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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1440

Mr RUDDOCK(12.30) —I want to address some comments to the Estimates, particularly the estimates of the Department of Territories and Local Government . I am pleased to see that the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) is here. I am also pleased to see present the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown), the estimates of whose particular department are being discussed. I notice, of course, that the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has some responsibilities in this area. I do not want to comment on the Minister who is not here because I do not know the reason for his absence.

Mr Barry Jones —He is overseas.

Mr RUDDOCK —I understand. I thought that the honourable member for Lalor was here in his capacity as Minister for Science and Technology, and not to look after the environment. It is particularly pleasing that the Minister for Territories and Local Government is here because the questions that I would like to raise are questions that I have raised on a number of previous occasions and to which I have not had any response from him. I am particularly desirous today, as I raise some of those questions, that he take the opportunity at the conclusion of the discussion of these estimates to reply to these matters.

When I spoke during the Budget debate I mentioned that there were aspects of Canberra's future I wanted to address but that I did not have the time to do so. I would now like to take up those matters briefly. There are important questions in relation to Canberra's future. I think that the question of employment, of course, is uppermost in the minds of most people. Notwithstanding the report in the Canberra Times on 3 October, which indicated an improvement over recent times in the position of Canberra vis-a-vis the rest of Australia in the area of employment and unemployment, there are still quite marked problems in the Australian Capital Territory that need to be addressed. I would like to draw the attention of members of the House to the employment context.

I think it is important to understand that employment opportunities in the public sector that have previously been available in Canberra will not be available in the same way in future years. I think that it was evidence of some of the foresight of my parliamentary colleagues, Bob Ellicott and Michael Hodgman, that when they were Ministers for the Capital Territory they set out to enhance Canberra's role for new business and as the national capital. I want to mention a number of projects that they commenced and concluded. A number of major government office blocks were built and completed: Benjamin, McLachlan and Robert Garran. Transfers of the remaining department head offices from interstate were completed. Of course, the National Sports Centre, which is of interest to Ministers here today, was developed to the point that it has reached at this time. Of course, more importantly-and it had a significant impact in the shape of this Budget-was the commitment that was made to the building of the new Parliament House and the new Australian Defence Force Academy. All of the major capital expenditure involved in the Budget which has been brought down largely revolves around those two very important projects which were initiated by the previous Government.

I think it is important also to recognise the previous Government's role in the establishment of the Canberra Development Board and the commitment in its last Budget-that is, the last Budget of the Fraser Government-which for the first time offered financial incentives to attract business investment in Canberra and to encourage the private sector. Of course those incentives were important because Canberra lacked the sort of incentives for decentralised development that are so often available in the States of Australia. I should mention on the side, of course, that the new Government has retained that incentive program but did not increase the funds and, I understand, has placed a limit on forward commitments. I have some concern in that respect.

Mr Uren —That is not right.

Mr RUDDOCK —The Minister says there is no limit on forward commitments. If that is the case, I am pleased to have his confirmation. In this context, I want to speak about the importance of Canberra as a place for investment and new business ventures. While a number of initiatives were taken by the previous government and have been welcomed by the new government, honourable members ought to be aware that there are some problems on that front. It is important that Canberra be diversified. I think the Minister has acknowledged that. He said so on a number of occasions, particularly in his address at the National Economic Summit Conference. I will quote him briefly in case honourable members were unaware of what he said. Mr Uren stated:

With the completion of the major infrastructure for the national capital over the next few years the Canberra community will need to build its economic future . The physical planning of Canberra has been largely successful. Canberra is entering the era when diversification of its economic base is the priority- diversification through new forms of economic activity: Diversifications through a bigger private sector.

I very much agree with those words, but I think one needs to look at whether the Government evidences that sort of commitment. It needs to be understood that the public sector will not provide opportunities for young people in this city in the future. Not all children of Canberra's public servants will be able to find employment where their parents have been employed in the Australian Public Service, not all will be called for the time being while selection criteria demand appointment on merit and not all who want employment in that area will be able to find it. Only a private sector and a significant private sector will hold out those opportunities.

If the Minister's words were enough, I could say no more. It is not enough to welcome the private sector: One has to create an environment in which prudent businessmen will want to be partners in Canberra's future. I have said this before in relation particularly to the White Industries Ltd project. That was a project approved by the previous Government for a much needed convention centre in Civic associated with an hotel, an office block and a complementary park development. Reports have suggested that this important project may not go ahead or, even worse, there have been calls for the renegotiation of the agreement. I have said before that those calls seem to be based more on pique than on logic. Whatever one thinks of those calls, the fact of the matter is that many months have elapsed without clarification from the Government as to its intention in relation to that important development. This matter could have been clarified months ago. What would any other private entrepreneur think about that sort of delay when he is contemplating investment in this city? I think it would make any prudent investor pack his bags and go away.

That important development would create significant employment for Canberra. I am told that 600 jobs in construction are at risk if it does not go ahead and a possible 1,500 long-term jobs both directly and for support industries will be lost if the project is not completed. I think it will be a national disgrace if that project is lost. I will hold the Government fully accountable if it is lost , having regard to the delay that has occurred. As I understand it, all obstacles in the path of that project have been removed. Reports in newspapers have suggested that funds are available. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory has approved all necessary works planned for the project. If this project were lost, a great deal of money that has been spent not only by the Department but also by the National Capital Development Commission in preparing for the project would be lost. I would regard that as being terribly unfortunate.

I have mentioned in that context the situation in relation to employment. There are other matters that I would like to raise also in that context. I refer particularly to the loss of the development proposed for the Australian Federal Police. There was intended to be a development of a computer centre for the police in Weston Creek for the maintenance of important records on criminal activities Australia-wide. It was to be an important part in combating organised crime. As a result of a number of black bans imposed by the Builders Labourers Federation and other unions in Canberra, that project was not proceeded with. Recently the National Capital Development Commission has announced the abandonment of that project and the cancellation of the contract. Questions have been asked in the local assembly about this matter. On information made available in the Assembly it appears that 30 jobs involved in the construction of that project have been lost. I have to ask: Where is the human face of the people who would lose those sorts of opportunities? A very important report was prepared by interested people in the Australian Capital Territory on employment problems in the Territory. The report is entitled 'ACT Employment Task Force'. While announcements have been made by the Government in relation to the community employment program-I acknowledge that that is an important program and the Minister has appointed a local advisory committee to assist with it-the fact of the matter is that the very important report of the Task Force has not had a formal response from the Minister detailing how the Government intends to deal with its recommendations. Admittedly it is a substantial document, but the Minister when he tabled the report of the White review in relation to the NCDC was able to indicate some of the Government's intentions on that report. Yet here we have this very important report and it has not even had the courtesy of a response in that form.

The most regrettable comments I have seen at any time appeared recently in the Canberra Chronicle. They were from a member of the House of Assembly who said that it was not the Government that was showing any shortcomings with unemployment; it was voluntary organisations in the Australian Capital Territory that did not seem to be responding sufficiently quickly to the Government's community employment program. I think that is one of the worst exercises in cynicism I have ever seen.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.