House debates

Monday, 2 December 2019


Public Works Committee; Report

3:10 pm

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, I present the committee's report No. 6 for 2019—Referrals made September 2019.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Report No. 6 considers four projects referred to the committee in September 2019. The total value of the proposed works for the four projects is $2.39 billion. The projects will be undertaken across Australia and in Kiribati. The Department of Defence sought approval to proceed with the following three projects: HMAS Watson Redevelopment Project in Sydney, valued at $430 million; the Shoalwater Bay training area remediation project in Queensland, valued at between $105 million and $140 million; and the Navy Capability Infrastructure Sub-Program, in various locations, valued at $1.8 billion. In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs sought approval to proceed with the proposed Australian High Commission Property Replacement Project in Tarawa, Kiribati, valued at $19.6 million.

As part of its statutory role under the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the committee scrutinised each project, considering the purpose of the work and its suitability, the need for the work, whether the money expended is cost-effective, whether any revenue is generated, and the present and prospective value of the work. The committee travelled to and inspected the proposed works where feasible. In each case, the committee recommended that it is expedient that the works are carried out.

I'd like to take the remaining time I have available to update the House on the statutory role of the Public Works Committee and its work over the last few years. At the end of the 45th Parliament, the committee completed a very busy program of works, scrutinising 39 separate projects with a combined value of $2.85 billion, taking, on average, 15 weeks to complete its scrutiny. This compares favourably with the timing of approval processes from the Public Works Committee procedure manual, which states that 14 weeks is the average approval time.

It is important to note that the committee undertakes its scrutiny as expeditiously as possible, as prescribed in section 17 of the act. But, more importantly, it does not report to the House unless it is satisfied that it is expedient for works to be carried out. In some instances, this means the scrutiny process takes longer than the suggested time as the committee may need to seek additional information from the entity to assist its consideration. Entities also need to take into account the sitting calendar, obviously, as well as time allocated for calling of submissions and the expected time between public hearings and the tabling of reports. In addition, the committee considered 406 medium works projects, with a total value of $2.2 billion. Medium works projects have a value of between $2 million and $15 million. The number of medium works considered in the 45th Parliament was the highest on record and contributed to an extremely busy agenda for the committee.

In the 46th Parliament, the committee has considered and recommended expediency on nine projects thus far, taking, on average, nine weeks from referral to tabling. Five of these projects were lapsed projects from the 45th Parliament. Lapsed projects occur when an election is called before the committee is able to finalise its consideration; however, the committee generally prioritises their scrutiny and reporting following such a referral. The committee has also considered 149 medium works projects in this parliament with a value of over $700 million, including four medium works for defence purposes with a value of between $17 million and $15 million.

As the oldest continuing committee of the parliament, this committee takes its statutory role in scrutinising proposed public works very seriously. This is amply demonstrated by both the quality of the scrutiny it conducts and the time frames in which the scrutiny takes place. I'd like to take this opportunity, therefore, to thank my colleagues on the committee in this the 46th Parliament and, given the projects we inherited from the 45th Parliament, that parliament as well, including the previous chair, the member for Wright. Without the tireless efforts of my fellow colleagues across the committee, this focus on the effective expenditure of public money on public works would not be possible. I commend this report to the House.

3:16 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Firstly, can I say I concur with the comments made by the member for Groom with respect to this report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. I believe that the member for Groom, as the chairman of that committee, has summarised the importance of the work of the committee and of this particular report very, very well. As he quite rightly pointed out, the report refers to four projects, three of which refer to defence projects with a total value of approximately $2.3 billion. The other project, in respect of the Australian High Commission at Tarawa, Kiribati, has a cost of $19.6 million for a new building there.

I wish to confine my remarks to the defence projects, which, in my view, represent some of the most significant defence infrastructure expenditure that has come before the Public Works Committee, at least during my time on that committee—and that has been some years. Because of the scale and scope of the works proposed, the committee's focus has been on ensuring that proper process has been adhered to by the Defence department and that the works are necessary. When we are looking at works of this nature, it is sometimes, very, very difficult to ensure that the costs provided to us will in fact be accurate, given that, in many cases, the works are likely to be carried out over several years and there is every likelihood that there will be some variations in the costs put to us.

In summary, $1.79 billion has been allocated for the Navy Capability Infrastructure Sub-Program; $430 million for the upgrade of HMAS Watson in Sydney; and up to $140 million for the Shoalwater Bay Training Area Remediation Project in Queensland. The works are expected to be carried out over about a seven-year period across all of them, and that also, as I said a moment ago, creates a degree of uncertainty as to what the final costs of those projects will be.

The Navy Capability Infrastructure Sub-Program has some 22 work elements at nine locations across Australia. Around half of that expenditure will be at HMAS Stirling and Henderson in Western Australia. None of those projects attracted any significant concern from interested parties—nor, it is my understanding, do any of the proposed works arise from the new submarine acquisitions.

The proposed $430 million upgrade of HMAS Watson on Sydney Harbour did attract considerable interest from adjoining residents to the base, who were primarily concerned about the impact of around five years of ongoing construction work at the base and the long-term suitability of naval facilities in Sydney Harbour. The view of some representatives is that whilst HMAS Watson has been used as a military site since 1871 and specifically by the Navy since 1942 the growth of Sydney over recent decades raised legitimate questions about the long-term wisdom of having naval facilities in Sydney Harbour. The department rebutted those concerns with arguments that previous reviews had considered relocating naval facilities and found that the relocation could not be justified.

Regardless of the merits of the arguments put, I believe that those are decisions for government and not for the committee. On a specific matter, HMAS Watson is situated on a unique part of the Australian coastline that the wider community should have access to. The committee saw no practical or security reason that public access to the coastline should not be allowed as requested by one of the representatives. To facilitate that objective, the committee has recommended that the proposed works at HMAS Watson not preclude the building of a clifftop track along the eastern perimeter of the base as part of the Bondi-to-Sydney walk. Presently there is a track only on the western side. Completion of the track around the base will make the Bondi-to-Manly walk an international attraction.

Lastly, the committee has also focused heavily on ensuring that each of those projects which are located throughout the country award contracts to local communities so that local communities benefit not only from the long-term presence of those facilities but also from the considerable expenditure that is going to be made over the coming years. To that extent, the committee has been working as closely as it can with the department to ensure that that does happen and that everyone benefits from the expenditure of these sums of money—which, as I said, are some of the largest the committee has had to approve. With those comments, I commend the recommendations to the House.