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Cabinet papers: disputes over building new Parliament House

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The Hawke government had to deal with last minute disputes with contractors after the new Parliament House building was opened.

The Parliament House Construction Authority was to be wound up and staff retrenched at the end of 1990 but “one sensitive matter remained unsolved, the dispute with the project architect”, according to cabinet papers released by the National Archives of Australia.

There were also problems with the winding mechanisms on the wooden blinds and with moth damage to fabrics in the huge building.

The authority kept back $1.15 million from the architect’s final fee as it sought to recover the costs of “rectifying defective work which would be attributable to errors or omissions in the design or documentation”.

The insurance company, not the architect, met the rectification costs and the terms of settlement kept the figure confidential.

“However, the authority has reported that the settlement not only covered the estimated costs of rectifying unsatisfactory work attributable to the architect or its sub-consultants, it also exceeded the amount of the fee retained by the authority, this justifying its decision to withhold the payment,” the cabinet submission says.

Earlier, the authority had faced claims of approximately $30 million, comprising 17 contracts from nine contractors.

The authority had a policy of parallel action, to negotiate with contractors while pursuing its rights in arbitration or litigation.

“As a result, the authority was able to finalise the 17 outstanding contracts before September 1990 for less than $10 million,” the submission says.

The authority considered it had completed its work.

“The major, sensitive issues which persuaded the authority members to continue beyond September, the dispute with the architect, has been satisfactorily and amicably settled,” the papers say.

“The authority regards this as a very satisfactory outcome.

“When the high standard of the building and the completion of the project on time are also taken into account, this represents a commendable performance by the many individuals and organisations which contributed, under the general direction of the authority.”

Cabinet agreed in December 1990 to the resignation of the chairman and two remaining members of the construction authority, to take effect from the end of the month.

Administrative Services Minister Nick Bolkus was authorised to tell Parliament the final cost of the project was $1.067 billion, an underrun of $11.77 million against the project budget.

“This saving is in addition to the items deleted from the project budget by the Parliament to provide savings but subsequently reinstated by the government without providing additional funding, eg landscaping $5 million in 1987 and TV cameras, $1.66 million in 1988,” the papers say.

The Parliament House website says visitors experience the magnificent architecture and design of the building such as the 81-metre-high flag mast, which is one of the world’s largest stainless steel structures and is recognised as a national icon.

“Opened 9 May 1988 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Parliament House is the home of Australia’s Federal Parliament and one of the world’s most acclaimed buildings,” it says.

“Designed by Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp architects, following a design competition that attracted 329 entries from 28 countries, it is one of the largest buildings in the southern hemisphere.

“Parliament House welcomes around one million visitors from Australia and overseas each year, making it one of Canberra’s most popular attractions.”

More Cabinet Archives stories:Disputes over building new Parliament HouseTension in cabinet over plan to build massive new building for DFATHigh cost of renovating Old Parliament HouseCut ACT funding and listen to the howls of protest

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