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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 4217

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) - On 28 November we were debating the Lands Acquisition Bill and we are resuming the debate today. I was then making the point that this Bill is not the simple Bill that it appears to be on the surface. It seeks to take away from the Governor-General the right to oversee acquisitions of a voluntary nature which' the Department of Services and Property takes care of. By the removal from the Bill of the title 'Governor-General' and the replacement of it by the word 'Minister' the Minister is given the right to delegate to officers of his Department the right to enter into negotiations for the acquisition of property or for rental purposes throughout the Commonwealth. As I said when this Bill was last debated I believe it to be not an insignificant Bill at all, although the way in which the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) introduced it would make one think it was insignificant.

During the course of that debate I asked the Minister whether the Pipeline Authority would be a party to this Bill. We are told that this great bureaucratic Pipeline Authority that the Government proposes to set up is to construct a pipeline from the North West Shelf right across the continent. We are told that there will be all sorts of spokes to the main grid. I asked the Minister whether the Pipeline Authority would be subject to the Department of Services and Property in negotiating the purchase of land for the purpose of constructing the pipeline. I chided the Minister because I believed he had been rather flippant in his approach to this question. I believed he had not taken the question seriously, but obviously he has had other thoughts on the matter. Since then he has agreed to move an amendment which meets my objections and the Opposition's objections to the Bill. The Bill will now provide that all of the statutory authorities throughout Australia, apart from some that are to be exempted, must now obtain their property through the one property authority - I believe it to be the proper authority - that is, the Department of Services and Property. I believe this to be a distinct advantage.

One can well see what has happened in Canberra, the great national capital. A statutory authority can compete and has competed with the Department of Services and Property in bidding to purchase a property for Commonwealth use. We have seen some statutory authority end up paying another couple of hundred thousand dollars of taxpayers' money because it has been competing against the Minister for Services and Property. That is a ridiculous situation. It should not be allowed to occur. Because of the amendment which we forced on the Minister the other night and which the Minister has agreed to introduce into the House, that can no longer occur. Of course the Opposition welcomes that as being an improvement to the legislation.

Two questions still have to be answered. Firstly, who is to be exempted? I see that under the amendment the Minister can exempt any statutory authority from the requirement of having the Department of Services and Property actually engage in the acquisition. In other words, by a flick of the Minister's wrist he can give that responsibility of acquisition back to the statutory authority. As I understand it from the Minister, there is a list of statutory authorities that can be exempted. Before I can be satisfied that this is the proper way to approach the matter I wonder whether the Minister can hand me a list of the exemptions. The one or two of particular interest includes the Cities Commission, for example, and I have mentioned the Pipeline Authority. Will they be subject to the authority of the Minister for Services and Property in acquisition matters?

Mr Daly - Will the honourable member allow me to answer when I am replying? He can then raise the matter in Committee.

Mr NIXON - I thank the Minister for his courtesy. The other question that comes to mind is this. It seems that now we have agreed to the inclusion of this amendment we ought to go one step further to ensure the public interest is properly protected and require that there is a tabling in this Parliament of all the acquisitions at least once every session of Parliament. The Department of Services and property deals with literally hundreds of acquisitions of a voluntary or compulsory nature throughout the year. I think it only proper that, when it is dealing in literally hundreds of millions of dollars, the taxpayers ought to be protected and be seen to be protected. I would therefore urge on the Minister that he accept from the Opposition a further amendment inserting a provision that the Minister shall cause a copy of every agreement to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 21 sitting days of that House after the date of acquisition. I do not propose to push the amendment to a conclusion here today but I foreshadow that it will be moved in another place. I would hope that the Minister would look at the amendment that we propose because we believe it to be a very proper amendment that will protect not only the taxpayers but indeed the Minister himself when so many acquisitions are involved. So I ask that the Minister carefully consider the further amendment.

I recognise that on many occasions voluntary agreements will be entered into about which there is an element of confidentiality. Indeed the vendor, who may be a private person, may not, for private reasons, want the price of his property to be made public. There might be good family reasons or other reasons why it should not be made public, so I do not press the Minister to the point of agreeing that nothing shall be excluded, but rather I ask him to examine that aspect of the matter because I believe it to be an important point. The individual person as well as the taxpayer must be protected. So if the Minister would accept my proposition we gladly welcome his amendment. I think that the taxpayers of Australia generally will find themselves in the much happier position of knowing that from now on, with one or two exemptions, all property acquisitions will be dealt with by the Department of Services and Property and that all shall be known by the Parliament every 21 sitting days.

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