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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3318

Mr CONNOLLY —by leave-I note that the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren), who is responsible for the Australian Capital Territory, is not present in the chamber, nor are the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) and the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry), both of whom are intimately involved in the success of the Canberra Commercial Development Authority. The 214th report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which was tabled in this House this evening, noted in its conclusions this most significant fact:

After critical analysis of all the evidence the Committee concluded that it would have reached the same conclusion relating to the reappointment of the members of the CCDA who were the subject of criticism.

I am grateful that the fourteenth Public Accounts Committee has confirmed the recommendations made by the twelfth Committee, which has on occasions been subject to unfair criticism by the current Minister for Territories and Local Government, who evidently believes, and probably for his own reasons, that the PAC under my chairmanship denied natural justice to the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman of the CCDA, Messrs Pead and Calderwood, who were responsible for the Authority at the time of the Auditor-General's report and the Public Accounts Committee's subsequent inquiry.

Mr Ruddock —They appeared before the Committee, didn't they?

Mr CONNOLLY —That is correct. On behalf of the other members who served on that Committee it is my duty I believe to reject what I think is a most serious attack on the credibility of the Committee by the Minister. I should also point out that the twelfth Committee comprised none other than the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin), the present Minister for Primary Industry, and the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) a lawyer, who is now the Minister for Science and Technology. Furthermore, the thirteenth Committee, which was also involved in this investigation, had among its members another lawyer, Mr Michael Duffy, now the Minister for Communications. Therefore, any aspersions which the Minister may wish to make against the members of that Committee are effectively made against his own ministerial colleagues, colleagues I must emphasise who gave their full support to this inquiry and to its recommendations . I should reiterate that this inquiry arose out of the unsatisfactory comments made by the Auditor-General in his report to Parliament upon the management of the CCDA. Furthermore, during the period 1979 to 1980 there was dissatisfaction among the Canberra community with certain aspects of the administration of the Belconnen Mall and of its construction. Some of the criticism was put before the Public Accounts Committee. In many respects this was an unusual inquiry. The fact that it spanned nearly five years demonstrates that. But it is essential to place on the record that at no time did the Committee in any way attempt to deny natural justice to any of the witnesses who came before it.

For the benefit of the House I shall briefly refer to the atmosphere surrounding this inquiry. In addition to the local concerns which I have already mentioned, Parliament became aware of some fundamental difficulties in ensuring that statutory authorities were responsible to the Parliament. During that period a number of authorities, in particular the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Dairy Corporation, received extensive criticism from the Auditor- General and from other committees of the Parliament due to their failure, among other things, to meet normal accounting guidelines and to table their annual reports. Unfortunately, the Canberra Commercial Development Authority appeared to us to be yet another example of a statutory authority determined to do its own thing regardless of the fact that it was meant to operate within statutory guidelines. The Committee's report noted:

The Authority's submissions were generally uniformative, inadequate and at times misleading: the oral evidence of the Authority's witnesses was at times inaccurate.

In fact, Mr Pead's attitude towards the inquiry left much to be desired. The report went on to state:

While the Board of the Authority must take collective responsibility for the criticism embodied in this Report, the Committee considers that some measure of responsibility for the Authority's action attaches to two of its members most actively concerned in the Authority's affairs since its inception, namely the Chairman, Mr James Pead, MBE, and former Executive Director, Mr Harris Calderwood.

The Committee noted that they demonstrated little willingness to work within the established procedures required of all public authorities.' In regard to the unsatisfactory procedures noted by the Auditor-General, the Committee said:

The Authority had left itself open to accusations of patronage in selecting its employees.

A further most important criticism was that the Committee 'is not satisfied that conditions for security of tenders were adequate during the period of the Mall's construction.' I should point out that we received allegations from two witnesses which led us to believe that the matter should be further investigated by an appropriate authority, and we so resolved, in the interests of the witnesses and the reputation of the Authority's members. That recommendation was made in our 181st report, notwithstanding the fact that the Committee had found no evidence of impropriety on the part of any member of the Board or of the staff of the CCDA. We deliberately decided that it was not our place to be judge and jury and we did not see it as relevant to our work to have to seek incriminatory evidence.

It should be emphasised that the Committee's recommendation that 'the CCDA's Board be restructured and that those who were subject to criticism not be reappointed' was made solely on the basis of our findings in regard to the original complaints contained in the Auditor-General's report. This recommendation was in no way related to the allegations that had been made and which I deeply regret to this day have not been adequately examined by appropriate authorities so as to ensure that members of the CCDA Board are given the opportunity to clear their names from any innuendo which may still be present as a result of the original allegations. The Committee definitely did the right thing in asking the then Attorney-General to initiate a full inquiry into this matter. It is a matter of great concern that it took 16 months for us to receive a response which even then was unsatisfactory. In the PAC's 214th report tabled this evening there is some background on this matter, in particular a chronology setting out the numerous correspondence on this matter which took place as well as my letter to the then Attorney-General on 27 May 1981 and his response. This saga demonstrates only too clearly the inability of the Solicitor-General, the official legal adviser of committees of this Parliament, to support us with adequate legal advice.

On 25 March 1982 in an effort to finalise this unfortunate matter, the Committee received evidence from Mr O'Donovan, the Crown Solicitor. That was necessary because the Committee felt that its earlier recommendation for a full inquiry into the allegations made by Messrs Parker and Parsons against the Chairman of the Authority had not been thoroughly examined. The essence of the allegation was that tender documents for the construction of the Belconnen Mall were not held securely and it was alleged that the Chairman of the Authority had access to them. Accordingly, we recommended that 'the Attorney-General initiate a full investigation of the matter, examining the evidence given to the Committee, the witnesses and any other persons or necessary documents to clarify and determine the truth of the allegations'.

The PAC believed then, and I understand it still believes today, that despite its expertise the Committee is not equipped, nor should it ever be placed in a position in which it needs to act as a court of law. As I said on that occasion, 'Wherever we come in contact with any question of wrongdoing of a criminal nature, it should not be the role of a parliamentary committee to pursue the matter any further'. We took the action we believed correct, namely to refer to matter to the Attorney-General's Department. Mr O'Donovan, the Crown Solicitor, emphasised that the examination of the allegations by his Department was limited to the evidence before the Committee. But, as I emphasised earlier, we took the minimum amount of evidence possible because we did not see that as being within our province.

Furthermore, he went on to say that the Attorney-General's Department was not equipped for such investigation and used a somewhat spurious excuse that the allegations put before the Department were contained in evidence taken by the Committee in camera. It is true that under the Public Accounts Committee Act such evidence cannot be disclosed except at the lawful direction of the Committee. However, it is a sad fact that over that period of some 16 months of unacceptable delay no attempt was ever made by the Attorney-General's Department to advise us that we should have gone to the police or should have requested that the in camera evidence be released. Whatever the reasons for that delay I am firmly of the view, as was the twelfth Committee, that the relationship between committees of this Parliament and their legal advisers must be significantly improved. It is intolerable that anyone should be in a position in which a parliamentary committee is in any sense responsible for denying an Australian citizen natural justice.

Long after this unfortunate affair was completed, and certainly not to the satisfacation of the Public Accounts Committee, we received a telex message from Messrs Parker and Parsons advising us that they would be happy to give evidence before any inquiry into the matters which were originally the subject of our investigation. That matter has still not been settled. In all honesty, I believe that justice may well have been denied in this case. In fact, we have fallen between two stools: On the one hand allegations were made and were referred to in a public report made by the Public Accounts Committee to this Parliament and, on the other hand, they have never been sufficiently tested. Those against whom the allegations were made have every reason to say thay they have not been given the opportunity to clear their names. When this question was raised by Mr O' Donovan, his advice, which confirmed that given to us earlier by the then Attorney-General, Senator Durack, was that we should lay a complaint with the Commonwealth Police. He noted, however, that the Police would be unable to more than interview the parties involved who would not be required to offer incriminating evidence. Furthermore, the delay had been so long that the trail was, in legal parlance, somewhat cold.

In view of the fact that the Minister for Territories and Local Government has chosen to retain Mr Pead as Chairman of the CCDA and has ignored a key recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee, surely it is necessary that any person who feels he was badly done by in terms of the evidence given before this inquiry should now be given the opportunity to clear his name of the allegations made against him. As I see it, the only way this can be achieved is by a properly constituted judicial inquiry.

Finally, Mr Speaker, you must ensure that no committee of this Parliament should again find itself placed in such an unenviable position as the Public Accounts Committee has been placed over the last five years. The time may come when we will follow the United States Congress example and take evidence from witnesses with the support of counsel. This is not a course that I personally would recommend. But above all, justice must be seen to be done at all times, and certainly this Parliament must ensure that that is so.