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Disposal of Defence properties

CHAIR —I welcome to this hearing Mr Paul Bridges, representing the Army Museum of Western Australia Foundation. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but should you at any stage wish to give any part of your evidence in private you may ask to do so and the committee will consider your request. The committee has taken evidence from the foundation before, and we have made this opportunity available to your organisation to comment on the evidence given here today. I do recognise that there are time constraints and I advise that I cannot go beyond those constraints. You do not need to canvass the issues that the foundation have already canvassed and put on the record, but I will invite you now to make comment on the evidence given today and then we will proceed to questions.

Mr Bridges —I am appearing here in my capacity as Deputy Curator of the Army Museum of Western Australia Foundation. I represent the Army Museum of Western Australia Foundation and, if I may be so bold, the people of Western Australia. I have a number of things that I need to submit. There are a number of things I would like to say in response to what has already been said. Obviously I need to be available to answer questions, so I will be as brief as I can. At the hearings in Fremantle the good senators asked questions of Dr Peter Tannock about whether funding was sought from Commonwealth funds to assist in the purchase. His answers were an unequivocal no. We have had a search done of all the title holdings of Notre Dame University in the Fremantle area. They do not include those owned by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Perth, which are also sites that make up the Notre Dame campus.

There is some interesting information that has come to light from that. Of most of their lots there is a first mortgage in favour of the National Bank—the amount for this is unknown—and two others in favour of the Minister for Education, one registered 30 March 1999 for $2 million and another registered 25 February 2000 for $1.5 million. I should point out that this is the state minister for education. My appreciation of how education is run in this nation is that the states cover primary and secondary and the Commonwealth covers tertiary. I therefore find it unusual that a state government is funding—for want of a better term—or loaning $3.5 million to a private university. I tender the titles and the report.

CHAIR —Could you identify those for the Hansard record by way of a description from the front.

Mr Bridges —It is `University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle Land Holdings' dated 5 October 2000.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Bridges —I also put forward a press clipping from the West Australian dated 20 September 2000, where Notre Dame announces the purchase of a building for $1.5 million which is to be used as a health college. Peter Tannock said that one of the possible uses of the barracks was as a business college or a health college. Notre Dame have never presented a plan to the public, and what they say to the press has changed over time. It changes from issue to issue.

Senator LIGHTFOOT —Mr Bridges, what was the name of the building that was recently purchased for $1.5 million?

Mr Bridges —It is a bank building.

Senator LIGHTFOOT —It is a bank building in the Fremantle CBD?

Mr Bridges —That is correct. It is in the west end of town, 22 High Street. It was bought two days before it was scheduled to go for auction. It says here `historic former Western Australian bank building'.

Senator LIGHTFOOT —Thank you.

Mr Bridges —Now I would like to address the issue that was raised in the Department of Defence's submission and is a statement on page 4 of their submission:

The Commonwealth cannot gift, vest or grant land.

I will give you a couple of WA examples. Earlier this year, Cape Leveque was gifted in freehold to the local Aboriginal community. This was Commonwealth land and there was disagreement with the state government over this decision at the time. There are 26 Commonwealth lighthouses in Western Australia. All are going to be granted to the state government for $1 each. I suppose you could argue that they are being sold. This includes Eclipse Island off the south coast near Albany. The title for this island is in freehold. It will become a nature reserve. In anyone's language, a freehold island with a lighthouse for $1 is a gift.

Senator LIGHTFOOT —Mr Bridges, to whom was that sold?

Mr Bridges —All of this was transferred to the state government. It is in the process of occurring. The state government may have to pay the transfer costs. Another one is Maylands aerodrome, which used to be Perth's aerodrome until after World War II. This was granted to the state government on the understanding that it be for recreation. It is now being developed for housing and recreation. There is an example outside Western Australia, which the good senators have stolen my thunder on: two weeks ago, the Army Museum of WA Foundation met with His Excellency the Governor John Sanderson. He suggested we look at a similar example to ours in South Australia. We did. We found the same information that the good senators put forward this morning and questioned Defence on, and that was the gift to Torrens. Because of the questioning this morning, we now have an understanding of the nature of that gift. Basically, those people have been fighting their campaign for two years. When they began their campaign, Torrens was not heritage listed. It is now. They were fortunate enough, timing wise, to have had the opportunity to organise for federation funding, so that Defence could get $3 million. If we had known this, Major General Taylor would have applied for federation funding for our barracks. We did not know in time. He did in fact apply; but, by the time we learned this, it was too late. It is my belief that DEO conspired to keep it a secret from us.

The other example that was given this morning was North Head in New South Wales: $50 million came from the Federation Fund, and statements were made that it would be worth more if available for commercial development. It was also said that no-one would want this to happen. Exactly. Cantonment Hill is Western Australia's North Head equivalent. Think about it. I will table the fax that was sent to the Premier of our state with the parade ground gift reference.

Senator LIGHTFOOT —What are the headlines on the document?

Mr Bridges —It is the Adelaide Advertiser, 24 October 2000: `Parade ground centenary gift'. As soon as we got that, because there was a Premiers Conference at the end of the week, we faxed the information to the Office of the Premier. The bottom line read:

We suggest that our Premier be informed of the above and he might like to liaise with his South Australian counterpart to determine a similar win for the people of Western Australia.

We have learned that it is all too late, because the federal funding is not available. I want to quote the objectives which Defence seeks to meet in property disposal. I will skip the first one, the second one being:

To follow sound and modern planning principles;

Followed by:

To consult with stakeholders.

Further on, it says:

... protection and preservation of environmental values.

BSD Consultants did present a plan to the City of Fremantle described as the `aggressive option'. I would suggest that this was to scare people into thinking that Notre Dame is the soft option. There were some references made to the difficulty of getting through to the people at the City of Fremantle. I would say that there was a fairly aggressive approach taken to the city by DEO. However, there is another Defence property in Fremantle which is up for disposal—the naval fuel oil depot. The City of Fremantle has cooperated fully with Defence. That will be developed as residential, as I understand it. I will table a document that was faxed to the museum by Jill Gaynor, their land use planner, on 26 October 2000. It commences:

Hi Dale—

She is our secretary; we have that sort of relationship with the community in Fremantle. I will not read it, but what is attached here is the original of the BSD Development option:

Option 1: Aggressive (Plan 2) illustrates what BSD consider the highest and best realistic future use of the site could be, and would be a feasible scenario to pursue if the site was purchased by a private developer.

They got cold feet, and this fax explains it. They wanted that replaced with a much softer version of the same thing. I tender that document to show the type of people that they are employing to do their work. I would like to quote from a news article which I will also tender. The article is from the Fremantle News—a new paper on the block—in November 2000. The article is headed: `Cantonment Hill possibly a future "South Bank?"' South Bank is on the other side of the river mouth and is being intensively developed. Referring back to DEO's aims being based on sound and modern planning principles, I will quote from this news article:

The consultant's report, written by Jenny Smithson, the Manager of Planning at BSD Consultants—

I would point out that we understand that Jenny Smithson is also the President of the Royal Australian Planning Institute.

goes further, claims that the City will be "acting unlawfully if it refuses to consider an application for development approval" over the site, and argues that the option outlined—

that is, their option—

"suggests its most appropriate use."

Smithson, a City of Cockburn Commissioner, was furious when telephoned about the report. "Where did you get that?" she screamed "That has never been made publicly available. That was marked confidential. I don't want to defend a report which has never been a public document.

We held a press conference when our agency first got involved, and what did we get? One line in a two page report. We have yet to get a fair hearing from you press people, and I'm very concerned that you have this document. We were particularly concerned that it not fall into the wrong hands, where people are running all over town with it. That will only get the community concerned. So, if you're going to talk about a report which has not been released in the public forum, then I would have to say that no such report exists.

That was the report that was tabled in Fremantle.

CHAIR —Could I just draw to your attention that there are now 10 minutes left, so it is up to you.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —I have a number of questions, Mr Chairman.

Mr Bridges —It was explained to me that there may be an extension of time. I do understand that you have to leave. No extension?

CHAIR —No. We have the permission of the Senate to sit until 3 o'clock, and I have to be in the Senate chair at 3 o'clock so I can assure you that I will not leave here at 3 o'clock.

Mr Bridges —If you let me have the floor again, I will be quick. The same article quotes Wing Commander Alan Griffith. The article states:

`We do not have a property valuation' he said `and we do not really react to community concerns. There is no reason for us to say what we believe the property is worth. We'll declare that information as and when we decide to make it available.'

Contrast that with what Rod Corey said this morning: `If someone came up with an offer 50 per cent greater than the Notre Dam offer, we would have to go back. If nobody knows what the offer is or what it is worth, who can make a supplementary offer?' I table that document.

On 25 September, the foundation met with Senator Eric Abetz. At that meeting Senator Abetz stated that he would be willing to sell the Australian War Memorial. Apparently he is saying that that is not true or that he was taken out of context. I tender five statutory declarations from five of the six people who were there. Of those—

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —I object to those being tabled. What Senator Abetz said concerning the Australian War Memorial is completely irrelevant to this inquiry. They may be defamatory, and they also may be in contempt of the Senate in the circumstances that I understand Mr Bridges provided those declarations to the member for Cowan, who used them on the adjournment last night. I consider that to be improper. I have not read them, and I certainly would not agree to them being tabled until such time as I have.

Mr Bridges —This was part of the consultative process between the parliamentary secretary and the foundation. We understand that statements that he made are being denied.

CHAIR —I can tell you now: I think what we should do is receive them and then Senator Macdonald can scrutinise them, as he is entitled to. They can be tabled at a later date. Is that fair enough?

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Fair enough.

CHAIR —All right.

Mr Bridges —I did not provide them to anybody.

CHAIR —Can I just say that I know Senator Macdonald has got some questions. You have got seven minutes.

Mr Bridges —I will be as quick as I can.

CHAIR —You do not have seven minutes.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —No, I have seven minutes. Mr Bridges, are you aware of the Commonwealth Ombudsman's letter to your chairman dated 21 September?

Mr Bridges —Yes, I am.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —What was the finding of the Commonwealth Ombudsman?

Mr Bridges —The finding of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, as I recall it, was that the DEO or Defence was carrying out the letter of the law in terms of the procedures. They could find no anomalies and were not going to investigate further. That is my recollection, and I think that was pretty much the last line.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Can I just confirm that Defence is acting within both the law and policy guidelines in proposing a priority sale of the Artillery Barracks to the University of Notre Dame. The proposal has the approval, in principle, of the Minister for Finance and Administration. He must approve the final sale if that is to take place. In the circumstances, we consider that Defence is not acting unreasonably in this matter. Mr Bridges, about the foundation's business plan, can you confirm what the Hansard record tells us, and that is that the business plan was finalised by you on 6 September this year and provided to the parliamentary secretary on 25 September this year?

Mr Bridges —On 6 September we gave a copy of the business plan to the City of Fremantle. I believe that it was actually completed before that, although I do not have that on my chronology. I can confirm that we gave a copy of the business plan to Senator Abetz in the same meeting that I have tabled the stat decs about.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Can you explain why Dr Carmen Lawrence was given a copy of the business plan so that she could write to Senator Abetz on 23 August, accusing Senator Abetz of failing `to explore the business plan'? You must understand that I am suspicious. You give it to the Labor Party one full month or more before giving it to the government and allow a Labor member to attack the government for not having explored your proposition when you had not given it to the government.

Mr Bridges —What was the date?

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Dr Carmen Lawrence was able to write to Senator Abetz on 23 August, which was a month before Senator Abetz received the business plan himself.

Mr Bridges —We have only done four copies of—

CHAIR —Can we have that correspondence tabled for the sake of the committee?

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Yes. I think the correspondence might well be on the public record.

Mr Bridges —I can confirm that the master plan was finalised on 21 September. In terms of the business plan, there was a presentation to the City of Fremantle on the 6th. I am not aware that a copy of the business plan was given to Carmen Lawrence. I would be most surprised if that was the case because I know the way that it was made up. It was on Lieutenant Colonel John Tick's computer and it was in a number of different packages. He would print them out and bind them himself. Each of the bound copies was presented to various people. One went to Senator Abetz and there are a number of other people which I would have to confirm.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Can I suggest to you that your approach was to personally attack Senator Abetz? To back that argument up, didn't the foundation write to Senator Abetz on 29 September—allow me to quote from this letter—`You now leave us no option but to attack you.' In the foundation's letter it also says that the foundation would `attack Senator Abetz's party and erode their vote base'. Is this not a classic case of playing the man and not the game?

Mr Bridges —We will take on anyone who stands in our way. That is our position. We were very soft on Senator Abetz at the meeting. We actually believed that we could convince him with logical argument; we were patently wrong.

Senator MASON —Does that include telling Mr Edwards, the member for Cowan, about what you proposed to do today?

Mr Bridges —What I proposed to do today?

Senator MASON —About attempting to table statutory declarations.

Mr Bridges —I had the choice of working out of a number of politicians' offices. The faxes came through Graham Edwards's office; there is no question of that. I did work out of his office yesterday afternoon. It was offered to me. He has been a good supporter of our cause, as a number of politicians have. I will not name them for other reasons. I have got nothing to hide on that score.

Senator MASON —So Dr Lawrence has received information a month before Senator Abetz in one case and you are briefing Mr Edwards about what you are going to do today?

Mr Bridges —I did not brief Mr Edwards about what I was doing today.

Senator MASON —You briefed him about some of the facts.

Mr Bridges —No.

Senator MASON —Let me quote what Mr Edwards said in the adjournment debate last night:

Tomorrow, however, a number of statutory declarations sworn by several highly respected Western Australians will be produced at a Senate hearing into the sale'.

How did he know that?

Mr Bridges —I would suggest that he knew that through Jim Dalton who was the person who faxed the other four stat decs across. I typed my stat dec up before they arrived.

Senator MASON —Do you know if Mr Dalton has ever worked for a member of parliament?

Mr Bridges —Yes, he has.

Senator MASON —Which one?

Mr Bridges —Con Sciacca, I believe.

Senator MASON —Have you ever worked for a member of parliament?

Mr Bridges —Yes, I have.

Senator MASON —Who was that?

Mr Bridges —That was the member for Fremantle, John Dawkins. That was for an eight-month period in 1988-90.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Have you been a Labor mayor?

Mr Bridges —I have been a mayor. I was never a Labor mayor—I can swear to that. I am no longer a member of the Labor Party if you wish to pursue that line. We take a bipartisan approach on this.

Senator MASON —Mr Bridges, you have more or less said that whatever it takes you will do. Is that right?

Mr Bridges —We believe that we represent the spirit of Anzac in defending our museum. I know that is a bold statement, but that is where we come from. We feel that our museum is under attack and we will defend our position. We honestly take a bipartisan position. It is individuals who criticise us or try and destroy our museum—which we will fight back for. I think that is our right. That is the right that our diggers fought for.

Senator MASON —That is interesting. You have said there is evidence that you are preparing a Senate campaign. Is that right?

Mr Bridges —That is correct.

Senator MASON —And who is going to run on your ticket?

Mr Bridges —Jim Dalton.

Senator MASON —Who are you going to give the preferences to?

Mr Bridges —That will be decided by the membership.

Senator MASON —I wonder who that will be.

Mr Bridges —It will be those individuals and political parties who support our cause.

Senator MASON —So it is just a coincidence that you have been a member of the Australian Labor Party?

Mr Bridges —Of course. I am no longer a member of the Labor Party.

Senator MASON —You have worked for a former Labor federal minister. Is that a coincidence as well?

Mr Bridges —I do not think that is a crime.

Senator MASON —I do not think it is a crime either, but we have to establish your state of mind.

Mr Bridges —My state of mind is that I am here defending our museum.

Senator MASON —That is for this committee to decide. But we have to establish your state of mind and what your motive might be.

Mr Bridges —You are questioning me and putting me under criticism. I can accept that, and I accept where you are coming from. But I think you are wrong.

CHAIR —I think we should come back to the issue, rather than the person.

Senator MASON —That is interesting. We have had a bit of playing the man here today, I think.

Mr Bridges —I am happy with tit for tat.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Mr Bridges, with your political background, how can the foundation honestly write to Senator Abetz and say, `It is a tragedy really, as we should be part of your natural constituency.'

Mr Bridges —Because I believe that.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Since when have you and Mr Dalton formed part of the Liberal Party's natural constituency?

Mr Bridges —I cannot speak for Mr Dalton, but I have never voted Liberal in my life.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —Your newsletter is quite extraordinary in a way. Those comments of yours go out under your name `Deputy Curator'. You also take a very severe swipe at Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Ellison.

Mr Bridges —Certainly.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —You said that he sponsored the Notre Dame priority sale application. You might have noticed that this morning we had letters tabled that showed that Mr Kim Beazley could also be said to have sponsored the Notre Dame priority sale application.

Mr Bridges —I am not here to defend Kim Beazley.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —And then you go on to say, `No wonder people mistrust and despise politicians.'

Mr Bridges —That is very true.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —What a disgraceful thing to say. Do you think that is a fair comment?

Mr Bridges —I think that there are politicians who take actions that bring the parliament into disrepute, and I do not like people who do that.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —And you say, `Perhaps we should invite Chris to address the AGM.' Did you?

Mr Bridges —No, we did not. We invited him to a subsequent board meeting—there was not enough time to invite him to the AGM—and he did not appear. He is welcome to come to any of our board meetings to explain his actions.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —He has advised you—has he not?—that he is quite willing to come and address your foundation.

Mr Bridges —Well, he has not.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —I cannot put my hands on it here, but I think I have correspondence that shows that he has.

CHAIR —Order! It being almost 3 p.m. I will have to draw the proceedings to a conclusion for the simple reason that we have a limitation placed on us by a decision of the Senate as to the time that we can sit while the Senate sits, and that runs out at 3 o'clock. Whilst this is interesting and I would like the matter to proceed—I have no reason to want to stop it—we have to stop it now.

Mr Bridges —I would like to register my disapproval because the volunteer group spent $800 getting me here and I have been cut short. But I do thank you for allowing me to come.

CHAIR —You were given the right to respond to the material that was raised by DEO in their appearance here today. It depends how long you think the right of reply should have been. A right of reply—it is standard down in the Senate—is 10 minutes. It is 10 or 20 minutes under standing orders. It does not matter; it is not long. I think you have had a fair chance to respond.

Mr Bridges —Perhaps I misunderstood—

CHAIR —Any further matter you can put in writing to the committee in response to the evidence today, and we will take that into consideration when we draft our report, as we always do.

Mr Bridges —Thank you.

CHAIR —The committee stands suspended.

Committee adjourned at 2.59 p.m.