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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2270

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - I move: Omit the clause, substitute the following clause:- "4. Section 4 of the Principal Act is amended -

(a)   by omitting from sub-section (1) the definition of 'approved auditor'; and

(b)   by inserting in sub-section (1), after the definition of 'Director', the following definition: - "minerals" includes petroleum and natural gas;'.".

This amendment is consequential upon our opposition to clause 9 and our foreshadowed intention to amend clause 25. The effect of this amendment will be to exclude the Secretary of the Department of Secondary Industry from the Board of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and to require that the Auditor-General audit the accounts of the Corporation. The Opposition totally opposes any suggestion by the Government that the Secretary of the Department of Secondary Industry should be included on the Board of AIDC. Our primary concern is that the Corporation should not be subject to any form of Government direction. The whole philosophy of the Corporation as presently constituted is based on the principle of ite separateness from government. The Opposition's concern in this matter is greatly increased by the Government's intention by separate amendment to amend the Bill to provide that the Secretary of the Department of Minerals and Energy should also be appointed to the Board. We believe that the Board of the Corporation should not be constrained in any way in its task of making whatever judgments it believes proper, based, of course, on sound commercial and financial considerations.

The inclusion of 2 senior public servants can in no way contribute to the Board's financial judgment We see it as no more than a device to secure for the Government a direct pipeline between the Minister's office and the Board. I believe the Minister made some reference to this aspect, although not in those terms, in his second reading speech. The whole philosophy of the Corporation is one of separation, yet this appears a blatant method of allowing Ministers to exert direct influence on the discussions and decisions of the Board which should be unencumbered by that type of influence and direction. We believe there is no doubt as to the manner in which that influence would be .used. The Opposition would have thought that the recent disclosure of the lengths to which the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) was prepared to go in seeking to impose his own direct influence, without regard for the concept of ministerial responsibility, would have prevented the Government from seeking an amendment to place such a nominee on the Board of the Corporation. There is no legitimate reason why 2 permanent heads of the Commonwealth Public Service, with no proven business experience, should seek to influence commercial judgments. I should like the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) to indicate what advantage he would see in having 2 direct Government nominees on the Board. Perhaps, according to his own philosophy, those nominees would be there for purposes of influence and determination of what should be decisions unencumbered by such influence - decisions which should be based on no more and no less than a total commercial judgment.

Finally the Opposition's amendment to this clause also takes into account our view that the Auditor-General should be responsible for the inspection and auditing of the Corporation's accounts and records. It is important that the operations of the Corporation be scrutinised to ensure that public funds are adequately protected. I hope that the Minister has no objection to this principle and may consider agreeing to that amendment which, in fact, will do no more than bring the affairs of the Corporation properly before the Parliament for debate.

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