Parliamentary Approval

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works approval process is a legislative requirement for projects valued in excess of $5 million.

Treasurer's Instruction 1205 requires that where a project is valued over $5 million, approval must be sought from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and a copy of the approval placed on the tender file:

  • prior to the tender being advertised, when an open tender is to be conducted; or
  • prior to quotations being sought, when approval has been given for limited submission sourcing to enable an agency to go to a selective tender (under Treasurer's Instruction 1217 or 1231); or
  • prior to the engagement of a contractor, when approval has been given for direct sourcing (under Treasurer's Instruction 1217 or 1231).

The Committee can, at its discretion, approve the advertising of a project prior to approval of the project. Where this occurs, the advertisement should clearly state that the project is subject to the approval of the Committee.

The review process conducted by the Committee is an integral part of the legal framework for asset procurement by the Tasmanian State Government. The Committee's charter is set out in the Public Works Committee Act 1914.

The Committee includes Members of the Government, Opposition and Independents drawn from both the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council. The Committee reports to the House of Assembly or, if the House is not sitting, His Excellency the Governor.

The Committee scrutinises major Government public works projects, and in particular reports on the ". . . necessity or advisability of carrying [the project] out" (Public Works Committee Act 1914, Section 15(2b)) and on the "present and prospective public value of the work" (Public Works Committee Act 1914, Section 15(2c)).

Coverage

All public works projects undertaken by a general government sector body with an estimated cost, on completion, of more than $5 million (except those projects that are withdrawn from the operation of the Act by a resolution by both Houses of Parliament) must be referred to the Committee. A general government sector body includes a Government department (as defined in the State Service Act 2000) and any State authority (classified as an entity within the general government sector in the Treasurer's annual report). Project costs include the construction costs together with all consultant fees, equipment and fixed fit out.

Normal project budgeting changes and fluctuations in the tendering market indicate that it is advisable to prepare for a Committee submission if the project budget (including consultant fees) is over $4 950 000. Nevertheless, unless the estimated completion cost of a project exceeds $5 million, it cannot be submitted to the Governor-in-Council, as the Governor has no power under the Public Works Committee Act to refer to the Committee projects estimated to cost $5 million or less. However, Section 17 of the Act allows for the House of Assembly, by resolution, to refer any public work valued at under $5 million to the Committee.

Where a project is to be constructed in stages spread over a period of several years and where the sum cost of the stages exceeds $5 million, all stages should be considered by the Committee before construction commences on the first stage.

An example of this would be the proposed development of a new school campus to accommodate 1 000 students, with initially classrooms for only 300 students being built. If the cost of the classrooms for 300 students was under $5 million but the full development was to be in excess of $5 million, the full development would be required to be considered by the Committee before any work could commence on the site.

Projects from funding sources other than the Consolidated Fund have previously been excluded. However, recent legislative amendments (in 2009) have enabled the Committee to scrutinise major projects funded under infrastructure programs such as the Economic and Social Infrastructure Fund and those undertaken by statutory authorities (such as the new education entities and the State Fire Commission), as well as projects funded by the Australian Government.

A decision, in 1989, by both Houses of Parliament has excluded Australian Government funded roads and bridges projects from the operations of the Act. In 1996, both Houses of Parliament also agreed to exclude road reinstatement projects that are generally contained within the road reservation from the operations of the Act. However, roads and bridges projects that are jointly funded by the Australian Government and the State Government are referred to the Committee where the State Government's component is more than the threshold above which works must be referred to the Committee.

The Submission

Before a project can be submitted to the Committee, approval for funding must be secured. The submission to the Committee must establish that the need for the project is consistent with:

  • for agencies, the sponsoring agency's Strategic Asset Management Plan, its services delivery program and its Corporate Plan; and
  • for other entities, the sponsoring entity's assets plan and its Strategic Plan.

In addition, the submission to the Committee needs to indicate that the project design has addressed "value for money" issues, including life-cycle costing over the facility's proposed life.

Procedures Required to Establish a Hearing

Preparation of Executive Council Minute

The sponsoring body is required to prepare the Executive Council papers:

  • the first paper is a Minute from the sponsoring body's Minister to the Governor-in-Council requesting referral of the project to the Committee;
  • the Minute is accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum from the Minister; and
  • the third paper is a Message from the Governor-in-Council to the Chairman of the Committee.
Referral of the Project to the Committee

The sponsoring body forwards the three documents to the appropriate Minister for signature. The signed documents are forwarded to the Secretary/Clerk of the Executive Council in the Department of Premier and Cabinet for presentation to the next available Executive Council meeting.

After the matter has been dealt with by the Executive Council, the Secretary/Clerk of the Executive Council returns the Message to the office of the Minister. The Minister's office forwards the Message to the sponsoring body for it to arrange a date for the Hearing with the Secretary of the Committee.

Preparation of Material for Submission

Submission material is not required to be completed at the time of referral of the project to the Committee. The request for referral to the Committee and the preparation of submission material can therefore occur concurrently.

The submission is in three parts:

  1. the sponsoring body's written submission, directed towards establishing the need for the facility;
  2. the consultant's written and drawn submission, directed towards the justification of the solution presented, ie that the design solution and the cost estimate meet the client need; and
  3. an executive summary of the need for the facility and the proposed solution and how the solution meets the need.

The consultant is responsible for the integration of the documentation, which must be selected and presented in a form readily understood. The evidence includes:

  • Drawn Evidence
    • location plan;
    • site plan;
    • floor plans;
    • all elevations;
    • sections; and
    • perspective - isometric view or a model is considered desirable.
  • Written Evidence
    • an outline of the final Project Brief;
    • a description of the location and site, indicating any planning or environmental constraint;
    • a description of the design solution indicating the fitness of the scheme as presented for its purpose;
    • a brief description of the structure, constructions, materials, finishes, fittings, and electrical, mechanical and other engineering services and site proposals; and
    • the Cost Estimate with a breakdown.

Ten copies of the written submission are to be delivered to the Secretary of the Committee at Parliament House at least two weeks prior to the Hearing.

Date for the Hearing

The setting of Hearing dates is vital to the orderly flow of infrastructure programs. Normal considerations in setting dates are:

  • where more than one project is located in the same area, the Committee prefers to hold Hearings in the same week;
  • Hearings are held mainly when Parliament is not in session, but they may be arranged throughout the year with the exception of the mid-December to mid-January holiday period;
  • Hearings are held in public and any person, or organisation, may give evidence at a Hearing; and
  • when Parliament is sitting, the Committee prefers Hearings on either a Monday or a Friday.

Advertisements are placed in appropriate newspapers by the Committee's Secretary notifying the public of the Hearing. These advertisements will appear at least two weeks before the Hearing.

While the sponsoring body and consultant may have very real needs for early Hearings, it must not be assumed that the Committee will set Hearing dates to suit pre-determined cash flows or a planned contract commencement date.

Early programming of the Hearing date is therefore essential.

The Hearing

The Committee is required to consider and report on every proposed public works for which Parliamentary approval is required. It is required to take such measures and procure such information as are required to enable it to inform or satisfy Parliament as to the expedience of carrying out the works.

The Committee is empowered to summon any witness, from the public or private sector of Tasmania, to appear before it to give evidence and produce documents.

All evidence is given under oath and those persons scheduled to give evidence are sworn in.

The Hearing needs to assess two issues:

  1. the need for the works. The evidence for the need is normally presented by the sponsoring body; and
  2. the suitability of the proposed solution to meet the need, ie the proposed design. This is generally presented by the consultant/s.

The two issues may be integrated in the submission and may be presented at the Hearing as one document.

The Hearing is open to submissions from members of the public, including submissions from members of the public opposed to the proposal. The press may be in attendance at the Hearing.

Members of the Committee may question the sponsoring body's representatives, the consultant/s or members of the public, including those opposed to the proposal, in order to inform themselves of the proposal. The Committee may require further Hearings to allow additional evidence for or against the proposal to be gathered and presented.

Further Evidence Required by the Committee

The Committee Secretary will advise of the need for further evidence. This may involve a simple written answer, which must be submitted under the signature of a person who was sworn in at the start of the Hearing or a further Hearing.

Committee Reports on Project

The Committee reports to either the House of Assembly or His Excellency the Governor after considering the evidence submitted. If the Committee recommends the project, arrangements may be made for it to proceed. If the Committee does not recommend the project, it may only be proceeded with under the authorisation of an Act of Parliament (refer to Section 16(5) of the Public Works Committee Act 1914). The Committee does not determine a call tender date, contract period or cash flow.

Withdrawal of a Project

If the proposed public works project is cancelled or is to be deferred indefinitely, the sponsoring body must notify the Committee of the change in circumstances as soon as possible. This may be achieved by giving direct written notification to the Committee or via the Governor-in-Council.