Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (29 October) . . Page.. 2509 ..
MR HARGREAVES (5.41): Before addressing the actual legislation, I would like to compliment the Minister and his department on the process put in place for the consideration of this legislation. I would like to acknowledge the particularly good work that Mr Steve Ryan and Mr John Thwaite did in briefing us and for bringing together around the table a group of at times difficult people who had divergent views. They did an excellent job and they should be commended. I commend the Minister for allowing this process to go on, and I would ask him to keep that sort of thing up.
Mr Speaker, a cursory reading of the three Bills before us today would reveal a reasonable approach to the checking for sound construction of buildings in the ACT. Initially, I was in favour of the provisions and, to some extent, the philosophy of the Bills, but on closer scrutiny, further consultation and closer examination I find that there are some serious flaws in the legislation. The issues which I would like to address here are the fundamental philosophies behind the Bills, the positive parts of the Bills and the negative parts of them.
Until this Government significantly downsized the inspection role of BEPCON, the guardians of public safety in respect of building construction were inspectors from BEPCON. In other words, the government of the day was charged with ensuring that we could all expect, and would have delivered, safe, well-constructed and professionally engineered buildings in which to live and work. These Bills remove that responsibility and put it in the hands of the varying industries responsible for the construction. It is in a sense a case of: Who guards the guards while the guards are guarding Rome? Even they see problems. So, too, does the legal adviser to the scrutiny of Bills committee, but more of this later.
Mr Speaker, what we are experiencing in the privatisation agenda is its implementation at all costs. Just who is behind this agenda? I do not know, but I must say that the taxpaying member of the public is not. What are the steps towards privatisation? We can begin by corporatisation, then move to partial privatisation, then to whole-scale sale. This was the case with ACTTAB, is the case with ACTEW and was the threat behind the sale of ACTION. But there is another method.
What we do is downsize a function, say BEPCON, under the guise of cost-efficiency savings across the board. We split off functions to reduce opportunities for cross-subsidisation, we put more pressure on those staff members who remain behind and we watch them slip into poor service delivery. Similar sorts of things are happening in elements of Totalcare, such as survey. We tell the public that they are not getting the service they deserve and we bring in body hire companies to do the job for them. However, in this case the Government has dispensed with the body hire company concept and gone for the big one. What they have done is to offer some of the staff there attractive packages while they are in a situation of crisis. The crisis is the constant threat of being sold off. We have known of the Government's agenda in this regard for many months. It is a common feature of life in the Department of Urban Services. Just ask anyone in CityScape.