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Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 2028

Mr BRAITHWAITE(3.54) —I speak in this debate on the basis of experience I have had for a number of years on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure which is, in its own way, comparable to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. It is interesting that neither of the two Government members who have supported this motion have have served, nor apparently did they offer to serve, on the Public Acocunts Committee of this Parliament. A motion has been brought forward not with the real intent of debating whether Queensland should have a public accounts committee or whether a means should be made available to check Commonwealth funds spent in Queensland but in a deliberate attempt to cast aspersions in a very devious way on the operations of the Queensland Parliament. I say 'the Parliament' because the Opposition is part of a parliament. If the Opposition in Queensland does not have the wit, the wherewithal or the numbers to do its own checking and auditing it deserves to be in opposition. That is where it has been for the last 27 years and that is where it will be for the next 27 years.

I speak on the basis that I have had experience. Many comparisons were made this morning between the Commonwealth situation and the State situation. I think the Commonwealth situation has been amply borne out today in regard to how effective a public accounts committee can be. For instance, in this morning's Canberra Times the financial operations of the Government Printing Office were criticised as a result of a report of the Public Accounts Committee. All the article said was that the Committee's specific criticisms of the office were similar to those made by the Auditor-General in his September report on the audit of the office accounts, records and operations. How much more effective was that one operation over and above the information the Auditor-General supplies to the Commonwealth and similar bodies provide to each of the State governments in turn right around Australia? Perhaps honourable members opposite ought to be saying that they do not trust the Auditor-General and the known members of the Opposition to do this checking and criticism. To that I say that the Auditors-General of the States have been the independent, responsible people , acting on behalf of what I regard as a reputable profession, who have brought forward information through a series of audits on government expenditure in every regard.

The Government Whip came into this House and told us that the situation that developed in Queensland in August was a result of Labor Party members joining Liberal Pary members to vote on the matter of a public accounts committee. That is not correct. The motion that was before the House on which the division was taken was in relation to suspension of Standing Orders, not a public accounts committee. It suprises me that a man of the intelligence of the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys)-a man with respect who I thought could tell the truth-could come into this House and say that the vote was on a public accounts committee. That shows how little he understands the situation and how little he has his heart in supporting this motion. He fiddled and faddled all the way through his 15 minute speech. Let me call--

Mr Wells —Do you support the Public Accounts Committee or not?

Mr BRAITHWAITE —I support it. I said that I speak with the experience of being on a similar committee. Let me draw the comparison. The honourable member compared figures. I understand that there is a Joint Public Accounts Committee in New South Wales. Is that correct? Do Government members know how many times that Committee meets in a year, how many hours it meets and who is on it? I will tell honourable members opposite. That Committee meets once a year. It meets for between 1 1/2 and two hours a year. What does it transact? It possibly discusses how it should pay for its meeting expenses. We have heard the experience of the honourable member for Hunter (Mr Robert Brown), on that Committee. We have the experience of our own honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) who was on that Committee. That situation stands today. Honourable members opposite want a public accounts committee in Queensland but do they want it to work? Certainly the New South Wales Labor party does not want its Public Accounts Committee to work. We can look also at the Victorian situation. Was the existence of such a committee sufficient to stop the land scandal in Victoria? Of course it was not. Because the State committees operate with fewer members, a public accounts committee of a smaller size would get through only a reference now and again. It would only touch the surface of the problems. Honourable members opposite know that as well as I do.

The honourable member for Petrie (Mr Wells) came into this House and gave us some figures in connection with Commonwealth outlays. The figure was $48.93 billion for 1982-83 compared with the Queensland figure of $4.825 billion-a neat 10 per cent of the Commonwealth total. The motion suggests that there is a serious threat to Commonwealth funds. The honourable member revealed that 53.6 per cent of those funds come from the Commonwealth. We would then have a public accounts committee trying to protect $2.5 billion being compared with our own Public Accounts Committee which is the watchdog of $48.9 billion. The whole notion is ridiculous and plainly inadequate in regard to what we are trying to do here. The same figures indicate that New South Wales is 45.6 per cent reliant on Commonwealth funds; Victoria, 43.3 per cent reliant and Queensland, 53.6 per cent reliant. This indicates to me that what the Queensland Premier is saying is quite correct. Queensland is the lowest tax State in Australia. New South Wales and the honourable member's State of Victoria have a fuel tax, a transaction tax and every other tax. This gives credibility to the belief that we in Queensland are a low tax State.

Let us look at the reputation of past Treasurers. Dr Llew Edwards, a man for whom I have a tremendous amount of admiration, did a tremendous job. When honourable members talk about checking expenditure, they should remember that Queensland is the State which at the moment has the lowest number of unemployed in Australia. It has the least number of unemployed males and females between the ages of 15 years and 19 years of any State in Australia. It is a State that is developing. It has its towns, its mines and a coal industry that could compete with any coal industry in the world. This is the result of the oversight by the Treasurer, Dr Llew Edwards, and that of the Treasurers before him, to make sure that money is properly spent.

I return to the question: What does the Opposition intend to do with a proposition such as this in Queensland? It was suggested in this chamber during the same debate that $43m is waiting for distribution in Queensland. It was said that a consultative committee has not even been set up yet, indicating that in New South Wales and Victoria there had been. But there was no suggestion from the honourable member that any of those amounts had been spent. Where would the money for those States be? It would be in the same short term deposits acquiring interest. This is what any normal business would do. I suggest that it would be derelict of the Queensland Government not to invest those funds for the good of the State. The honourable member for Petrie might be better advised to get his advice elsewhere. Under the Commonwealth employment program-we know that it is a bureaucratic muddle and nightmare-Queensland has been allocated $42m. But I understand that as late as a week ago the Commonwealth was still awaiting formal approval of the State's consultative committee. Forty projects are assessed and ready to go. My understanding is that that is the situation. So how can a public accounts committee help with the difficulties of a policy that the Federal Government implements in States with guidelines that, in many cases, cannot and will not work?

Let us look at the health situation. We were told about the threat to health funds that come from Queensland. As I understand it, during the run-up to the Federal election, Mr Hawke promised a special rescue grant, a one-off grant, for Queensland hospitals. While in office, the Federal Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) promised that Queensland would within the first six weeks of 1984 get a special grant beyond the $100m to be raised by the Medicare levy. I am further led to understand that at a conference of Health Ministers, Queensland was offered only $63m of the total to be raised within the State. The Federal Government compounded the iniquity when at the Premiers Conference it offered Queensland a specific hospital grant that recognised the special needs of Queensland's free hospital scheme to the value of $50m. The honourable member for Petrie and the honourable member for Griffith come into this House and say that the Queensland Premier may have been wrong to reject the miserable offer to Queenslanders of $28.52 per head, when $44.20 per head was being offered to New South Wales, $44.70 to Victoria and to Western Australia-the other Labor State-$ 42.50. So it is a nonsense.

We have been talking about the great scandals as far as developments are concerned. Maybe we ought to take the practical example of what happened concerning the loose allegations that were made in Queensland by Mr Wright and in this House. I mention the situation of the Stanwell power house station contracts. Allegations were made by Mr Wright that there was corruption, compromise and everything else in connection with the successful tender. When Mr Wright was asked to provide the evidence to the Police Commissioner, he refused and said that he had given all his information to the Auditor-General. He said: 'I have left it in the hands of the Auditor-General'. What did the Auditor- General come up with in his report? The Auditor-General's report was made public in Parliament when it resumed on 2 August. The report showed no inconsistencies in the letting of the tenders and completely vindicated the Government's stand. The cost of producing the report on those loose allegations was $40,000. Yet the honourable member had the hide to come into this House and suggest that a public accounts committee might also wilfully waste its money in pursuing similar situations which the Opposition itself should pursue.

Perhaps we should extend this motion to include a reference to our own Public Accounts Committee in connection with Commonwealth expenditure on tertiary education institutions in this country. We have already heard a personal explanation from an honourable member who said that he did not advise his schools in a political way. Maybe we should check to see where Commonwealth funds are being spent in tertiary education institutions around Australia and particularly in Queensland, from where as members of Parliament we draw a lot of our academics, to see where they might have lectured and in which way they did lecture. I have had complaints in that regard from students who suggest that too many of our tutors take a political line. Perhaps if one were tutoring in a political science subject one might think that is excusable.

I return to what the honourable member for Ryan said earlier. He said that this debate is one of ability and public accountability. Maybe we should put to the test of public accountability all of the promises that the Labor Government made when in opposition prior to the election and list them as I have here. Maybe we should be changing the area of investigation by the Public Accounts Committee to make sure that it looks not at policy but at promises broken and unbroken. Maybe our own Public Accounts Committee would have a career of three years full time work in that regard as far as Labor is concerned. The same promises are still being made by Mr Wright in Queensland. I say that those election promises are only as valid as those made by the Labor Party in the Federal area. They are valid only to the time of the election. They will not be valid after 22 October. We already know about the broken promises as far as this House is concerned. Perhaps we should refer our Public Accounts Committee to the broken promises regarding water resources, the sugar industry and the price of fuel. Three cents a litre less in the price of fuel was promised, but what do we get? We get a 2c a litre more. The Labor Party said there would be no devaluation. Yet within a week there was. It said it was going to eliminate the sales tax on retreads on tyres, but that is back with us.

It is ironical that this proposal should be made in a very cynical attempt, as I say, to try to influence the election on 22 October. Perhaps a public accounts committee might investigate the current situation in Queensland where the Labor Party is experiencing a problem with Col Joye Holdings Pty Ltd concerning a writ . Maybe it might like to investigate that. I will at least say this: As far as 22 October is concerned, one of the Labor Premiers in Australia is confident of the return of Joh Bjelke-Petersen on Saturday. This may not be quite relevant, but I have been relevant up to this point. I mention an article found on page 7 of the 'Australian Diary' published in the Australian yesterday which states:

Brian Burke of Western Australia has given Joh Bjelke-Petersen something to crow about by inviting him as Queensland's Premier to the Australia II celebrations in Perth on October 30.

One Labor Premier of Australia has the confidence that we will win.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.