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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 371

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Housing) - There has not been such a pathetic, pedantic and puerile discussion of a matter of public importance raised by any Opposition for decades. I suppose that this instance shows the discredited state of the new Opposition, left without a feather to fly with and skirting around on the edge of an issue which does not produce anything of consequence from the standpoint of newsworthiness. The matter is based on pure assumption; it is completely void .of any fact, any happening or reference to any historical event. In every sense it represents a complete figment of the imagination and it is incredible that in these days when there are so many constructive issues on which an Opposition can be effective we should have honourable members .of such considerable status in the Opposition taking up the time of the Parliament on such a pathetic matter. I believe they ought to be disparaged and that the public will identify them as being petty in their approach to the parliamentary affairs of this country. What has happened this morning simply demonstrates the antipathy of leading members of the Opposition to the trade union movement of Australia. Because the Minister for Works (Senator Cavanagh) in another place has indicated that under his administration consideration will be given to those firms which have sensible relations with trade unions we find those leading Opposition members intent on demonstrating their spleen and their hostility. Every step taken and every utterance made by the Minister for Works has been designed to achieve the best results on behalf of the people of this country in relation to public works.

It is true that we are working in a very expensive area in public works - some $3 00m a year is involved, I am told by previous speakers. That is why the Parliament has always upheld the idea that this sphere of activity should be under the scrutiny of a parliamentary public works committee and these days the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works is inquiring into 30 to 35 references a year. All public works valued at over $750,000 have to be subjected to the scrutiny of the Public Works Committee and there has been no dissent from the proposition that that should be so. This Government when in Opposition faithfully participated in the Public Works Committee process and was intent on ensuring that every possible ventilation and exposure was given to everything associated with public works. Is there anything at all that was inherent in or resulted from the attitude of this Government when in Opposition which would indicate that it would want to clothe in mystery any activities of the Department of Works? Of course not.

This Government wants to make certain that the people and the Government of Australia get value for money. The old-fashioned washed-up attitudes and ideas of the previous Government were not achieving that result. This Government wants to make certain that we get performance from contractors, that we get good workmanship and that jobs are finished on time. It is saying in effect that strife ridden companies need not tender for public works in Australia. We want companies which have good relations with unions participating in public works. We do not want companies to be racing in and out of the Commonwealth Industrial Court or the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission getting determinations in such a way as will cause delays and bring about an aggravation of the cost factor in public works contracts. Of course, the sensible thing, and it is accepted by sensible people but apparently not by some leading members of the Opposition, these days is to effect decent relationships between employees and employers. The days of the master and butler have gone and the sooner it is realised by Opposition members that we will not have trade unionists pushed around any longer the better it will be for everyone concerned. In fact it would be contrary to the national interest for this Government to take the attitude that has been espoused here this morning by the Opposition.

Let me show in a pretty accurate way just how the attitude of the Opposition is out of date with contemporary attitudes. For example, is it realised that the International Labour Organisation convention No. 94 lays down a criterion which subscribing governments are expected to uphold and comply with to the effect that public contracts should have regard to union conditions? Apparently this has not been treated as important by the Opposition, the former Government for 23 years. The ILO convention makes it a requirement on the nations subscribing that proper regard should be had to industrial conditions of the kind which have been laid down by the Minister for Works in respect of the matter which is currently the subject of the debate. Is it realised that 31 countries uphold the idea that the Minister for Works has espoused? Is it realised that it is time the Australian Government followed belatedly, and that is the case, in the footsteps of these 31 countries which have been doing for many years what the Minister has been saying we should be doing? In the United Kingdom as far back as 1912 the House of Commons adopted a resolution upholding convention 94 and the United States of America emulated the United Kingdom example many years ago. Why is it that these matters have been overlooked in Australia?

Of course there are winds of change blowing in respect of this and so many other significant areas of Government activity. This Government will stand firmly on the premise that it believes it is a good thing to set out to get value for money and to have co-operative employees and co-operate employers working together. The Minister for Works has never made the point that he will be heavy handed in respect of this matter. Let me repeat in precise terms what he has said. Maybe previous Opposition speakers have not had a good look at the situation but this is what the Minister said:

As to my intention to replace the Director-General as the approving authority for contracts, even under the previous Minister for Works- that is, Senator Wright- some contracts of a certain value had to be approved by the Minister. That remains the case. Contracts of a greater value win be approved with complete co-operation and agreement between my DirectorGeneral and myself.

Who could quibble with such a co-operative attitude? It is obvious that the Mnister should be prepared to take responsibility. It was interesting to hear the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) say that we have not always upheld the criteria that have been talked about here today by the Opposition. It is interesting to note that in respect of the painting contract at the Army camps in the north of Western Australia a tender of $38,900 was submitted but the tender accepted was for $79,475. It is interesting also to look at the Ludmilla school contract for the erection of additional classrooms. Here the lowest tender was $29,920, yet the previous Government lel the contract for $54,000. When matters like this are raised I hope it is not the intention of the Opposition to shovel all the responsibility for these dubious and controversial actions on to some public servant who will be picked out and left in a vulnerable position.

The Minister for Works in another place has indicated his preparedness to accept responsibility. Firstly he said that the Government will set out in such a way as to ensure that the people who are given contracts for public works will be those who can bring home the bacon and who can get value for money because they have decent relationships with trade unions. After all, the Minister said in effect that he was prepared to accept responsibility but would give an assurance he would have a proper relationship with the head of the Department as had been the case over the years.

The terms of this matter of public importance are framed in such an ambiguous way that I can only say that it is my earnest hope that public servants will not feel that they are now being put in a vulnerable position because of this new talk of bribery and corrup tion. This matter will only make .the public servant feel very very worried, about .his responsibility.

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