral is to oversight the financial dealings of CSL, I am wondering what would happen if anything transpired- I am not saying that it willwhich needed a second investigation. Would we ever see that report. I think the Minister has a lot to answer for when he will not carry out the legislation that is passed by this Parliament.

Senator Peter Baume - Is it the Minister for Health that you are saying has a lot to answer for?

Senator McLAREN - It is the Minister for Primary Industry, so far as I am aware. It is now Mr Nixon, who has had that report for some time. He admits that he has it but he will not table it in the Parliament. Every day that goes by and it is not tabled makes people more suspicious of what is in it that the Government does not want to disclose. I do not want to say too much on this Bill. I think that I have said all that I need to say except that I want to go on record as praising the work done by the people in the CSL. It is of great value to the community, particularly to primary industry, which is something in which I have a deep interest. While we have bodies like this in operation, we can be sure that the interests of primary producers will be safeguarded. When it works in conjunction with the Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong, once it is finally established- the primary industry sector of this country will be well served. The Minister for Social Security, Senator Guilfoyle, in the last paragraph of her second reading speech, said: the Government is acting in the belief that there is a continuing need for the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, and for this important national asset to be as efficient, progressive and innovative as possible.

The Opposition heartily endorses those remarks of the Minister. I hope that we never see the day when a free enterprise government will endeavour to dispose of the assets which are tied up in CSL, as the government proposes to dispose of the Fawnmac group of companies which, in our wisdom, we considered ought to be under the control of the Federal Government. Despite what people say about government run bodies, if they look at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories' report of 1978-79 they will see that it is a very efficient body. The balance sheet is set out. I will not quote from it because Senator Puplick has already done so. It is a profitable concern. We are often told that Commonwealth Government instrumentalities run at a loss and are a drag on the public purse, but in this Bill there is a clause which deals with the surplus profits of the Commission. Therefore, it must be expected that this Commission will have surplus profits which will have to be distributed in some way or other. That gives the lie to those people who are only too quick to say that anything run by governments is not efficient and is a drag on the taxpayers ' purse. If those people would only take the time to read this report, they would see that they cannot level that accusation at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. I think the CSL should be congratulated for the work it does and for the way in which it has conducted its financial affairs. It is a credit to the Australian community.

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