Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Would the minister advise the House on the circumstances leading up to the decision of Qantas to lock out its workforce and to ground its fleet?
I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. Qantas has confirmed that the first time it advised the government that there was any consideration of a lockout of its workforce and a grounding of the fleet was after 2 pm on Saturday. The government acted immediately. By 10 pm the government was with the office of Fair Work Australia seeking a stop to this decision. Just over 24 hours later, we had the decision that ensured that Qantas planes returned to the air on Monday afternoon. Today Qantas is back, running its full schedule. The parties have 21 days to get an agreement done and the government calls upon both Qantas and the trade unions to bargain in good faith during this time and get this deal done in the interests of Qantas and in the interests of its workforce. Both parties must show some maturity. The response of the community to this proposed lockout and grounding has been extraordinary, because when you lock out a workforce and shut down an airline you also lock out the customers. So we need to make sure that this deal gets done.
We know—because Qantas has confirmed it—when we were told. The Leader of the Opposition yesterday confirmed that he was called about the specific 5 pm grounding on Saturday. What he has not said is when he was told that they were considering locking out the workforce and grounding their fleet.
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask you: how it can be in order when the Leader of the Opposition made a personal explanation about this matter yesterday and answered questions about this yesterday and today in press conferences? How can it be in order for the Leader of the House to make the same misrepresentations that he made yesterday?
Opposition members interjecting—
Order! For the newer members that believe they can adjudicate, I am about to give them a lesson. This has been a problem that this House has had for many, many years. It is interesting that when people change sides, their interpretation of this problem is different. As the member for Sturt is aware, as frustrating as it might be and as illogical as it might be, the House has never tackled this problem. There is only one thing that I can advise: there are avenues and procedures within the House that an aggrieved member can take yet again, even if it is an iteration.
I am asked about the circumstances leading up to the Qantas decision to lock out its workforce and ground its fleet, and I think that the Australian public are entitled to know.
Opposition members interjecting—
It is true that the Leader of the Opposition changed his position with regard to intervention last Friday.
Opposition members interjecting—
What is also true is that the shadow Treasurer had for some time called for government intervention. Last night we saw the shadow Treasurer on the 7.30 report melt down when he was asked when he knew that Qantas was considering locking out its workforce and grounding its fleet. He said that he could not recall.
Mr Ripoll interjecting—
Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Firstly, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House is completely ignoring you when you ask him to sit down, which is totally disrespectful. Secondly, how could it be directly relevant for the Leader of the House to be shouting across the dispatch box about the answer to the question? He is completely not answering the question that he was asked just so that he can do a 'slag and bag' on the Leader of the Opposition.
Government members interjecting—
Order! The member for Sturt will resume his seat, and the Chief Government Whip will resume his seat too.
Mr Ewen Jones interjecting—
Order, the member for Herbert! I would have hoped that he had learned a lesson yesterday. I simply say to the member for Sturt: if he had listened to the question, the minister was asked to advise the House of circumstances leading up to the Qantas decision to stand down the workforce and ground its fleet. Regrettably, it is a fairly wide question.
Mr Abbott interjecting—
Order! The only relevance that I am worried about, Leader of the Opposition, is that, if I am disturbed about other people being interrupted, I am awfully disturbed when it is the occupant of the chair. I will make the ruling and, again, there are avenues open to him if he has a problem. All I am simply saying is that, because the House has not dealt with the standing orders, argument is allowed in responses. There may be too much argument in this response, but it is allowed under the standing orders. The Minister for Transport and Infrastructure has the call.
I can understand the sensitivity there.
Opposition members interjecting—
It is quite extraordinary that the shadow Treasurer of the nation is told that Qantas is considering locking out its workforce, with all the implications for the national economy, and he says, 'I cannot recall when I was told.' With that sort of memory, no wonder he cannot find the $70 billion that is down that black hole.
With that sort of memory, no wonder he cannot find that $70 billion. The shadow Treasurer and others need to come clean about when they were told that Qantas was considering locking out its workforce. (Time expired)
My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. I refer the Acting Prime Minister to the fact that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's $1 billion for asylum seekers this financial year is based on just 750 boat-people arrivals. Is he aware that, in just the last four months, there have been over 1,300 arrivals? Can he advise what the estimated blow-out in the federal budget will be in asylum seeker management this year alone?
My question is to the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development, and Local Government and Minister for the Arts, representing the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. Will the minister inform the House how the Fair Work Act has ensured the dignity of working people and supported our economy? How were workers treated before the introduction of the Fair Work Act?
I thank the member for her question. She entered this parliament on the basis of restoring dignity to workers, and the government that she joined did that. It did it by replacing the discredited Work Choices legislation with Fair Work Australia. Very interestingly, in that excruciating interview that the member for North Sydney was involved in last night, when he was asked what their IR policy was, he said, 'It's the government's policy; we don't intend to change it.' So that policy that they went to the election on, that they got trounced on, they have now ditched. But does anyone believe them? On this side of the House we do not.
So far as restoring dignity to the workplace goes, we did it in a number of ways. We restored fairness, we restored dignity, we restored good-faith bargaining and, most of all, we restored balance. Industrial relations, when those opposite sat in office, was to take a one-sided approach, to always back the employer and bash the worker. We not only restored all of those values—Australian values, Labor values—but enshrined them in legislation.
I am also asked how our legislation supported the economy. It supported it in a number of ways. Over four years we have seen the fastest employment growth ever in the history of this country, and that is projected to double in the next eight years. That has been done on the basis of restoring fairness as well as the sound fiscal and economic policies that this government has introduced. We have also lowered industrial disputes compared to the number there were when the Liberals were in office. Most recently, we demonstrated how, by using the act, we could get Qantas flying again, after Qantas took the precipitous decision of locking out its workforce and grounding the airline.
I go again to the interview that the member for North Sydney sweated over—as well he might—last night. In that interview, when he was asked the question:
… When did you first hear … that it was considering the option of grounding its fleet or locking out staff?
he said: 'Oh, weeks ago.' So here is the member for North Sydney at least admitting that it was weeks ago that they knew. So here is the Labor government—
working in the national interest to get the airline flying again and the member for North Sydney, acting in his own—
grubby political interests, to make sure that their instrument of choice continues—the lockout—
Order! The member for North Sydney will cease interjecting. The minister will relate his remarks to the question, and it will assist if the member for North Sydney does not give him ample opportunity to respond to interjections. He should cease interjecting. The minister should not respond to the interjections and should relate his material directly to the question.
I am asked, Mr Speaker, how the workers were treated under previous legislation. Let me also remind people of the so-called call for early intervention, that there had been a cacophony on in terms of us. In that excruciating interview last night, he referred to his intervention when he was the minister for industrial relations in the Tristar dispute. He acknowledges that. Let me tell you about that intervention in terms of expedition, because that dispute had been going for 18 months.
The Prime Minister of the day asked you to intervene; you said that you did—
And how did the minister intervene? He intervened by urging bosses of the car parts worker to sack its entire workforce and re-employ them on individual contracts. That is the attitude they would take to industrial relations. It is not the Labor way but it is the Liberal way.
My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that the 800-person cap on asylum seekers to be transferred to Malaysia by the people swap deal has already been exceeded by the 1,070 boat people arriving in Australia since it was signed in July? Given that the Malaysian people swap deal has failed, what is the government's plan B?
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Warringah moving immediately—That this House immediately bring on the government’s Migration Legislation Amendment (Offshore Processing and Other Measures) Bill 2011 for a vote.
We do have, in the waters off Indonesia, an unfolding tragedy. That is the only way to describe what is happening in the waters off Indonesia. We have six confirmed dead, we have 20 missing and we have 46 rescued. This is a tragedy. Issues like this need to be dealt with, and this is why it is important that the measure in question be brought into this House for a vote urgently. That is why it is necessary that standing orders be suspended.
I want to make it very, very clear that the government is not to blame for the tragedy unfolding in the waters off Indonesia. The opposition is certainly not to blame for this unfolding tragedy. There is only one group of people who are to blame for this and that is the people smugglers, who are putting the unwary and the unwitting at risk on the open sea. But what this tragedy does remind the House is that it is important to have a clear and definite policy to stop the boats.
The opposition has a policy to stop the boats. It has been the same policy for a decade. Our policy to stop the boats is offshore processing at Nauru, it is temporary protection visas and it is turning boats around where it is safe to do so. That is our policy, and it is a policy that has worked. It is a policy that has worked in the past, and a policy that can work again in the future.
By contrast, the government has had no fewer than five separate policies. The first policy was the processing freeze of arrivals from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the most discriminatory immigration policy since White Australia. The next policy was the East Timor processing centre, a policy that got lost somehow in the Timor Sea because the Prime Minister did not understand that the President and the Prime Minister had rather different roles in that country's polity. Then there was the Manus Island policy, a policy that did not get anywhere because the Prime Minister was not prepared to commission the foreign minister to do his job. Then there was the Malaysia people swap policy, a policy that was struck down by the High Court. And, finally, the fifth policy is onshore processing. That is it: it is onshore processing. So they have gone through East Timor, they have gone through Manus Island, they have gone through Malaysia and now it is back to good old Australia. That is their policy: onshore processing in Australia, unless of course they can get the Malaysia people swap up. There is one way to get the Malaysia people swap up: put it to the parliament. That is what the government should do now. On no fewer than six occasions last night, the Minister for Home Affairs said in his press conference that it was absolutely vital that the Malaysia people swap legislation be supported by the parliament. Well, let us put it before the parliament now and let us see what happens. That is what should be done, if the government is serious about stopping the boats.
We know on this side of the House that the Malaysia people swap is a cruel deal for boat people and it is a dud deal for Australia. It is a dud deal for Australia because it has already been proven not to work. Since the Malaysia deal was first announced on 7 May, there have been—wait for it—27 boats: 1,637 people. Since the Malaysia deal was signed there have been 16 boats and 1,070 people, and since the government failed to put the legislation through the parliament a fortnight or so back there have been six boats and 350 people. But that is what the government says it wants to do. They say that they want their Malaysia people swap deal supported by the parliament. Well, give the parliament the chance. Do not be frightened of the people's representatives: bring the legislation before the parliament.
The Prime Minister said on no fewer than six separate occasions that it would be brought before the parliament. The Prime Minister said it was 'absolutely imperative' that this legislation be brought before the parliament. She said it had to happen because she wanted our votes to be recorded. We are happy to have our votes recorded, but they cannot be recorded unless there is a vote. They cannot stop the boats but, please, bring on the votes—bring on the votes! Here is your chance to bring on the votes.
Mr Speaker, I will tell you why they do not want to bring this legislation before the parliament. They are not just concerned that they are going to be outvoted on this side of the parliament; they are concerned that they do not even have the numbers on that side of the parliament. They think that they do not even have the numbers on their side of the parliament. We know that the member for Fremantle has said that she does not support the Malaysia people swap deal. We know that the member for Chisholm has said that she has grave reservations about the Malaysia people swap deal, and no less a person than the foreign minister himself, the member for Griffith, has warned his own government about a lurch to the right, which is what the Malaysia people swap deal represents.
We know that this government is hopelessly divided on this issue. We know, because they are telling us. They are telling us because they are telling every journalist who will listen. We know that the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship himself supports offshore processing at Nauru. We know that because his friends in the cabinet have made it crystal clear to journalists, who have done us the favour of telling the whole world. We know that one of the reasons that the Prime Minister is in such desperate trouble is because she shopped the minister for immigration. That is what she has done: she has completely betrayed the minister for immigration by completely abandoning any real commitment to offshore processing. I say to this government: do not say that your policy is to do something if you lack the numbers in the parliament to do it, because a government which lacks the numbers in the parliament to put its policies into place is a government which has forfeited its right to govern. We know that when the Prime Minister took over back in June of last year, she said that the government had lost its way and that there were three things she was going to fix. She says she has fixed climate change, but only by breaking a solemn pledge to the Australian people. She certainly has not fixed the mining tax, because that is now hostage to the member for New England and the coal seam gas protest. And border protection is just a complete and utter and embarrassing shambles.
This is a government which cannot control Australia's borders. And if you cannot control the borders, you cannot govern the country. And if you cannot govern the country, you have a clear option—that is, to call an election. If this government is not prepared to put the legislation that it says is necessary to a vote of this parliament, it should accept that it has lost control of the parliament and it should do the decent thing—call an election. This is an incompetent and untrustworthy government; it is a divided and directionless government; and, when it comes to border protection, this is a government which should simply have died of shame.
I second the motion. It is imperative that this matter be debated and brought on so that the government can test the confidence of this House on its policies on border protection. That is what is necessary for the suspension of standing orders in this place, Mr Speaker. This government abolished the proven measures of the previous Liberal government. The proven deterrent of the Howard government was abolished by those on that side of the House and, in doing so, they celebrated its abolition in a fit of sanctimonious self-congratulation, only eclipsed by their introduction of the world's biggest carbon tax into this parliament just a few weeks ago. They replaced a proven solution with a series of policy failures and embarrassments that have resulted in catastrophic failure. For years they derided the impact of their failed policies. They derided the opposition as we warned them time and again of the chaos, the cost and the tragedy that would follow. We implored them to restore the policies they had abolished and they ignored our calls. This government rebirthed the people smugglers' business model and they have sustained it ever since.
We have seen overnight, and sadly on other occasions, the tragic consequences. Another of the tragic consequences of these matters is the failure to restore and uphold the integrity of our refugee and humanitarian program. Under this government's policies, one in five protection visas to people in need are now going to those who have arrived illegally by boat. When we left office the figure was one in 400. That is what has happened under this government. We have seen the offshore processing and the offshore processing policies abolished by this government and those who have sought to apply from offshore have had their visas denied. In fact, 17,000 offshore applications were made last year through the office in Cairo and less than two per cent, at this most critical time, received the grant of a protection visa from this government. Their failures are myriad; the Leader of the Opposition has spelt them out. There is the Oceanic Viking debacle of the former prime minister. There is the discriminatory asylum freeze of the former prime minister. There is the East Timor farce that was paraded around the region at great embarrassment not only to those who had to endure it in polite conversation, but also to the international reputation of this country. There is the PNG process that went nowhere. And now, of course, there is Malaysia. Malaysia is a failed policy. It is a policy that is unconscionable and is not supported by those on this side of the House, because it is fatally flawed in design and it is fatally bankrupt when it comes to providing protections for those who are processed offshore. The policy has been rejected by both houses of this parliament and the High Court.
They now refuse to test the confidence of that policy again in this House. They refuse to bring this bill into this place and have it tested. As long as they desperately hang on to their policy failures, they know that the chaos will continue. We do offer them another way forward—a way that has been proven, a way that has been established and a way that continues to be ignored by this government. Their impotence in these matters is only compounded by their division, because we know on that side of the House they are hopelessly divided when it comes to this matter. From a former prime minister who does not want to lurch too far to the Right to a current Prime Minister who cannot work out how far to the Right or Left she wants to go on a daily basis, they are racked by division.
We have a minister for immigration who was stranded by his Prime Minister in cabinet. On that issue alone he should have walked away from the role because he no longer enjoyed the confidence of his own Prime Minister. Now he will not test the confidence of this House for the bill he sought to introduce to this parliament. They engage in a blame game—as the Minister for Home Affairs did last night—in the same breath as announcing tragedy. This is a government that has made a mess of this policy beyond proportion; this is a government that has failed the test of trust on border protection on a daily basis. The coalition has earned the trust of the people of Australia on this issue. We are used to fixing up Labor messes; it is what we do best. We are ready to do it, so call an election.
This is an extraordinary position being put by the opposition. Earlier today the member for Cook said that he did not want to politicise the tragedy. Yet, on the same day that this has occurred, the opposition interrupt question time to bring on a motion about business in the House. What is more, the Leader of the Opposition, who has continually used extreme language about a range of issues, today, the day of this tragedy, spoke about the government dying of shame. The sort of language and political discourse created by the Leader of the Opposition does no credit to his great party, does no credit to this parliament and does no credit to this nation.
This motion has been moved in the context of attempting to shut down question time yet again. It was done at a quarter to three so that when Play School comes on, about now, they will have had their 10 minutes from the Leader of the Opposition and five minutes from the member for Cook. They did it because they have put the member for North Sydney in witness protection. We asked two questions in a row about his melting down on the 7.30 program last night, so they shut question time down. And the reason they should not have shut down question time is that we were just getting started! We were just getting started about what they knew—
Yes, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House is not talking to the motion at all. If he hasn't got enough material to talk about the migration bill he should let the member for—
The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. I remind him that we are actually discussing the motion for the suspension of standing and sessional orders, and the reasons that standing and sessional orders should be suspended are relevant. The Leader of the House has the call.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The person in charge of their strategy and tactics in the parliament does not know that this is a motion for the suspension of standing orders. What I am arguing is why question time should have continued and not been shut down by those opposite. This is absurd—they are moving a motion to bring on a bill that they do not support. Absurd! If there is anything that confirms the hysterical negativity—
Opposition members interjecting—
Order! The Leader of the House will resume his seat, because I am now going to warn those on my left. You have moved a motion. There is about to be a vote. If you want to misbehave I will ensure that you miss the vote, if that is the intent of people. This is an important motion or you would not have moved it. The Leader of the House has the call and he should be heard in silence.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. By their behaviour they show how fair dinkum they are about this motion. They are worried because they would rather discuss anything than workplace relations and their attitude towards it. That is why we should have been allowed to have question time continue today, because there are questions to be answered had they not shut it down.
There are questions to be answered about what they knew about the proposals that Qantas had to lock out its workforce and shut down the airline, with the consequences for travellers and the consequences for the national economy. In all of their statements over this issue since Saturday there has not been one word, not a syllable, of criticism against Qantas. On this unilateral action by the board of Qantas to lock out its workforce, not a word is uttered because they have form. They would have you believe that what they expected was earlier intervention from the government, but let us have a look at what people have said about it. This is what they said in Battlelines:
The new system requires businesses to engage in 'good-faith bargaining'—a ... misnomer—with, potentially, all unions that have workers at an enterprise. A new industrial regulator-cum-arbiter, Fair Work Australia, is to make binding rulings in the event that the parties can't agree. This is compulsory arbitration by the back door. It means that decisions vital to the survival of businesses and their employees will be made by officials rather than—
Yes, Mr Speaker. In light of your previous ruling that this is a motion about the suspension of standing orders, where the minister is now going is so far away from that it can no longer be relevant to that.
The member for Dickson will resume his seat. The member for Dickson can raise a point of order but he knows that, if he wishes to test me about his interruption and disruption, he should be very careful. The Leader of the House is speaking to a suspension. It is not necessary for him to debate, as I may have allowed, the reason for the suspension; it is whether we should suspend at this time. The Leader of the House has the call.
They will do anything rather than discuss their obsession with Work Choices and their antiworker attitude and they will do anything to shut down question time rather than discuss the minerals resource rent tax that was introduced into the parliament today. What is in common with those two issues is that those opposite will always stand up for the big end of town; they will always stand up for the few not for the many; they will always stand up for privilege; and they will always stand up for an abuse of rights.
We have seen it writ large—have a look at the vox pops about what people think about the grounding of Qantas. People think that their rights were impugned by the management of Qantas; yet there is not a word from those opposite. They pretend that they think we should have intervened, but we know that ideologically they are against arbitration. They are against fair bargaining. It is there in black and white, written down. We know that we do not have to believe him if he just says it, but he told us on 7:30 that you can believe things that are written down. It is there in his book, Battlelineshe did not do much as a shadow minister, but he did write a book. It is there for all to see.
And what are they doing again today, the day we have introduced the minerals resource rent tax that will lead to better superannuation, less company tax and better infrastructure in regional communities? They are standing up for Rio Tinto, BHP and all the big companies who say that they can afford to pay this tax. That is the extraordinary thing; they are saying: 'We can afford to do it. We want to make a contribution to the national economy'—and even that is not good enough for those opposite.
Qantas say they want to negotiate with their unions—and that is not good enough for them either. Those opposite are in favour of lock-outs not negotiation. They are an antiworker party standing up for privilege. It is what they have stood for for decades, but they have got worse as they have wheedled out one by one all the moderates from their party so that what remains is a hard-right ideologically antiworker party driven by the sort of extremism that we have seen in recent days.
Last night in the Senate the shadow Attorney-General asserted that I had instructed lawyers appearing on behalf of the Commonwealth to present an argument in a matter before the High Court of Australia to the effect that every decision of the Federal Magistrates Court would be invalid. In fact, the relevant matter is before the Federal Court, not the High Court. It is quite inappropriate to make comments with respect to a matter before the courts but, in terms of the point of misrepresentation, Senator Brandis's comments were a complete misconstruction of correspondence sent by the Australian Government Solicitor to lawyers representing the Federal Magistrates Court. To the contrary of that which was asserted by Senator Brandis, the relevant correspondence was directed to narrowing the issues in the proceedings and to avoid doubts concerning the constitutional validity of the Federal Magistrates Courts and its arrangements—arrangements, I might add, that were put in place by the former government.
Today in question time the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government made an accusation against me that, somehow, I sided with the management of Tristar and conspired to have the workers sacked. It is completely and utterly and absolutely untrue. The workers had not been paid properly and, as the workers themselves said, I actually ensured that they got their payments when the management at Tristar refused to do it. I was congratulated by the colleague who sits to his left, the now Leader of the House, for taking action to support the workers. I intervened when it had to be done, unlike the Labor Party on Qantas.
In an article dated 19 October 2011 headlined 'MPs already have super benefits' the Sunshine Coast Daily pointed out that a colleague on the Sunshine Coast and I were unlikely to benefit from plans to award redundancy payments to members who lose their jobs or who fail to win preselection. Then they referred to the fact that we had been in the job for a number of years and that we were under the pre-existing superannuation payout. Certainly, to that extent, the report was accurate. The final paragraph, however, said:
Mr Slipper, who fought to have the super cuts applied to existing MPs in 2004, did not return the Daily's call.
While it is correct that I certainly did not return the Daily's call, and rarely do, it is inaccurate to say that I fought to have the super cuts applied to existing MPs in 2004, because I do not believe that it is appropriate that such a reform should be made in a retrospective manner.
I present the report of the Selection Committee, No. 37, relating to the consideration of committee and delegation business and private members' business on Monday, 21 November 2011. The report will be printed in today’s Hansard and the committee’s determinations will appear on tomorrow’s Notice Paper. Copies of the report have been placed on the table.
The report read as follows—
Report relating to the consideration of committee and delegation business and of private Members’ business
1. The committee met in private session on Tuesday, 1 November 2011.
2. The committee determined the order of precedence and times to be allotted for consideration of committee and delegation business and private Members’ business on Monday, 21 November 2011, as follows:
Items for House of Representatives Chamber (10.10 am to 12 noon)
Presentation and statements
1 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity
Report on the inquiry into Integrity Testing
The Committee determined that statements on the report may be made—all statements to conclude by 10:20 a.m.
Speech time limits—
Ms Parke—5 minutes.
Next Member speaking—5 minutes.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 5 mins]
Annual Report of Committee Activities 2010-2011
The Committee determined that statements on the report may be made—all statements to conclude by 10:30 a.m.
Speech time limits—
Mr Byrne—5 minutes.
Next Member speaking—5 minutes.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 5 mins]
3 Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
Finding the Right Balance: Cabin crew ratios on Australian aircraft
The Committee determined that statements on the report may be made—all statements to conclude by 10:40 a.m.
Speech time limits—
Ms Bird—5 minutes.
Next Member speaking—5 minutes.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 5 mins]
4 Standing Committee on Economics
Review of the Reserve Bank of Australia Annual Report 2010 (Third Report)
The Committee determined that statements on the report may be made—all statements to conclude by 10:50 a.m.
Speech time limits—
Ms Owens—5 minutes.
Next Member speaking—5 minutes.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 5 mins]
Report of the Parliamentary Delegation to the 32nd AIPA General Assembly, September 2011
The Committee determined that statements on the report may be made—all statements to conclude by 10:55 a.m.
Speech time limits—
Mr Symon—5 minutes.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 1 x 5 mins]
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS Notices
1 MR MORRISON: To present a Bill for an Act to propose a Medal which may be awarded to members of Australian police forces who served in the Territories of Papua and New Guinea between 1949 and 1973, and for related purposes (Police Overseas Service (Territories of Papua and New Guinea) Medal Bill 2011). (Notice given 11 October 2011.)
Presenter may speak for a period not exceeding 10 minutes—pursuant to standing order 41.
2 DR LEIGH: To move:
That this House:
(1) recognises that:
(a) the Australian incarceration rate has risen from 117 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 1991 to 172 prisoners per 100,000 adults in 2010;
(b) since the Indigenous Deaths in Custody Report was released in 1991, the Indigenous incarceration rate has risen from 1739 prisoners per 100,000 adults to 2303 prisoners per 100 000 adults; and
(c) an increasing number of Australian children have a parent behind bars; and
(2) encourages governments at all levels to pursue innovative policies to reduce crime and incarceration rates, including:
(a) investing in early intervention programs to deter young people from crime;
(b) where appropriate, considering alternatives to incarceration such as weekend detention, periodic detention, restorative justice and drug courts;
(c) employing smart policing strategies, such as using real-time crime statistics to identify and target crime hotspots;
(d) establishing in-prison education, training and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving family relationships for prisoners with children; and
(e) implementing randomised policy trials (akin to the 1999 NSW Drug Court randomised trial) to rigorously evaluate the impact of criminal justice interventions. (Notice given 20 September 2011.)
Time allotted—remaining private Members’ business time prior to 12 noon
Speech time limits—
Dr Leigh—10 minutes.
Next Member speaking—10 minutes.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 10 mins + 7 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
Items for House of Representatives Chamber (8 to 9.30 pm)
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS Notices
3 MR DANBY: To move:
That this House notes that:
(1) on 11 July 1995, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica which was at that time proclaimed a Protected Zone by a United Nations Security Council Resolution of 16 April 1993, fell into the hands of the Army of Republika Srpska, led by General Ratko Mladic and under the direction of the then President of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadzic;
(2) from 12 July 1995, the Army and the Police of Republika Srpska separated men aged 16 to approximately 60 or 70 from their families;
(4) all the executions systematically targeted Bosnian Muslim men of military age, regardless of whether they were civilians or soldiers;
(5) the acts committed at Srebrenica were committed with the specific intent to destroy in part, the group of Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina;
(6) these were acts of genocide, committed by members of the Army of Republika Srpska in and around Srebrenica from about 13 July 1995;
(7) these findings have been confirmed by the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia through final and binding judgments; and
(8) the House should recognise 11 July as Srebrenica Remembrance Day in memorial of the genocide at Srebrenica in July 1995. (Notice given 1 November 2011.)
Time allotted—60 minutes
Speech time limits—
Mr Danby—10 minutes.
Next Member speaking—10 minutes.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 10 mins + 8 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
That this House:
(1) commemorates the ninth anniversary of the 12 October 2002 Bali bombings in which 202 people including 88 Australians died and 240 sustained injuries;
(2) notes that as a result of the attacks, survivor Julian Burton OAM was inspired to found Australia's first burn injury organisation, the Julian Burton Burns Trust;
(3) commends the work of the Julian Burton Burns Trust in implementing burn injury prevention programs, care and support services for burns patients and their families, and advancing world class research into burns treatment;
(4) recognises that:
(a) 220,000 Australians will suffer a burn injury every year;
(b) Indigenous people living in remote areas are up to 25 times more likely to suffer a serious burns injury than those living in metropolitan areas;
(c) burn injuries cost the Australian Government $1.5 billion annually in health care costs; and
(d) the vast majority of burn injuries are preventable; and
(5) supports the establishment of a national burn injury prevention plan to reduce the incidence of burns in Australia and improve research, treatment and outcomes for burns patients. (Notice given 11 October 2011).
Time allotted—remaining private Members’ business time prior to 9.30 pm
Speech time limits—
Mr Georganas—10 minutes.
Next Member speaking—10 minutes.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 10 mins + 2 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
Items for Main Committee (approx 11 am to 1.30 pm)
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS 1 MR ENTSCH: To move:
That this House:
(1) acknowledges the scale of the tuberculosis threat to Papua New Guinea, and the mortality, morbidity, economic and social costs, and risk to Australia if this threat is not managed;
(2) notes that since 1978, the Torres Strait Islands Treaty has included Commonwealth compensation for the impacts of the care of Papua New Guinea nationals on the Queensland health system;
(3) condemns both the Federal and Queensland governments for indicating they will terminate the tuberculosis clinics on Saibai and Boigu islands which currently provide vital tuberculosis surveillance and clinical care for Papua New Guinea nationals, and reduce the risk of the emergence of drug resistant strains of tuberculosis;
(4) calls on the Federal Government, through AusAID, to immediately provide long-term funding to clinics that provide tuberculosis services to Papua New Guinea nationals and front line health protection for Torres Strait Islander Australians; and
(5) calls on the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing to consult with frontline public health experts to formulate a long-term strategy which ensures that Papua New Guinea programs and Torres Strait Islands clinics deliver a combination of disease surveillance and tuberculosis care for Papua New Guinea and Torres Strait Islander Australians. (Notice given 1 November 2011.)
Time allotted—100 minutes
Speech time limits—
Mr Entsch—10 minutes.
Next 7 Members speaking—10 minutes each.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 8 x 10 mins + 4 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
2 MR HAYES: To move:
That this House:
(1) notes that 25 November 2011 marks White Ribbon Day, the symbol of the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women;
(2) recognises that White Ribbon day aims to prevent violence against women by increasing public awareness and education by challenging attitudes and behaviours that allow violence to continue;
(3) asks all Australian men to challenge these attitudes and behaviours by joining ‘My Oath Campaign’ and taking the oath ‘I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women’;
(4) notes with concern that one in three women will experience physical violence, and one in five will experience sexual violence over their lifetime;
(5) understands that domestic and family violence are primary causes of homelessness;
(6) acknowledges the community cost of violence against women and their children to the Australian economy was estimated to be $13.6 billion in 2008-09, and that if we take no action to shine a light on this violence, that cost will hit an estimated $15.6 billion in 2021-22; and
(7) asks all Members to show that they are challenging violence against women by wearing a white ribbon or wristband on White Ribbon Day. (Notice given 13 October 2011)
Time allotted—remaining private Members’ business time prior to 1.30 pm
Speech time limits—
Mr Hayes—10 minutes.
Next Member speaking—10 minutes.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 10 mins + 6 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
Items for Main Committee (6.30 to 9 pm)
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS 3 DR STONE: To move:
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) in the 2011 Budget, the Labor Government announced the extension of the Exceptional Circumstances Exit Grants program as part of its drought assistance measures;
(b) less than 6 weeks into the extended 52 week program, the Government announced that funds had run out;
(c) this Exit Grant was often the only means by which some farmers could exit their farms with sufficient support to transition to a new livelihood;
(d) many farmers who applied and were assessed as eligible for the grant, proceeded to put their farms on the market, and had sold their farms through exchange of contracts, prior to the announcement that the funds have now run out;
(e) many of these farmers, on the basis of the Exit Grant support, have made financial commitments to buy alternative accommodation so they can transition to their new locality and employment; and
(f) many of these farmers who trusted the Government's commitment and Centrelink's documentation approving their eligibility are now in dire financial straits with no capacity to borrow, no income, and no opportunity to become re-established; and
(2) calls on the Government to provide the Exit Grant to the farmers that have sold their farms through exchange of contracts by 10 August 2011, and were eligible under the guidelines for the exit grant had funding not run out. (Notice given 11 October 2011)
Time allotted—70 minutes
Speech time limits—
Dr Stone—10 minutes.
Next 3 Members speaking—10 minutes each.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 4 x 10 mins + 6 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
4 MR GEORGANAS: To move:
That this House:
(1) joins Osteoporosis Australia and the International Osteoporosis Foundation in promoting World Osteoporosis Day on Thursday 20 October 2011;
(2) notes that:
(a) more than 1.2 million Australians have osteoporosis;
(b) an Australian is admitted to hospital with an osteoporotic fracture every six minutes;
(c) half of all women aged over 60 and one third of men will have an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime; and
(d) after suffering a hip fracture, about a quarter of people will die within a year;
(3) recognises and supports Osteoporosis Australia in its campaign to raise awareness about this silent disease that affects our health and independence as we age;
(4) acknowledges how simple it is to prevent osteoporosis with calcium from eating the rights foods, vitamin D from safe levels of sunlight and regular weight-bearing exercise throughout life; and
(5) works to ensure all Australians are aware of the risk factors and the measures they can take to prevent this debilitating disease. (Notice given 12 October 2011)
Time allotted—40 minutes
Speech time limits—
Mr Georganas—10 minutes.
Next Member speaking—10 minutes.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 10 mins + 4 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
5 MS HALL: To move:
That this House:
(1) acknowledges the
(a) important role played by Meals On Wheels organisations throughout Australia in delivering nutritious meals for frail aged and disabled Australians; and
(b) role played by volunteers in preparing and delivering meals;
(2) notes that Meals on Wheels volunteers provide the only social contact to many house bound elderly and disabled Australians;
(3) further notes that the strength of Meals On Wheels organisations is linked to their ability to deliver to their clients in many diverse ways which recognises the needs of their clients and reflects the communities they service. (Notice given 13 September 2011)
Time allotted—remaining private Members’ business time prior to 9 pm
Speech time limits—
Ms Hall—10 minutes.
Next Member speaking—10 minutes.
Other Members—5 minutes each.
[Minimum number of proposed Members speaking = 2 x 10 mins + 4 x 5 mins]
The Committee determined that consideration of this should continue on a future day.
3. The committee recommends that the following items of private Members’ business listed on the notice paper be voted on:
Orders of the day—
Bombing of Darwin (Mrs Griggs)
Boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel (Ms J I Bishop)
Dairy industry (Mr Broadbent)
Occasional care child care funding (Ms S Ley).
Firstly, I table the 7.30 transcript from last night entitled 'Hockey comments on Qantas grounding'. Documents are presented as listed in the schedule circulated to honourable members. Details of the documents will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and I move:
That the House take note of the following documents:
Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office—Report for 2010-11.
Migration Act 1958—Section 486O—Assessment of detention arrangements—2011 Personal identifiers 643/11, 648/11 and 649/11, 652/11 to 655/11 and 657/11 to 659/11—
Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman’s reports.
Government response to Ombudsman’s reports.
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Cook proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s failure to implement proven policies to protect our borders.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
The government's failure to implement proven policies to protect our borders is demonstrated no less by the fact that, since they abolished the proven and effective deterrent in the Howard government's border protection regime 3½ years ago, 251 boats, carrying 12,942 people, have arrived in Australia. There have been almost 100 boats and more than 5,500 people since the last election. This year more than 3,000 people have arrived on almost 50 boats. That is just over one per week. To put that in some perspective, between 1 January this year and the government's announcement on 7 May of the Malaysian solution, which has now failed, we had 20 boats in 18 weeks; in the period between the announcement of the now failed Malaysian people swap and when that policy was struck down by the High Court we had 17 boats in 16 weeks; and since the High Court decision we have had 11 boats in nine weeks. The people smugglers' business model that was reborn by this government has been constant throughout 2011, regardless of the claims and commentary provided by those opposite.
As we approach the monsoon season again, the pattern we have seen in previous years under this government suggests that there could be more. I sincerely hope—and I am sure the minister would agree with me on this—that the events of the last 24 hours are a warning to those who might be seeking to get onto those boats, as smugglers seek to rush people onto boats before the monsoon season, not to do so. I hope this will be the one thing that will come out of the events of the last 24 hours. Hopefully there will be more, but that is one that I am certainly hopeful of.
A consequence of the government's failed policies and failure to implement proven policies in this area is, as I referred to earlier in my remarks when the suspension of standing orders motion was before the House, to undermine the integrity of the humanitarian and refugee program that we operate. In the last six years of the Howard government 498 permanent protection visas were given to people who had arrived in Australia illegally by boat. In the last three years 5,075 visas have been given to those who have arrived illegally by boat. That is a twentyfold increase over the last three years because of this government's failure to implement and maintain proven policies.
There were 54,000 offshore applications last year from people seeking to access our protection through the established method. For those 54,000 people in that queue at the very least there were just 8,900 grants provided. The percentage of offshore grants has fallen from 85 per cent to just 65 per cent of the entire program under this government. As I have remarked before, IMAs, or those who have arrived illegally in Australia by boat, accounted for less than one per cent of protection visa grants under the coalition and now account for one in five, more than 20 per cent, under this government.
There are now more than 2,000 fewer visas going to offshore applicants because of this government's failure to deliver proven policies in this area and their decision to abolish the proven policies they inherited from the Howard government. In 2010-11 there were 17,236 applications through our processing centre in Cairo. Of those, just 350 were granted visas. Of the 7,730 Afghans who sought our protection offshore last year, 1,027, or just 13 per cent, received visas going through that proper process. Of the 2,550 applications determined for those of Afghan nationality who arrived illegally in Australia by boat more than half were granted. When you have a disparity in the outcomes for people of similar nationalities of that order—around one in 10 versus one in two—then there is no doubt that under this government's policies something is awry.
As I mentioned earlier, the government are terribly desperate and divided on these issues. We have seen that on display, sadly, in the last 24 hours but we saw it further in the meeting of cabinet that was leaked to the press, not by one it would seem but by many. The cabinet have split. The government have split. As a result, this government are unable to implement proven policies that can assist address the mess that they have created on their own watch. No wonder everything they have done since they abolished the proven solutions of the Howard government, and the deterrent that it provided, has failed and come to nothing—the Oceanic Viking, the asylum freeze, East Timor, PNG and now of course Malaysia.
The only solution not embraced by those opposite is the one that they abolished and they refuse to restore. This is the only set of policies—it is not just one, as we have often said—that are proven to have actually worked. There are many who like to offer commentary on these policies. There are opinions aplenty but, when it comes to which policies have a record of success, there is only one set of measures—the measures put in place by the Howard government and initially under the member for Berowra, who was then our minister for immigration and still remains our longest-serving member. The Malaysian proposal has already failed and is an unconscionable arrangement that has resulted in over 1,000 people turning up since it was signed and more than 1,600 people turning up since it was announced. Since this arrangement was first announced in May for the 800 people who would go to Malaysia, more than double the quota has actually turned up. This proposal is flawed in many respects. It is flawed, firstly, because it has a sunset clause, by the government's own admission through the department, of just eight to 10 boats. This government had a policy for eight 10 boats, by its own admission.
The policy the Howard government had in place was a policy for every single boat that would seek to arrive. There was no reset; there was no way of getting around it; this policy would apply for as long as was needed to ensure the boats stopped—and they did indeed stop. This government came up with a policy which said, 'If you can send eight or 10, we're going to let you carry on with your business.' That was a deep flaw in this policy model which the government and departmental officials have been unable to explain, and it remains one of the core reasons for the policy's failure. The exemptions that would be inevitable under this policy would become a rule. As much as the minister and the government would like to say that exemptions would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, it will only take one, and the minister knows it. As a result, the failure to implement what is the third key flaw in this arrangement, the absence of suitable protections, means those exemptions would happen, the cracks would emerge, the eight to 10 boats would soon arrive and the government would be back where it started from, which is in one terrible mess.
This policy has been rejected by the parliament and by the High Court. The government now refuse to allow this bill to be taken into this parliament and voted on to test the confidence of this House in the government's policies. The coalition has proposed one amendment—just one—that maintains protections and restores offshore processing in 148 countries. This amendment was actually government policy at the last election. The great ask we are making of the government is that they agree with themselves by supporting our amendment. It was only a year ago when the Prime Minister said that they would only process people offshore in countries that have signed the refugee convention. It does not strike me, then, as an unreasonable request by those on this side of the House to ensure that protections remain in the Migration Act—protections the government are seeking to abolish in their proposed changes to the act; protections that were introduced into the act under the coalition by the member for Berowra.
Our amendment seeks to maintain those protections through one simple measure, which the government stubbornly refuse to adopt. Rather than have that matter accepted and the bill passed in this parliament, rather than return to the proven measures that they abolished, they have not only decided to continue their current policy of onshore processing; they have processed nobody offshore. We have had onshore processing ever since they abolished offshore processing. They would seek to further soften the policies by adopting those of the Greens, refusing, out of stubborn pride, to accept the coalition's amendment and return to policies that are proven and work, and, indeed, even pick up some of their own policies. Our amendment would enable the government to establish offshore processing again at Manus Island, which is their policy, yet they stubbornly refuse our amendment, as they have done consistently. Therefore, refusing to look at a simple, straightforward, modest amendment, the government deny themselves the opportunity to restore policies that are proven and work.
Those on this side of the House have not only advocated offshore processing, as those opposite and those around the country know; we have also put forward, as we practised in government, other measures. Those measures are well known. They include seeking to turn boats back where it is safe to do so. Our policy is fairly straightforward. As a boat comes to Australia, if we are able to turn it back we will—if it is safe to do so. Secondly, if that boat is unable to be turned back, if it is safe to do so it will be processed offshore. In offshore processing, if someone is found to be a refugee, we have temporary protection visas. That is our policy. It is a straightforward plan for any and every single boat that may seek to come to Australia under our regime.
The government's response to this is that they believe that, where it is safe to turn a boat back, they will not do that. Their policy is not to turn boats back where it is safe to do so—where the circumstances permit. The government have decided that that is not possible. That is for the government to decide, but we heard in evidence from Admiral Griggs that, on at least one occasion that he was directly involved with, it was done. That was his evidence. On another occasion—
That is all he said. His evidence was straightforward. In some cases you can do it and in some cases you cannot, and we have never said anything different to that. What we have said is that, where it is safe, you can turn them around—and it has been done.
This government refuses to do this, but I am not surprised. This government will not turn a boat back when this minister at the table cannot even get detained protesters off a roof. That sent a big, strong message to Indonesia, I am sure. Protesters can run around not only on the roof of a detention centre but also on the roof of his own office. On those occasions, thank goodness for Andrew Scipione and the New South Wales Police, because they were prepared to act in that incident, but in the other incident the protesters sat up on the roof for goodness knows how long. The minister's department put in a word after the protesters got on the roof. They put in a phone call to the New South Wales Police and asked them if they could get them down from the roof at Villawood. As the minister knows, the delay by the department and others putting proper arrangements in place at Villawood for the New South Wales Police prevented that from happening. That is our policy and that was the evidence and testimony of the minister's own department at the detention inquiry.
Temporary protection visas, equally, provide the opportunity to ensure that there is no guarantee of permanent residency in this country, and the measures that we have announced as a coalition in opposition go further to ensure that that is the message would be presented. We have also outlined many other measures, which we have spoken clearly about in the lead-up to the last election and since, that we practised in government, particularly in the area of regional cooperation. We believe that the Bali process that we started should focus on stronger border protection in our region. It should focus on enforcement. It should focus on intelligence. It should focus on border control.
I applaud the Malaysian government for the measures they introduced for biometric identification at all ports of entry. That is something that should be paralleled right throughout the region. It is a measure I support and it is a measure I commend where the government has supported it. When I was in Malaysia I asked that the government also seek to have access to that information to help us with identification processes, and I look forward to the minister reporting on that when he has the opportunity to learn the answer to that question.
At the end of the day, this government abolished the policies that worked, refuses to restore the policies that worked and remains locked in a prison of failure when it comes to its stubborn obstinacy to implement proven policies on border protection. (Time expired)
I was about to say that last night this nation saw a tragedy of the first order. The Australian people woke this morning to see that tragedy and wonder why the Australian parliament—which apparently believes in offshore processing; which apparently believes that offshore processing is a deterrent to getting on a boat and coming to Australia—cannot vote for it. Why wouldn't the parliament vote for something that both sides of the parliament say they believe in? Why wouldn't the parliament join as one and say, 'We disagree over many things. We disagree over methods, we disagree over different resolutions, but we do agree on offshore processing because we believe it can save lives'? Both sides of the aisle in this House—in fairness, not every member; there are members of the crossbench who do not agree—say that we should have an offshore processing regime in Australia. We have a different approach to the methods that can be used, but there is only one side of the House which is prepared to vote for offshore processing. There is only one side of the House which is prepared to come into the chamber and vote to give the government of the day the power to implement offshore processing in a way it sees fit.
The honourable member for Cook has gone through the opposition's model. It is true that we do have a different approach. The opposition say that their approach—and it is—is to open a detention centre at Nauru. We disagree because all the expert advice to the government is that that would not form an effective deterrent. That is advice that has been given to the opposition. Further, that is the advice which has been given to the parliament before the Senate estimates. The Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said:
Our view is not simply that the Nauru option would not work but that the combination of circumstances that existed at the end of 2001 could not be repeated with success. That is a view that we held for some time—and it is of course not just a view of my department; it is the collective view of agencies involved in providing advice in this area.
That is the collective view of national security experts—the advisers to government—which has been given to this government and made available to the Leader of the Opposition, to the member for Cook, to the member for Stirling, to Senator Brandis and to other opposition members. They have been given the advice that it would not form an effective deterrent and could not work again, and I think they know that.
I know that the member for Berowra knows that. The member for Berowra, a former holder of the office of minister for immigration, in relation to the policies that he had implemented and in relation to their relevance, today said, 'You're going to have to use all the measures that were used, but then you'd be looking around to see what more you could do. It's going to require a lot more effort than any of the measures that are being spoken about at the moment.' I wonder what they are. We have not heard those. The member for Berowra has conceded that his policies, if implemented again, would not work and they would need to do more, but the member for Cook has not said what that would be, in terms of additional policies, and perhaps he would make announcements. But the member for Cook says that Nauru remains their policy, and I accept that. They say that it would be more effective.
The member for Cook just criticised the Malaysia arrangement, which I will come to in a moment. He said, 'Look, 1,000 people have arrived since it was signed. Sixteen hundred people have arrived since it was announced. Therefore it is a failure.' Let's put aside the fact that it has not been implemented—the parliament has not allowed it to be implemented—but, if the measure of success is the number of arrivals, what does the member for Cook say to the 1,900 people who arrived after the announcement of the detention centre at Nauru? Apparently that failed.
The member for Cook says it was open-ended. There were only 1,400 places at the Nauru detention centre. The member for Cook has yet to reveal what he would do if he were the minister for immigration when it was full and what he would do in terms of resettlement. Would he have an agreement with other countries to resettle refugees? I would be interested to know. Which countries is he going to ring up on the phone? He is fond of telling us to pick up the phone. Who is he going to ring and ask, 'Could you take the refugees who are on Nauru, because I don't want to take them?' Maybe Iran. He is a big fan of a people-swap deal with Iran. Maybe he would ring Iran. The fact that most of them would be Iranian might be a slight technical difficulty that I am sure he would overcome. Who else is he going to call? Perhaps he could let us know. Where are the refugees on Nauru going to be resettled? If he cannot answer that question, the Australian people are entitled to conclude that the answer is the same as last time, and that answer is Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Ian Macfarlane interjecting—
The member for Groom says that is rubbish. Ninety-five per cent of refugees who were processed on Nauru were resettled in Australia and New Zealand, and the member for Groom says that is rubbish. I would be interested to know what the member for Groom says the figure is of refugees who were resettled. So, there we have the Nauru policy.
The member for Cook again correctly outlined the second limb of his policy, which is temporary protection visas. Temporary protection visas are not something that this side of the parliament supports. We will continue to argue against them and we will not implement them for several reasons. Firstly, we do not believe they were in any way a humanitarian response. Secondly, one of the elements of temporary protection visas is that they deny family reunion. I can understand the reasons that motivated the previous government to do that—I really do understand the policy rationale of saying: 'Let's take away family reunion; that might discourage people from coming to Australia'—but it has been tried, and it failed. When you remove family reunion it does not discourage people from coming to Australia by boat; it encourages them. When family reunion is not available it means more people get on a boat. It means more people risking their lives on the boat journey to Australia because it is the only way of coming to Australia. More women and children on boats is a direct result of temporary protection visas. Eight thousand people arrived after temporary protection visas were introduced, and the number of people arriving went up—
Mr Ruddock interjecting—
In this matter, as in so many others, the opposition simply ignores the facts. And then we have turning back the boats. This, to my mind, is the worst policy of all—the most ill-thought-out, the most ridiculous and, frankly, the most dangerous policy that the opposition has. There are a number of elements about this policy. Firstly, it underlines the abject hypocrisy of those who sit opposite. The opposition say: 'It's a terrible thing to negotiate protections with Malaysia and it's a terrible thing to ensure that those standards are protected and to then return people by aeroplane to Malaysia, because Malaysia is not a signatory to the refugee convention, but it is okay to turn a boat around and send it to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the refugee convention, with no protections negotiated. And, by the way, we're not going to check who is on the boat. We're not going to check whether there are women and children and where they're from. We're not even going to check where they're fleeing from and who they're claiming asylum from. We're not going to check and see if that means we are fulfilling our obligations under the refugee convention.' Nothing! That, more than anything else, underlines the abject hypocrisy of the opposition and how ill thought out their policy is.
Secondly, their policy is completely unworkable because, once again, there is a little technical detail—these technical details do crop up, to the annoyance of the shadow minister and the Leader of the Opposition—and that is that Indonesia will not take them. The Indonesian government has made that crystal clear. This is not in relation to our policy, because we are not proposing that. The opposition say: 'That's okay. I'd go up and see them; I'd negotiate it.' The opposition really rate their ability to negotiate with countries in our region. But the Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs has made it clear—not in relation to this side of the House but in relation to your policy—that he would not accept it and that it would not be acceptable to the government or the people of Indonesia.
Thirdly, and most importantly, this policy is dangerous. This is a policy which would risk the lives of Australian naval personnel, as well as asylum seekers. The member for Cook says, 'We'd do it when it was safe.' I have news for the member for Cook: it is never safe; it will never be safe. The member for Cook says: 'Admiral Griggs gave evidence to Senate estimates that it had been done. That was the entirety of his advice: "It was done once." That was the complete advice that Admiral Griggs gave to Senate estimates.' Well, the member for Cook is wrong; he is misinformed. Perhaps the member for Cook missed Admiral Griggs's evidence, because Admiral Griggs made it very clear that he had been involved in turning around the boats and that it was a dangerous activity that put at risk the lives of Australian naval personnel and the asylum seekers themselves.
I say this is serious because there are people's lives at stake; these are the lives of our naval personnel. The response of the member for Cook to the advice of Australia's most senior sailor, the Chief of the Australian Navy, is to come up with a fatuous one-liner about people on the roofs of detention centres. He would ignore the advice of the Australian Navy, and he justifies that with a fatuous and cheap one-liner. That is what this opposition has been reduced to. We have people's lives at stake, and we had consistent advice to this government that turning around boats on the high seas is a dangerous policy which would risk the lives of Australia naval personnel, and all the member for Cook can do is come up with a one-liner.
We do not know who would actually make the decision. The opposition say, 'When it's safe to do so.' The opposition's election policy was that Mr Abbott, if he were elected to the office of Prime Minister, would make that decision himself on the 'boat phone' from Kirribilli House. And then recently the Leader of the Opposition said it would actually be the naval personnel who would make the decision. And then the member for Cook said, 'We'll take responsibility,' which I assume means that he would make the decision. So we are not really sure who would make the decision as to when it was safe.
This is a sham. But the opposition's policy is well known and clear, and I accept that. We do believe that they should have the right to implement it. We do believe that, if they were to form office, they should have the right to implement their policy. That is why we introduced legislation into the House to give the government of the day the power to implement its policies.
The member for Cook says, 'We only moved one amendment, one teensy little amendment, one tiny amendment'—one amendment which would derail the government's policy!
Opposition members interjecting—
The opposition's point is to say: 'You can have any kind of processing you want, providing it is our policy. You can have any type of offshore processing you want, providing that it is on Nauru.' That is not acceptable to the government. The reason it is not acceptable is that, after taking all the expert advice, we have reached the conclusion that there is a much more effective deterrent—the deterrent of the arrangement with Malaysia. I note the current member for Cook says it would not be a deterrent. The previous member for Cook does not quite agree. The previous member for Cook said today, 'There's no denying the fact that the Malaysian solution'—even though I do not think that is the optimum one, in fairness to the previous member for Cook—'was the one the people smugglers were concerned about. And now there is certainly the ability to send boats down to Australia without the concern that the individual asylum seekers are going to be returned to Malaysia.'
The Malaysia arrangement has never been given the chance to be implemented, but it is a policy which would provide the deterrent for people making the dangerous journey by boat to Australia because they feel it provides them with the greatest chance of resettlement in Australia, a point made very eloquently by Prime Minister Najib during his recent visit to Australia. Prime Minister Najib also rejected the outrageous attacks on Malaysia's reputation and policy by those who sit opposite.
We have a chance to ensure that we never see the type of incident we saw last night, that I as minister—or the member for Cook if he were minister—never has to get the type of phone call that I received last night. This parliament should take that opportunity. (Time expired)
Yes, I do. I claim to have been grievously misrepresented by the minister. The minister suggested that I do not support the three-pronged approach of the opposition to dealing with the people-smuggling dilemma. I have supported all of the measures that the opposition has proposed and I do ask that you take a much more determined effort to get rejected asylum seekers out of Australia because the figures I have seen suggest that you have failed—
The intervention of the member for Berowra in this matter of public importance reminds us in this House that Australia once had a government that was able to pursue a border protection policy for more than five minutes that worked and showed some resolve to break down the people smugglers' business model. That is opposed to the Labor government whose defining feature on border protection and so many other things is sheer incompetence. At every turn they have been exposed as out of their depth, unable to provide any vision for the nation and just incapable of responding in any coherent fashion to events that occur in our country. They seem to embrace a strategy—not just today but on other days—about hoping and praying that no-one realises they are supposed to be in charge. They have a childlike inability to take responsibility for events and, like a child when things go wrong, as they inevitably do under these Clouseau-like ministers, their first response to a problem is to say, 'It was not me,' and to cast around for something or somebody else to blame. Finally, they will go for the big distraction in the hope that nobody notices they are supposed to be in charge.
The worst of this incompetence is the government's border protection failure. The problem with the pattern of behaviour that I outlined before, where they were unable to take responsibility for their actions and for things they should take responsibility for as the government of Australia, is that you need to be able to understand the causes of a problem if you are going to be able to solve it. You cannot fix a problem if you refuse to acknowledge it is broken and you cannot solve problems when your first instinct to everything that arises is to try to deflect blame. These characteristics are writ large in Labor's response to their border protection failures.
The previous Howard government had solved the problem of illegal arrivals when the Labor Party came to office in 2007. Through a series of resolute policies that were controversial at the time but were consistently held by the then government, the Howard government showed the people smugglers that they were not going to accept them controlling who came to Australia. As a result, the illegal arrivals virtually ceased. The people smugglers understood that they could not test the Howard government and win. They were not given mixed signals by the Howard government. They were not given mixed signals by the member for Berowra. They faced a consistent policy approach which left them in no doubt that Australia was not going to be a soft touch for their evil trade.
That was the situation that the Labor Party inherited when they came to office in 2007, yet in a fit of vanity they dismantled those successful policies and they celebrated their insane position and crowed about the moral superiority that their soft touch border protection was compared with the previous evil and racist policies of the Howard government. That was the moment that Labor broke Australia's border protection system. If they want to solve the problems that they have created, they should first admit that fact. Their foolishness instantly reinvigorated the people-smuggling trade and almost instantly the illegal boats started to arrive. Labor's response was in line with their characteristics that I outlined before—this childlike response that they refused to take responsibility for their own actions. Firstly, they refused to acknowledge that Australia had a problem. Anyone who mentioned illegal arrivals was immediately branded a racist.
It was not that long ago that Labor members in this House would simulate dog whistling if anyone from the opposition dared to get up and ask a question about their broken border protection system. So when opposition members rose to ask a question Labor members opposite simulated dog whistling to somehow express that this was just a dark strategy of the coalition to appeal to the worst aspects of the Australian nature. Of course, that says a lot about the way they feel about their fellow Australians.
It was not long ago that illegal arrivals in illegal boats were not even considered a legitimate concern by the Labor Party. But as the problem got worse they could not continue to pretend that it did not exist, so they moved to the next stage of their childlike pathological behaviour, and that is finding somebody else or something else to blame. The Prime Minister got up and said, 'It has nothing to do with us, it has nothing to do with our policy changes; it is all about push factors, it is all about the international situation that has somehow significantly got worse since the Labor Party was elected.' By refusing to admit what everyone else could see—that it was their dismantling of the border protection system that was actually the pull factor causing this crisis—Labor then reverted to type and said: 'It wasn't us. Yes, we dismantled the tough border protection system that we inherited. Yes, we crowed about our more humane approach.' The minister at the time, Minister Chris Evans, said that it was his proudest day in politics when he dismantled the Howard government's successful border protection solution. They refused to acknowledge that it was their approach that resulted in the reinvigoration of the people-smuggling trade—it was all out of their control and it had nothing to do with them. The sheer silliness of this argument finally saw Labor abandon it, and the damage it had done to then Prime Minister Rudd saw him replaced by Prime Minister Gillard. She nominated border protection as one of the serious areas where her predecessor had failed and said that they would be taking a different approach.
Under Prime Minister Gillard, Labor finally accepted—at least within their own internal thinking—that it was their policies that had created this border protection crisis. So she moved to embrace offshore processing, a policy that she had previously vilified and that she had said was expensive and wrong in principle. But she did it in a typically incompetent way by talking to the head of state of East Timor, the country she nominated for the regional processing centre, without once talking to the government of East Timor. As soon as that was announced, there was a predictable response in East Timor. They said that they were not interested, and they made it very clear that they were not interested in hosting Julia Gillard's election-era thought bubble.
But the government still clung to it. They clung to the fiction that somehow they were negotiating with the East Timorese, much to the embarrassment of Australian diplomats and other Australians who had to go out and pretend that they were continuing to argue or negotiate for this policy. It was finally abandoned when she came up with some further offshore processing solutions—or alleged solutions.
The next one was PNG, re-embracing the Manus Island detention centre, a policy approach that she had vilified when it was pursued by the Howard government. But again, the government so badly mishandled it—even though the Papua New Guinea government was prepared to talk to the Australian government about reopening that facility—that they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as they always do, by sending up such a low-level functionary to Papua New Guinea that the Papua New Guinea government considered it a grave insult and refused to take the negotiations any further.
Then they came up with the Malaysian solution, a five-for-one people swap with the Malaysian government that had the Australian taxpayer paying all the costs and whose cap would have already been reached by the 1,170 arrivals we have seen since July, when they signed this arrangement.
It is the border protection authorities, of course, that pay the price for Labor's incompetence. We have seen today the low morale and the problems within border protection's fleet. Customs and Border Protection Command have consistently been asked by this government to do significantly more with significantly less. It is those people who are paying the price for Labor's failures here in Canberra to get this policy right.
You cannot solve a problem that you do not acknowledge exists, and you cannot solve a problem if you cannot work out what the root causes of that problem are. The root causes of Australia's current vacuum in border protection policy are the actions that the Labor Party have taken since they came into office to dismantle the robust system of border protection that they inherited. They abolished the offshore processing that they now apparently so vehemently believe in. They abolished temporary protection visas and they did not have the courage to implement their stated policy before the 2007 election, which was to tow the boats back when it was safe and appropriate to do so.
The Labor Party has options to fix this mess. All they need to do is accept the coalition's sensible amendment to their migration amendments—one sensible amendment, an amendment that they said was so vital just a year ago—and they could solve this problem by re-embracing the proven three-pronged approach of the coalition. It is an approach we have tried when we faced this problem in the past and an approach that we know has succeeded: the reintroduction of temporary protection visas; offshore processing on the island nation of Nauru; and towing the boats back, as is appropriate. The option is there to have a successful policy that works to restore Australia's border protection sovereignty. (Time expired)
I have heard it said that half the job of writing history is hiding the truth, and we do have a great degree of that happening right now. We are being asked to embrace a suite of policies that has been advocated by the other side to deal with a critical issue that they claim their track record proves works, when the reality says otherwise.
I do love how they now refer to the idea of tow-backs. During the campaign I never saw any asterisks next to their policy about stopping the boats. There was never an asterisk on those brochures. Where they said, 'Stop the boats,' they never referred to the asterisk that said 'wherever possible'. They said in definite terms that their policy was to do just that. Now we have a situation where they had to put the clarifier on that to say that they will do it 'wherever possible', knowing that the possible is impossible and that countries like Indonesia will refuse—countries, by the way, that we are being urged to deal with on these matters only if they have signed the refugee convention, and in Indonesia's case they have not. They say that they would turn back the boats to a country that would not receive those boats—a policy at the outset that is simply flawed and will not work. They talk about, for example, Nauru. Only in recent weeks we have had the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship before Senate estimates saying that the department's view is that the Nauru option simply would not work and that the combination of circumstances at the end of 2001 could not be repeated successfully—a policy that they tried to use back then would fail even more dismally now, with the passage of time. Why? The fact is that people smugglers and those seeking to enter Australia know the facts about the so-called Pacific solution. On the decision to use Nauru, I will refer to the facts: 1,900 people arrived by boat. Of those that were processed and found to be refugees, 95 per cent ended up being settled in Australia. Where is the deterrence? It is nonexistent. In other words, Nauru had a 95 per cent failure rate in stopping the boats.
The situation is similar with temporary protection visas. It is worth noting this triumvirate of failure in turning the boats back, which will not happen because Indonesia will not accept them. With Nauru there is no deterrent—95 per cent of people were resettled, because they were found to be genuine refugees, in either Australia or New Zealand. In the two years after TPVs were introduced, 8,000 people jumped on unsafe boats. Many of them were women and children, and ultimately 90 per cent of those granted a TPV were granted permanent settlement in Australia. So we come back to the point: what was the success rate of this policy of stopping the boats? There was no success rate to boast about; there was a 90 per cent failure rate.
The issues that we are dealing with here—regardless of the inflated terms that are used, such as that we are seeing our borders completely overrun—from my perspective were brought into sharp relief by the events of the last year: in particular, what happened in Christmas Island. The focus for both sides of this House has to be the safety of those asylum seekers who are being taken advantage of by people who seek to profit on desperation—the people who suggest that getting on a boat that is clearly unseaworthy will provide guaranteed safe passage, when nothing could be further from the truth. The vessels are unseaworthy, people are crammed upon them and, as has been indicated previously, four out of every 100 people who make that trip disappear or perish.
For both sides of the House, our focus and responsibility has to be on dealing with a critical safety situation and finding an effective deterrent. The things that are currently advocated based on previous policy simply will not work. Someone that the other side hold up as an authority on this matter, the member for Berowra, in his candour admitted that we have to go beyond what is being looked at by even their side. That is in line with the secretary of the department of immigration saying that, if you are relying on policies from years gone past, you can expect that they will not deliver. They did not deliver then; they will not deliver now. You have to think beyond that.
We are being told to embrace a series of policies that will not deal, as I said, with the critical safety issues of people being crammed on unseaworthy vessels. On top of that, as has been indicated by the minister for immigration and as we heard when members in this House formed the parliamentary inquiry—and some of those people are here today, including the member for Stirling—members of the Navy are forced to engage in rescues on seas that are turbulent, such as those experienced in December last year, and we can expect to experience turbulent seas in the coming months as the monsoon season hits. That turbulence causes vessels to break up, leaving a film of diesel on the water. Members of the RAN try to reach into those waters to pick up people whose limbs slip from their arms, putting at risk not only the lives, obviously, of the asylum seekers but also the very personnel with the responsibility of ensuring that border protection is undertaken and undertaken safely. We put at risk the rescuers while they are trying to save the people that are desperate to be rescued. It is simply untenable and unacceptable for us to continue with a policy to, for example, return to a suite of failed policies to create a deterrence effect, when our responsibility is to find what works. We cannot keep embracing that failure.
Again, from my point of view, both sides of this House have the responsibility to deal in a calm, clear and methodical way with this issue, which affects both the people who are trying to come here because of desperate circumstances and the ones that have to save them. There is no point continuing to engage in politics and point-scoring when we have that challenge.
The test for us on both sides of the chamber is to find out what works. What will clearly work is not just at the point at which people arrive here; it is at the other end, in their region—deterrence. For us to be successful we need to be able to harness the cooperation of all countries in the region, and we have been trying to do that. We have been doing that through work with PNG, and I know that there are people in the chamber right now who have been working closely with the PNG government to build up cooperation. We have Indonesia and we have Malaysia. If we agree that we need a regional solution, can someone seated opposite tell me how to build regional commitment on this issue when we go out and bag out countries like Malaysia? We are relying on their cooperation at a time when the government is embarking on a series of reforms to change the way they work, and you go and bag them out.
It is not only about those countries; when other countries in the region see how one of their neighbours is treated and we turn to them for help, do you think they would seriously want to help when the reputation of their neighbours has been so solidly trashed in our country? It is inexplicable that you would believe that you would be able to get that regional support. The test for us is to find a way to cooperate on this issue. We have to do better. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the matter of public importance which has been moved by the member for Cook, the shadow minister, and I follow the member for Stirling's earlier contribution. This is an MPI about the government's failure to implement proven policies to protect our borders, and there are many to talk about in respect of the Labor Party's failed policies that they have tried to implement since they came to government in 2007.
I want to start by expressing my sympathy for what happened last night in Indonesia. It is, of course, a tragedy when people lose their lives in these circumstances, and I think we all acknowledged that at the very beginning. But we are debating this issue again in this place because a proven solution was removed in 2008 by the former Prime Minister, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Labor Party. As the member for Stirling so rightly pointed out, they came to government with a moral superiority that we saw for so many years when it came to this issue. We endured it for so many years, particularly in 2001 with the Labor Party crowing about their moral superiority and how they were much more humanitarian when it came to these issues than the Liberal Party and coalition were during our time in government. We saw this in election campaign after election campaign. In fact, the member for Adelaide ran a very vicious campaign against the then member for Adelaide, Trish Worth, to win that seat in 2004. She highlighted examples and made great play on the fact that Trish Worth supported the policies of the then Howard government. She ran a very nasty campaign to get elected, and I wonder whether she will say in her next brochure to her electorate that she wants to send children to Malaysia. It will be very interesting to see whether the member for Adelaide still maintains that humanitarian approach and that predisposition where she seemed to claim such superiority over the then member for Adelaide in 2004. I would be very surprised if she does that.
On many occasions during the Howard government we heard the abuse that was directed at the member for Berowra when he was the minister for immigration. What he put up with on a personal level was nothing but a disgrace in public life. Today we debate about signs being put up at rallies. Of course, these are unfortunate and needless, but what the member for Berowra and other ministers in the former Howard government put up with—and what the member for Adelaide put up with—during those debates makes those pale into insignificance.
The behaviour that the Labor Party engaged in during those years and the accusations they made about those of us on this side of the chamber—particularly those who were serving—was disgraceful. They now live and enjoy their own pool which they swim in, with proposals that they put forward and which we know that most of their caucus do not support and have never supported. We know that some of these people are privately ecstatic that the proposal the minister for immigration put to the parliament has not even been put to a vote, because they did not want their names on the Hansard. The Prime Minister's great call was that she wanted to see members of the coalition's names on the Hansard. Let me put this on the record: I will be very proud to have my name on the Hansard as voting against this Malaysian proposal. It is a disgrace—an utter disgrace. It is from a group of people who for so long claimed superiority on this subject, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
To put this policy issue which confronts our country into some context, there are some 10 million people worldwide who the UNHCR says are legitimate refugees. They seek a better life and they are living in camps in large part in squalor—particularly in Africa. They live in terrible circumstances that none of us would support. In Australia we offer a humanitarian program to take some of those people—a small number of those people, granted. Some would argue—and in fact I have said—that we should consider taking more in our humanitarian programs and offer some more places to people who are in these horrific circumstances. I refer to the member for Berowra, who has said in this place before and said to me privately that he has visited nearly all of these refugee camps around the globe and that the situations that many of these people find themselves in are nothing short of terrible, disgraceful and beyond belief. So, obviously, we are faced with a choice when it comes to how we allocate those 15,000 or so spots each year for the very special privilege of Australian citizenship and a chance at another life.
We must have a way to manage people's entry into our country. That is something that we all largely agree on. Some think that we should have a much more open approach; we say that we should decide who gets that opportunity at a new life. To do that, the Howard government put a set of policies in place which prevented the people smugglers deciding who got those humanitarian visas. We put in policies which ensured that our sovereign nation got to choose who it was who got an opportunity at a new life, because we cannot take them all. As much as we care very much about people across the globe, we have to have a system of management. We have to ensure we know who is entering our country, we have to know the circumstances in which they enter and we have to be able to decide which of those should get the opportunity to stay.
The policies that we implemented in government took some time to work, but they worked nonetheless. They took some time to work, but by the time of the 2007 election the boats had stopped. The member for Chifley said before that we should look at the evidence when it comes to the Pacific solution. He tried to paint a picture that the Pacific solution was just a stop on the way. The point he did not make was that the numbers that were being processed through the centre on Nauru in the Pacific solution had reduced by such an amount that I think there were four people in detention when the Rudd government was elected in November 2007—four!
Since 2008, since those laws changed, some 12,000 people have attempted to enter our country by boat. As the member for Stirling so rightly pointed out, the Labor Party at first claimed that was from push factors and then tried to implement a completely and utterly racist policy of freezing the processing of certain individuals. Then, when there was a change of leadership in the Labor Party, they tried to implement an East Timor solution without contacting the East Timorese first. When that got lost in the Timor Sea, they came up with another proposal—the Malaysian people swap proposal, which has now come to an abrupt halt because they will not agree to a simple proposition from our side that the country to do offshore processing should be a party to the UN convention.
The consequences we are seeing across Australia are vast and we have talked about them often. We have seen a massive waste of money to deal with number of arrivals we have had. In my own electorate the Inverbrackie centre, which was foisted on the people of the Adelaide Hills 12 months ago and began operating in late December 2010, has cost in its first six months alone $27 million. It is an extraordinary amount of money for around 300 people on average at any one time. The upgrade of each property cost $32,000, even though there were defence personnel and their families living in them almost until the point they were turned into a detention facility. It has cost over $6 million to refurbish the houses. Nearly $2 million has been spent on interpreters and translators. The total cost of phone usage in the first six months was $13,000. The cost of internet usage was $23,000. All these costs were incurred because the laws were changed in September 2008 and the boats have not stopped coming since. The member for Cook, the shadow minister, has said that if we are elected and we get the opportunity to implement our three-prong strategy to stop the boats we will shut down the Inverbrackie detention facility, because it costs too much money. It is the wrong policy, it is the wrong place and the community never had an opportunity to have their say about whether it should be there.
We were told before the last election there would be no more onshore detention centres and, quite clearly, that is a broken promise. We were told when the Inverbrackie facility was first established that there would be a great economic boost to the region, which has also proved to be false. The government's policies have failed. They had an opportunity to adopt policies that worked—policies put in by the Howard government—and they should be put in again. (Time expired)
At the outset of my contribution to this matter of public importance I make the comment that if the problem was solved as the previous member suggested then the Australian taxpayers have got a right to ask why millions and millions of their dollars were spent on an edifice on Christmas Island. Why was it needed if the problem had disappeared? It was all over and there was never going to be boats again. It is a very real question when you are lauding the possibilities of increased taxpayer funding for immigration. Why was it constructed if the problem had been solved?
We are here today because of a tragic event off west Java. The people on that boat represent the dynamics of our problem—people who indisputably had genuine claims. Some are driven here by poverty to try to manipulate the refugee convention while others are encouraged by the possibilities of a country that a very kind legal system would give them in fighting the process for decades. Others are encouraged by the fact that essentially people cannot be deported because countries such as Iran will not take people back or because it is hard to prove people's identity when they do not have documents. Those people on the boats encompass all those dynamics, all those possibilities. I note that the use of the term 'protecting our borders' is designed to give another subliminal message to the electorate, basically to say that maybe there is some security or defence danger in these boats. That is what it is all about. That is why at the outset I wanted to reiterate the diverse reasons that drive people to undertake this journey.
Another speaker has commented on the views of the former member for Cook that, without Malaysia, boats see no impediment. Despite many disagreements with him, I deeply respect his genuine views on this matter. We have heard a lot of rhetoric throughout this debate that we should adopt Nauru, and we know over the past few months being a signatory to the UN convention is seemingly the be-all and end-all for those opposite. I make the point again that, as of April this year, there were 144 signatories to this convention. They include Afghanistan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Sudan, the Congo Democratic Republic. They are countries that are basically exporting one thing to the world—refugee claimants—and yet they are signatories. Supposedly, because Malaysia is not a signatory, an effective policy has been damned. Previously, the opposition were able in government to say it was all right to send people to Nauru, despite the fact that it was not a signatory.
We do not have to rely on ancient history; we can also talk about more modern history. On 27 July last year, the member for Curtin said in a press conference that she, on behalf of the opposition, did not consider that being a signatory was a precondition for these kinds of processing areas. As late as July last year, she denied this fundamental requirement. We know they are grasping at any possibility to try to thwart the government—Nauru or nothing. We all know that on Nauru the possibilities for constructive employment are minimal—something that Malaysia has moved towards. We know that buildings that were used as detention centres before are now being used for schoolchildren. We also know there are water shortages. Yet the opposition runs around condemning Malaysia. I and the member for Melbourne Ports have been amongst those who have condemned Malaysia with regard to human rights. But at least Anwar Ibrahim could have his day in court; he could fight through a legal process. I was speaking to two MPs from Malaysian opposition party DAP the other week at a Tamil event who have doubts as to why the government in Malaysia is liberalising; they say it is all about the next elections and that Najib Razak is just manipulating for electoral purposes. But the fact of life is that internal security measures that have been there for decades are basically going to end next year. I want to quote Richard Towle about Malaysia. In an article on 2 November he noted:
n the context of the Malaysian arrangements, the assurances of legal stay and community-based reception for all transferees can be seen as a more positive protection environment than protracted—and in some cases indefinite—detention that many face here in Australia ...
The UNHCR regional representative. He also noted:
All refugees in Malaysia would ... be registered within the government's immigration database and thus protected from arbitrary arrest and detention.
They are pretty positive comments about a Commonwealth country, which the opposition has started to basically say is on the same level as North Korea. That is the kind of argument that is being put here, just to make sure that the government cannot have an effective policy in this area. They want to jump off the buildings, joyous at every boat that arrives, saying that the government has failed, saying it is out of control, putting out negative comments about the people involved.
I would also note about TPVs, towing boats away and Nauru as the supposed sublime solution that, as was noted earlier, 8,000 people came after the TPV provisions came in. I would question TPVs, quite frankly, on moral grounds as well. I believe that people who come here by boat and plane have advantages in getting into this country as opposed to people in the camps and the slums in Quetta and around Kenya. But once it has been decided that they are refugees, is it morally right that they are on TPVs and waiting for years to be reunited with their families? These are people we have determined are refugees. We might dispute that others are; we might have doubts about others. But the opposition are saying that this is a defensible policy as a discouragement, and yet 8,000 people came here afterwards anyway because they were so desperate.
We have heard from the Navy and various people about the dangers of towing these boats away. We know now that the opposition have put in the condition 'wherever possible'. It is not just a phone call to the Leader of the Opposition now; it is a bit more complex—it is only wherever it is judged possible. Also, the so-called central requirement that a country is a UNHCR signatory is abandoned: the boats will be towed back to Indonesia. These are the kinds of inconsistencies we are seeing from those opposite.
They are trying to mislead the public that these boats mean that Malaysia cannot be a solution. We all know that in the months leading up to the High Court's late August decision there was debate about the legality of it and there was uncertainty. I think the people smugglers would have had a reasonable proposition in putting to people that this might not hold. The opposition talk about the increase in boats coming here, but we know that even after they announced the glorious suggestion of Nauru, 2,000 people still came here.
They talk about 'one sensible amendment'. The one sensible amendment is that we totally capitulate to a policy that their deputy leader a year ago said was not necessary. They come in here and deride the changes that this government has introduced. They say that what is happening has got nothing to do with the conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka; nothing to do with the possibility of US forces getting out of Iraq; nothing to do with concrete conditions inside countries. But anyone that follows this issue knows that that is an ingredient. It is totally preposterous to say we should capitulate to their situation.
Finally, I what to turn to the Greens. Every time there is a debate in this area we see their solution: an increased intake per se. I am not opposed to increases, but to say that increasing this country's intake—an admittedly high intake per capita, but very minor in terms of the overall international problem—can somehow solve this problem is preposterous. We are talking about 10½ million people internationally, as of earlier this year. We are talking about 1.9 million people in Pakistan; 1.1 million people in Iran; and 5½ million in Asia, more than half of them in our region. To say, every time there is a debate about the need to bring in disincentives for people to undertake perilous journeys, that somehow the boats are not going to come if we increase the intake is absolutely preposterous.
Given the opposition's past rhetoric, I would have thought they would have been ashamed to raise this issue. We remember their election ads about real action and stopping the boats, the ads with the red arrows coming down to Australia, and the Leader of the Opposition's talk of a so-called invasion.
For those of us who believe in an ordered, fair and humane immigration program, there is a place for offshore processing in Australia's migration policy. We recall that in the time of the Fraser government there were regional processing centres in Vietnam and Malaysia and they had bipartisan support. This was a mature and rational way of dealing with this problem. By contrast now, those opposite are one moment inciting fear of unauthorised boat arrivals and the next, showing faux concern about human rights and caning in Malaysia. What hypocrisy! We see fake concern from the other side about the human rights of unauthorised arrivals; then they use the opposite arguments on the plight of asylum seekers to try to benefit their own political interests.
The conservative columnist Paul Sheehan argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Leader of the Opposition was making the greatest 'misstep' of his leadership in opposing our proposed Malaysia transfer agreement. Sheehan said:
… as a matter of principle it has an aura of cant and hypocrisy. The great majority of the people who would vote for an Abbott-led Coalition want strong border protection. It is a core issue.
I hope the member for Indi is listening to this. It is a matter of principle. Of course, she will probably denigrate Mr Sheehan from the Sydney Morning Herald.
The member for Warringah, in my view, has abandoned his long-held policy. He knows that legislation to deal with the doubts about any government's ability to act is clearly needed. He knows this. It was clearly identified by Mr Kitney in the Australian Financial Review on 14 September this year:
For a third time, Abbott took his play-it-hard tactics too far. … he indicated a double-dissolution election might be needed. In other words, the limbo created by the High Court's rejection of the Malaysia solution could continue indefinitely as amendments to the Migration Act are shuffled between the two houses.
Won't that be a wonderful thing for the people smugglers—to bring down as many boats as they like, while we have elections and discuss this even further.
The opposition should instead be taking the responsible action of supporting the government, as we did when we were in opposition. I know this very well because I worked very closely with the then government to make sure that the national security interests of Australia were put ahead of partisan political interests on the issue of terrorism post September 11. Quite naturally, some on this side did not want the Attorney-General alone to decide who would be classified as a terrorist group. At the same time, this side did not want people who were involved in events like 9-11 to be allowed to come to Australia. We resolved it, like mature rational people. The opposition worked with the government and passed resolutions in the Senate that allowed parliament to review the recommendations of the intelligence services, and the intelligence committee goes through them very responsibly every year. We have not rejected them once. That is an example of us acting together with the other side of politics in the national interest.
But here we have a situation where the opposition cannot do this. They only see the short-term politics of it. They have all of these people on the other side who have never before—I have been through all of their records—spoken about human rights in Malaysia. They have never once mentioned the human rights conventions or the refugee conventions. And now they cite Iran and Pakistan signing the United Nations Convention on Refugees as the reason we can send refugees off to those places. That is what the member for Cook wants to do. What an insane policy, a crazy policy. Do you think we would really support doing something like that? I do not believe even the member for Indi would support that. Of course she would not. It is just rhetoric. It is rhetoric to try to make use of the politics of this occasion. It is a disgrace.
Many people have compared the opposition's behaviour to the character in the film The Exorcisttheir heads twist around and around. One minute they are purporting the invasion of Australia and the next minute they are talking about the human rights of people in Malaysia. Haven't we got any common sense? Of course we do, and common sense says that we should write an agreement with a country like Malaysia. As the member for Werriwa said, 'I bow to no-one in being a critic of Malaysia.' We have been critics of human rights in Malaysia, when all of those opposite, apart from the member for Wentworth, were silent on it. They were absolutely silent over there about Malaysian human rights prior to a Labor government suggesting an arrangement with Malaysia.
Does the member for Indi think an agreement written by Australia with Malaysia—and supervised, as the member for Werriwa said, by the UNHCR and by the Australian media—is not worth more than a black-letter law written with a country like Iran? A UN convention on refugees with Iran? Member for Indi, what a joke! Do you really think that the member for Cook's proposal to send people to Iran and to sign black-letter treaties with Iran on refugees is worth more than Australia signing a treaty, which would be supervised by the UNHCR, with a responsible country like Malaysia—a country that I strongly disagree with on human rights?
The UNHCR says this is a perfectly respectable way of dealing with things. The Australian media would be crawling all over this agreement. In my view, there would be no breach of human rights in Malaysia over the 800 people who would prospectively return there, because both the UNHCR and the Australian media would see that the human rights of those people were strongly looked after.
As the member for Werriwa said, it is incredible when you examine the statements of the shadow minister for immigration and indeed the member for Curtin on these issues. The member for Curtin said that there was no need to sign these treaties last year—but that was before we advanced the Malaysian suggestion. The member for Murray, the predecessor of the member for Cook as shadow minister for immigration, had these words to say on Radio 2SM:
The closure of Nauru and Manus Island … of course they had basically—what shall we say—outlived their need …
I know the member for Indi does not get on very well with the member for Murray, but she said:
I do not think we need to again have Nauru and Manus Island operating, because we've got of course Christmas Island.
That was the opposition's policy then, but now they have a different one. Like in TheExorcist, their heads are turning around and around and around with hypocrisy and cant.
I also want to make sure that people understand what the member for Werriwa was saying about the member for Curtin, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who had a few cracks at me about my past comments on Christmas Island. On 27 July 2011, she said, 'The coalition does not consider that being a signatory to the refugee convention is a precondition for hosting processing centres.' It is there in black and white; her own words. Of course, now, because the Labor government suggests that the opposition should act responsibility with us in national security interests to deter people from these terrible voyages—and we have seen the results of them in the last few days—they will not act with us. They demand that Labor act responsibly, which we do whenever these issues come up. I was involved in the national security decision with Senator Faulkner and the people on our side. We worked with Mr Ruddock and we achieved a result. The opposition stand for hypocrisy and cant on this issue.
I welcome the opportunity to make a few brief contributions to this important debate. As I rise to my feet to speak on this matter of public importance that has been brought to the attention of the parliament by those opposite, I make the observation that this matter is so important to them that there is not a single member of the other side, apart from the member for Indi, who has bothered to remain in the chamber to listen to this important debate. Recently we gave the opportunity to one of the members opposite to make a further contribution to this debate, but it was not important enough for him to rise to his feet to inform the chamber of his views.
The debate comes at a tragic time in our nation's history. I do not think any right-minded Australian would have had anything but sorrow in their hearts when they turned on the radio this morning and heard that yet another boat had sunk off the coast of Indonesia leading to the death of, we understand, somewhere in the vicinity of 20 men, women and children. It is indeed a tragedy, which both sides of the House say they are committed to avoiding by putting in place policies that will work. But only those on this side have bills before the House that may have some hope of attempting to stop another such tragedy.
When we listen to the contributions of those opposite and listen to the policies they put forward, it really is 'back to the future'. There are three elements to the policies of those opposite. The first is that they are somehow going to turn the boats around. As the minister has quite rightly said in this debate, there is nowhere for the boats to be turned around to. We know that the coalition's policy will not work. We know this because all the experts and our experience has shown that, when those who are smuggling people in desperation from Indonesia and other places to Australia and are interdicted by a vehicle from the Australian Customs Service, one of the first things they do is take the axe to the bottom of the boat to ensure that it cannot be turned around. Any suggestion that a reasonable solution to this policy is to turn the boat around is purely designed for political points and not for humanitarian and certainly not for any basis which is going to have an effect on stopping people smuggling and getting a more orderly process over the refugee intake in this country.
The second solution that is proffered is Nauru. We know that those opposite have very little regard for the advice of experts. When economists criticise their climate change policy, they attack the economists, and when experts from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship say that the coalition's policy of Nauru simply will not work, they attack the advice. We know that Nauru will not work because it is within the wit and capacity of those who are engaged in the people-smuggling business to work out that over 95 per cent of the people who were transferred to Nauru, when it was in operation as an immigration detention centre, ended up in either Australia or New Zealand. So it remains a pretty good bet. If the purpose of Nauru is merely to torture those wretched souls before they find themselves with permanent protection here in Australia or New Zealand, then you really have to ask yourself what lies in the hearts of those who proffer that as a solution. Is that really the best that they can come up with—to torture those wretched souls by making them spend a year or two, or three or four on Nauru before we finally resettle them in Australia? If that is the best that they can offer, then you really have to ask yourself what lies in the hearts of those who proffer that as a solution.
Finally, we are led to believe that the reintroduction of temporary protection visas is going to be a solution. I think the member for Werriwa, the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Chifley have taken that proposition to task as well. We know that it will not work and it is not right. If somebody has been found to be a refugee, then it is our obligation under our international treaties to ensure that we provide them with permanent protection. It is not right to leave these people with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. It is not right, and we know that it is worse than not right—it is not effective. We know that the use of temporary protection visas in the period when they were in operation under the former Howard government actually led to an increase in unaccompanied minors being placed on boats by families and people smugglers out of Indonesia and Malaysia. The reason that led to the increase in unaccompanied minors being placed on boats for those perilous journeys is they were unable, through the normal humanitarian family reunification programs which are available to those who have permanent protection, to gain access to family reunification. So, they had no choice but to put people on the boats and to put their lives and their fate in the hands of the people smugglers to come to Australia.
When placed under the spotlight and under scrutiny we see the three prongs to the policies of those opposite. They are not right, they are morally bankrupt and they are ineffective. At their best the policies are merely designed to torture those wretched souls who have placed their lives and their fate in the hands of the people smugglers to make that perilous journey to Australia. They will have absolutely no effect in deterring people from taking that journey. If that is the simple objective of their policies then we know it will not work.
We say to those opposite—to those who think that this is a matter of such public importance that it warranted bringing the debate on today but who did not have the courage or the stamina to turn up in the chamber to join in the debate—that, if they were serious about dealing with this issue, if they were serious about ensuring that we do not see a repeat of the tragedy that Australians woke up to when they turned on their radios or picked up the newspaper from their doorstep this morning, then they would do the right thing. The right thing is to come down off the ledge, put the megaphone away and join with the government in reaching a truly bipartisan solution—one that is based on the best expert advice, one that will work, one that is not morally bankrupt and one that enables us to gain the trust of the Australian people to ensure we have an orderly border protection policy—and to do what I know the member for Werriwa, the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Chifley, who have joined us in this debate, would like to see us do, and that is ensure that Australia, as a great democracy and a wealthy nation in this part of the world, is able to play a greater role in ensuring we meet our humanitarian—
by leave—I rise today to make this ministerial statement to the House in order to put before the House information relating to the recent resignation of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Allan Asher, and to reaffirm the government's continuing strong support for the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Indeed, following discussions I have had with members opposite and on the crossbenches, I can reaffirm the continuing strong support of the parliament as a whole for that office.
The office of the Ombudsman is vitally important for the executive, the parliament and the community, and this has been the case since the first Commonwealth Ombudsman, the late Jack Richardson, was appointed in 1977. The Ombudsman's primary function is to investigate complaints about matters of administration and to conduct own-motion investigations that relate to matters of administration. The importance of the position of Ombudsman is recognised in the Ombudsman Act 1976. The Ombudsman can only be removed from office with the agreement of both houses of parliament. Where the Ombudsman considers that a government department's response to a report is inadequate or not appropriate, he or she can raise the matter with the Prime Minister and can report the matter directly to the parliament. In addition the Ombudsman is able to provide a report to the minister for tabling in the parliament on any matter relating to or arising in connection with the exercise of the powers and functions of the office. Former Attorney-General Ellicott in his second reading speech to the Ombudsman Bill in 1976 summed it up this way:
… the important element is that the citizen who considered that he had a legitimate complaint about official action, or who was doubtful about what was done in his case, has available an external and impartial investigator to inquire into the matter. The strength of the Ombudsman's work lies in the independence and impartiality of his investigation.
To be effective in that role of investigating government action and seeking redress for members of the community the holder of the office of the Ombudsman needs to have the confidence of the complainant, the public servants whose actions are investigated and the parliament which relies on the work of the Ombudsman as a key part of our system of government accountability. That confidence rests on the belief or expectation that the Ombudsman will be independent, impartial and transparent in their dealings with all stakeholders.
It is of course inevitable and right that there will be times when the Ombudsman will be critical of government administration. There will be times when the Ombudsman needs to say things that will make ministers or the Public Service feel uncomfortable. The capacity to say what needs to be said, even if it makes a government uncomfortable, is a good thing, made more powerful through the impartiality of the Ombudsman. During his time as Ombudsman Mr Asher was critical of the government in a range of areas. Some of that criticism was made to parliamentary committees, in submissions and in evidence. It is important that parliament hears the views of the Ombudsman when he or she has concerns about the way government policies and programs are administered. But to be meaningful, the criticism needs to be factually based and the opinion needs to be impartial. And it is the complainants, the community, the government and the parliament who should have the benefit of the considered views of the Ombudsman, not individual members or senators.
The documents that were provided by the Commonwealth Ombudsman to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into Australia's agreement with Malaysia in relation to asylum seekers, which are available from the records of that committee, reveal that Mr Asher sought a meeting with Senator Hanson-Young prior to the budget estimates hearings in May, and that a meeting occurred. The documents and Mr Asher's statements reveal that following the meeting Mr Asher provided Senator Hanson-Young with a set of suggested questions, and offered to brief her on a range of other matters. I table document 9 from the response provided by the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, in the form published by that committee.
In offering briefings to Senator Hanson-Young, and providing her with questions in the way he did and expressed as they were, Mr Asher may have felt that he was acting in the interests of his office and its stakeholders. However, Mr Asher of his own volition provided an individual senator with proposed questions to ask of him in a parliamentary committee. He framed those proposed questions in far from neutral terms and he ensured that those questions were not on the public record or otherwise apparent to other members of the parliamentary committee. Mr Asher also offered briefing on legislation that has not been introduced and on other matters that would not have been appropriate and would have been of interest to all members and senators.
This behaviour inevitably led to concerns that the Ombudsman had become compromised and his impartiality impaired. An office such as that of the Ombudsman, a key part of our system of government and parliamentary accountability, cannot function effectively in such a compromised environment. In particular, the Ombudsman needs to maintain constructive and proper relationships with the Defence Force, the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship if the Ombudsman is to effectively carry out the particular statutory roles of Defence Force Ombudsman, Taxation Ombudsman and Immigration Ombudsman—but the wording of the questions provided in private to Senator Hanson-Young were not consistent with an impartial approach to those agencies. Mr Asher in announcing his decision to resign recognised that 'the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman's enduring strength lies in community confidence in its integrity' and he also considered that his actions had caused many in the community and the parliament to call into question his impartiality. It was clear that the parliament was concerned by his actions and by the damage being done to the office. That concern was evident in the Senate estimates committee process and was conveyed to me from across the parliament. Importantly, it was Mr Asher's own decision to resign, and I thank him for that.
I can inform the House that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has commenced the process for filling the position of Ombudsman. The position will be advertised in accordance with the government's policy on transparency and merit in the selection of agency heads. I thank Ms Alison Larkins for agreeing to act as Ombudsman while that process takes place. No doubt the events of recent weeks have been distressing for the staff of the office but I want to assure them of the government's support and appreciation of the difficult work that they do. I am confident that the parliament would join me in supporting this important work.
I want to stress that the government has consistently supported independent statutory office holders and supported integrity officers in undertaking their responsibilities, including in their accountability to the parliament. As the Special Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity, I personally support these important functions and I look forward to working with the new Ombudsman and the office. I thank the House and I present a copy of my ministerial statement. I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Goldstein to speak for eight minutes.
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Goldstein speaking in reply to the ministerial statement for a period not exceeding eight minutes.
Question agreed to.
I would like to both associate the coalition with and endorse the statement of the minister. It is vital that the integrity and independence of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is fully maintained in order for the Australian public to have confidence in this office.
Since the appointment of the first Commonwealth Ombudsman in 1977, the office has played a very important part in our democracy. The Ombudsman carries an enormous responsibility in providing checks and balances by handling complaints, conducting investigations and performing audits and specialist oversight tasks related to the functioning of government. The Commonwealth Ombudsman safeguards the community in its dealings with Australian government agencies. The Ombudsman is expected to act without fear or favour. To do this, the independence and impartiality, and perception thereof, of the office must be maintained. The findings and criticisms of the Ombudsman carry significant weight and, quite properly, there is an expectation that these are based purely on facts and the evidence at hand. There must be no hint of interference or compromise.
The recent resignation of the Ombudsman, Mr Allen Asher, was indeed unfortunate, but, under the circumstances, by resigning Mr Asher acted in the best interests of the office of which he served. For that he is to be commended. The coalition joins the government in offering its continuing support to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman following what has been a tough time.
Regrettably, in a most irresponsible way, Greens Senator Hanson-Young did indeed play a major part in compromising Mr Asher and his office through her reprehensible complicity. Those actions were highlighted by the minister and in the documents just tabled. What hypocrisy; what double standards. The Greens always like to take the high moral ground, claiming to be the great defenders of independence, increased scrutiny and greater transparency. Yet, in this episode, the Greens senator acted in a very deliberate, calculated and improper fashion and, in the process, severely compromised the impartiality and the integrity of the office of the Ombudsman, precipitating the resignation of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Then, when exposed, the senator and her Greens colleagues resorted to bluster and finger-pointing but at no stage accepted responsibility for their part in Mr Asher's demise.
We can now close this chapter and let the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman get on with the functions it typically performs so well. I join the minister in thanking Ms Alison Larkins for agreeing to act as Ombudsman during the recruitment process for a permanent appointment. This has been a difficult period for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and, once again, on behalf of the opposition I offer ongoing support to the office and confidence in it.
Bill returned from Main Committee without amendment; certified copy of bill presented.
Bill agreed to.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
As I was saying just prior to question time, the coalition agrees with and supports the principle of cost recovery. However, the concern that has been quite rightly expressed, not just by us but also by a number of those who follow these matters closely, particularly within the industry, is about the manner in which the government has moved in this regard, without allowing adequate preparation or warning. I highlight that point. As I said at the outset, we will not be opposing this bill. As I also said, the bill was introduced back in August and was subject to an economics committee inquiry. Many of the witnesses before that committee made the points that the government had rushed to introduce the bill, there had not been adequate discussion about the regulations that would apply and much of the detail upon which the new regime would operate was missing when the government introduced the bill.
First of all, I will highlight a couple of contributions that were made during that inquiry. In fact, the view that I have been expressing on behalf of the coalition was echoed by a number of participants. Mrs Mitchell from RBS Morgans said:
... The timing of the bill was unusual, given there was so much still to be settled.
We suggest that a consultation process should see its natural course before this bill is passed—
by the parliament. I note that the government, since the introduction of the bill, has begun to move at snail's pace. There has been a consultation period. I also note that the closing date for submissions on the exposure draft was Monday of this week. That is my understanding.
We just say that the government should heed the warnings that were aired during the inquiry. We have to say that the track record and the field evidence in this regard is that government does not get the detail right when it comes to these matters—rushing, not getting the detail right and not listening to the sorts of concerns that have been raised. We raise that here and we make that point. The government needs to be cognisant of that. If it transpires that the regulations themselves are defective in any way, the government will not be able to say that these issues had not been raised.
As I said at the outset, we are not opposing this bill. We support the principle of cost recovery, but we want to make sure that, as that principle is enacted, it is done in a way that does not cause an unnecessary burden to industry through lack of preparation and warning on some of the detail. We will not be opposing the bill. On behalf of the opposition, I commend it to the House.
It is a pleasure for me to speak on the Corporations (Fees) Amendment Bill 2011. I appreciate that the opposition have said that they are supporting the bill, for obvious reasons: it is a good bill, it needs to happen and there is broad agreement on not only what this bill intends to do but also what it actually does. While I accept the comments, in part, by the member for Casey, you could attribute them to any bill that has ever come before the parliament. He did not actually specify any particular area where there were concerns or issues. The comments could have applied to absolutely any bill. I would have been interested to hear what those issues and concerns were and what the industry was saying. Maybe he could have put on the record what some of those things were, but there was a lack of detail. I am the one who is concerned. In fact, I am concerned as to whether we are speaking about the same bill.
This bill, which the opposition supports and agrees with, is a good bill. It amends the chargeable matters under the Corporations (Fees) Act. The bill amends the entities that may be charged fees for performance by ASIC in its financial market supervision function. This is the right path to take; this is the right direction to go. Currently, in the way the system is structured, only market operators can be charged fees by ASIC. This is not in keeping with the way the market has changed, the way communities have changed or, in fact, the way that ASIC's responsibilities have changed. This amendment will allow for fees to be levied on market participants—for example, people such as stockbrokers and derivatives traders. It provides a wider scope, it provides a fairer distribution and I think it properly recognises the fact that all of those who use the market, profit from the market or operate from the market ought to in some way pay a fee for that access and for the functions that ASIC rightfully performs to ensure that we have a properly operating, efficient and effective market. Therefore, it is only right that people who profiteer from it ought to pay fees for that use.
In exchange for payment of those fees, the operators within the market get certainty about the operation of the market. They get to participate in a proper, credible and efficient market that is regarded very highly right across the world. In fact, only recently it was the subject of a merger bid by the Singapore stock exchange, because of the quality of our market and the depth and liquidity that it presents. So I am more than happy to support what this bill does, and I think it provides a justifiable position in terms of who gets charged fees by expanding the definition of those who can be charged under the act.
The bill also amends the list for those who are liable to be charged a fee, including those who participate in a licensed market, and that will take effect from 1 January next year. So we are moving quickly. There was consultation and there were different views, as you would find in any consultation process. But in the end we all came to the same conclusion: that this is the right way to go. I see that my colleagues on the other side are nodding their heads and agreeing, because this is the right course of action for the government. This is not done exclusively in this area; it is done in a whole range of other areas where fees and charges are levied, and that is the proper course of action.
I will give some context and history on why this is important right now. In March last year the government announced support for more competition amongst markets for trading in listed shares in Australia. The government announced at that time its in-principle support for Chi-X to have an Australian market licence to operate. This would provide a direct competitor to the Australian Stock Exchange platform and the way it operates, and provide a whole new pool of liquidity and a different operator. The mere fact that the government supported competition and looked at the possibility of further competition in this particular market drove prices down. It has already had the outcome that the Australian Stock Exchange is looking at ways to better compete. All that means for ordinary people is that they get better value out of the stock exchange. Regardless of who they are—mum and dad investors, stockbrokers or day traders—they get more competition, more liquidity and a better operating market. Of course, we have to do that with the right licensing arrangements and the proper licensing of all who participate.
After a lengthy application process it is anticipated that Chi-X will commence trading and provide competition to the Australian Stock Exchange later this year. That is good news for a lot of people. Currently, shares listed on the Australian Stock Exchange can only be traded on that exchange. But, with the coming of competition, shares listed on the ASX will also be able to be traded on alternative markets, and that is a good thing for investors. This type of competition is common and it is effective. It works very well in Europe, Canada and the United States. In international markets competition has delivered lower transaction charges and it has increased innovation. That is something Australia has always prided itself on, and we ought to continue to make amends and changes to ensure that that continues in the future.
In August last year ASIC took over market supervision from the market operator itself. That was another good move and another step forward that this government initiated to ensure that we have properly functioning markets and proper supervision and that we do not rest on our historical laurels of having a twin-peak regulatory system that operates effectively—and we saw that effectiveness and efficiency during the global financial crisis—but continually improve our market regulatory powers. What this did was allow a single entity to undertake whole-of-market supervision. That is an important safeguard in terms of market integrity and it was supported by all participants.
These amendments will also allow the government to recover the extra costs incurred by ASIC in performing market supervisory functions. The recovery of fees from the beneficiaries of independent supervised markets will allow this amendment to be budget neutral. Again, that is a good step forward and well-positioned in terms of budget neutrality.
I will give some further context on why this amendment is important and on where we have been taking financial services in the four short years that we have been in government. We have committed to do a number of things—in particular, reform in the area of financial advice and financial services, in market regulation and the performance of regulators, in the integrity of the market and in competition. We have also focused in particular on positioning Australia as a financial services hub, because we feel there is a natural synergy with our neighbours in this region and we can play a much bigger role.
But for that to ever come to fruition—for that to ever be a reality in this country—you need a government that has some vision; you need a government that has a forward outlook in terms of where we can be in the future. It is not good enough to just pay lip service to the sector about how good it is and the quality of Australian financial services and the quality of people who work in it—the expertise and quality of management—unless you are prepared to do something about it. And we have. Over a period of years, we have moved strongly to position Australia as a financial service hub. I am very confident about the future of financial services as a growing service provider not only in terms of funds under management but also as a provider of employment in that particular sector. If you look at the combination of the changes and reforms that we have made, there is a very bright and healthy outlook for people who work in that sector. It is a very large provider of jobs, it is a very large and important part of our economy and it is an important contributor to wealth in this country.
We have the fourth largest pool of funds under management—approximately $1.8 trillion. That is in no small part due to former Labor governments in terms of superannuation and the superannuation guarantee. I will not go through all the history, but we all understand and acknowledge just how important those early years were in terms of financial reform in this country and also the setting up of the superannuation guarantee and how that has placed us globally compared to OECD countries. We have the ability to withstand global financial shocks and there is also capacity for people in this country to have a decent and independent financial retirement future. And today we heard the Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten, talking about superannuation and further reforms and changes this government will be putting in place.
Importantly for us, that $1.8 trillion represents the largest chunk of funds under management in the region. Our economy is ranked as the most resilient in the Asia-Pacific, and much of that financial experience and expertise I talked about earlier is actually here on our shores. It is Australians that are providing that expertise. Not only can we do that for our own superannuation funds and our own industry; we can be a service provider to the region. It will be a long time before we can compete with the likes of Singapore or Hong Kong or London. I do not pretend that with these small but good changes that we will be there in a short few years. But unless we take the right steps forward, unless we make amendments like these to fees and charges, unless we can reform our system to ensure that there is enough funding to continue the proper market integrity role that the regulator has, we will be gravely in error.
There are many opportunities for Australian companies in emerging financial markets. We should exploit those for all they are worth and ensure that we continue to grow the sector here. I have talked about this in many different forums, whether here in Parliament House or to financial services conferences or in other places. I really believe that the work that we are doing will set up a whole new generation in a growing sector that will be much more professional than it is today. It will be much more highly regarded and will see itself as an even bigger contributor to our economy and grow even further.
Recently the Minister for Trade, Dr Emerson, launched the China-Australian Chamber of Commerce—AustCham—financial services working group paper on Australian financial services business in China, something that is very important and close to my heart. Domestically, Australia is getting the balance right between financial oversight, transparency and innovation. We can sell that expertise. We can particularly trade in that expertise in countries like China, who seek out Australians for our knowledge. Investment barriers are being kept low by this government. We have already made a number of changes to encourage investment. We want people to invest in Australia. We want to make sure that the barriers to investment are as low as possible. We have already carried out many changes and there are more to come.
This government has also released draft legislation that will bring our investment management regime more closely in line with other financial services and centres globally. This clarifies how certain income of foreign funds—particularly for 2010-11 and prior years—are to be taxed. It also clarifies the treatment of foreign funds where the returns or gains are being treated as being attributable to a permanent establishment in Australia. Currently our taxation of foreign managed funds is not consistent with other centres such as those in the US, the UK or Singapore, so we are making changes—and have made changes—to ensure that is no longer the case. We remove those barriers completely where possible and we transition over a period of time to ensure that we can compete and we can be the facilitator of investments. These changes will help Australia retain the $57 billion that is already invested here by foreign funds.
The bill will also take us one step further in establishing Australia as a financial services centre, but only in a small way in terms of the fees that are contained in this amendment. But as I often say here, it is part of a package deal. Here you are getting another tranche of a global package that we are providing in the financial services sector which, together, will set us on a new path and provide for a whole new generation of growth in that market.
The bill also allows ASIC to recover fees from both market operators and participants in relation to its market supervision roles, something that ASIC ought to be able to do. It is essential to the implementation of a fair, transparent and efficient market supervision framework. This framework is essential in supporting innovation and effective, efficient equity markets in Australia. It will ensure that Australia is well placed to respond to an ever-changing marketplace. Being in this place with a minority government, where there is regularly only negativity and opposition, it is refreshing—even on small matters from time to time—to have the opposition give support and be only slightly critical on something they actually support. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Corporations (Fees) Amendment Bill 2011. I want to draw to the attention of the House that during the debate I will do my very best to highlight the opposition's concerns about the bill—even though we support it.
If you stick around, you will hear the concerns of not only the opposition but also the peak bodies of the industry. The Australian Financial Markets Association and the Stockbrokers Association of Australia raised some concerns about this bill, which hopefully I will outline. But in saying that, the opposition does see merit in this bill and I will also speak to that.
This bill forms a legislative basis for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to levy cost-recovery fees from participants of licensed financial markets. This marks a quite dramatic change from the current arrangements under which ASIC only levies fees from market operators, not from market participants. Prior to 2009 the supervisory responsibility was transferred from the ASX to ASIC. The transfer took effect in August 2010.
Previously, the supervision of the financial markets in Australia had been co-regulatory in nature, with financial market operators, such as the ASX and IMB Ltd, being responsible for supervising market participants and listed entities, while ASIC was responsible for ensuring that market operators met their statutory obligations. With Chi-X starting trading this week, we now have two exchanges operating in Australia. Sure, the volumes traded on Chi-X for the first week were symbolic, and the range of stocks traded was limited, but we are still talking around $4 million worth of shares changing hands. Tellingly, trading prices on the ASX fell almost immediately. That, ultimately, is what this bill was designed for.
On this side of the House we are big fans of competition within the markets. We believe that the government ought to encourage even more competition in the financial services market. Indeed, competition among financial markets is consistent with the approach recommended in 2009 in a report to government by the Australian Financial Centre Forum. However, these amendments mark a fairly significant change in the way ASIC recovers the costs of fulfilling its duties. As we know, if there is one thing that markets hate, it is uncertainty. Market participants deserve clarity from a government on how much these new fees will be and how they will be levied. Obviously, we feel it is vital that the new cost-recovery regime not be a burden on business. With Chi-X already having undergone a soft launch, the need for certainty is becoming increasingly urgent. The coalition agrees with the need for a single market supervisor; however, this supervisor should provide certainty for business, not uncertainty. We feel that the government would have done better to have had Treasury complete their consultation and release draft regulations outlining a final cost model and an assessment of its impact on market participants before bringing the legislation into this place for a final vote. And I stress that we would have loved to have seen the detail of the regulation before this bill was being put to a vote.
Instead what we have ended up with is a typically slapdash, 'suck it and see' approach. This bill was referred to the House Standing Committee on Economics, of which I am a member, back in September. At the time the coalition's dissenting report recommended:
… that the House of Representatives not pass the … Bill … until the House of Representatives has had an opportunity to also consider the regulations that give effect to the Bill.
Unsurprisingly, the government chose to push ahead regardless—in defiance, it must be said, of what was a completely logical and reasonable course of action. This is a decision the government will ultimately have to live with.
Stakeholders in the industry were generally supportive of the cost-recovery model in the legislation, but they are concerned that it will add to the existing layers of corporate legislation placed on business in Australia, particularly on stockbrokers. In its submission to the House of Representatives committee, the Australian Financial Markets Association noted that their principal concern was with the 'overall ad hoc nature of the cost recovery process across the financial system and the cumulative effect that a multiplicity of new regulation is having on the efficiency of Australia's financial markets'. They also went on to say:
New government regulation and charges that increase friction in conducting financial transactions affect how business views the competitive environment and the relative attractiveness of doing business in Australia compared to other jurisdictions.
The Stockbrokers Association of Australia provided a submission to the committee stating that the amendments would constitute:
… a new cost impost on stockbrokers, which has not been levied before. The proportion of the fees to be borne by brokers—
estimated at around 84 per cent—
and the total dollar amount are, in our submission, excessive and inequitable.
I repeat the point that the Australian Financial Markets Association and the Stockbrokers Association of Australia made. These two peak bodies that have jurisdiction over this bill raised considerable concern that the regulations are currently not on the table. There are currently 83 firms which will be classified as 'participants' under this legislation. On average each firm will be faced with a cost burden of around $310,000. On the face of it, that does not sound unreasonable. But the problem with averages is that they often hide the real story and, indeed, in this case the reality is that the larger brokers who process the lion's share of the turnover are likely to be faced with new fees of several million dollars a year. There may be flow-on costs to customers as a result of that, or there may not. Only time will tell. I would just like to say that I sincerely hope that the decrease in trading fees is not simply absorbed by increased commissions, leaving us in the position of having simply robbed Peter to pay Paul. Peter Stepek from the Stockbrokers Association put it this way:
If the government is intent on pursuing cost recovery, then so be it, but we would like to see a methodology that does not place brokers in an invidious position of having to shoulder fees of this level and possibly then act in ways which defeat government policy in other areas.
The Stockbrokers Association also suggested that fines raised through ASIC enforcement should be applied to the cost of the organisation's supervisory functions in order to reduce the amount that needs to be recovered from institutions through fees.
During committee hearings RBS Morgans raised its own concerns about the compliance burden placed on market participants as opposed to shadow brokers. It seems likely that the fee model of this legislation excludes shadow brokers, effectively placing them at a competitive advantage and rewarding them for being outside the tent.
There are pre-existing concerns about the role of shadow brokers in the Australian financial services sector as well. A recent review by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission found that one in three shadow brokers is already failing to meet the existing regulatory standards required by the Australian Financial services licence. For the benefit of the House, a shadow broker is an organisation that works as an agent underneath a principal operator. That review found that 12 out of 33 significant shadow brokers visited by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission had poor compliance processes—a poorly maintained breaches register, poor risk management, and the provision of inappropriate advice and products. In some instances, licences have been granted to individuals known to have been associated with catastrophic financial losses. Shadow broking operations have been involved in some of the most significant collapses of the GFC including Opes Prime, Lift Capital, Sonray and Chartwell, all of which went out of business owing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.
The number of shadow brokers has increased dramatically in recent years with about 200 significant businesses and 650 in total. These firms basically piggyback their traders on the more highly regulated market participants like RBS Morgans, Macquarie and UBS, and use those market participants to execute, clear and settle client trade-offs on their behalf. The firms have to follow market integrity rules—rules that do not apply to shadow brokers—as well as fulfilling capital adequacy requirements. Current regulations allow the holders of nearly 5,000 Australian financial services licences to basically 'sublet' them to an unknown number of small firms who are then entitled to run financial planning or shadow broking businesses. In a very real sense these shadow broking firms are simply 'renting' their licences. The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported the case of one firm who was subletting its licence to 82 separate individuals and entities. It seems highly likely that this sector of the financial services industry will require significantly closer scrutiny in the near future.
Moving on, while the coalition supports the cost-recovery model contained in this bill in principle, we remain concerned that a great deal of the detail required to effect the objects of the bill will be contained in regulations that are yet to be drafted. It should be noted that, after the bill was introduced, Treasury issued a consultation paper to design an appropriate fee structure. We believe that the consultation should have occurred prior to the bill being introduced to the House. It should further be noted that we are not alone in this view. RBS Morgans are on the record as saying that the timing of the bill was 'unusual, given there was so much still to be settled'.
It might sound like I am being pedantic, but this has the potential to flare up into a real problem. If there is one thing we know about this government, it is that it is fundamentally incapable of getting the right deal. It does not matter if we are talking about pink batts, border protection, or live cattle exports: the 'suck it and see' mentality prevails and we frequently end up with all sorts of unintended consequences. So why, given their track record, would they insist on bringing the bill forward before working through the detail in the regulations?
What the opposition would like to see is appropriate checks and balances to ensure that fees will only be levied to the extent necessary to cover costs; effective governance and accountability arrangements put in place to ensure cost-recovery measures are contained over the long term; and, finally, an undertaking from the government to consider the cumulative effect that the multiplicity of new regulation is having on the efficiency of Australia's financial markets. To me, this would seem an entirely sensible course of action. Unfortunately, the government disagrees. For that reason, the responsibility for any adverse consequences of this legislation will be the government's and the government's alone. However, in saying that, we will not be opposing this bill.
I rise to speak on the Corporations (Fees) Amendment Bill 2011, an important piece of legislation that accompanies the shift to exchange competition. As things currently stand, only market operators can be charged fees for the performance by ASIC of its functions under part 7.2 of the Corporations Act. This legislation puts in place amendments that will allow for the government to recover the costs incurred by ASIC in performing market supervisory functions in a way that places the costs as directly as possible on the beneficiaries of independently supervised financial markets. That cost spread will, as it is envisaged, involve 16 per cent of the costs being recovered from operators and 84 per cent from market participants. This is a complicated issue but an important one for the wellbeing of Australian households.
The House Standing Committee on Economics, of which I am privileged to be a member, held an inquiry into the bill on 12 September 2011. We heard witnesses from the Treasury, ASIC, the Australian Securities Exchange, Chi-X, the Stockbrokers Association of Australia, RBS Morgans, the Australian Shareholders Association and the Australian Financial Markets Association. The inquiry was a comprehensive one and went to the overall goal, which is to make Australia a financial centre.
A report conducted by the Australian Financial Centre Forum reported in November 2009:
The Forum’s general position with respect to exchange traded products—as with all other aspects of the financial markets—is that openness to new entrants is an essential condition for competition, efficiency and innovation. Evidence from other countries where traditional exchanges are now competing with new trading platforms suggests that competition has resulted in innovation and generally lower transaction costs.
The Forum thus strongly supports the Government’s announcement and the introduction of competition between market operators.
Another report looked internationally at the trading costs in Australia relative to other countries. Treasury's consultation paper concluded, in figure 1.1, that the total costs of trading for institutional investors, expressed as basis points in the average trade size, in Australia were around 20 basis points. That is certainly cheaper than the costs in a range of developed countries, such as Indonesia, Brazil and China, but it is more expensive than the trading costs in most developed countries, such as France, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, New Zealand and Canada. A similar result comes if one compares the brokerage and exchange fee costs faced by institutional investors. Again, Australia's performance is better than that of the average developing country in the comparison but not better than that of the average developed country.
The Treasury consultation paper estimated the potential benefits from reductions in exchange fees. It estimated that, if there were no growth in turnover in the Australian exchanges, that benefit would be around $100 million from financial year 2011 to financial year 2015. With growth in turnover, that benefit would rise to $160 million. A reduction in bid-ask spreads is another substantial benefit of exchange competition. The same report estimated that a reduction in bid-ask spreads, if there were no growth in turnover—a pretty extreme assumption—would be in the order of $166 million, but, if there were growth in turnover, that reduction in bid-ask spreads would see a benefit to the Australian economy of $265 million.
Those are substantial benefits, and they accrue to market participants. Those market participants include, of course, mums and dads who indirectly are market participants through their superannuation funds. Reducing the amount of superannuation that is lost through high bid-ask spreads or through trading costs flows through to higher retirement savings for Australian mums and dads and flows through to benefits for individual shareholders. It ensures that there is more investment in the Australian economy.
My friends in the financial markets might not like this, but the trading costs and bid-ask spreads are what economists would regard as deadweight costs. That is money that is not available to be invested in new businesses. It is money that is not available to create new jobs. So reducing those transaction costs and reducing those bid-ask spreads puts in place big benefits for the Australian economy.
There are four chief reasons why we are imposing the costs in the way in which we are in this bill. The first is fairness. Opening Australia's financial markets to competition carries the challenge of supervising multiple markets in an environment of high-speed and complex trading. To recover the fees in this way is in line with the government's cost recovery framework, in which costs are recovered from those entities that create the need for the supervision.
The second reason is that the benefits of competition significantly outweigh the costs imposed under the cost recovery regime. I have spoken about the reductions in trading fees and the narrowing of the bid-ask spreads. That benefit flows through to all Australian shareholders, and in turn to Australian companies which create many of the jobs in the economy.
The third reason for the bill being structured in this way is the expressed preference. Brokers have not been charged fees for supervision in the past, but they paid indirectly through the fees charged by market operators. In previous submissions and in their consultations, industry groups such as the Stockbrokers Association of Australia have expressed preference for the more transparent model of cost recovery by ASIC as opposed to monopoly charging for supervision through higher fees. Competition is expected to increase the pressure on the ASX to pass through cost savings in the transfer of supervision.
The fourth rationale is lower barriers for entry. If we charge only market operators for the increased costs of supervising a multi-operator environment, that would decrease the incentives for participants to sign up to new trading venues. It would lock in an advantage for the incumbent ASX, since that exchange is larger and might be better able to absorb supervision fees than a new entrant such as Chi-X. This is consistent with evidence that was put to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics on this issue.
Where do the coalition stand on this issue? They appear to stand in the same place that they do on so many economic questions today. It is not clear whether they are supporting or opposing—whether they are in favour of delaying or putting off. But the consistent economic message from the coalition is 'just say no'. When economists suggest that the most efficient way of dealing with the dangerous scourge of climate change is to put a price on carbon pollution, the response of those opposite is to abuse academics. The Leader of the Opposition, when asked why he could not find a single economist to back his direct action plan, responded that that said something about the quality of Australian economists. What a disgrace!
On the minerals resource rent tax we have clear economic evidence flowing from the Henry review, and many studies before that, that higher taxes on immobile tax bases are the right thing to do—that a profits based tax is more efficient than a royalty regime. Of course we have seen this historically through the petroleum resource rent tax, which has allowed that sector to grow so rapidly over the recent decades. This is why market operators such as Esso were so keen in the early 1990s to move from royalties to a profits based petroleum tax. I cannot help mentioning that even Sarah Palin supports profit-based petroleum and minerals taxation, yet those opposite do not. This puts them in the unusual position of being less economically literate than Sarah Palin.
We held a tax forum recently in which there was a deep and substantive debate and which included representatives from the government, from unions, from business and from the academic sector. That was an important discussion of the big tax issues facing Australia. There were discussions around an allowance for corporate equity, discussions around mineral taxation and discussions around carbon pricing. The coalition, as with so many economic reforms, were missing in action. They had an invitation to attend the tax forum if they were willing to contribute constructively, but they were—not surprisingly—unwilling to make that contribution.
Of course, though, we have seen from time to time thought bubbles being floated on tax reform by those opposite. The members for Wentworth and Kooyong apparently want a sovereign wealth fund—that is their new tax reform idea. A sovereign wealth fund, of course, is really a piggy bank held in overseas currency. So if you want a sovereign wealth fund the natural question is: what are you planning to put in your piggy bank? Unfortunately, the members for Wentworth and Kooyong have been—
Order! There is a lot of noise going on at the table, and I think they are concerned that you are straying a little bit from the topic of the legislation. I am too, and I do admire your knowledge; but would you mind sticking to the legislation. And can I please hear the speaker?
I was speaking about the broad context of economic reform in which this legislation is being debated. This is a context in which we on this side of the House are keen to bring market discipline to the area of stock exchanges. We on this side of the House recognise that competition is important. We recognise that markets work well. Those on the opposite side of the House, however, are unable to grapple with markets in so many areas. They are running away from big economic reforms such as carbon pricing, minerals resource rent taxation and even the fuel tax reforms introduced into this place by then Treasurer Peter Costello in 2003, which are now opposed by the Liberal and National parties.
This legislation is important for Australian families. It will boost investment; it will boost superannuation reforms; and it recognises that exchange competition has benefits that will flow onto Australian households. Even though this is complicated financial legislation, it is underpinned by the straightforward concept that competition at the exchange level brings benefits to households, just as competition does in other markets. I commend the legislation to the House.
In summing up, the government would like to thank those honourable members who have taken part in the debate on the Corporations (Fees) Amendment Bill 2011 and I note the opposition have just indicated that they will not be opposing this bill.
The amendments in this bill will provide the legislative basis to allow the government to recover the costs of financial supervision from industry in a more efficient and equitable way, given the emergence of competition between financial market operators in Australia. I agree with the member for Fraser that the government's longstanding commitment to competition in financial services will help facilitate innovation, efficiency and reduce costs, ultimately improving the Australian financial market and benefiting Australian investors.
Competition in Australian financial markets will deliver better returns for investors by giving them more choice and better prices. This is expected to attract new players, new trading strategies and new liquidity. The benefits of competition have started being realised through Chi-X's announcement of a competitive trading fee schedule and its launch into competition with the ASX on Monday, 31 October.
While this bill makes minor changes to the Corporation Act 2001, its purpose is to allow for regulations to be made which reflect a post-competition cost recovery arrangement. The Corporations (Fees) Regulations 2001 will be amended to prescribe the fee amounts and the method for calculating fees to apply from 1 January 2012. Public consultation is currently underway regarding a proposed structure for these fees.
The opposition has unfortunately alleged that the government has not undertaken a proper consultation process. Let me set the record straight. The government issued a detailed consultation paper in August this year for a four-week consultation period. The government received 13 submissions to this. The government also undertook direct discussions with some stakeholders, including both market operators and significant market participant representatives. In addition, the government further issued draft regulations for a two-week consultation period; this ended on 31 October. We received a total of two submissions in response to this.
By allowing market participants as well as market operators to share the costs for the provision of supervisory services by ASIC, the bill enables the costs of market supervision to be borne by those to whom the costs directly relate in accordance with the cost recovery principles endorsed by this government and previous governments. The alignment of the costs with the entities which have caused the need for these costs will allow for independent and self-funding supervision of Australian financial markets to continue and maintain the quality and independence of Australia's financial market regulatory oversight. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agree to.
Bill read a second time.
by leave—I move:
That this bill be now read a third time.
Question agreed to.
Bill returned from Main Committee without amendment; certified copy of bill presented.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I rise to speak on the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection Service and Other Measures) Bill 2011, the Education Services for Overseas Students (TPS Levies) Bill 2011 and the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment (Tuition Protection Service) Bill 2011. These proposed legislative changes stem from the Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international students report conducted by a former member of this House, the Hon. Mr Bruce Baird, who is also a very good personal friend of mine. As members of this House will be aware, in August 2009, the then Minister for Education, the Hon. Julia Gillard, commissioned the review of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000. Issues in the international education sector came to a head in 2009 with media reports of unethical behaviour within the sector and a when series of colleges collapsed over financial viability issues. The sector was also damaged by protests and sensationalist media coverage in overseas markets concerning a spate of assaults which were portrayed as having been racially motivated. It has also been a very difficult time for many education providers, who have been impacted by other pressures such as competition from other countries, the value of the Australian dollar and the government's visa rule changes. Unfortunately, the combination of these factors led to falling enrolments in the sector, which is a deeply concerning matter both to the sector and to the coalition.
Bruce Baird was asked to report back to the government with recommendations designed to ensure that Australia could continue to offer quality international education to students studying in Australia. The review considered the need for enhancements to the ESOS legal framework in a number of key areas and was reported to government in February 2011. The report emphasised the need for a new and strengthened regulatory approach to protect Australia's reputation as a provider of quality education. In particular, the recommendations focused on: more support for international students; improved information; stronger consumer protection measures to ensure students are protected from unscrupulous operators; improved regulation of Australia's international education sector; and improved support for those who study and live in Australia, including their having somewhere to go when problems arise.
The coalition has supported in principle the recommendations to amend the ESOS Act in order to improve and strengthen our international education industry. Reform to the ESOS Act has been undertaken in a number of stages. The coalition supported the reforms requiring the re-registration of all institutions already on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, CRICOS, by 31 December 2010. We also supported the introduction of two new registration requirements to strengthen the education credentials of education providers. These require providers to list the names of their agents and to comply with any regulations relating to them.
These new requirements were implemented following the passage of the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. Education providers are now required to demonstrate more rigorously that they have a sustainable business model. They also need to demonstrate that they have access to financial resources and have appropriate capability, governance and management structures in place.
There will now be a more consistent requirement for assessing risk to be applied by all state authorities. Further reforms have been implemented, including changes to registration fees and the implementation of an Overseas Students Ombudsman, in response to Baird recommendations 16 and 17. Changes to registration fees were considered in the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011 and the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011, which received royal assent on 26 September 2011.
The coalition supported the passage of those bills, which amended the ESOS Act to create a new fee structure replacing the previous charging structure for the compulsory annual registration charge payable by all registered providers of courses to students on student visas. Those bills also provided for an entry-to-market charge payable for the first three years of registration.
Now the parliament is considering a further stage of reforms to the ESOS Act. The bills that are being considered today seek to do the following. Firstly, strengthen tuition protection to ensure students receive the tuition they have paid for or, as a last resort, a refund. Secondly, introduce national registration for providers operating in multiple jurisdictions. Thirdly, make technical amendments, including clarification of the definitions of tuition fees to include only the costs directly associated with the course as well as to include former accepted students in the definition to make reporting requirements and complaints-handling processes applicable even if a student has ceased with a provider.
The Tuition Protection Service are to be accessed by students who seek to gain a refund on those parts of their courses which were not delivered in the event that higher education providers do not meet refund obligations under the ESOS Act. Students will only be eligible for a refund of the unused portion of prepaid tuition fees—that is, tuition for which the student has paid but which has not yet been delivered by the provider—rather than a full refund, as was previously the case, in recognition that they may obtain credit for part study already completed.
The new scheme limits the collection of fees to no more than one study period in advance and requires providers who do not receive recurrent government funding to place all students' pre-paid course fees for their first study period into a designated account which can only be drawn down when the student begins study. In addition, these bills establish an online information service to allow students to select from suitable placement options in circumstances where their higher education provider does fold. The bills will establish national registration for providers operating in more than one jurisdiction.
These bills also establish the framework for the administration of the scheme. I note that the explanatory memorandum to one of the bills states that the implementation of the Tuition Protection Service comprises $5 million of seed money for the Overseas Student Transition Fund in 2012-13. Also provided for is $800,000 to remunerate the Tuition Protection Service directors across the forward estimates. It is understood that these costs will be offset by funding sourced from government financial assistance provided to the Assurance Fund in 2010. As a consequence, the government expect that the establishment of Tuition Protection Service will be budget-neutral. I note the government has indicated that, based on modelling, possible revenue for 2012-13 is estimated at $6.1 million.
While the coalition support the measures contained within these bills, we are aware of a number of education stakeholders who are concerned that such rapid changes could result in some quality providers having to change their entire business structures in a relatively short period. The new scheme limits the collection of fees to no more than one study period in advance and requires providers who do not receive recurrent government funding to place all students' pre-paid course fees for their first study period into a designated account which can only be drawn down when the student begins study.
Some stakeholders, for example, while supporting the changes, are concerned that the time frame in which the government requires providers to change their business structure is far too short, given what I have just described. Some private higher education providers are particularly worried about the associated cash-flow issues and are worried that rushing the implementation of this scheme may increase the chance of higher education providers closing. They are concerned about the quantum of fees payable, which have not yet been set. Universities also share these concerns, and some seek assurances that the payment of fees to the scheme will be clearly differentiated on the basis of risk. Based on these concerns and suggestions from the industry, the coalition suggests a very straightforward amendment: full implementation of the scheme by 1 January 2013 rather than 1 July 2012, as currently provided for. Therefore, we intend to begin the scheme six months later than is currently provided for under the act. Specifically, the amendment I will seek to move at consideration in detail stage is as follows:
(1) Clause 2, page 2 to page 4 (table), omit "The first 1 July that occurs on or after the day this Act receives the Royal Assent" (wherever occurring), substitute "1 January 2013".
I have written to the crossbenchers seeking their support for this amendment, which I hope they will consider supporting, and I hope the government might consider supporting it too. I place on the record that the coalition support the series of bills which have passed the parliament and led to the implementation of the Baird review's recommendations to strengthen the risk management of education services to overseas students. Action was needed to protect the reputation of Australia's international education export industry, which is estimated to be worth $19 billion annually.
The latest measures being considered today are the most recent of the many amendments to the ESOS framework. Many amendments were made by the former coalition government from 1997, particularly over the period of 2006-07, which sought to protect the industry. I hope that the government is willing to consider the extension of time that I intend to propose in the consideration in detail stage, and I commend the other aspects of the bill to the House.
The bill before us today represents the next step in the government's commitment to ensuring the quality and transparency of education for overseas students in Australia. The primary purpose of the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection Service and Other Measures) Bill 2011 is to strengthen the standards to protect students' tuition in cases where providers are unable to meet their obligations. The bill takes the next step from amendments enacted in April this year which included better complaints handling, strengthening registration requirements, improved complaints handling and introducing a risk management approach to the regulation of international education.
There is no doubt that in the past international students have faced difficulties. The government realises that many families spend large amounts of money to ensure that their children have access to the outstanding educational opportunities Australia offers. The last thing those families need—and the last thing the government wants for them—is to be out of pocket if an educational provider goes out of business or defaults on its obligations in any way.
In August 2009, the government asked the former member for Cook, the Hon. Bruce Baird AM, to review the regulatory framework for education for overseas students. Mr Baird reported back in March 2010 with a series of recommendations outlined in his report, Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international students. In his letter introducing the report he commented:
Extraordinary growth in the sector, from 228 119 students in 2002 to 491 565 students in 2009 resulting in an industry worth $17.2 billion in 2008-09, has enhanced Australia's cultural richness, strengthened diplomatic ties and delivered great economic benefit to Australia. It has also put a number of pressures on the sector in terms of education quality, regulatory capacity and infrastructure.
Following the release of the final report, the government indicated its intention to implement a number of recommendations immediately and to consult further with the international education sector on its response to the remaining recommendations. The government is responding to those recommendations in two phases, with the legislation before us today representing the second phase.
On 27 October 2010, the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Legislation Amendment Bill, which lapsed due to the federal election, was reintroduced to the Australian parliament as a part of the first phase of the government's response to the Baird review. This bill was passed in parliament on 21 March 2011, enacted on 8 April 2011 and is known as the ESOS Amendment Act 2011.
The changes to the ESOS Act 2000 and the Ombudsman Act 1976 included: further strengthening the registration requirements of education providers delivering to overseas students with a specific focus on business sustainability; introducing a consistent risk management approach to the regulation of international education; limiting the period of registration and allowing conditions to be placed on a provider's registration according to risk; extending the range of non-compliant behaviour that could attract financial penalties to strengthen regulation; publishing targets and regularly reporting on regulatory activities undertaken; and expanding the role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman for external complaints relating to private providers.
The package of bills representing the second phase comprises amendments to include a new Tuition Protection Service, TPS, to establish a single mechanism to place students when a provider cannot meet its obligations, or, as a last resort, to provide refunds of unexpended course moneys. To support the TPS, the bill introduces a series of complementary initiatives including: limiting the amount of prepaid course fees that may be collected by providers; a requirement on some providers to keep initial prepaid fees in a separate account until a student commences study; strengthening record keeping obligations; and establishing a national registration system which will allow the registration of providers who operate across jurisdictions.
These reforms are an important development in the substantial strengthening and reforms that occurred in 2000 amidst allegations of immigration rorts, poor-quality education services, college closures and exploited students. More recently, problems in the international education sector came to a head in 2009 with media exposés of unethical behaviour within the sector, college closures and protests by Indian students following some assaults on individuals in their community. In the past, the training and education market attracted some businesses that were unviable. Closure of a number of these meant that the burden for tuition and fee assurance provided by ESOS fell disproportionately on the remaining reputable and viable providers. The effect of the closures is that a significant number of businesses which have proven unviable or not met the required standards have damaged Australia's reputation as a high-quality, reliable provider of international education services. The government's reforms are reversing this trend, and Australia's reputation in the international education and training market is improving.
The latest figures from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship—the figures are taken from the DIAC publication Student visa program quarterly report: 30 June 2011show that in the financial year 2010-11, by sector, the following numbers of visas were granted. For schools 10,460 were granted. For vocational education and training institutions 67,406 were granted. For higher education institutions 112,567 were granted. For postgraduate study 9,203 were granted. There was a total of 199,636 visas granted for international students to study in Australia. In the non-awards sector another 17,107 visas were granted, and in the AusAID and Defence sponsored sector there were 4,633 granted. Almost 20 per cent of visas were for students from China, 11.6 per cent were for students from India, and the third-highest group, 5.3 per cent, were from South Korea.
The international education sector is one of Australia's largest export industries and is important to Australia in supporting bilateral ties with key partner countries, supporting employment in a broad range of occupations throughout the Australian economy and delivering high-value skills for the economy. That is why, apart from its value to our international reputation, it is so important to ensure that the students studying here have a positive experience.
In September, the minister announced streamlined processes for student visas. These processes were designed to enhance Australia's competitiveness in the international education sector. Unfortunately, some of the growth in international student numbers in the past has included people on student visas who were not genuine students. Some students came to Australia to undertake an education in order to gain permanent residence without any intention of undertaking employment related to their course of study. Regrettably, this expansion of non-genuine student numbers was facilitated by some agents and institutions whose business practices were highly dubious and sometimes illegal. In 2010, the government made changes to skilled migration requirements which effectively severed the nexus between studying certain courses and an almost guaranteed path to permanent residence. This led to a dramatic reduction in the numbers of non-genuine students commencing studies in certain courses.
I have no problem with that result. Australia offers a first-class education at the secondary, tertiary and postgraduate levels. It is important to the integrity of that system that our reputation be maintained. The legislation before us today, as I said previously, is another step to ensuring the maintenance of that integrity while protecting the students and their families' investments in their future. The centrepiece of this legislation is the commitment to strengthening tuition protection to ensure that students are looked after in a timely and effective way should their provider close. I commend the bills to the House.
I rise to speak on the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection Service and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and related bills. The Education Services for Overseas Students Act has been evolving through substantial reforms since the year 2000, when there were allegations of immigration rorts, poor-quality education services, college closures and exploited students. Forty-one recommendations from an independent evaluation in 2004-05 were endorsed to improve the act's effectiveness. Following this, amendments were made to the act in 2006-07. However, in 2009, further allegations of unethical behaviour reported by the media led to protests by the Indian community against assaults on Indian students and the closures of a number of colleges.
In just over a decade reforms and amendments to the ESOS Act have been implemented to ensure the fair treatment of the international student body. The proposed amendments that I am speaking on here today have the potential to strengthen and reform the existing act. The bills seek to strengthen tuition protection to ensure that overseas students receive the tuition they have paid for or, as a last resort, a refund. This will be done through the Tuition Protection Service, which is intended to make more flexible and streamlined student placement and refund arrangements in the event of a defaulting provider's not meeting its obligations. In addition, there will be a limit to prepaid course fees, and these fees will be required to be placed into a designated account and only drawn upon when the student's course has commenced. Providers will also be required to ensure that efforts have been made to encourage students to update their contact details, with penalties applying for failure to do so. New requirements and penalties related to ensuring academic records are kept up to date will also be introduced. National registration for providers operating across different jurisdictions will be introduced, as will technical amendments, including clarification of various terms.
These bills were referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment, and the committee's report was presented earlier this week. There were a total of 22 submissions received. I note that the issue of concern raised by many of those who made submissions was in relation to the proposed 24-hour reporting periods for provider and student defaults. It is the recommendation of the committee that this period be extended from 24 hours to 72 hours. The member for Grey, who is the deputy chair of the committee, made the point that there are two parties who may default: the provider, who may default on delivery of the service, and the student, who can also default by not presenting for the first day of classes. The last may happen for any number of reasons. I note that the extension of the notification period from 24 hours to 72 hours will allow the opportunity for the provider to find or locate the student who has failed to present for class and, if they are unable to do so, to alert the TPS—the Tuition Protection Service. I also note the comments of the member for Grey indicating that industry is generally relaxed about the 72-hour notification period and on that basis the coalition did not lodge a dissenting report.
International students are very important to this country. They not only contribute financially to our economy but also contribute to the student experience of many Australians and the Australian student community. Unfortunately, we have had a downturn in the number of overseas students enrolling in Australian educational institutions. While almost 270,000 student visas were granted during the 2009-10 financial year, this number is a decrease of 15.8 per cent from the previous financial year, when 320,000 visas were issued. There are a number of reasons that we are seeing a decline in the number of international students in our educational institutions, many of which were identified in the Baird review. They include social issues as well as provider and educational issues. For every poor experience that a student has here in Australia there is a high possibility that the student will share the details of this experience with others. We need to ensure that our reputation is upheld as an international education destination. We need to make these students feel safe and, most importantly, we need to make them feel welcome.
The Gold Coast has a lot to offer international students, and we already have many international students at our schools, at our training colleges and at our universities. The Gold Coast lifestyle, coupled with world-class educational facilities, ensures that we are well placed to provide the experience, education and support which these students both deserve and require as visitors to our country. We have an excellent climate on the Gold Coast, with wonderful beaches and an equally beautiful hinterland. Structurally, we have public and private hospitals, public transport services and numerous shopping centres as well as sporting clubs and community support organisations, so we certainly have the infrastructure and the support services in place for our large international student community. We have a lot to offer our overseas students and they in turn offer a lot to our community.
Education services are one of Australia's most productive export earners. Access Economics has reported that each international student contributes approximately $29,000 per annum on average to our economy. Additionally, these students invite their friends and families along to visit and they in turn contribute to our economy. For every dollar spent by an international student in our economy there is a flow-on effect which ensures that we are able to support Australian businesses and workers. It is important that we encourage our international students, though not just for their economic contribution. Their presence in the classroom and on campus adds to the learning experience for all students. Firstly, their presence at our educational institutions encourages an international approach to the curriculum. This is certainly very advantageous to our Australian students who later go on and seek international work experience. Whilst some of those graduates will permanently relocate overseas, there are many who will return to Australia and bring their experience and knowledge back to us.
With international students in the classroom, our Australian students also receive some of the benefits of international study without leaving their home. The broader student extracurricular experiences that students have access to thanks to the presence of international students helps them to understand cultures, religions and values different from their own and those generally around them. I will speak specifically about Bond University and their Latin American student contingent. Bond University is located within my electorate of McPherson, and they have a strong Latin American presence at their campus. They annually run a Latin American day, when all of the students on campus are invited to participate in activities that are relevant to Latin America. I have spoken to Bond University on a number of occasions about strengthening our links with Latin America, particularly with regard to the developing mining and resources sector and with the establishment of science and engineering courses and faculties on the Gold Coast. I will continue to work with Bond and our other universities on the Gold Coast to strengthen our engineering and science based courses.
The relationships between Australian and international students are often long-lasting and valuable, not just for the individual students but also potentially for us as a nation. I believe that we do need to build quite strongly on that. Our international students who remain on the Gold Coast also contribute to the local community, working within occupations that are experiencing skills shortages and volunteering within the community. In addition, these students are supporting the growth of our higher education participation rates, which at about 11 per cent on the Gold Coast are much lower than the national average. This has been illustrated by data from the 2006 census, which showed that only 18 per cent of the Gold Coast population aged 25 to 34 were degree qualified. Each additional enrolment in our local higher education sector is a positive step towards achieving a better outcome for our local education sector. I have expressed many times in this place how important our education sector is to the Gold Coast. While there has been a downturn in our tourism and construction industries, our education sector offers the greatest potential for further development to ensure we have a reliable second layer of industries to support our local economy.
In closing, I stress that we need to continue to improve our international education sector. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, and I support this bill with the recommendation of the acceptance of an extension of the implementation date.
I rise to voice my support for the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection Service and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and related legislation. I thank the member for McPherson for her contribution. We have seen a growing number of students from overseas enrol in Australian universities. Australia is home to 460,000 overseas students, including 126,000 from China and nearly 70,000 from India. Many students also come from South Korea, from Indonesia, from Malaysia, from Thailand and, as mentioned by the previous speaker, there is an emerging South American market. In fact, international students here come from more than 190 countries. It is a vote of confidence in our wonderful Australian universities and proof that an Australian degree is highly regarded all around the world.
Australia is a very attractive place to study—great people, great climate—I am sure you would agree, Deputy Speaker Slipper, that that is the case in Queensland at least—and a very welcoming multicultural society. Young people want to come to Australia: they want to be educated in Australia and they want to experience Australian culture. It is estimated that overseas students and their families spend more than $14 billion a year in Australia. Access Economics estimate that their presence creates an extra $12.6 billion in goods, in services and in jobs. That means, in all, overseas students contribute more than $26 billion to our economy, making education our third biggest export. When we see coal trains going through Brisbane and in North Queensland, we need to think of our overseas students in similar terms—they are valuable commodities and it is our job to protect them.
Their contribution is not just economic or financial; overseas students contribute to the broad tapestry of Australian multiculturalism, and they also ensure that there is a diversity of thought in our universities and in the broader community. Griffith University's Nathan campus, in my electorate, is home to nearly 4,000 international students. They have an even stronger presence on the Gold Coast and in Logan. The Gold Coast campus particularly caters for international students for some of the reasons the member for McPherson detailed, including the sand, the sunshine and the healthy lifestyle. Obviously our community is all the richer and stronger for having these international students in our presence.
Of course, such a rapidly growing sector does create challenges, and the Labor government has responded in recent years to improve the integrity of the sector. There are other problems associated with this rapidly growing sector. At Griffith University in my electorate there are community consultation meetings, which I try to attend. These meetings are all about the university engaging with the community—the local residents—because sometimes we have had to educate international students about some of the topics which will not be in the end-of-semester exams. These are things such as: where do you put the wheelie bins? How loud do you have the music? Is it okay to walk around without a top on? They are things like that, although I do not get a lot of complaints from people in my electorate about the last topic. Apparently some Swedish students did have this practice.
I had better get back to the legislation—I take the interjection from the member for Blair. However, returning to the legislation, there are some unscrupulous education providers who exist only to provide a back door for students or who represent themselves as being able to provide a way for the students to gain residency—they do not have particularly accurate product disclosure statements. The government has responded to regulate and make sure there are minimum standards, better complaints handling and further strengthening of the registration requirements. This is important to ensure that international students get a quality education in Australia and, on the flip side, that our international students meet the conditions of their student visas.
I was doing street stalls at the weekend in Graceville when a lady came up to me on behalf of the international students who are employed by a cleaning company. It was pointed out that they were being taken advantage of because their English is not perfect. It turned out that their employer is not paying superannuation on their behalf and that there are some other questionable work practices. This does happen.
These bills are the second part of the government's response to the Baird review of 2010, which made a number of recommendations to government regarding overseas students. The bill introduces a tuition protection service to protect students when an education provider cannot meet its obligations. The service includes a TPS director and advisory board, both to be appointed by the minister, and a DEEWR secretariat to support the work of the director and the board. The bill also creates a service provider to manage the student placement arrangements.
A TPS levy will be applied to all registered international education providers. Where a provider defaults on tuition, it will be required to refund any part of the course paid for but not delivered. This will ensure that students can choose and afford an alternative provider and have the tuition received recognised at this new provider.
The bill will also amend the Education Services for Overseas Students Act to limit the collection of prepaid course fees to no more than one study period in advance. Providers will also be required to keep the fees for the first study period in a designated account until the student commences study. This ensures that, in the sad circumstances of the provider going belly up, the provider will still have funds to meet its refund obligations should it default or the student's visa application be refused.
The bill will make study in Australia more affordable as students will no longer be required to pay huge amounts in upfront fees. Furthermore, the bill strengthens the requirements for providers to have procedures in place to update student contact details and maintain assessment records. This is an important process if students are not here for the right educational reasons. The bill also establishes a national registration system to allow a more straightforward registration process for education providers who operate across jurisdictions—getting rid of red tape yet again. This amendment will not stop the regulator from taking compliance action against any or all of the provider's operations but it will reduce compliance costs for providers.
Like any growth industry, there are always a few cowboy operators who are happy to dig into others' pockets to make a quick buck rather than committing to protecting the great brand that is Australian education and to providing a great education service. This bill will make it more difficult for these cowboys to operate and provide greater protection to international students. It also ensures Australia can continue to stand tall as a destination of choice for overseas students and that the brand so carefully protected and nurtured over the years by past governments, continues to be a great brand overseas. I commend the bill to the House.
The Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection Service and Other Measures) Bill 2011 is one of a suite of bills aimed at protecting overseas students when they enrol with Australian education providers. There is no doubt that Australia had become well regarded in international circles as a provider of high quality education. However, this reputation became tarnished in recent years. In 2010 there were about 470,000 overseas students studying in Australia. Of these, 227,000 were in tertiary education, 147,000 were in vocational training courses, 97,000 were in intensive English language courses and 24,000 were in Australian schools.
Foreign students, as we know, bring with them new ideas and different experiences, and they add greatly to the diversity and colour that is the Australian community. The greatest number of foreign students in 2010 came from China followed by India and Korea. These students also require an industry that includes a myriad of small businesses to provide support services to them. The value to the Australian economy was around $15 billion, which meant overseas students represented Australia's third largest export market. However, in recent years concerns about standards and safety saw this drop by an estimated $2 billion. Government data recently released identified that, in contrast to the increases in student numbers in the past decade, in 2011 there was a 9.4 per cent reduction in foreign students studying in Australia.
Tertiary foreign student numbers attending Australian universities saw a modest 0.8 per cent rise. However, in all other sectors significant reductions were measured. Vocational education and English language courses both recorded more than 17 per cent reductions in student numbers. Of particular concern has been the significant drop in new enrolments, down by 3.1 per cent. This indicates that while existing students are staying on to finish their courses, new students are looking elsewhere around the globe for their educational needs. It also presents a challenge for educational institutions that could well face low numbers of foreign students for the next few years, until the trend of declining new enrolments reverses.
Around half of the universities across Australia have a quarter of their student population coming from overseas, and some can reach close to 50 per cent of foreign students. For those institutions, and particularly for intensive English language campuses, which can be almost exclusively for foreign students, the next few years will be of particular concern. These concerns are not new. Earlier this year in this House we debated the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Re-registration of Providers and Other Measures) Bill, which was also designed to protect and support overseas students studying in Australia. At the time we could already see that Australia's reputation and performance was being questioned. In that debate I told the House that there had been a 20 per cent drop in student visa applications, which was expected to cost the sector $1.2 billion and possibly 19,000 jobs. The debate today could well be seen as a confirmation of those facts and of the concerns at that time. Australia dropped from the No. 1 destination for Chinese students to the third most popular destination.
The world's educational establishments have become intensely competitive and this trend is not new. Long established and well-known universities have been marketing themselves around the world for decades. Members would have heard discussions about the value of an Oxford or a Cambridge education. Perhaps those with an American base would know the value placed on Harvard or Princeton degrees. These are not simply a tertiary qualification but a recommendation about the quality of the education that the graduate received. The same situation applies to other levels of education. In this competitive marketplace, Australia cannot afford to be left behind. Australia also cannot afford to be complacent about the treatment of foreign students when they visit our country to study.
The attacks on foreign students in recent years certainly did not help Australia's reputation, and, although not all were perpetrated by Australians, we must not tolerate a campaign directed against foreign students. It would help if all Australians were informed that these students are an income-earning industry. We have heard the figures; they provide jobs for Australian workers as well.
There is a question about the timing of the implementation of the proposals under this bill. Several universities raised concerns that rushing the required business restructure in order to comply with this bill might have negative impacts. That is why they have asked for a delay in implementation, a request the coalition supports. The amendment proposed by the coalition addresses this point.
The other issue of concern is the potential impact of these changes on those people who might seek permanent residency following their education. Recent reports in the media have identified that the immigration department could be flooded with applications for asylum from students whose study and bridging visas are about to expire. Tens of thousands of foreign students may well seek to try to extend their stays. This carries the risk of undermining the integrity of the immigration program. There was a 37 per cent increase in bridging visas last year, reaching some 92,000 in total. The government will need to be prepared for the potential impacts on the system.
These difficulties of visa applications can be highlighted by West Coast International College of English, an English language intensive course for overseas students, or ELICOS, college. West Coast International College of English is based in Bunbury in my electorate and is accredited for 36 visa-holding students. Run by Jenny Byatt, it is one of the smaller ELICOS colleges in Australia and is also the only one in Western Australia outside of Perth. Jenny has advised me that students seeking to study in her college frequently have problems getting visas, especially those from Thailand and Vietnam. Whilst the government may consider these to be high-risk destinations, Jenny assures me that she gets to know students personally and is certain that genuine applications have been rejected. This is an example of the pressure that the system places on applicants, on service providers and on the immigration department itself.
The department announced a review in March this year conducted by Michael Knight, and the student visa program review discussion paper is available on the department website. This review investigated the migration risk of student visa applicants and the demands on the department. It identified:
The rapid rise in international student numbers presented great challenges to DIAC officers, educational providers and regulators. A number of systems were strained. Ideally things could have been better. But it is usually the case that systemic changes tend to lag behind unprecedented growth in most human activities.
The report highlighted that generalisations which might cause problems were an inherent part of the current system:
The current student visa system consists of eight visa subclasses based on education sector plus a student guardian visa. The system manages risk by measuring immigration compliance performance of student visa holders by nationality against individual education sectors.
Such a system assumes that the risk of every student of the same nationality is similar. Anecdotal evidence suggests that high risk caseloads can develop in geographically compact areas of a country while other parts of the same country might be a lower risk.
Such a system also assumes that every provider within an education sector has similar risk attributes. Once again anecdotal evidence suggests that some institutions invest much greater effort in determining the academic suitability of the students to which they issue Confirmations of Enrolment or Letters of Offer.
Whilst it is obvious there is no perfect system, it is equally obvious that more can be done to ensure fairness and equity of access to international students while we maintain strong border controls and minimise migration risk. The adequate resourcing of the assessment process is certainly the best way to ensure just and timely outcomes.
I speak in support of the education services for overseas students bills. When I was growing up it was thought that Australia's economy was very much built on wool and wheat and, I would note as a Queenslander, mining was coming to the fore. That was certainly the case up at Mount Isa and other places out west, and my home town of Ipswich was very much built on the coalmining industry. But scarcely did people realise the transition going on in the Australian economy. The Hawke and Keating governments internationalised the economy and built on reforms of the Whitlam government, and the Howard government continued that process of the internationalisation of our economy. One thing that most people did not realise was the impact and the value that the international education sector would have for the Australian economy in the long term.
The growing number of international students in this country enrich the culture of our communities and make an impact not just in cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane but also in regional areas. Many of them study in regional campuses across Queensland and elsewhere and they make an impact on community life. It enriches our lives, it brings culture, it increases international understanding and friendliness and it provides opportunities in the lives of many locals to meet people from different cultures. It is also important for our international relations.
I recall just a couple of years ago when I was on a parliamentary delegation to South Korea that a topic raised repeatedly during conversations with politicians and other stakeholders there, including businesspeople, was our changes with respect to the international education sector in Australia and what impact that would have on South Korean students. They were quite reassured that the changes we were making were for the best motive and were aimed at improving the visa integrity of the system, making sure that those people who were coming to Australia would get a quality education, that there were no rogue providers of education and that the training and qualifications were in vocations that would enhance our economy. There were far too many people coming to this country who were studying courses that were unnecessary, as we had an oversupply for those types of jobs, but they were also not being trained or qualified to international standards or even to the standards we would want in our country in trades and professions that would benefit our economy.
The Baird revue provided the way forward in March 2010 and the federal Labor government agreed to begin a process of consultation and improvement. A number of recommendations were made and we have been undertaking the process of implementing those recommendations.
This industry is extremely important to the Australian economy. It is worth billions of dollars. There are more than 460,000 international students studying in this country on a regular basis. There are something like 120,000 Chinese students and about 70,000 Indian students. Go to the campuses of USQ in Springfield and to the campuses of UQ in Ipswich and you will see what I mean. It does not surprise me that those figures have been quoted here today in this place and elsewhere. I have heard those types of figures quoted on numerous occasions.
When I have been to awards nights at the UQ Ipswich campus, when awards are handed out I am struck by how many international students are receiving awards. They come here and go to great universities, like the University of Queensland. I say that as a graduate of that university at St Lucia. It is an internationally recognised university with courses including things like business and health sciences—and in my electorate we see people in South-East Queensland graduating as doctors, nurses and midwives from the University of Queensland, Ipswich campus.
USQ also benefits from international students. I have spoken on numerous occasions to people like Tony Sadler and Alan Rix from the University of Queensland and Doug Fraser, the director of USQ at Springfield. Indeed, I also attend a community consultation at USQ—as the member for Moreton does at Griffith University—where development plans for the university are looked at and discussions of student welfare are examined. The topic of international students and how they are integrated into the campus and community life in Springfield and in Ipswich generally is also looked at.
I want to commend those universities in my electorate—and universities like Griffith University, as the member for Moreton said—because I can see that every effort is made by the university senate, the staff, the teachers and the tutors, and other people in those areas in Springfield and Ipswich to integrate those students and to make them feel as welcome as possible.
It has been a tragedy and a great shame that some sectors of our society have not necessarily seen international students as being worthy of respect and affection. That is a shame. If you travel throughout Asia you will see that Australia is held in high esteem, and it does not matter which side of politics is in power in this country. You can see that when you travel through Asia. They respect Australia for our way of life. They want to come here to this country because our universities offer high-quality, internationally recognised degrees, whether it is arts or business at USQ or health sciences or medicine at UQ. They come here because they want to study. They recognise that Australia, like Canada and the United States, is a destination, a place where they can get educated. In fact, the burgeoning middle classes in places like India and China recognise that university degrees from UQ, USQ, Griffith and QUT in Queensland are well-recognised internationally.
In April 2011, the first phase of the amendments to the ESOS Act were enacted. These include better complaints handling, strengthening registration requirements and include a risk management approach to the regulation of international education. We did that because Baird found—and we also recognised this—that there were problems in the sector. We had some real pirates, some rogues, within the sector who were not providing a quality education. There were problems in the way they dealt with international students and took advantage of them.
The centrepiece of our response—and it is part of this legislation—has been the strengthening of the tuition protection to ensure students are better looked after in a timely and effective way, should their provider close. Sadly, in a number of locations around the country, people set themselves up, advertised on the internet and internationally that they could provide high-quality degrees, diplomas and other qualifications, and yet were rogues, pirates, crooks and charlatans. That damaged our international reputation because people went back with phoney degrees and phoney diplomas. They also closed at times, and we saw that in the media. Our reputation could be sullied that way, just as it could be sullied if we were not providers of iron ore, coal and other minerals.
Having students looked after—the international education sector—is just as important to our economy in the long term as the minerals sector is to Asia. So having students from, say, South Korea well looked after, well trained, cared for and respected studying and paying for tuition in this country at, say, USQ is just as important as those barges along the coast of South Korea going to places like the Pohang steelworks. Iron ore, coal and other minerals are there to be used in manufacturing in South Korea. Being a good provider of international education is just as important.
The reforms in this legislation comprise, as I said, the introduction of the Tuition Protection Service, which will incorporate a TPS director and advisory board, and oversee a student tuition fund and an online information and access service for overseas students. It will limit student refunds to only the unspent portion of upfront fees paid. Other changes include limiting the amount of prepaid fees a provider can collect at one time to one period—that improves the integrity of the whole process from a financial point of view—requiring non-exempt providers to keep initial prepaid fees in a special account until a student commences their first study period. We want to make sure there is financial integrity in the scheme.
Before I close and before we reach 7 pm I want to congratulate the University of Queensland in my electorate for receiving $440,000 for research. They have received it from the federal government to fund an innovative research project at the Healthy Communities Research Centre based at the Ipswich campus. The research will focus on how changes in urban biodiversity affect our health, and it is just one of many projects undertaken by the University of Queensland's HCRC, better known for its headline project, 'The Ipswich Study'. That is an important step forward. The University of Queensland received over $38 million for 120 different projects in that funding. I want to congratulate the University of Queensland and the University of Southern Queensland for the work they do in my electorate, and for the way they treat international students. I commend this legislation to the House.
I rise in the adjournment this evening to speak about two very important issues dealing with education in rural and remote parts of Australia. Educating children can be tough at the best of times, especially when both parents work. But the situation is exacerbated in rural and remote Queensland where children either have to travel hundreds of kilometres to attend school, or study through distance education if they are living at home in very remote locations. Parents who teach their children through distance education face a hard battle with many other responsibilities and commitments, such as helping on pastoral properties and, of course, keeping house.
For decades children and their families living in remote areas have been supported by a number of organisations including the Isolated Children's Parents' Association of Australia, the ICPA, who have been great advocates. Their prime cause is to advocate for assistance for students who are geographically isolated from access to education, such as access to school and, more recently, access to post secondary education. They are one of the great organisations when it comes to advocating for students in communities, particularly in remote Australia. The other organisation is the Priority Country Area Program or, as we know it in Queensland, PCAP. It is a federally funded program and is often called CAP in Canberra, the Country Area Program. It has funding from the federal government administered through state governments. More recently, there is the Volunteers for Isolated Students' Education organisation, VISE.
Sadly, the future of VISE and PCAP now hangs under a cloud. VISE recruits tutors, who are retired teachers, and others with relevant experience, who would like to spend time helping isolated students with their education. Sometimes a family needs the help of a nonteacher called an 'angel'. The angel responds to a definite need and will prepare meals, get the washing done, answer the phone or watch younger children so that the parents can concentrate on the schoolroom. VISE tutors and angels will often stay with a family for about six weeks.
The future of VISE is now in jeopardy after this government passed legislation which will see volunteer organisations subject to new occupational health and safety restrictions. This move will have serious impacts on regional, rural and remote Australia; yet the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government voted in support of the amendments, which was quite extraordinary. Under the new OH&S regulations VISE will be subject to industrial law and it will not be able to meet the due diligence provisions. It is simply not possible for VISE to guarantee that a pastoral property will meet OH&S criteria before sending a tutor or an angel there. Spouses who accompany tutors on the placements will often help while at the property but, as they are not covered by VISE insurance, they will no longer be able to work under the new legislation. The legislation is badly drafted and could spell the end of this vital service.
I also have grave fears for the future of PCAP, which is a community based rural education program jointly administered by Education Queensland and the Catholic Education Commission. For over 30 years PCAP has been enriching the education experience of rural and remote students by supporting various extracurricular activities such as music, arts and sports programs. As of January 2012, not far away, PCAP will be replaced with a new program, the Rural and Remote Education Access Program, the RREAP.
There are many schools in the Maranoa electorate that have benefited over many years—in fact, decades—from PCAP and, as such, there is a lot of concern about the proposed changes. A mother from Wyandra recently contacted my office to tell me that the students at the local primary school would no longer be part of an instrumental music program. She said the instrumental music teacher at Wyandra State School had accepted a position teaching music at another school in the district due to her uncertain future as a result of the changes to PCAP. I have also been informed that there is a disturbing trend under RREAP that bigger schools will be better off—one such example I know of is a school that will receive $10,000 more—while the smaller schools such as the Isisford State School, which is in a very small community, will lose as much as $3,730 in annual funding.
It is the same old story: brand Labor will never be able to address the inequities in the education of rural and remote Australia. They do not care and they do not understand. I call on the government to address these two issues. (Time expired)
Today I rise to speak about the wide range of health reforms the Gillard government has delivered in Parramatta. Since Labor gained government in 2007 it has been committed to the continued improvement in the delivery of health services. This has included a $36.2 million investment through national health reforms over the next four years for Western Sydney, with Westmead Hospital in my electorate receiving a lion's share. Part of this money will be spent on: 15 new beds at the Children's Hospital at Westmead; 45 more beds for Westmead Hospital, plus new emergency department resuscitation bays and new anaesthetic machines, monitors and operating theatre tables; $1.3 million to expand the number of emergency department resuscitation bays; and a whole array of specialist electronic equipment including three new ECMO machines and $1.3 million for the angiography suite.
We have provided new licences for two local MRI machines, allowing use of the machines to be claimed under Medicare. We have delivered a multitude of specialist training places, including places for 44 new GPs and specialists in training across Western Sydney, with half of these places in Parramatta. We have also delivered in the area of aged health care, with new beds for the Westmead community based Transition Care Program. Also, $330,000 has gone to Mission Australia for an Indigenous intervention and prevention of smoking program, which included funding for an Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander outreach worker. We have introduced Medicare Locals to drive improvements in primary health care and we are improving access to medical training. Only a few weeks ago I attended the opening of the $20.6 million University of Western Sydney Blacktown-Mount Druitt Clinical School, a facility that opens up great opportunities for aspiring doctors in the area. They now have a world-class training facility close to home. Greater Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing areas of the country and investments like this and other local health initiatives are key if we are to meet the future service and training needs of the area. The new facility has capacity for around 150 medical students.
We also recognise the need to tackle mental health in a much more direct way. To this end, this year the government announced the biggest investment in mental health ever, with a $2.2 billion investment in mental health. I am proud to say that part of the funding will be used for a new headspace mental health service for young people that is due to open later this year. This program will help to tackle issues surrounding youth mental health. In any year, one in four young Australians aged 16 to 24 years—that is about 670,000 people—will experience mental health disorders, including substance use disorders. However, three-quarters of these people are not receiving the professional help they need, because of a lack of access to youth specific mental health services. This new service will provide local young people aged between 12 and 25 support for depression, substance abuse and other mental health issues. It will give young people and their parents and carers somewhere to turn for help.
I am also pleased that the Greater Western Sydney eHealth Consortium was selected as one of nine new e-health lead implementation sites for the Gillard government's $467 million national personally controlled electronic health records project. E-health is a critical element of the Gillard government's efforts to modernise our health system through national health reform. E-health records will help provide faster diagnosis, cut down on medication errors and give patients peace of mind as doctors will be able to see the patient's medical history. Residents in Western Sydney will benefit greatly from being amongst the first in the country to have an e-health record.
There is much more to do. Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. The needs are great after so many years of neglect, but there has been substantial work done that has made a very real difference to the people of my electorate.
Tonight I wish to address two topics: the importance of the Parliamentary Day for Daniel tomorrow and the predatory pricing discounts being given by the Sunshine Coast Daily. I raise today the example of the majority foreign-owned multinational media company APN, which operates the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper, engaging in what can only be described as predatory conduct to try to eliminate a local business within my area. I find this behaviour unconscionable.
APN owns the largest outdoor advertising business in Australia and New Zealand and has strong growing operations in Hong Kong and Indonesia. Across the Tasman it has numerous radio networks and here radio stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. APN publishes 22 daily and more than 100 non-daily newspapers across Australia and New Zealand.
I have been informed that the Sunshine Coast Daily, its management and employees are now proudly gloating within the business community of an intention to kill off a locally owned publication that stands up to it in the market with a sustained discount strategy that has reductions of up to 70 per cent. My Property Preview has saved the Sunshine Coast region more than $30 million in advertising costs over the past three years since its launch. This has permitted advertisers to meet other more important priorities, such as education, medical expenses and grocery bills.
Being independent is what Australia is all about. Everyone today should be extremely mindful that Australians have had a gutful of seeing multinational companies simply treat communities with contempt in the name of profits. My Property Preview is an independent business that effectively provides employment for up to 120 people. There is no doubt that APN would like to enjoy a monopoly, which would allow it to resume pre-2008 advertising rates and once again have locals paying exorbitant prices for trying to sell their homes.
I am advised that My Property Preview publishers have now met with the ACCC, which has commenced communication with APN. I call upon the ACCC to investigate this matter thoroughly to ensure Australian independent publishers are not forced out of the market by predatory pricing. It is common knowledge that the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper is in serious decline and its thirst for profits from a declining readership has never been greater. In my opinion, this anticompetitive behaviour is not for the benefit of Sunshine Coast residents. The recent share price collapse suffered by APN could be the market reacting to what seems to be desperate and irrational conduct. I call on all shareholders and ethical investors in the company to question its management about what it is putting at risk.
I have met with the publishers of My Property Preview and understand they will fight to protect the Sunshine Coast from this desperate measure by a desperate company grasping at straws. I suggest that all honourable members engage with independent publishers across the country to make sure that what is happening on the coast is not happening elsewhere and to ascertain how widespread this unacceptable behaviour might be.
Tomorrow is the Parliamentary Day for Daniel, which gives all of us the opportunity to wear a red tie or a red item of clothing to stand up for the principle of child safety. Day for Daniel recognises the work of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, led by Denise and Bruce Morcombe, which so actively promotes child safety matters.
The Morcombe family suffered a terrible tragedy. In 2003, 13-year-old Daniel set out on a shopping trip to buy Christmas presents for his family but he never made it to the shops and he never made it home. In August a 41-year-old man was arrested and charged in relation to Daniel's disappearance. The charges include murder, deprivation of liberty, child stealing, indecent treatment of a child under 16, and interfering with a corpse. The court process is ongoing.
The Day for Daniel was last Friday, 28 October. Included in the wide range of events was the major walk for Daniel. Bruce and Denise Morcombe are very supportive that I am encouraging all members to tomorrow wear a red tie, a red scarf, a black scarf or a red item of clothing to indicate our solidarity with the principle of child safety in this nation in 2011. Last year the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Manager of Opposition Business and many others participated in the Parliamentary Day for Daniel. I was enormously proud when I entered the chamber on last year's Parliamentary Day for Daniel and saw a sea of red. It is wonderful we have this issue that can join us together to help us support the work of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation.
The Morcombe family have put their own grief aside. They are determined to make sure that other children in Australia are safe and that child safety becomes a matter of the highest importance in a civilised society, and let us hope Australia is civilised. I encourage all of my colleagues to wear red tomorrow.
This evening I wish to make mention of the efforts of the Hume Community Housing Association, which essentially covers the Liverpool and Fairfield municipalities, although it has some coverage in Holroyd and other areas. In the next year or so it hopes to gain management of a quite significant 500 properties. This housing organisation currently manages 1,400 properties. Its revenue last year was $16.65 million and there was a profit of $1.7 million. It has property holdings valued at nearly $3 million and is at the moment setting about building its own new headquarters and will have some satellite premises.
In managing these 1,400 properties, there is a staff of 35. In reading the 2011 annual report, I was very impressed by the reports of not only the manager, Nicola Lemon, but also Tony Conides, the president, and long-term patron Pat Martin. Nicola reported in the recently released annual report that she looked forward 'with relish' to the 'mayhem and growth' of the next few years.
This organisation is genuinely close to its tenants. I notice that the recent survey of tenants shows an 89 per cent satisfaction with services; 75 per cent of tenants found it easy to get hold of the right person in the organisation; and 85 per cent rated the staff as helpful. During the annual meeting it was impressive to hear the reasons that people work with this organisation and both their own and the tenants' cultural backgrounds. There are 52 nations and 60 languages represented amongst the tenants and 49 per cent of the staff were born overseas. People who know Sydney would appreciate that having Liverpool and Fairfield as the organisation's essential area of coverage would lead to those kinds of figures.
I note that in the past year the organisation has striven to maximise its efforts in the temporary accommodation program. It is eager to improve that service and provide the right assistance to its customers. It has been allocated six three-bedroom units in Liverpool for a pilot project for temporary accommodation intended for homeless families. The organisation—and you would think perhaps this is not normally the ambit operation of these groups—has worked very strongly in the area of homelessness. It is dealing directly with local residents who are hit by this. It has established food packages and moved towards systems that provide overnight accommodation. So it is going well beyond the normal activities of housing cooperatives in the state.
The organisation was established back in 1981 and in 1994 there was an amalgamation of the groups in the two municipalities. It has certainly come a long way in that period. It stresses equity, trust, honesty, dignity and respect for its tenants. At the same time, it has maximised the rental income by a policy of following up arrears very strongly, internal reviews and strong improvement plans.
There is a social club amongst the tenants and, at the main event at the end of last year, there were 200 people in attendance—other major events being the Royal Easter Show and the annual trip to Jamberoo, on the South Coast. Another point that the organisation stresses and has had successful outcomes in is the environmental status of its properties, inspiring tenants to take an interest. That is part of the culture of the organisation—as I say, there is a very close connection between the highly committed employees and the tenants.
Nelson Cabrera was mentioned in the annual report again this year. He has conducted Tenants' Voice for quite a few years. There is a strong emphasis on block meetings, less formal advice centres and a presence by tenants on the committee that runs the organisation. An instance of the way they try to inspire people is through very active block projects.
It is great to see the alternative to government housing of properties managed by a very committed, democratically controlled, responsive organisation in the housing sector. I have been involved over two decades with a leading New South Wales organisation, Kapitbahayan, a Filipino based housing cooperative that is also involved in the Leumeah area of the Werriwa electorate. Hume is just another organisation which certainly merits support on the public record for its endeavours. (Time expired)
As we all recover from the bruising Qantas dispute and as the minister reassures us that the government's 'swift and decisive action' has put the planes 'back in the air', I wish to draw his attention to the very real risk that in the future we may not have enough pilots to fly them. Imagine that the dispute is over but your service is cancelled because your pilot is out of hours. As Qantas competes for increasingly scarce revenue per available seat mile, part of the connection we feel with our national airline is that we actually have a high level of confidence in Australian aviation safety. Not only do we approve of Australian pilots but it would be a national shame if they joined the occupations in demand list.
According to the Boeing flight services 2011 current market outlook, over the next 20 years, to fly the more than 30,000 new commercial airplanes that will be added to our skies, the industry will need 460,000 pilots, which is nearly double the number flying today. We will need to add 23,000 new pilots every year for the next 20 years. The training industry will have to produce 1,200 new flying instructors next year and almost 2,000 new instructors by 2015. Who on earth will train all these people? We urgently need a plan, not just for pilots but also for instructors, and it is highly likely that we will have to look at new and different ways of teaching and learning.
As with every other industry, there is no substitute for quality training. We have to attract the right people to this career and we have to make it worth their while. Aero clubs and flight training schools around the country are closing. Canberra Airport, where I learned to fly, used to have four flying schools; now it has none. There is limited professional recognition for pilots—until you get to crew an airline. While some people can study a Bachelor of Aviation at some of our higher education facilities, for the most part there is very little academic recognition for a flying qualification. It is a tough call for a school leaver to fund themselves a professional flying qualification costing maybe $100,000, knowing that at the end of this their starting wage would be maybe $30,000 a year. Ultimately we may need to consider ways to assist young students undertake training at flying schools, to ensure we have a future stream of home-grown pilots. It is not just about recognition and money; it is also about new ways of learning, because the generation of potential young pilots may as well live on another planet. Roei Ganzarski from Boeing described the landscape perfectly. Describing Generation Y, he said:
They are born into a technologically advanced world; they are surrounded by automation; they are avid communicators; they live in social networks, and they are consummate game players. They have short attention span and little patience. They want information when they want it—
where they want it and how they want it.
What this tells me is that there are exciting opportunities in flying training for smart, IT-savvy and innovative thinkers in this country. Coupled with some clever government initiatives, we could become a world leader. We have a natural advantage in flying training. We have a good climate, not dominated by ice or snow, we have space to fly without being overwhelmed by controlled airspace or procedures, and we have a stable and welcoming market for international students. We should be training not just the next generation of Australian pilots but also pilots for the world, but we are not.
General aviation is not only stagnant but sick. In 1999 there were just over two million hours flown in the general aviation and regional airline sectors and in 2009 there were also just over two million hours flown—no change in 10 years in an industry that should be booming. The Department of Infrastructure and Transport website, as it relates to general aviation, contains a prominent link to a government report commissioned four years ago. Under 'aviation statistics' I was directed to a paper on heavy road vehicle crashes. Buried deep in the aviation white paper is a tiny section on general aviation, within which there is a smaller section titled 'Exporting flight training and other aviation related services', and in there are barely two paragraphs that touch on training, with no forward-looking strategy in sight. This government is not taking general aviation seriously, and if it is not taking general aviation seriously it is not taking flying training seriously.
While I recognise the place of airline cadet programs, they are not enough. The general aviation sector, which includes flying for search and rescue, the Flying Doctor Service, outback charter and agricultural flying, builds tough, resilient pilots who in the course of their careers are asked to make split-second decisions, unsupported by co-pilots or fancy technology. When they graduate to fly for the airlines, the travelling public can really have every confidence in their ability.
On 13 September I was proud to co-host, together with my WA parliamentary colleagues Dr Mal Washer, the Liberal member for Moore, and Greens senator, Senator Rachel Siewert, the launch of Stocking up: securing our marine economy, a report on the economic value of Australia's oceans the Centre for Policy Development. This is the fourth forum we have co-hosted at Parliament House in order to show non-partisan support for leading research into Australia's marine resources. This report is an important and timely intervention from the independent Centre for Policy Development, especially given that in the next year a final series of decisions will be made by the federal government on the system of marine protected areas to safeguard our full range of marine values.
Our oceans provide a wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits. They support thousands of regional jobs in commercial fishing and marine tourism. They provide sport and recreation for millions of Australians, and of course they have deep and abiding cultural and religious significance for Indigenous Australians. Above all, they support a rich and varied range of marine life.
During the last parliamentary sitting, a delegation from WA came to the parliament to advocate on economic, jobs, sporting, cultural and environmental grounds for the establishment of marine sanctuaries. They included representatives from the $881 million south-west tourism industry, comprising 4,000 businesses; the $300 million dive industry, representing 400,000 certified divers; the Save our Fish Stocks recreational fishing organisation, representing 4,000 South Coast anglers; and the conservation sector, led by Save Our Marine Life, the largest active conservation alliance in Australia. These people travelled across the country, from the south-west of Western Australia, to bring a message about the importance to them and to the thousands of people and businesses they represent that they want protection for our marine ecosystems in the south-west and that their livelihoods and lifestyle absolutely depend upon having healthy oceans.
We need to recognise that until now we have had insufficient analysis of the economic value that our oceans represent. In a first for Australia, the Stocking up report presents an economic assessment of the full value that our oceans provide. This report finds a shortfall in our official accounts of around $25 billion. This is the economic value provided by healthy ocean ecosystems, in forms such as carbon storage, fish nursery services and recreational opportunities—values that are currently not accounted for in our economic calculations. For example, the recreation fishing industry is estimated to be worth around $2.3 billion per year in food and retail revenue, while the value of Australia's oceans is estimated to be worth more than $15 billion in carbon emission reduction or offset capacity.
The value of Australia's oceans in the context of climate change cannot be undervalued. Marine life, seagrass and naturally occurring algae are among the most efficient carbon capture methods anywhere in the world, yet in the past few decades overfishing and the destruction of seagrass stocks have resulted not only in an imbalance in the ecological state of Australia's oceans but also in the decreased capacity of our oceans to be a natural counterbalance to carbon emissions in our fight against climate change. Cockburn Sound in my electorate of Fremantle is currently subject to efforts by the University of Western Australia to rehabilitate more than 3,000 hectares of lost sea grass. This decline, noticed more than a decade ago, is the result of harmful industrial and agricultural runoff seeping into the Sound, which adds excess nutrients into the water and results in eutrophication.
Cockburn Sound is not an isolated case. More than 29 per cent of the world's seagrass has been lost since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and, with rehabilitation measured in decades, we cannot afford for this trend to continue. Too often we think of the short-term economic benefits from our marine resources without considering the long-term costs. The Montara oil spill is just one example of this. Another is that since 1990 we have seen a six per cent decline in our oceans' productivity, and this will have a flow-on effect upon the economic value and production capacity of oceans, both in Australia and internationally. Sometimes we think of the short-term costs and forget about the long-term benefits.
Establishing a system of marine protected areas around the coasts of Australia will provide long-term benefits. The Australian government is taking action on this front, with proposed marine sanctuaries across Australia's south-west, with more under consideration as the marine bioregional planning process steadily approaches its conclusion. This process has strongly engaged with stakeholders from environmental, community, fishing and other groups, and there is a foundation acceptance in Western Australia that marine park sanctuaries will, in the long term, result in a stronger, healthier and more sustainable oceanic ecosystems. As we have seen from the CPD report, it will also bring considerable unforetold economic benefits.
I rise to condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack by the Egyptian military forces on unarmed Coptic Christians. We have known that Coptic Christians, essentially Orthodox Christians, within Egypt have been facing persecution throughout history. Human Rights Watch has noted growing religious intolerance and sectarian violence against Coptic Christians in recent years. In May 2010 the Wall Street Journal wrote of waves of mob assaults by Muslims against Coptic Christians, forcing Coptic Christians to flee their homes. We heard the most disturbing news on 9 October. When Coptic Christians in Cairo were protesting the burning of a church at Marinab and were heading towards Maspero, they were met by armoured personnel carriers and hundreds of riot police and special forces. It is alleged that armoured vehicles charged at protesters, and there are reports of at least six protesters being crushed under armoured personnel carriers. It has also emerged—and witnesses have confirmed—that military personnel were seen firing live ammunition into the protesters. That type of behaviour by the state, using its most potent force, its military, against unarmed civilians is completely and utterly unacceptable.
I note that Craig Kelly is in the chamber today. I thank him for his motion on 13 October, which the entire House supported—to its enduring credit. It recognised that Coptic Christians in Egypt are suffering ongoing and increasing persecution. The motion condemned the recent attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt; expressed sympathy for Coptic Christians who have been victims of recent attacks in Europe; and made a range of calls on the government to issue public statements to seek representation within the United Nations and to strongly urge the Egyptian government to provide equal rights and protection for all Egyptian citizens, regardless of race or religion.
The member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, in this motion I think spoke for all parliamentarians and all Australians in saying that this type of violence is unacceptable. I stand shoulder to shoulder with my own Coptic Christian community on the Gold Coast in saying that we will not stand by and say nothing while this persecution continues. As Australians we find it unacceptable, and I have indicated that in the strongest possible terms to Egypt's Ambassador to Australia.
I also condemn in the strongest possible terms the persecution of those of the Baha'i faith in Iran. Iran, incidentally, is where the Baha'i faith originated, and it is the location of one of the largest Baha'i populations in the world. It is argued by those in Iran that Baha'i teaching is inconsistent with traditional Islamic beliefs taught in Iran. Baha'i as a community, as well as the United Nations, Amnesty, the European Union, the United States and publishers of a range of literature, have stated categorically that members of the Baha'i community in Iran have been, and are currently, subjected to unwarranted arrests, false imprisonment, beatings, torture, unjustified executions, and confiscation and destruction of property owned by individuals as well as by the community. They have been denied employment, they have been denied benefits, they have been denied civil rights and liberties and they have even been denied access to higher education.
A number of those in the Baha'i community, especially those involved in the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education, have been charged and found guilty in Iranian courts—of that dreadful charge of daring to teach openly and in religious circles about their views on life. Again, I think all members of the parliament will join with me in saying it is unacceptable for a nation to persecute its people based simply on their faith.
I note with interest that the Iranian Constitution, drafted in 1906, does not specifically guarantee freedom of religion—and, of course, gives unprecedented power to the clerical establishment. I also note that on 20 October Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, made the point that Iran's persecution of Baha'i is among the most extreme manifestations of religious intolerance and persecution in the world today. I condemn it, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Baha'i community on the Gold Coast. I have a keen belief that the Baha'i community should enjoy absolute and utter tolerance and respect for their religious views wherever they are in the world.
I would like to discuss the importance of primary health care in my electorate of Lyons. Firstly, I congratulate the government and the minister on understanding that the key to a healthy community lies in the community being able to access primary health care when they are seeking advice on preventive health and activities to keep them healthy throughout their normal lives. With this in mind, there are a number of really good projects that have been funded in Lyons. These are now in operation, or they are at various stages of completion and will come online soon.
In Sheffield we have worked hard through different tiers of government to achieve a very good new health centre, the second stage of which is coming together now. It includes a gym for seniors, which is geared towards people who have had little exercise and need to have a bit more exercise. They can do sitting exercises in which they can move their legs. It is important to have health centres that are dealing with preventive health and people who are learning to manage their own health conditions in the best possible way. In Deloraine we have had some funding, which will certainly improve the delivery of primary health care there. New Norfolk has done very well and we are doing something at Longford as well. I am also hopeful that, with interesting developments in both Brighton and Sorell, we will be starting something there soon as well. One of the problems with health systems in the past was that everyone expected to have a hospital on their doorstep. But with the changes in technology, machinery and skills getting so much more expensive—and our standards being much higher—we need to think differently. That comfort blanket that everyone thought having a hospital nearby gave them has changed. Now you need to get primary health care and, if you are really sick, be in the best possible hospital. That is no longer a small hospital in a country town, such as we had 50 or 60 years ago in Tasmania. Primary healthcare initiatives are allowing us to change the culture of health care. It will take some time to do that. The old hospital idea is very hard to shake, especially with the older community, but we have to convince people that the first port of call is the local medical centre and its services, which then refers clients to the best place to deal with their particular problems.
We still need our hospitals, but they need to concentrate on emergencies and on the high-level care required for really serious illnesses, accidents or emergencies, conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, and to do major operations. Those hospitals have the best expertise, machinery and brains to deal with people who are really sick. But you do not really need a hospital for a cut finger or removing a wart or taking out a splinter that has become poisonous. You can do those things in a different setting; you can do those things in a health centre in your own community. That is where we need to aim to get our local delivery. We can have medical centres, some after-hours delivery, Medicare Local—we are going in that direction. The National Broadband Network will help improve tele-health. New technologies will enable people to get faster assistance locally. I thank the government for the courage to change how we deliver health care into the future. It is certainly working in my electorate.
I rise this evening to bring to the attention of the House some changes in the live animal exports saga. We have become very knowledgeable about the plight of pastoralists in Northern Australia whose only source of income is the breeding of Bos indicus cattle for export and the live market, primarily to Indonesia. We saw that dreadful time when, because of the airing of a video on the slaughtering process in Indonesia and then a knee-jerk reaction from the Gillard government, the industry was shut down. We saw the pain and suffering that the industry was subjected to.
We have now seen a set of regulations put in place that is quite reasonable and acceptable to all players in the industry, and we are now at about 40 per cent of the normal export rate into Indonesia. We are hopeful, however, that the number will increase within the constraints of this new regime where all animals will be electronically tagged and at every point in the chain accounted for, head by head. We will further require that these animals are slaughtered in an abattoir that has internationally accepted standards.
But the latest change in all of this is the greatest concern to me. The Farm Weekly of 20 October had a headline, 'RSPCA keen to work with livestock industry.' It is rather odd that an institution that believes the breeding of livestock for slaughter for food consumption is cruel should want to work with the livestock industry to develop standards and process that will be advantageous for animals. In short, I believe that this is a smokescreen designed exclusively to maintain the income of membership dues to keep the organisation and its employees in the manner to which they have become accustomed. They have become accustomed to the very high contributions that pastoralists and agriculturalists and others have made over the years in the interest of domestic pet welfare and to track down and bring to justice those who would deliberately inflict cruelty to animals.
When this organisation enters into the industrial arena of the breeding of livestock specifically for slaughter, they step outside their bivouac. They step onto very thin ice—it is delicate ground—because they cloud the issue. In the main they have a membership that is city based and is increasingly out of touch with the realities of agriculture and pastoralism and where their meat protein comes from. Assuredly their meat protein comes from farms and pastoral stations where animals are bred specifically for slaughter for city folk who are accustomed to going to a fine restaurant and paying a high price for a tender beefsteak and who would be shattered if they could not do so. But they never, ever want to be reminded that that beefsteak was once a living thing and had to be slaughtered to enable them to consume it. It concerns me a great deal that the PGA would now consider getting into bed, so to speak, with the RSPCA. My criticism of the RSPCA is that they are more interested now in their continuation in office and they are still concerned about maintaining those contributions. (Time expired)
I rise to update the House on the government's historic mental health reforms and the recent announcement that Newcastle will be the site for a new headspace centre to support young people in my electorate. According to the Hunter Mental Health Institute, approximately 6,000 young Novocastrians aged between 12 and 25 will experience depression at a disorder level, with another 2½ thousand young people experiencing serious anxiety problems.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that 20,100 young people between 14 and 25 years call Newcastle home. That is 15.6 per cent of our population, two per cent higher than the national average. Young people are the most at-risk group, and in Newcastle we are fortunate to have lots of young people. The data shows that one in four young Australians has a mental health disorder and suicide continues to be the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 years of age. Sadly, gay, lesbian, trans and intersex people, as well as Aboriginal youth, figure higher in these statistics of human tragedy. This is definitely unacceptable.
Health service deliverers and not-for-profit groups in my region continue to assist in the wellbeing of our communities. I would like to congratulate Wesley LifeForce and Lifeline Newcastle and Hunter for holding the 2011 Suicide Memorial Day by Newcastle Harbour last Friday. It was a beautiful ceremony to remember those lives lost to suicide.
Last Monday I met with students at the University of Newcastle to discuss their experiences with existing youth mental health services and to find out what they would like to see in the future. They told me how important it is to have designated 'youth specific' services—and that is of course what a headspace is. As 75 per cent of all mental illnesses begin before the age of 25, the need for early intervention services aimed at young people is crucial. I congratulate ORYGEN Youth Health's clinical director and 2010's Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, for his advocacy for many years for these dedicated youth services. Pat is a former Novocastrian and a frequent and very welcome visitor to Newcastle.
While he has always understood the clinical need for dedicated youth services, anyone who once was young knows how much young people need to be with other young people when accessing personal services. They understand the value-adding that can be achieved by involvement of peer groups and by enhancing that sense of having somewhere to fit in and somewhere to belong. The current problem young Australians face is that only 30 per cent of those who require help for mental health care end up actually obtaining access to it. So, as well as increasing the number of headspaces around Australia, the federal Labor government understands that in the 21st century we need to use the most modern methods of communication to access and stay in touch with young people who are increasingly, if not exclusively, relying on social media these days.
So last Monday Minister Butler also launched eheadspace: one-on-one professional chat services and dedicated phone lines accessible at times appropriate to the lifestyles of young people—and, if you have any in your family, you know that means during the night when we are all asleep. This has come about through extensive consultation with young people, and I congratulate Minister Butler on his efforts and on these wonderful initiatives.
This government is delivering a significant mental health agenda directed at early intervention and addressing the shortfall in services for young people, just as we promised to do. We have also set up the National Mental Health Commission to monitor our nation's mental health and the progress of our reforms. It is not good enough to spend money and not see any outcomes; and the Mental Health Commission will account to us and for us for the actual outcomes and achievements. Our agenda, though, is to assist the happiness, wellbeing and the health of our future generations—and the Headspace Newcastle, eheadspace and a dedicated phone line for young people is a great start and a great way to do that.
I rise to address the issue of care, protection and maintenance of Westernport and the associated lands nearby on the Mornington Peninsula. Let me begin with a little bit of history. Westernport during the 1970s was a bay which had terrible environmental challenges; it also had some great environmental glories. In the early 1970s there was the Shapiro report, an extensive three-year environmental study of the ecology of Westernport. It was used then, and has been used ever since, over 35 years, as a key reference for any development in the Westernport region. It has protected the bay and has been a fundamental touchstone and a practical guide.
My view is that the time is right now to update the Shapiro report to help ready Westernport, and all of those who are custodians of Westernport, for the challenges ahead. This is particularly so with the proposal for an expanded and modified Port of Hastings. If the Port of Hastings is planned—whether a decade from now or 15 years from now—to become either Victoria's major port or effectively a co-port, then this is the moment when we need to understand all the environmental risks and challenges.
Let me give some examples. We have had a loss of critical habitat within the seabed of the bay. We have had the flow of chemicals and, in particular, of riverbed soil and sand which has silted up much of the seagrass and mangrove areas. We have lost seagrass and mangrove and therefore we have lost breeding habitat, and that has affected the quality of fish and other marine stock in Westernport. If we can identify the risks and the solutions, then we can really set Westernport up for the next 50 years. There will be expansion of the port over time. My view has always been no to Crib Point and yes to Long Island Point between Bluescope and Esso. That is industrial land. Whether or not you would reclaim it now, it was done over 40 years ago. It is inevitable and desirable that modest port development occurs between these two industrial sites. But not in Crib Point. That is now a community, a town, a residential zone. It should not be reindustrialised. Given that it is inevitable that we will have further industrial development, particularly port related, in Westernport we need this long-term plan—a three-decade or even half-century plan. A new Shapiro report conducted by a genuinely independent academic with support of the highest quality would be a gift from this generation to the next and something that would be utterly sensible and responsible to do.
In the same way that there are custodians of Westernport, such as Jeff Weir from the Dolphin Research Institute and the many coastal protection and care groups, there are also those who do great work in protecting the Mornington Peninsula landscape. The Mornington Peninsula land care groups include: the Balcombe and Moorooduc Landcare Group, the Devilbend Landcare Group, the Dunns Creek Landcare Group, the Main Creek Catchment Landcare Group, the Merricks-Coolart Catchment group, the Manton and Stony Creek Landcare Group, the Pearcedale Landcare Group, the South West Peninsula Landcare Group and the Watsons Creek Catchment Landcare Group. They do a tremendous job. But it is time to develop a full Mornington Peninsula land care network, and that means giving them the support that they need.
In particular, I have approached the state environment minister to see if we can obtain a land care facilitator for the Mornington Peninsula. This would allow the development of a full land care network. It would assist in grants, project management, coordination and developing a long-term land care plan for the Mornington Peninsula. We have those who care for the sea and those who care for the land. They do a great job. In each case, there are opportunities for long-term planning that would allow us to give a gift to the next generation. (Time expired)
Observing the pokies industry's campaign against the government's poker machine reforms leaves me feeling like I have stumbled into the pages of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is a world where two plus two equals five and where people are asked to believe that black is white; a world where letting people blow their life savings and then their brains out is Australian, while trying to intervene and help problem gamblers is somehow un-Australian; and a world where nothing is wrong with using people by whipping them up with fear and herding them into staged events.
The fact is that the pokies industry lies every time it claims that all poker machine players will need a licence to punt. The truth is that only those people wanting to play hard on high-intensity machines will need to use a card and predetermine their loss limit, and it will be no more a licence than you need a bank card to take money out of an ATM, a video card to rent a DVD or a library card to borrow a book. It will be no more onerous than getting one of the loyalty cards carried by millions of poker machine players in Australia already.
Moreover, the pokies industry lies by omission every time it fails to mention the introduction of $1 maximum bet machines. The truth is that such machines will be outside of the mandatory precommitment system and accommodate the 88 per cent of players who currently gamble $1 or less per spin. The pokies industry lies every time it claims that the cost of implementing the reforms will send venues to the wall. The truth is that the industry has said that it is happy to put precommitment on every machine so long as it is for voluntary use, even though the cost of doing so will be virtually the same as fitting the system for mandatory use.
The pokies industry lies every time it claims that the cost of the reforms will cripple the industry. The truth is that the Commonwealth Treasury has determined that there will be little financial downside. The pokies industry lies every time it claims that the reforms will cause large job losses. But the fact is that research commissioned for the Tasmanian government found that poker machines are job killers, not job creators.
The pokies industry lies every time it says that mandatory precommitment will not work. The truth is that the reform is backed up by lengthy and detailed research by the Productivity Commission and by the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform. Moreover, mandatory precommitment in Norway has proven unambiguously that the system diminishes problem gambling. The pokies industry lies every time it says that voluntary pre-commitment is the solution. But the truth is that the industry has been unable to produce any evidence to back up their claim, instead stumbling badly by conceding that venues with voluntary systems experienced virtually no change in their cashflow when such systems were introduced. That this actually proves the uselessness of voluntary precommitment is obviously lost on the pokies industry.
The industry lies about this being a nanny-state reform. The truth is that it will be the individual's choice whether or not to play on one of the machines fitted with mandatory precommitment and what limit to set. The industry lies about the amount of money they return to the community. The truth is that most return bugger-all. Take a look at any club's accounts and you will commonly find community contributions running at one or two per cent of turnover. I could go on, but time is short and I think that I have made my point.
The fact is that the pokies industry is being lead and represented by people who are dishonest and uncaring. All they are really interested in is money and stopping any threat to the $5 billion they harvest each year from problem gamblers. To that end, they are thrashing around, prepared to say and do anything to serve their financial self-interests. There are no limits to their behaviour. They have misrepresented the Salvation Army. They have misrepresented the AFL. They are bullying local members of parliament. They are even threatening to sue me. Yes, it has come to that—the multibillion dollar pokies industry even thinks it is okay to try to shut down our democracy by threatening members of parliament. The truth is that the government's poker machine reforms will genuinely help to stop problem gamblers losing everything, including their jobs, their family and friends, their homes, their minds and even their lives. The industry needs to get on board or get out of the way.
In the brief time that is available to me I would like to congratulate the Boolarra South Landcare Group for the extraordinary work that they have been doing in the rehabilitation of the old mill site at Boolarra. The Boolarra community was badly affected by the bushfires in 2009 and it is a great effort by the landcare volunteers to work together on this. They have been constructing walking tracks by hand and also developing an arboretum and a rotunda area at the Boolarra old mill site. It will be a great asset for the Boolarra district community for many years to come. I would also like to thank the Boolarra South Landcare Group for their hospitality during my recent visit. The members gathered for a working bee and also put together a barbecue, which was most appreciated by all volunteers present.
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for consideration and report: Construction of projects two and three of the Christmas Island new housing program.
(1) the House invite the Honourable Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, to attend and address the House on Thursday, 17 November 2011, at a time to be fixed by the Speaker;
(2) unless otherwise ordered, at the sitting of the House on Thursday, 17 November 2011:
(a) the proceedings shall be welcoming remarks by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and an address by the President of the United States of America, after which the sitting of the House shall be adjourned automatically until Monday, 21 November 2011 at 10 a.m.; and
(b) the provisions of standing order 257(c) shall apply to the area of Members' seats as well as the galleries;
(3) a message be sent to the Senate inviting Senators to attend the House as guests for the welcoming remarks by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and address by the President of the United States of America; and
(4) any variation to this arrangement be made only by an action by the Speaker.
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) microbreweries are important niche businesses in Australia, providing valuable job opportunities and economic growth, particularly in rural and regional areas;
(b) microbreweries need recognition within the tax system through the Microbrewery Refund, given that they are competing in a domestic market heavily dominated by large multinational companies, following the sale of both Fosters and Lion Nathan to overseas interests;
(c) the Microbrewery Refund was introduced in 2000 and that the definition of a microbrewery has not been reviewed and is now markedly out of step with industry reality; and
(d) the maximum excise refund has remained capped at $10,000, while the beer excise has been raised twice a year for the past 11 years with the consumer price index; and
(2) calls on the Government to amend:
(a) the definition of a microbrewery under the Excise Regulations 1925, regulation 2AB, to significantly increase the current maximum volume of 30,000 litres; and
(b) Excise Regulations 1925, regulation 50(l)(zzd), to remove or significantly increase the maximum of $10,000 excise refund that can be claimed in a financial year.
That this House agrees that should the Marriage Act 1961 be amended to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples, any such amendment should ensure that the Act imposes no obligation on any church or religious minister to perform such a marriage.
Telecommunications in 2011 should be seen as one of the basic tenets of life. It should be seen as something that is available to all Australians. Indeed a mobile phone is the first point of call for most people, and in many places people have done away with their landlines and are operating completely on mobile phones. In my electorate I have several communities that have no mobile phone access at all, which is a great frustration.
I want to talk about the village of Goolma. Goolma is a small farming village located on a very busy road between Mudgee and Wellington, and with increased mining in the area that road is becoming busier. That entire area has no mobile telecommunications service. We are talking of going into a broadband network, but that area will miss out on broadband because in regional Australia broadband will be delivered by wireless technology. If they do not have a phone tower in the first place, they will not get that broadband technology. So this will have an impact not only on the people living there but also on people travelling through. It will also have an impact on safety. I met recently with representatives from the local council, emergency services, Telstra and the local mine to try to get a plan together to get phone coverage there. Telstra tells me that it will cost about half a million dollars to put in a tower, the road and the power to the tower.
In 2007, the Howard government had the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, in which funds were put aside specifically for cases such as Goolma. The first thing that the Rudd government did was raid that fund, and it no longer exists. As it is now, the residents of Goolma are expected to fund their own telecommunications tower. I ask members in this place who live in metropolitan areas whether their constituents would be expected to fund their own mobile phone tower. Would their residents be expected to go without any internet connection? Would their constituents who might have a car accident as they were driving around expect to be able to ring 000? The reality is that telecommunications is not a luxury; it is considered a basic necessity of life. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that the people in my electorate, particularly the people in villages such as Goolma, get what the rest of Australia takes for granted.
I rise to talk about something that we outlawed, for which we put sanctions in place, over 200 years ago—that is, slavery and human trafficking. Tragically, human trafficking and slavery remains the third largest illegal industry in the world today. On 20 November, many churches in my electorate will celebrate Abolitionist Sunday. It is a sad thing that 200 years after William Wilberforce moved his amazing legislation, against the critics in his country, we are still talking about slavery and human trafficking.
Over the last two weeks I have had the pleasure of visiting many groups in my electorate. On Sunday I went to the NewHope Baptist Church, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary. It had a huge stall asking people to get involved in the 'Don't Trade Lives' campaign. I also went and visited World Vision headquarters, which is now in my electorate after the redistribution, and met with a fantastic group of individuals who are part of the 'Don't Trade Lives' campaign. I met with four fantastic students from the Presbyterian Ladies College who are part of the VGen organisation. These girls were inspiring. They are in year 11, going on to year 12. Three of them are doing the IB, so they are taking on a fairly heavy load. Through their school, they are talking about what it means for children to be trafficked and how in this day and age women and children—predominantly—are still being traded as commodities. It is an outrage that in this day and age we are still allowing this to happen.
In the next sitting week, another group will be coming to parliament to talk about Stop the Traffik Australia and to launch a report into the unshackling laws against slavery. How ridiculous that in 2011 we are talking about introducing changes to outlaw slavery. But the statistics speak for themselves. Child labour is likely to interfere with the child's education and development—it exceeds a minimum number of hours and is hazardous. The worst forms of child labour include trafficking, armed conflict, slavery, debt bondage, sexual exploitation and hazardous work. It is estimated that 217.7 million children between the ages of five and seven are doing child labour. Of these, 126 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. Then there are the statistics about adults who are being traded into slavery. Between 500,000 and four million people are trafficked internationally each year. This is an outrage. Another group of amazing women, predominantly Catholic nuns, have also been up to see many of us in parliament to ask us to mention the Harkin-Engel anniversary. We should be stopping this ridiculous trade now.
Two weekends ago, we had our Gilmore Youth Leadership Forum, which is based on the original concept of a former colleague, Alan Cadman. Seven years ago, there was little in the way of leadership training for our young potential leaders. Since then, some 1,000 students have gone through our program. It would have be one of the most rewarding programs that we have done. The weekend saw some 100 students attending from local state and private schools. Many new and lasting friendships have been made, and many of last year's participants became mentors. The aim is to gain confidence through activities that take them out of their comfort zones and teach them how to work effectively as a team. This year was our final Gilmore Youth Leadership Forum, and it was a huge success. Seven years ago, there were no alternatives. But there are now alternatives within schools and service clubs for leadership courses. However, we are contemplating a new project based on the extensive artistic talent within our community.
This project did not just happen out of nothing, so I thank our past coordinators, with a special mention for Ann Sudmalis, who coordinated the last three of our forums. She has been a tower of strength in organising the projects, speakers and mentors, and she has shown great artistic flair in the painting of amenities block in community blitzes. I also give special thanks to the schools that have allowed the students to participate and to the teachers and mentors who gave up their own valuable weekends to take part. To our sponsors, who subsidised the cost of these forums: they would not have happened without you. I give special thanks to Glen Elliott, the manager of the parks and gardens of Shoalhaven City Council. He is simply the best. I thank Shoalhaven City Council and the Bomaderry Bowling Club for their constant support of the program. I thank Clive Brooks of Great Southern Motorcycles, a major sponsor who took on the task of assisting Ann and doing all the work behind the scenes. To the students: you are terrific and I know that you will go a long way in your chosen careers. To our special guest speakers: you are the ones who give our leaders the inspiration and qualities required for their future years.
This year saw our own John Bennett from Worrigee House speak on the idea that was born in his office and went on to become the top priority for CHOGM for the Royal Agricultural Show of New South Wales, of which John is a councillor and assistant ringmaster. I thank Paula Smith from Mercy Ships, which delivers health care to the world's poorest and most physically deformed, who are often considered demon-possessed. I also thank Wyatt Roy, our youngest politician. What an inspiration he was. His talk on leadership kept enthralled not only our students but also the school principals who were guests for the evening. Well done, Wyatt. Hopefully, we may get some more young leaders to think about politics. Last but not least, there was a man who changed my professional life some 17 years ago: the Corporate Ninja, Ron Lee. He certainly taught the students what they could do by the power of positive focus and believing in themselves. Ron teaches the seven pillars of effectiveness: certainty, presence, purpose, focus, vision, fun and inner strength. Ron donated his time, and I know he will always play a part in the minds of young students, especially those that smashed the boards. Thank you to all. From what started as a thought, it was a terrific journey.
I want to talk about a visit I made a week or so ago to a small town in my electorate south of Hobart: the town of Geeveston. Geeveston is a small community that has really been struggling with the transition of the forest industry that is occurring. They have had the loss of a lot of forest jobs down there. It was interesting to go down there and talk to the local community about a few projects that the federal government is funding.
One of the places I visited was the Geeveston Child and Family Centre. The government announced around 18 months to two years ago that we would be providing almost $3 million to build a child and family centre in the Geeveston community. I had the pleasure of meeting with the community enabling committee while I was down there to talk to them about how things were going for the child and family centre. It was wonderful to hear the positive news about some of the services that they have up and running already, even though they do not yet have a building for their child and family centre. They have had some issues with trying to get their buildings—a couple of forestry buildings which they are now revamping—but work is expected to be underway soon.
But they are already providing some of the services, and it was great to hear also from some of the recipients of some of these programs just what a difference they are making. They have some parenting programs happening already. They have some baby massage programs happening. They also have a dads' day out program that is already happening. It was really good to hear of the difference that these community programs have been making in a community that has really been struggling. We are expecting the refurbishment of the old forestry buildings for the child and family centre to be completed by 2012, and I look forward to going back down to that local community to see that work.
I also dropped in to the Geeveston Medical Centre. The government has just announced $165,000 for an extension to the Geeveston Medical Centre. I have been down there a few times before, and in fact in 2009 we provided the Geeveston Medical Centre with much-needed medical equipment for the local area. I have talked about it here in this place before.
It is great news that that medical centre is going so well, in what would be considered a regional remote community, that they are now expanding it for allied health services, and that we have been able to facilitate that with this additional funding. I talked to the local GP down there, who had moved there because of the refurbishments that we had made in the first place, to find that they are now getting more services into that town and that regional community.
What was really so positive about the day was to hear from the local community that despite some of the issues they have been dealing with in recent years and months, particularly in recent months, there is still some really good news happening down there in the local community. I was really proud to be part of a government that is investing in that local community, that has invested in it in the past and that will continue to invest in the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania.
I am speaking today to add my voice, together with many of my constituents' voices, to the Every Australian Counts campaign for the introduction of a National Disability Insurance Scheme—a federally funded scheme that will provide people with a disability and their carers and families with the regular care, support, therapy and equipment that they need. The challenge that faces all of us here will be taking this bipartisan dream—bipartisan, I am pleased to say—and turning it into a functioning and funded policy. The coalition, whose advocacy in this area has been very ably conducted by Senator Mitch Fifield, supports the proposal that supporting people with disabilities should be core government business.
The present system for disability welfare is as inefficient as it is limited; as frayed as it is broken. It is a system where funding is directed to service providers rather than towards the people who need that care themselves or, indeed, towards their carers. If the service providers are not able to meet the requirements of the person suffering from disabilities, that is too bad; if they are, then join the queue. These challenges are multiplied when moving across local boundaries, let alone to a different state. The concept of a national system, as the Productivity Commission has recommended, would see all Australians contributing to and, should they need it, having access to a well-funded, individualised scheme for their own care where individuals needing support would receive vouchers which they would then be able to spend on service providers who over time would start to provide competitively the services that individuals need.
This scheme will be ambitious and far reaching—indeed, as far reaching as compulsory superannuation, expecting to cover over 360,000 Australians. Most importantly and challengingly, it will seek to double funding from $6 billion to $12 billion towards disability services. After all, we have to recognise that the biggest problem with disability services in Australia has been the lack of funding. The opposition, as the House knows, it committed to working with the government to achieve this outcome, and it has been encouraging, too, to see this concept of a national disability insurance scheme endorsed at COAG. Many of my constituents have raised this matter with me directly, whether it is Principal Ian Gallan from the Wairoa School in Bondi or Dr Chris Blackwell, a local clinician. Many other parents with stories as tragic as they are profound have supported this important initiative.
Climate change is not the moral challenge of our time; access and participation rates in education is. We have a shameful entrenched policy failure in Australia where poorer students, Indigenous students and regional and rural students are now 30 per cent less likely to engage in higher learning compared to their richer, metropolitan, non-Indigenous peers. For all the egalitarianism in education for teachers, this same egalitarian standard does not apply when it comes to student outcomes. Better engagement of the poor, remote and Indigenous communities of Australia is not just our greatest moral challenge either; it is our greatest economic challenge as well. Skills and knowledge will drive our productivity for the next 30 years, and leaving behind in education makes no dollars or cents.
The answers are complex and multilayered, involving welcome changes that begin in 2012 through a demand driven and uncapped placement system in Australian universities as well as through the David Gonski recommendations into five-year funding for secondary education that are soon to be released. But it also involves program delivery and a commitment to using all options available, including much greater trust and engagement with the private sector. One such example is One Laptop per Child, an international charity whose target audience is exactly where Australia's greatest policy failing lies. It deserves more attention from the government.
Thankfully, it has the attention of the Australian Education Union and an unusual bedfellow in News Limited, as well as Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, advertising agency Droga5 and many other corporate leaders in Australia. It also fits with United Nations Millennium Development Goal 8, which all countries agreed to and which calls for private sector partnerships in new information and communication technologies. Most importantly of all, quite simply, One Laptop per Child Australia delivers results in learning from the 5,000 students already engaged, showing impressive improvements in closing the gap generally and lifting access and participation rates in particular.
Most impressive of all is the first year in Doomadgee State School in remote, largely Indigenous North-West Queensland. Doomadgee has just produced stunning NAPLAN results, boosting their percentage of year 3 pupils at or above national minimum standards in numeracy from 31 per cent last year to a staggering 95 per cent in 2011. Principal Richard Barrie and his teachers are using plenty of clever and different engagement strategies, but one important tool in the toolbox is the early and strong use of technology via the One Laptop per Child Australia program. I am willing to back this program and I ask the Prime Minister and the government to do likewise They will be putting a request to government that involves partnership with Aboriginal benefit accounts, demonstrating the desire within community to support real and practical self-empowerment and education programs as well as leveraging more dollars from the private sector. I strongly urge the government to consider this program when that application turns up.
I rise to speak today on the parks in Wattle Grove. Wattle Grove is a major growth area within my electorate and sits within the jurisdiction of the Shire of Kalamunda. As with any area, the residents want better access to parks, sporting grounds and play equipment for their children. This is important as without these facilities parents are forced to drive outside of their suburb for these amenities, and this can have a long-term damaging effect on the cohesion of a community. This is a topic that is regularly raised with me via phone calls, letters, emails and even doorknocking in Wattle Grove. When I am doorknocking, I encounter a number of people who are lonely. Parks and public open spaces often act as a community hub and provide an area for people to congregate and share experiences, which ultimately helps to combat loneliness. Having more parks and open spaces that appeal to people encourages people to take ownership and pride in their local community. This is often associated with lower rates of crime.
Five thousand additional people are predicted to move into the Wattle Grove area in the next five years. This demonstrates that the area is in urgent need of an upgrade of its open spaces. Areas in particular need include the Promenade and the Kalari Drive open spaces. The Shire of Kalamunda faces challenges when planning where to develop existing or build new recreation spaces. The arterial roads of Tonkin Highway, Berkshire Road and Welshpool Road East all need to be taken into consideration when looking at access to open and public spaces. Cell 9, as it is known, is bounded by Welshpool Road and the Tonkin and Roe highways, and will reach a critical mass of 6,000 people in the future. These citizens will need access to adequate parks and open spaces.
I am committed to working towards the upgrade and development of more public open spaces and local parks in the community of Wattle Grove so that the residents have access to parks that are on a par with the areas that surround them. Suburbs that have open spaces, parklands and recreational areas which communities can enjoy provide a richness of opportunity for people to engage and interact. I also believe that communities are well served if they have those types of facilities. They provide a cohesiveness that is important to the way in which any community operates within a given area. The challenge always for local governments, state governments and the Commonwealth government is their commitment to the resources required to provide that along with any further development.
I was pleased recently to host a student as part of the Learn Earn Legend! Work Experience in Government program, which brings together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander senior high school students from a range of schools across Australia to provide them with hands-on experience about public sector career options and to expand their horizons about job opportunities and pathways. This program is extremely worthwhile and I was pleased to have participated in it. This year, Trischaye Newchurch from Salisbury High School in South Australia spent some time in my office, and I was extremely impressed by her passion and enthusiasm. As part of her time in my office, I asked her to write some words about what she would do if she was Prime Minister for a day. I would like to read the speech so that her words are presented to this place. She said:
I'm Trischaye Newchurch and I'm a student as part of the Learn Earn Legend program.
If I had the chance to be Prime Minister for the day one thing that I would focus on and change would be aboriginal youth health in remote areas. I'm very passionate about this topic ... In the future this is the area of interest I want to be working in. I would really love to change the whole perspective on youth health for indigenous teenagers between the ages of 12 - 17 and their parents so they get the help that they need and are asking for.
There are aboriginal teenagers between that age group in these small communities and in remote areas that find it hard to get to local doctors or clinic services some are even ashamed to go there. Now for me being a young aboriginal girl I sometimes find it hard to communicate to non indigenous people such as doctors, nurses, the netball coach, some times even teachers. From my own observations from when I have been on camps, excursions, and even the way my cousins are when talking or approaching non-indigenous people, they find it hard to communicate. My grandfather works over in the APY Lands in South Australia with remote indigenous people and he come back and tells me what they are like. They need help from aboriginal health workers and programs that can be offered to them by the government.
It's really important that they have just as much support as the people in cities and small country towns. The key to youth health is the aboriginal workers that come with it. The workers will encourage the teenager to become more aware of what facilities and help they have around them. Physical health is also a big deal as these teenagers need to be healthy and a part of being healthy is doing the physical activity, and there should be sports programs to encourage these young boys and girls to be a part of a team and doing something they like and might really enjoy.
Trischaye went on to say a number of other things, but my time is limited. I hope that these words show that Trischaye has a lot of passion for this issue. She should be really proud of what she is doing and I wish her the very best of luck. Maybe we will see her in parliament one day.
On Friday, 7 October, I was pleased to attend and speak at the opening of the new Lindfield Community Bank. The brand-new bank branch looked extremely shiny and impressive. I was joined by other local political and community representatives, including the state member for Ku-ring-gai and New South Wales Premier, the Hon. Barry O'Farrell; the chairman of Ku-ring-gai Financial Services, Mr David Langdon; and senior executives of Bendigo Bank. The opening of the Lindfield Community Bank builds on the successful establishment and operation of the Turramurra Community Bank a bit further up the Pacific Highway and also in my electorate of Bradfield.
The Turramurra Community Bank opened in 2003 and is a franchise of the Bendigo Bank, as will be the new Lindfield Community Bank. The Turramurra Community Bank was a genuine grassroots community initiative as is the Lindfield Community Bank. The Turramurra Community Bank was formed in response to concerns that the major banks were shutting their branches in Turramurra. The Turramurra Community Bank has been a considerable success. A key feature has been the leveraging of community involvement and the offering back, in turn, of significant support to the community—in the form of grants and sponsorship to local sporting and community groups, for example. As part of the community philosophy, there is a requirement for the branch, before it commences operating, to build a critical mass of local shareholders.
The same formula that was successfully used in establishing the Turramurra Community Bank is now being used for the Lindfield Community Bank. It will be operated by the same company, Ku-ring-gai Financial Services. A new fundraising process has been used to drum up local shareholders based in the Lindfield area. Experience has shown that a good shareholder base tends to convert into a good customer base. At an earlier stage in the process, an extensive survey was sent to 13,000 residents and businesses in the Lindfield area and this received a strong response.
I congratulate David Langdon, the board of Ku-ring-gai Financial Services and the hard-working general manager of Turramurra Community Bank—and now of Lindfield Community Bank—Denice Kelly. The work that David Langdon and others did nearly 10 years ago in setting up Turramurra Community Bank has brought very significant benefits to the Turramurra community and the local business sector. There is every likelihood that this very positive experience will now be replicated in Lindfield. This is a genuine community based initiative. It draws on the considerable business skills and expertise available in our community of the Upper North Shore of Sydney. It is a classic case of self-help and it is something, in my view, very much to be commended.
On Saturday, 24 September this year, I attended the South Australian men's and women's hockey finals at the South Australian State Hockey Centre as I have on other occasions in recent years. Hockey does not have the public profile of football, soccer, basketball or netball, but it nevertheless has a strong participation rate across Australia, with 123,000 people across the country playing hockey. Importantly, hockey has brought international recognition and pride to Australia, with both the national men's and women's teams having won numerous international medals over the years and hockey having proven to be one of Australia's most successful fields of international sporting endeavour.
Around 8,000 South Australians play hockey and my electorate of Makin is home to both the state hockey facilities at the State Sports Park and to the North East Hockey Club, otherwise known as the Zulus, at Golden Grove. North East Hockey Club was formed in 1994 as the result of a merger between the Campbelltown and Tea Tree Gully hockey clubs. In recent years I have visited the club and watched them play on several occasions. I particularly wanted to attend this year's finals because the North East Hockey Club was playing in the grand finals of the men's Premier League and the men's Metro Seniors division 1 competition. At the end of the day, the North East Hockey Club came away with victories in both of these finals, which capped off a very successful year for the club. For the Premier League men's team it was a particularly sweet victory because they had played in and lost the two previous years. grand finals. The club also won the Metro 3 men's premiership as well as the under-15 boys premiership in grand finals that were held earlier in the week.
A month earlier, at the state hockey award presentations, coach Ian Wishart was awarded the South Australian hockey club coach of the year. Ian is a very worthy recipient of that award. He is not only a successful coach but also a great player and a terrific team man. The prestigious best and fairest award was jointly won by ., both from the North East Hockey Club.
I take this opportunity to congratulate Ian, Will and Ryan for their wards and to congratulate all the players, coaches and support staff of the teams which won premierships. I also congratulate Adelaide Hockey Club for their very close win over Port Adelaide in the women's Premier League and the Annesley Old Scholars Hockey Club for their close victory over Port Adelaide in the Metro 1 women's final.
On Saturday, 15 October, I attended the North East Hockey Club's seniors award presentation evening where the following players were recipients of best and fairest player awards for their respective teams: Ryan O'Shea; Holly Evans—and Holly, I might say, is a national player; Peter Nugent; Janet O'Shea; John Usher; Elisa Gesualdi; Phillip Newland; Johnny Griffiths; Erin Findlay; Jason Connor; and Nieski Verwaal. On the night, President Jim Hughes and Ian Jennings were also very deservedly awarded life memberships. I congratulate the recipients of all of those awards.
I also acknowledge the hard work and leadership of the committee led by President Jim Hughes, coaches and volunteers at the North East Hockey Club who have done an incredible job in overseeing the club's success, its development and its growth. It is a credit to them and to all the people that support them at that club.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
It is once again my great pleasure to rise to speak about another reform of this great Labor government, the Gillard government—a reform that will transfer our economy to a cleaner and more efficient future. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill will establish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, otherwise known as ARENA, an independent body reporting to the Minister for Resources and Energy to allocate funding to renewable energy and related projects.
The establishment of this new agency was part of the agreement between members of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. This agency will combine a number of existing programs and agencies, including the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the Australian Solar Institute. In all it will oversee some $3.2 billion worth of government investments to support renewable energy technologies and their implementation.
The legislation before us today will also allow this new body to determine a strategy for how to develop and manage around $1.7 billion in unallocated funds, money that will be used for the research, development and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies, and for the development of skills and knowledge in that industry. ARENA will also promote collaboration with state and territory governments to support renewable energy technology innovation.
This bill is another in a suite of legislation from this government that tackles climate change and takes Australia into a carbon constrained future. There can be no doubt that a change to our economy is coming. The only difference between us and those opposite is that they want to play politics with the national interest. We are a government that recognises the need to make difficult and challenging decisions true to the reforming tradition of Labor since our inception 120 years ago.
We as a government have decided to take leadership on this issue and have developed a comprehensive and well-evidenced approach to reducing Australia's carbon emissions. Obviously the central component of this plan has been the introduction of a price on carbon pollution, but it also includes support for Australian working families, investments in modernising our industries, developing new and sustainable technologies and supporting the use of the land sector for the storage of carbon. Our package will drive investment in cleaner industries not just through the measures in the bill before us today but also through the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program—a program that will improve energy efficiency in manufacturing industries and support research and development in low pollution technologies. Our package, which is, as I said before, incredibly comprehensive and well evidenced, will also ensure that builders, tradespeople, engineers and apprentices get the specialised green skills that will increasingly be in demand in Australia, and they will get that through the $32 million Clean Energy Skills program.
I was recently out at a building site in my electorate in Barton, where the Attorney-General's Department used to be—a department I used today work for. The company and the union that are working on that site have gone into an agreement whereby they are training in a whole range of ways to improve the energy efficiency of that work site. It is on these basic levels that changes are already happening. People are realising that they need to enhance their skills in this area, and the $32 million Clean Energy Skills Program will give that a further significant boost.
Our Clean Energy Future package is a comprehensive and visionary package and it is well supported by experts in the field. It is a plan that is well supported in my electorate as well, as evidenced by the dozens and dozens of letters and emails that I receive each day telling me to ignore the scepticism and nay-saying of those opposite and to stay true to this ideal, to stay true to trying to reduce carbon pollution in Australia and to take us into the new phase of a cleaner, greener economic future.
This package presents new opportunities for businesses in my electorate of Canberra. Only last week I was briefed by a local Canberra business, Wizard Technologies, about its plans in my region for solar power and how it was looking to the Australian Solar Institute to help it refine and commercialise its product. There is also Windlab, another local Canberra company, which has developed technology to better model atmospheric conditions for wind farms. They have grown significantly since 2003 and now own subsidiaries around the world. Apart from the people that these companies directly employ, they also invest significantly in other local businesses—it has a knock-on effect. You get a company and they subcontract and then that subcontractor subcontracts and buys things from around town. This has a significant footprint on the economy of Canberra. We are also seeing significant development in green technology and green energy, which I think will be an important area of growth in Canberra for years to come. These two examples highlight the capacity of local industry and local people to develop new ideas and technologies and to take those technologies to the world. They just need the incentive to engage in innovation and then go off and do it. It is a very Australian way of doing things and it is a very Canberra way of doing things as well.
Overall, Labor's plan for a Clean Energy Future package, of which this bill is a part, will see Australia's carbon pollution reduced by some 160 million tonnes, or the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road, by 2020. I know that when I mention that figure to people in my electorate they actually get to visualise what that means. It will have a significant impact on the environment and on making Australia a cleaner, greener nation. The package will also see jobs growth. This gives me great satisfaction because Labor is all about jobs. It will see new green industries develop, and I have already mentioned two examples of that today in my own electorate. In fact, some 1.6 million jobs are projected to be created by 2020 and the gross national income per person will increase from today's levels, which are about $56,000, by around $9,000 per person to 2019-20. By 2050 the increase is expected to be more than $30,000 per person in today's dollars.
This is a reform as bold and as necessary as the reforms undertaken by the Hawke and Keating governments in the 1980s. I have just come from listening to the Assistant Treasurer introducing the minerals resource rent tax legislation—again, an enormous package of legislation that is going to have a significant impact on Australia's future. It will ensure that the wealth being generated from the resources boom will be evenly spread across the nation. But, most significantly, what I was reminded of in that speech was the fact that Labor is a party of reform, as I have mentioned. We have had 120 years of reform. We have a tradition of reform. It is in our DNA. The reforms that we introduced today, which will hopefully pass, build on what the Hawke and Keating governments introduced in the 1980s, particularly on the superannuation front. We now celebrate 20 years of superannuation in this country, and that is thanks to Labor governments of the 1980s. The bill that was introduced this morning by my colleague the Assistant Treasurer will build on that, enhance that and hopefully build even stronger retirement futures for Australia.
I was also reminded recently of another set of reforms that, again, Labor was involved in in the 1980s. It underscores the visionary nature of Labor and the fact that it is part of our DNA. Last week I was at the Master Builders Association annual dinner in Anzac Hall at the War Memorial. Robert Gottliebsen was the guest speaker at that event and he gave a terrific speech. He spoke about the fact that China was at the centre of the economic universe in the 1830s and that the centre then shifted out to the edges—I suppose, if you are looking at it on a flat map from the perspective of Australia, to the US in the west and to Europe in the east. He noted that the centre of the economic universe has now come back to the Asia-Pacific region, to our region, and underscored the fact that we are so well placed in this region at this time in history. He was suggesting that the Asia-Pacific region is the centre of the economic universe today, it will be for the next 20 years and Australia is incredibly well placed in every way—geographically but also economically. We are deeply engaged in the region and we can thank the Hawke and Keating governments for that because of the range of reforms and the range of programs that they introduced in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Clean Energy Future package reform is necessary to ensure that future generations of Australians benefit from a prosperous and thriving economy. Again, it is reform building on the foundations and the Labor tradition of reform. To reflect on that, if we had not made those reforms to superannuation, if we had not made reforms to the Asia-Pacific relationship and engagement, where would we be today? We would not be entering a liberalised and open world, we would not be engaging with Asia and we would not be sharing the prosperity and the amazing growth of the Asian economy. We face a similar choice today as a nation: to hide from the inevitable or to face our future and seize the opportunities it creates. We have the knowledge, skills and resources to make a thriving green energy sector. We have always been great innovators and adapters. Australians are great innovators and adapters, as are Canberrans, and I have no doubt we always will be. We as a nation are well placed not to simply tolerate the changes to our economy but to thrive on them, to embrace them, to capitalise on them and to seize every opportunity from them.
I recently had the opportunity to see some of this innovation at an electric vehicle festival held in Barton in my electorate a few weekends ago. I had the opportunity to ride in one of the muscle cars as well as one of the cars that had been retrofitted—it had the shell of a normal car but it had been converted into an electric car. I remember people talking about electric car technology many years ago and thinking that it was something in the very far future. But now I have ridden around in these cars and seen them. The Tesla Roadster, which is a muscle car, is amazing. It costs quite a lot of money. I understand that George Clooney, Brad Pitt and others have one. It is a fantastic car. It runs quietly. When you are sitting in the car, the only noise that you can hear is the gravel coming up from the road. There is no engine noise. It is quite extraordinary to do these amazing speeds—all legal, of course—going from nought to 130 in a very small amount of time in this car.
You can see how much technology has changed in a small amount of time. I also saw the more basic run-around little cars that we are all used to that have also been converted to electric. We have seen that change in electric vehicle technology happen in a very short amount of time. There are now boats, tractors, motorbikes and scooters being run on electric power. There are many vehicles using this technology. It is going to be amazing to see what happens in that area in the future.
Innovation very much underscores the clean energy package. This legislation is designed to achieve innovation and to encourage investment in renewable energy. This government will support government and enterprise to not just adapt but to innovate and to become world leaders in green energy technologies. I support the bills before us today, as I supported the measures that came before the House a few weeks ago as part of this Clean Energy Future package. I understand that we must be bold and courageous in tackling the challenge of climate change. We must be forward looking and embrace new opportunities. As I have said before, I want to be able to look my nieces, nephews and godchildren in the eyes 20 years from now and say: 'I made a choice to shape our economy for the future. I made a choice to build a cleaner and more prosperous economy,' and that it was all for them and for Australia. I support this legislation.
I commend the contribution from the member for Canberra and look forward to seeing the photographs of her in the electric muscle car—I am sure that she will be distributing them to the caucus. I follow the member for Canberra in rising to speak in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Bill 2011 and the related bill. It is always good to be speaking in front of you, Deputy Speaker, and in front of the member for Hasluck. It is good to see representatives from the opposition here in the debate on this important piece of legislation on renewable energy. It would have been good to have had a voice raised in support of renewable energy today, but renewable energy is about the future and about hope.
I beg your pardon, Deputy Speaker; I realise that you are not wearing that other hat that you keep downstairs for other occasions. It is a shame that there was no-one from the opposition available today to give even two or five minutes worth of contribution on the fact that renewable energy is a good thing. It would have been good to have someone talk about the hope for the future that comes with renewable energy.
Nevertheless, over the last four years the Labor government have achieved more for the environment than all previous governments together. Our biggest achievements include this renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. That is why I was a bit surprised that, while there were nearly 20-odd speakers from the Labor Party on renewable energy, there were none from the opposition today even though they have exactly the same target. This 20 per cent renewable energy target is supported by the honourable member for Warringah and all of the coalition, so the silence is a bit disappointing.
Note our Clean Energy Package is before the Senate. And I point out that that is not supported by the coalition. But it is important to acknowledge that in this place there has been bipartisan support for action on climate change, especially in the era prior to the current Leader of the Opposition. Australia is the ninth-largest energy producer in the world. We export 68 per cent and consume the remaining 32 per cent at home. Australia has 47 per cent of the world's uranium, 10 per cent of the world's coal resources and very significant natural gas reserves. We have abundant sources of renewable energy.
The beauty of renewable energy is that it is generated from unlimited sources like wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, ocean energy and hydro. Our planet produces these resources naturally. For the most part renewable energy is also clean energy, producing little or no greenhouse gases or toxic waste. In a carbon constrained future, we and our future generations need renewable energy technologies to provide low-cost, emission-free baseload energy. Australia's geology, climate resources and expertise have us ideally placed to develop renewable energies like geothermal, solar and wind energy.
As technology improves, renewable energy is becoming more cost effective and efficient. So, the more we can rely on renewable energies, the more we can reduce our overall greenhouse gas emissions. The renewable energy target and the clean energy future package will work together in concert to drive innovation and to see the development of new technologies. They will make green jobs the boom area of our economic future. This bill is another step along the path to our green energy future and will set up Australia as a world leader in renewable technologies, a fact alluded to by the member for Wentworth in his speech in London a few weeks back, saying that unfortunately China had stolen a march by taking some of these technologies and being ready to export them around the world when it could be an Australian advantage.
The legislation before the House creates a statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to administer funding to make renewable energies more competitive and drive further private investment in renewables. The agency, ARENA, will be independent and will direct funding towards research, development, demonstration, and the commercialisation of renewable energy technologies. ARENA will also help promote greater cooperation between researchers and developers by helping to facilitate more sharing of non-confidential knowledge and information from the projects it funds. Obviously we need the investment to be rewarded and the intellectual property to be protected, but we also need to share wherever possible so that the planet benefits. ARENA will manage a massive $3.2 billion in renewable energy investment which includes cutting edge programs like the Solar Flagships Program, the Australian Solar Institute, the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program, the ACRE Solar Projects, the Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund, the Australian Biofuels Research Institute, the Energy Renewable Program, the Geothermal Drilling Program, the Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program and the Connecting Renewables Initiative, to name but a few.
As you can see, there are a range of clean energy strategies. We are not in the business of picking winners; that is not necessarily what the government does best. That is the unfortunate problem with those opposite. They say the government will always pick the best winner. Even on Melbourne Cup day we do not necessarily get it right, so it is best to let the markets and the scientists work together.
This bill also establishes the ARENA board and management positions, including CEO and CFO. It empowers ARENA to make decisions concerning financial assistance, developing skills in the renewable energy industry and promoting collaboration on renewable energy technology between governments both here in Australia and abroad. The agency will also provide advice to the Minister for Resources and Energy regarding renewable energy technologies.
If Australia is going to achieve its ambition of a clean energy future, we need an organisation like ARENA. This is not a half-hearted approach. This is practical common sense backed by more than $3 billion in funding for this new body so it can be at the forefront of the shift in Australia's economy—a gentle shift but a shift nevertheless. It will ensure our scientists and developers are not left behind but instead will have the funding and resources they need to make the scientific discoveries that will power our country right through to the end of this century and beyond. It will also secure certainty for the sector by prescribing in stone—well, legislation, anyway—the funding to be provided each year until 2020. For the first time, the renewable energy industry will know they have long-term funding certainty. ARENA will be responsible for investing significant public funds in renewables. It is therefore appropriate that this bill includes stringent accountability provisions and common public sector safeguards, including merit based assessment and funding guidelines and procedures. It is important that ARENA maintains independence from government, rather than the executive trying to pick winners—we need that buffer. It is also essential that we have confidence in the accountability measures put in place. This bill strikes the right balance.
Since the industrial revolution, Australia has totally underutilised its abundant access to renewable energies. Apart from the Snowy River scheme, we have yet to realise the full potential of our renewable energy. This bill and the clean energy reforms which have preceded it put Australia on a new course to realise that potential. The possibilities are endless and I am sure that all members, even those opposite who are silent today, are eager to see what the future holds for renewable energy in Australia. I am sure our children and our grandchildren will be too. I commend the legislation to the House.
I rise on this occasion to add my comments to the debate on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and cognate bill. The Australian government has developed a comprehensive plan to move to a clean energy future. This plan includes introducing a carbon price, promoting innovation and investment in renewable and low-emissions energy, encouraging energy efficiency and creating opportunities in the land sector. As a hot and dry continent, Australia has more to lose from climate change than most other developed countries. There are significant risks to our environment and our economy.
We are taking decisive action on climate change and this legislation is an important part of the package. It covers the establishment of ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. The government will establish ARENA as a new agency in the Resources and Energy portfolio that will incorporate initiatives previously administered separately through a range of bodies, including the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, ACRE; the Australian Solar Institute, ASI; and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. ARENA will have an independent, decision-making board appointed by the Minister for Resources and Energy, and will also have a CEO appointed by the Minister for Resources and Energy on the recommendation of the ARENA board.
ARENA's role will be to allocate funding to renewable energy and enabling technology projects. The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism will provide administrative support to ARENA. The government will make final decisions on the details of ARENA'S governance before the end of 2011. This is an important step in our clean energy future. I wish to note that the establishment of ARENA will not delay the delivery of existing initiatives and the Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund application process will continue, as will the rollout of the Emerging Renewables Program, while the ASI will continue to deliver its existing programs. Upon its establishment, ARENA will then take over responsibility for these initiatives.
ARENA will fund projects that will help increase the deployment of renewable energy and drive down its costs in an Australian context. It will complement the new Clean Energy Finance Corporation. ARENA will oversee existing government support from the following initiatives and will have responsibility for managing the unallocated funds from these initiatives: Solar Flagships Program, Australian Solar Institute, Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund (Solar), Renewable Energy Demonstration Program, ACRE solar projects, Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund, Australian Biofuels Research Institute, Emerging Renewables Program, Geothermal Drilling Program, Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program, and Connecting Renewables Initiative. With the introduction of a carbon price in Australia the government is focused on ensuring that Australia's emission reductions will be achieved at the least economic cost while maintaining adequate reliable and affordable energy supplies and the international competitiveness of Australia's industries. There is a strong case for the Australian government to help drive down the cost of renewable energy and reduce the carbon intensity of the energy sector by encouraging innovation in clean energy. The government is substantially boosting its support for innovation in clean energy as a central element of its clean energy future. Globally, more money is now being invested in renewable power than in conventional high-pollution energy generation. China is now the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines—the world is shifting and accepting the science. I ask those opposite to stop their scare campaign and to embrace the science.
The Australian Labor government is committed to action that will safeguard our environment, sustain our society and support our economy. The plan will cut pollution and drive investment, helping to ensure that Australia can compete and remain prosperous in the future. Individual businesses, industry and governments around the world are already taking action to reduce carbon pollution. By acting now, Australia can look forward to long-term prosperity for ourselves and future generations. Treasury modelling shows the economy will continue to grow strongly with a carbon price. Extensive analysis by economists and independent institutions such as the Productivity Commission has demonstrated that market mechanisms like a carbon price or an emissions trading scheme are the cheapest way of reducing pollution.
The Australian Labor government is committed to supporting jobs as the economy is transformed. That is why we will be supporting jobs through manufacturing, including in the steel and food-processing industries and in coal mining. Telling the truth is an important part of the job description for political leaders. Unfortunately the opposition leader has sacrificed this requirement in order to pursue a scare campaign on the carbon price. On 20 October at a doorstop at Laverton Mr Abbott said:
Our carbon tax will be the heaviest carbon tax in the world.
The fact of the matter is that many countries have carbon prices. Details vary making comparisons complex, but it is clear that Australia's carbon price, starting at $23 a tonne, will not be the world's heaviest compared on the basis of cash receipts not including free permits. The European Union's emissions trading scheme will raise $72 billion over the first three years of its next phase while Australia's carbon price will raise $17 billion in cash receipts over this time frame. He also stated in a speech at the Australian Industry Group on 19 September this year:
There is no way that America is going to put a price on carbon anytime soon. There is no way that the Chinese and the Indians are going to put a price on carbon until their peoples have a comparable standard of living to those of the advanced Western world.
The fact is that 10 American states, including New York, have already put a price on carbon pollution from their electricity generators. California, the world's eighth largest economy, will start a carbon trading scheme in 2012. China has announced it will introduce emissions trading commencing in key cities and provinces including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. India has introduced a clean energy tax on coal. The Gillard government is working hard building a strong economy, a sustainable environment and a fair society that provides every Australian with the opportunity to prosper and succeed in life. Our first priority is keeping the economy strong—protecting jobs, driving new growth and creating opportunity for all so that no person and no place is left behind. We are providing assistance for households to deal with the increases in prices due to the carbon price. The Labor government is on the side of working people. It always has been and always will be. That is why we are doing everything we can to look after families, especially at the times in life when families need help.
Labor has: introduced Australia's first Paid Parental Leave scheme, including two weeks paid leave for dads and partners from 2013 ; increased the childcare rebate to 50 per cent; delivered the education tax refund to help pay for school costs; raised superannuation from nine per cent to 12 per cent—and this legislation was in the parliament this morning—for a dignified retirement for working people; targeted tax cuts at middle- and low-income workers; given age pensioners the biggest pension increase ever; and worked on a National Disability Insurance Scheme which will transform the disability sector.
The member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, is not interested in policies; he just wants to say no and play politics. The Liberals: oppose the mining tax; oppose 12 per cent superannuation for workers; oppose tackling global warming by pricing carbon; oppose investment in the NBN; oppose health reform; oppose a fair industrial relations system that has basic protections for workers; oppose the GFC stimulus that saved 200,000 jobs; oppose the banning of exit fees on home mortgages by banks; and oppose the flood recovery package for Queensland and Victoria. It is my hope that they support, not oppose, this bill.
Labor's Clean Energy Plan cuts pollution and drives investment in clean energy, makes big polluters pay, delivers tax cuts and pension and payment rises, and protects Australian jobs. Australians want climate change action. Only Labor's plan will reduce carbon emissions, preserve our environment, assist families and households, and protect Australian jobs. NASA, the CSIRO and the world's top 1,000 scientists agree that human induced climate change is real. The rest of the world is acting. The UK, Germany, India, China and New Zealand are among those with local carbon prices or emissions trading schemes. The time for Australia to act is now to reduce pollution and protect the environment and jobs.
Labor has a good record on climate change action. One of Labor's first acts in 2007 was to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Labor has expanded renewable energy targets, which ensure 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2020. We have supported clean energy through initiatives like: Solar Dawn at Chinchilla, a solar thermal project boosted by natural gas—it will have a capacity of 250 megawatts—and the Moree Solar Farm consortium, led by BP Solar, which is building a 150-megawatt photovoltaic power plant. Together these projects are expected to generate enough power to support the electricity needs of more than 115,000 Australian homes per year. Our action in schools includes the National Solar Schools Program, which has helped over 2,500 schools take action on climate change by installing solar panels on roofs and water tanks. The member for Warringah has said climate change is 'absolute crap'. His sham climate policy would cost Australian households an extra $1,300 a year and give that money directly to big polluters; does not compensate families—Labor's tax cuts, pension rises and increased family payments would be repealed; does not support steel, mining or manufacturing jobs; and does not work—no reputable economist or climate scientist endorsed Tony Abbott's plan. It is time for Mr Abbott to admit what everybody knows—the Liberals will not roll back the carbon price.
Continued strong investment in renewable energy technology research and development is fundamental for Australia's transition to cleaner base load energy sources. Government support to fill market gaps and drive down costs will help us to achieve this transition. Like the wind generation in the north-east of Tasmania, the government legislation will support a clean energy future and jobs. I urge those opposite to support this bill.
It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Consequential Amendments and Transitional-Provisions) Bill 2011. These bills are a very important step in Australia's renewable energy and changing the way that we use and provide energy in Australia. I support these bills because they create the statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency known as ARENA, under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997.
These bills are an important part of the whole package of renewable energy and changing the direction in which we are heading in this world. We have been consuming energy at such great rates that it is causing damage to our atmosphere and the way we live. One of the things that all of us should be upholding as members of parliament is ensuring that when we leave this place we leave Australia in a better place. It would be detrimental to Australia if we did not act on climate change, and this package is part of that action.
The bills also establish the positions of the members of the ARENA Board and the ARENA Chief Executive Officer, and set out ARENA's governance, financial and operational arrangements. The purpose of establishing ARENA will be to provide for independent administration of Australian government funding to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy and related technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy.
We have already done many good things in the supply of renewable energy around the country. Last week I was listening to a speech that the Premier of South Australia—Australia's newest premier, the Hon. Jay Weatherill—was making at a conference. He said that, with the facts and the figures that were on the table at the time of his speech, if South Australia was a nation on its own, it would be second in the world in renewable energy.
Over the last 10 years we have seen, under the South Australian Labor government and with the assistance of the federal Labor government, renewable energy initiatives taking place across the state through windmills and solar with assistance and packages to a number of companies that are developing these new energy products.
ARENA will be responsible for providing financial assistance for important research in this area. Assistance is needed for the development and the commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies. We need to develop skills in the renewable energy industry. These bills will assist that. They will also assist in the sharing of non-confidential knowledge of the projects amongst the industry and will promote collaboration on renewable energy technology and innovation among the state and territory governments and among other institutions including foreign governments and institutions. When it comes to renewable energy and turning around climate change we have to work in a collaborative manner not just across states in Australia, but across the international stage and across the world. That is so important. These bills give powers to ARENA to independently administer existing Australian government projects around the nation and programs supporting renewable energy technology innovation funded by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and by the Australian Solar Institute. They also give ARENA the ability to make binding funding decisions regarding the expenditure of its uncommitted funds.
These bills are very important because Australia has some of the best renewable resources in the world. A few years ago while in Spain I visited Seville, which has approximately 800,000 people. Just out of Seville is a massive solar farm that powers up to 70 per cent of Seville at some times during the day. It was really interesting that their technology and science facilities were Australian staffed. People that had the knowledge in this area had come from Australia to set it up. Spain was extremely impressed by these people. We do have the technology. We do have the people that can do these things. We know that enough sunshine falls on Australia and New Zealand and across the Pacific on an average day to power both countries for the next 25 years. We should harness all of this. With just one per cent of our geothermal resources, we could power Australia for 26,000 years. We can do these innovative things. It just takes initiative and action. This government is acting on this particular issue.
The bill will also support further renewable energy initiatives which will build on Labor's record to date. I will talk about some of those achievements. One of the greatest achievements of Labor in the area renewable energy—and we have a good record on this issue—and one of its first acts in 2007 when it came this House was the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. That was so important. It was a message to the world that we really want to have some sort of action on climate change, unlike the previous government, which refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol for I don't know what reason. When you hear their leaders talking about climate change and saying that it is crap, one has to wonder. If we do not act on this issue now it is going to affect the next generation of Australians and the coming generations. It is one of our duties as members of parliament to ensure that we act on this issue.
The Labor government is also supporting green jobs and modernising our economy by investing $5.1 billion in the Clean Energy Initiative including support for ground-breaking clean coal technologies and investment in the production of renewable energy like solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels right here in this nation. The National Solar Schools program is amazing. It has helped over 2,500 schools across Australia take practical action to tackle climate change by installing solar panels on their roofs and by installing water tanks. It is always interesting when I visit schools to see the solar panels on schools that have taken up this program. Each school on its own might not make a big difference but when you add them together—2,500 schools across the country have taken up this program—you can see the amount of renewable energy we are creating through solar panels and through the other solar energy initiatives that these schools are taking on board. It is also a very good message to future generations of Australians. Those students see the solar panels and see the fruition of how they are powering their schools. It is so important. We have also expanded the Renewable Energy Target, which will ensure 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable energy sources by 2020. These are not just choices that we make; these are things that have to be done. If we want a clean, sustainable future and we want to turn around global warming and climate change, these are things that have to be done. We do not have a choice. We must do these things.
We have implemented the Water for the Future plan, including the first ever purchase of water entitlements by the federal government. It is one of many important initiatives to restore the health of the Murray-Darling system. For 200 years the Murray-Darling system has been operating on the basis that we just take what we need for our industries and for agriculture. Of course we need to grow food, but for years and years we have just been taking out what we need and expecting the river to survive on its own, whereas what we should have been doing—and what many countries around the world are doing—is ensuring what is required for a healthy, flowing river and then allocating what is left over to industry and agriculture. We have to change the whole way we think in this area. I think we are at a breaking point where, unless we change our ways and turn it around now, we will have a very dim future when it comes to water in Australia. I am pleased to see that the water buyback plans are working. There are many areas—for example, in and around Murray Bridge in South Australia—where dairy farmers have taken up this opportunity. They have sold some of their water entitlements to the government and you can see all these wetlands being created now. We are restoring those areas to their natural state.
It is also very important to secure our urban water supply. We are providing funding for new initiatives for recycling stormwater. In my electorate of Hindmarsh, for example, we have the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant, which for many years would treat the effluent and then just pump it out into the sea. Under this government, I am very pleased—this is something I was pushing for for a long, long time—that the effluent will be pumped back into the city through a pipeline from Glenelg to Adelaide. It is cleaned and it is now watering all our parkland in Glenelg. The second stage is that local governments are now buying water from that pipeline, which goes from Glenelg right into the centre of the city. It is not only for local governments to water their ovals, parks et cetera; industry is now showing an interest as well. That water is helping secure our urban water supply. It is being recycled and cleaned and it is certainly not destroying the Gulf St Vincent in South Australia, which borders the western part of my electorate, which is what was happening for many, many years.
This particular project is something that the local government started working on more than 10 years ago. They started working on a plan, but no-one was interested in it. We were hitting our heads against a brick wall when we were putting it to state governments and to the former federal government. So I am very pleased that one of the first acts of this Labor government was to provide over $31 million in partnership with the state government, which put in another $31 million, making a total of close to $62 million of funding for this pipeline from Glenelg. The contaminants are no longer going out into the sea, contaminating the Gulf St Vincent and killing off the seagrass, which is a breeding ground for a lot of fish.
We have also invested funds to transform the automotive industry with the rollout of the hybrid Camry, the first Australian built hybrid car. That is very important. I heard one of the other members talking earlier about electric cars. We have been talking about them for many years in this nation, and here they are, coming to fruition. We have now produced an electric car. To be able to sit in one when you are being driven home by Comcar is amazing. They are burning far less energy than petrol cars.
We are creating a user-friendly one-stop green shop website that links families, schools and businesses to all government energy and water efficiency programs. It is very important for all of us to do what we can to use solar and a whole range of other renewable energies in our own households. As I said earlier, I hope the opposition do support these bills, but I do not hold a lot of hope having heard the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, talking about climate change and referring to it as 'crap'. That does not give you much hope, but we have an absolute duty in this place. The utmost duty we have as members of parliament is to ensure that we hand over this country in a better position than we found it. We should all aspire to do that. These bills, as I said, are not a choice. They are a must if we want Australia and the world to survive. We have to look at renewable energy. I commend these bills to the House.
These bills and the agency that they create, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency or ARENA, are a direct result of the negotiations between the Australian Greens, rural Independents and the government on the clean energy plan. The Greens proposed this body as a way of overcoming the many problems, not least of all the industry's perceived lack of enthusiasm for the minister, in the existing renewable energy programs supported by the government.
It has been obvious for years to many in the industry that renewable energy programs in Australia had been a mess of badly designed schemes often run as photo opportunities rather than helping build the industry. Worst of all, government funding programs were announced with a big public splash, innovators and entrepreneurs started to gear up to deliver them and after months or years of delay the programs were rebadged, reallocated, scrapped or so badly designed that nobody was able to take advantage of them.
A classic example was the Solar Flagships program which the Greens helped save from being abandoned earlier this year and for which we secured a roundtable in Canberra. Another example is in my electorate of Melbourne. We had a Solar Systems factory that was helping to build solar receivers for a demonstration project in Mildura and other parts of Victoria. The company was developing apace and the efficiency of the receivers was going great guns, so the company was making great gains. Then the company was placed into administration. This company was due to receive Commonwealth funding at some later stage, but because it was not able to access that funding early, the company was placed in administration and a number of people lost their jobs. For a period of time until a new buyer was found, we had a country-leading technology development going on in the heart of Melbourne, but because they were unable to secure government funding in a timely manner that would have allowed them to see through the trading difficulties they were in, the whole thing was wound down and had to be started again.
I do commend the government for agreeing to establish this body and for following that commitment through. This body will make a big difference. Australia's renewable energy technologists and entrepreneurs have up to now been forced to go through a boom-bust cycle so many times that many of them give up and go overseas. But ARENA will take the short-term politics out of renewable energy and deliver strong, consistent support to the industry so it can be confident of a long-term flourishing future.
Currently government provides some grant based support for renewable energy across a number of programs. The management of these programs will be reformed by these bills which will create a new independent statutory body. This will provide a more independent, efficient and streamlined administration of existing funding. ARENA will provide early stage grants and financing assistance for projects that strengthen renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, and make them more cost competitive. It will administer the $3.2 billion in existing government support for research and development, demonstration and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies.
ARENA will oversee existing government support for programs currently delivered by the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy; the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism; the Australian Solar Institute; and the Australian Biofuels Research Institute. ARENA's independent board will manage $1.5 billion in committed funding and $1.7 billion in uncommitted funds to disburse. ARENA will also receive future funding from discretional dividends paid by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and a share of future revenue from the price on pollution as compensation is wound down. ARENA will have an independent board comprising seven members. The membership of the board will reflect the technologies likely to be considered by ARENA. The board will also include expertise in commercialisation of new technologies more broadly, and business and investment skills. Together with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the price on pollution that will increase over time, ARENA will make a big contribution to the Australian Greens' goal of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy. This is an example of the kinds of technologies that stand to benefit from this legislation.
Since being elected to this job, I have had the privilege of meeting a number of people, and one of them was the climate adviser to the G8 and to the German government. They said: 'We'—Europe—'can't understand why you Australians are not leading the world in renewable energy technology. Look at your natural resources, look at your manufacturing expertise, look at your intellectual resources in your universities and collaborative research centres. Why aren't you leading the world?' In my electorate of Melbourne, Melbourne University, Monash University and CSIRO are at the point now where they have developed a system that allows you to print solar cells onto any surface.
Madam Deputy Speaker, if you just think about such a cell for moment and its transformative potential, you could print a solar cell onto the top of your computer and have that powered from lights like the ones we currently have in this chamber. BlueScope Steel is, I think, one of the partners in that project. They are interested in it because, if they can print these solar cells onto corrugated iron or any other kind of roofing surface, the surface of every roof becomes a power source. You could plug your roof into your house and power your house with it. We are on the verge of commercialising these world-leading technologies right here, in Australia. Up until now, too many companies have decided to pull the pin and not go ahead with such projects because of ad hoc and inconsistent government support. It is projects like that and Solar Systems, which was in my electorate of Melbourne, which are now on a track with consistent, planned development and expansion in this country. This will assist, in particular, other countries in our region and also elsewhere in the world in moving towards renewable energy technology. It is a role that Australia should be playing as a world leader in the export of renewable energy technology. ARENA, as the Greens proposed and as it has been agreed to, will help us take the important step to get there.
Another step that is going to help us get to this goal of 100 per cent renewable energy is planning and investment in our electricity grid. That will be crucial. In essence, at the moment, the electricity grid in Australia is often a series of wires going from distribution centres down to coalmines. It is not necessarily structured in the best way to allow renewable energy to come on board. That is why the commitment that we were able to secure as part of the clean energy agreement on the role of the Australian energy market operators is so important. AEMO will expand its planning scenarios to prepare for greater use of renewable energy, including planning for the scenario of a shift to 100 per cent renewable energy. It is something that we know from work done by Melbourne University is achievable and it is something that, once we get the proper plans in place, will allow development from both the private and public sectors to come on board and help us get to that goal.
I want to congratulate the many people who have brought us to this place. I also want to remind everyone that if the people of Melbourne had not voted Green we would not be here today, making great progress in the transition to a clean energy economy. We would also not be here without the tireless efforts of hundreds of thousands of Australians who have taken action to support renewable energy. Yesterday, my office was visited by Lindsay Soutar. Lindsay Soutar is a dynamic young woman from New South Wales, who just this week was awarded the title of Young Environmentalist of the Year by the environment minister. She won the award for her fantastic work as National Coordinator of the 100% Renewable campaign.
In early 2010 Lindsay quit her job to establish a national campaign on renewable energy—100% Renewable. Throughout 2010 and 2011 the campaign worked with local community groups across Australia to build a groundswell of public support for a renewable energy future. Through establishing a national network of regional and local organisers, a mentoring program, and a series of workshops and a range of public engagement activities that included surveying, doorknocking, local media and the engagement of politicians, the campaign has built new leadership and worked with local community groups to shift elected members of parliament behind the vision of a 100 per cent renewable energy future. Through Lindsay's passion, persistence and commitment to empowering others, the campaign has grown from strength to strength, making a substantial contribution to the energy debate and influencing national decisions on renewable energy policy. The passage of this bill is a win for people like Lindsay and the thousands of supporters of the renewables campaign. I am also pleased and pleasantly surprised to hear that the opposition will not oppose this bill. It shows that the Greens' prediction is becoming a reality—and that is that, when the climate package becomes law and people see that the sky has not fallen in, there will be little left of the Leader of the Opposition's political raison d'etre. Before the blood on the paper has dried, Tony Abbott's blood oath is already fading. After declaring the blood oath that he would repeal every last one of the clean energy future bills, the Leader of the Opposition has now added the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill to the Carbon Farming Initiative as elements of the package he will not oppose or repeal.
The opposition energy spokesperson, Mr Macfarlane, told the House of Representatives yesterday that the coalition will not oppose the ARENA Bill and supports its aim of centralising research and development funding for renewable energy. This comes after extensive attacks on renewable energy and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as well as explicit attacks on ARENA after it was first announced in July. The key reason for establishing ARENA is to avoid the appalling political interference that characterised energy policy under successive governments. The opposition spokesperson, of all people, knows the extent to which renewable energy funding programs were politicised and undermined.
I welcome the coalition's support for ARENA as an independent statutory authority that will be run by independent experts beyond the experience of people in this chamber. This is especially important given that one side went to the election promising no price on pollution and the other side is still not sure that climate change is happening. The opposition have spent the past few months sidelining the constructive negotiations of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to whip up a fear campaign against this climate package, and what they will find is that that opposition will soon subside as people realise the sky has not fallen in and that in fact the sky is becoming cleaner and the economy is transforming to provide new jobs in new industries.
At the last election I announced a plan to shift Melbourne to 100 per cent clean renewable energy, including a price on pollution. I asked people to imagine an MCG covered in solar panels and community solar farms on the roofs of factories and schools. I talked about how we could expand public transport and maintain our mobility with electric vehicles. I found that people understood that to get there we needed to be willing to face up to the risks of climate change and lead. With the passage of this bill and the other clean energy bills I will be making good on that commitment to the people of Melbourne, and Australia will be on the way to a clean energy future.
I also rise to speak in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011. The federal government accepts the consensus among climate scientists that climate change is real and that renewable energy is a vital part of ensuring a clean energy future. I am proud to be a part of a government that has tackled the challenge of climate change by implementing a price on carbon and introducing a scheme where we can trade carbon emissions. Also, the package is looking at everything to do with that. It is not just the price mechanism that will lead to change in our environment.
I looked through my speech from the previous parliament when both sides, until well into the political debate, were going to support an emissions trading scheme. One of the interesting parts of the debate was about what voluntary action individuals were going to be taking themselves. A big part of the debate was what individuals in their own homes, businesses and communities were going to do. We were looking at the concerns that people had that their voluntary actions were not going to be built into the ETS at that stage. It is really interesting that in just a short space of time that whole issue of what individuals, businesses, companies and, indeed, the energy sector are doing has gone and has shifted just to this notion of a price.
The bills before us today—and the clean energy package passed through the House in our last sitting week—are not just about the price. It is about the whole package. It is looking at putting money into research, jobs, communities and businesses so that we as a nation will move towards this change. I am very proud to be part of this government and I am fully supportive of these additional bills that will be passed today. I want to pay tribute to the opposition for finally seeing some sense and not opposing what will be a good outcome for everybody. In addition to introducing a price on carbon, the federal government is committed to the development and use of renewable energy. It recognises that significant and affordable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can only be achieved through commercially viable low or zero emission energy technologies. The energy sector is a primary source of Australia's emissions and Australia's current level of energy use is expected to double by 2050. Clean energy technologies are vital in moving to a low emissions future while meeting this increasing energy demand. We as a government are aware that the world has seen the value of and is increasingly embracing renewable energies and are determined to ensure that Australia is not left behind.
The government has already acted in this area by establishing the renewable energy target. The renewable energy target means that the equivalent of 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. One of the interesting things in this space is that most of us get an electricity bill that asks, 'Do you want to pay extra for green energy?' The majority of households in my electorate tick that box and say yes. They are happy to pay the higher price for the benefits that it is providing to the environment and the whole community. There has been a very big take-up rate of that. The energy companies have already embraced that. This is just expanding upon that.
The expanded target of 20 per cent by 2020 makes renewable energy technologies an increasingly important commercial consideration. With the implementation of a price on carbon, the renewable energy target is expected to stimulate private sector investment of around $20 billion in today's dollars. The sector has been looking for this certainty. They have been looking at this space and asking what is happening. There is still uncertainty because of the opposition continuing to state that they will repeal the Clean Energy Bill package but the RET and the bills that we are passing today will give certainty to this sector and we will see development, growth and jobs in that sector. The target supports both large-scale renewable energy projects, such as wind farms and solar plants, and small-scale installation for households, small businesses and community groups.
More than this, we as a government realise that innovation is essential to helping drive down the cost of renewable energy and reducing the carbon intensity of the energy sector, which is why we have made it a key plank in our Clean Energy Plan. The member for Melbourne was talking about things that he had seen. Some of those things are taking place in my electorate of Chisholm. The CSIRO centre in Clayton is in my electorate. It is right next door to Monash University. That centre is where a lot of this innovation is taking place. I have had the pleasure of meeting the scientists who are at the cutting edge of developing printed solar cells. It is an amazing technology that will be rolled out in the near future. It is getting to the stage of being commercially viable. Solar cells will be able to be printed onto film. As the member for Melbourne said, one of the other groups is BlueScope Steel, who are looking at putting it into Colorbond roofs. You will not have to buy a whole cell in the future; it will be ingrained in the Colorbond that you are putting on your roof. Within my electorate, I am proud to have many research centres. There is Monash University and Deakin University. The Monash Sustainability Institute is doing phenomenal work in this space, looking at things for now and for the future.
On a recent visit to the CSIRO, I had the pleasure of meeting with some scientists who are looking at packaging. We all use too much packaging. They are looking at the pallets that we use when exporting and importing goods. Every wood pallet can only be used once. About the only thing that it is good for is burning it to stay warm while having a good demonstration. I must admit that I burnt a few pallets during a good demo or two to stay warm at night. It is wood. It is not biodegradable. So they are now looking at a biodegradable pallet. They are also looking at creating biodegradable polystyrene, which is the wonderful stuff that we all pour into packaging so that our goods do not get damaged on shipment. These things are happening now. While those examples are not from the energy space, a lot of energy is used in creating some of these manufactured goods that we use in our society every day and just take for granted. These bills will be providing certainty and money to this space and the great work that is already happening in my electorate will be able to continue. Under the clean energy future plan, a new $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation will invest in the commercialisation and use of renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technologies. Complementing this corporation is a new Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, which will streamline and centralise the administration of $3.2 billion in existing support for renewable energy. This bill effectively provides the legislative framework to enable ARENA to operate. It establishes ARENA, its seven-member board, its chief executive officer and chief financial officer, and sets out how ARENA will operate and will be funded.
Under the bill, ARENA will commence operation from 1 July 2012. It will operate as an independent statutory authority, with the government consolidating all of its renewable energy programs and projects to fall under ARENA's responsibility. The appointment of ARENA's board will seek to draw upon the considerable collective knowledge and expertise currently existing in Australian business and in the area of renewable energy industries. Around $3.2 billion in existing renewable grants will now be overseen by ARENA. Currently, this funding is managed by the federal government and federal government funded renewable energy bodies such as the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy and the Australian Solar Institute. Approximately $1.7 billion of this funding is currently not committed and will be available for ARENA to provide financial assistance in the following ways: to research, develop, demonstrate and commercialise renewable energy and related technologies; to develop skills in the renewable energy industry; and to share non-confidential knowledge and information from the projects it funds. This is really important.
The Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation, which I had the pleasure and horror of chairing, received submissions and evidence in respect of these bills. Even though they did not form part of the legislation that the committee was inquiring into, they are inexorably linked. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union stated during the committee inquiry that clean energy has potential in Australia and:
Because of the science, we know we have to reduce emissions. We know the need to reduce high-emissions activities is already creating global demand for low-emissions technology. We see the potential of clean technology jobs. We see the $6 trillion global clean technology industry, so we know the future of Australia's manufacturing industry is tied to the extent to which we invest in and are successful in clean energy generation and energy efficient technology development. We have approached the challenge of carbon emissions reduction with our eyes wide open so we can take advantage of the opportunities that the move to low-carbon economies will bring for Australian industry and Australian manufacturing in particular.
Contrary to the dissenting report from the coalition members of the inquiry, the trade union movement are fully engaged in this debate, their members are fully engaged in this debate and they understand that jobs and growth are in these technologies and they will be welcoming these ARENA bills.
The committee also had evidence from Vestas, a large international wind technology company that produces wind turbines, and it is looking for certainty. They stated:
Vestas has previously tried its hand at establishing manufacturing of wind turbine components in Australia, but that venture did not succeed because we simply did not have the scale here to make sure that those jobs were sustainable and that market was large enough. Instead, in recent years we have added a lot of manufacturing jobs in the US and a lot in China and still plenty more in Europe as well. We go where our markets are and where our markets are the biggest so we cut out transport costs. That is the thing that Australia has missed out on in recent times—we have not got to that scale. You can model this and you can model that and everyone turns up with their own set of independent modelling, but you are never going to know until you actually get to that scale. If you look at what other countries have done elsewhere, beyond our shores, those that have gone for renewable energy, and have gone big and gone early, are the ones that have the jobs now.
Again, constantly during the debate here we get, 'The US is doing nothing' and 'China is doing nothing.' This is not the evidence from companies in this space—companies who are welcoming these bills today because it will provide certainty.
In further evidence, the committee asked wind generators whether the window was still open in Australia and they said:
I think it is still open, as long as the clean energy bill goes forward in its strength and as long as we see relatively soon—probably in the next three to four years—a policy of what is going to happen beyond the current large-scale renewable target, because we are all sitting here. We know we are building projects to 2020, which will not be 2020. It will be 2018 or something like that when it is contracted out, and then the market is finished. All we know is that we have legislation and a Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but we do not know what either of them are going to do. So it is very difficult at the moment.
These are people who are looking to invest big money and looking to invest to create jobs, and these bills will give them that certainty. Initially, the board will be required to develop its funding strategies which will determine how it will allocate its uncommitted funds across the various renewable energy and related technology types. In considering its allocation of financial assistance, ARENA is expected to develop programs, with program guidelines to be based on merit based assessment processes and, in consultation with the Minister for Resources and Energy, will be obliged to develop a work plan.
The bill defines 'renewable energy technologies' to include hybrid technologies. This definition will enable ARENA to support a broader range of renewable energy projects. It also supports ARENA in its aim of improving the competitiveness of and supply of renewable energy targets, giving its work a clear economic imperative as well. Cost-of-living pressures are very real concerns for many households and we must ensure that renewable energy is supplied in the most cost-effective manner to consumers.
In addition, it is intended that, under the bill, ARENA will collaborate with state and territory governments in supporting renewable energy technology innovation. The government has always acknowledged that community consensus is vital to achieving real and lasting impact on climate change and, to this end, it is firmly committed to working with governments at all levels. ARENA will also be empowered to form committees. ARENA will be able to arrange consultation to provide technical and specialist advice. The scope also exists for ARENA to establish technology specific advisory committees to assist it in fulfilling its duties.
The current debate surrounding climate change has featured business calls for certainty. The government has responded to these calls by implementing a price on carbon, fixed for the first couple of years, giving the business the certainty it needs in making investment decisions.
Significantly, the government is also providing certainty in the area of renewable energy by prescribing ARENA's funding until 2020, providing long-term funding certainty for the renewable energy industry. To ensure that funding is used most efficiently, funding allocated annually to ARENA will be held by the government and used to earn interest until it is required by ARENA.
In addition, numerous safeguards have been put in place to ensure appropriate additional accountability and management of what is a significant quantity of public funds. These measures, amongst others, include:
(i) ARENA'S funding strategy is required to be endorsed by the Minister;
(ii) The Minister will endorse any grant where the amount exceeds $50 million and program guidelines permit grants in excess of $15 million to an individual project …
The government is committed to taking action on climate change and recognises the importance of keeping momentum on the renewable energy industry. The government's renewable energy bill provides the avenue through which renewable energy can play its vital role in ensuring a clean energy future for this country. That is why we are taking these actions for future generations. I commend this legislation to the House.
I rise to speak in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and related bill. This government has set a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. I note with some satisfaction that it is a bipartisan target—at times, something quite surprising—and that these bills are designed to encourage the investment in clean energy technologies that are necessary to achieve this target.
… to solve climate change will … require a rapid and major conversion to renewable energy, as we have delayed for so long.
Perhaps they refer to the 12 wasted years of the Howard-Abbott government. In Labor's four brief years in government we have had to make a great deal of catch-up policy. Carbon pollution, emitted as a by-product of electricity generation, is easier to reduce than any other major source of pollution, especially agriculture and transport. But, until the efforts of this government, there has been little incentive to undertake these reductions.
Under the Howard government, renewable energy use, as a proportion of total energy consumption, actively declined. As a result of the former Howard government's failure to support innovation in renewable energy production by investing in research and development, there remains a significant cost gap between renewable energy such as solar and conventional forms of energy such as black and brown coal.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics inaugural Energy Resource Assessment found:
With the exception of hydro and wind energy (which is growing strongly), many of these resources are largely undeveloped, constrained by the current immaturity of technologies.
According to Professors Michael Dopita and Robert Williamson of the Australian Academy of Science:
The impact upon the climate caused by our current energy use cannot be sustained. … There exists a large difference between the price paid by consumers in Australia for electrical energy, over 80% of which is produced from black and brown coal, and the true cost of this energy, when we factor in the environmental impacts. Such market distortions hinder the development and deployment of cleaner alternatives.
Without cost competitiveness, there will be no renewable industry. These bills, in conjunction with the package of carbon pricing reforms contained in the Clean Energy Future legislation, are designed to incentivise increased uptake of renewable energy by increasing the commercial viability of renewable-power generation as compared to non-renewable forms of energy production such as black and brown coal.
Research commissioned by the Clean Energy Future Group and contained in the 2004 report A Clean Energy Future for Australia found that Australia's greenhouse pollution could be halved by 2040 through a combination of energy efficiency and switching to currently available clean energy technologies. As this report indicates, commercialisation of research is vital.
These bills create a statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, to administer funding for research, development and commercialisation of renewable energy and related technologies. The authority will be independent and not subject to governmental direction, excepting a number of safeguard provisions designed to ensure appropriate accountability and management.
The establishment of ARENA will streamline and centralise the administration of $3.2 billion in existing funding for renewable energy, currently managed by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism; the Australian Solar Institute, which is headquartered in my electorate of Newcastle; and the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy.
According to Jenny Goddard, the chair of the board of the Australian Solar Institute:
This should allow a more strategic approach to setting priorities for government support across all renewable energy technologies and better connected and coordinated administration and program delivery in any one area of technology ... The establishment of ARENA will also include welcome longer term funding certainty and increased total funding for renewable programs.
The Clean Energy Council, likewise, believe:
The establishment of ARENA provides an opportunity for consolidation of the various programs currently spread out across the two agencies and develop a more co-ordinated approach to policy development and program delivery.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill identifies the core functions of the agency as being:
… the storage and sharing of information and knowledge about renewable energy technologies
… to liaise with State and Territory governments and other authorities for the purpose of facilitating renewable energy projects for which financial assistance is, or is proposed to be, provided …
ARENA will also be responsible for providing policy advice to the Minister for Resources and Energy and will build on the advisory functions of the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy. The agency will be tasked with promoting collaboration with state and territory governments and other interested and relevant stakeholders to support renewable energy technology innovation.
A key priority for ARENA's board will be the development of a rolling three-year funding strategy identifying ARENA's principal objectives and priorities for receipt of financial assistance, determined via a merit based assessment process.
In the Australian Solar Institute, investment in solar energy research has accelerated market innovation in photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal technologies, and I would encourage the future ARENA board to provide adequate funding for solar research to look closely at the Australian Solar Institute's model. I would also encourage the ARENA board to maintain the investment in solar research so that Australia remains at the forefront of solar energy research and development.
The Australian Solar Institute has already committed $90 million in funding for renewable projects since its establishment. By the end of June 2011, the ASI held a research portfolio with a total project value of approximately $200 million, having attracted or leveraged off more than $115 million of additional funding from domestic and international industry, research institutions and state government. Attracting such a high level of private investment through partnership is a highly commendable performance, and I congratulate the Australian Solar Institute for all that they have achieved. I know that they work with a very small staff, very lean administration and also recommend that to Arena because the money has gone into research and actual projects. As I have said, leveraging that sort of money from the private sector and other research entities has been an outstanding model.
Fortunately the establishment of ARENA should not delay the delivery of existing renewable energy projects and initiatives. The ASI will continue to develop its existing programs, with ARENA taking responsibility for these initiatives as well as any uncommitted funding when the ASI is wound up by 31 December 2012. ASI has had a particular funding focus on technologies not yet commercialised, supporting technology that will increase the commercial uptake of solar energy by reducing the lifetime cost of solar energy production. CSIRO Newcastle saw funding for projects to develop advanced solar thermal energy storage technologies, advanced steam generating receivers for high concentration solar collectors, solar powered air turbine systems, a novel thermoelectric topping cycle receiver for CST applications and others to characterise the effect of high penetration solar intermittency on Australian electricity networks.
A $5 million foundation grant from the institute funded Australia's largest solar thermal research hub and tower at CSIRO's Solar Energy Centre in Newcastle. The tower, opened by the Prime Minister in June this year with the Minister for Resources and Energy, is 30 metres high and has been developed in partnership with Mitsubishi from Japan and the Spanish government. As I heard the member for Chisholm say, finding that investment is very important but I am particularly pleased to know that this project will be rolled out into the Western Australian mining areas because already in its initial stages it is cost-competitive with diesel. So we are seeing gains and I congratulate the ASI and wish all its staff a satisfying future.
The impact of these and other investments into renewable energy will be furthered by the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation that this government will establish in order to invest in firms utilising renewable energy and energy efficient and low emission technologies so as to overcome capital market barriers to the commercialisation of clean energy technologies. Those barriers are real, and they include the lack of Australian investment. The Smart Grid Smart City program in my electorate has many international partners and, having met many of them just recently at the opening of their information centre on the harbour in Newcastle, I know they are so excited to be part of this scale of investment in renewable technologies. Other countries are investing, yes, but we are being very strategic and very smart in the way we are doing it, particularly in terms of the grid—managing the grid, managing renewable grids, bringing grids in together and managing peak and off-peak in grids. These are things that people thought were happening that really had not happened until this government came to power. Dividends returned from investments made by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will be administered by ARENA to support the development of renewable technologies.
... our economies need a change of engine ... Renewable energies are the only future viable source if we want to protect life.
The Australian government has developed a long-term plan to transition to a clean energy future and we are reshaping the energy market through research and development and the commercialisation of renewable technologies to foster greater environmental sustainability. What is the market economy but a construct, so it does not exist independent of civil society and through bills such as these and the clean energy future reform package we will create an environmentally sustainable economy by implementing policies that foster investment and provide an incentive for people to use and to generate renewable energy. We can create a clean energy future while still growing our economy, as Sweden has done. The two are not mutually exclusive, as some on the other side of the House would suggest. Since 1990 Sweden's economy has grown by 50 per cent while they have reduced greenhouse emissions by 10 per cent. The report of the Australian Conservation Foundation and the ACTU, Green Gold Rush, concluded:
... ambitious environmental policies have an impressive track record in generating innovation, industry development, job creation and economic prosperity.
Every Australian knows that our nation has unmatched renewable resources. Wind capacity factors are five to 10 per cent higher, on average, than in the EU. We have extensive geothermal resources and we experience longer sunlight hours and more intense solar radiation than many other countries. Yet a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last year ranked Australia 12th on installed capacity for renewable power generation; we do need to do some catching up. According to Erwin Jackson, the deputy chief executive of the Climate Institute, 'global clean energy investments now outstrip traditional fossil fuel investments year-in, year-out', despite Australia accounting for just 0.8 per cent of total global investment in renewable energy—0.8 per cent of total global investment when China is investing one per cent of its GDP into renewable energy. We have an energy intensive economy and higher per capita energy consumption than most modern economies such as Germany. Described as the world's first major renewable economy, renewable energy consumption in Germany is predicted to reach 33 per cent by 2020.
We all have a part to play in creating a cleaner economy. We have benefited so much from a carbon based economy; perhaps our complacency was something that we now understand has a price. This week though, in my electorate, the Newcastle Herald reported that energy consumption in the Hunter region has decreased by up to 4.6 per cent in the past year, with this energy saving attributed to increased uptake of energy efficient appliances and more energy efficient behaviour. I congratulate the Together Todayprogram run by the Newcastle City Council, and of course all the renewable energy and clean energy programs in my electorate that have been very much part of the public information campaign and business changes as well.
By creating a long-term funding pipeline for research and development, and the commercialisation of renewable energy through the establishment of ARENA, these bills will help to make renewable energy a realistic option for the Australian community and I commend them to the House.
In conclusion, I would like to praise the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources. Having visited the institute recently, and I will be visiting there again on Friday, I know that their work has been outstanding. I also heard in other members' speeches about some of the collaborations that are happening to make sure we do develop technologies like solar paint. I also congratulate the Enterprise Connect Centre, the Clean Technology Innovation Centre, and the Smart Grid, Smart City initiative in my electorate for their good work, and I encourage the quest for renewable energy in this country.
In rising to speak on the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and the cognate bill, I say good morning, colleagues, and it is terrific to be here with you discussing what is so absolutely crucial to our economy, our community and, indeed, to our planet. It is part of our global responsibility to be talking about a clean energy future, most especially in relation to our clean energy package. One of the fundamental parts of that package is the creation of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA.
I was very pleased yesterday to have heard the opposition spokesperson, my friend the member for Groom, support this legislation. I find that very heartening for a number of reasons. One is that I know personally that he does support it and I suspect that he very strongly supports our whole clean energy package. He was within one vote of securing something similar a number of months ago from those on the other side, yet you would never know that if you listen to them speaking about the legislation since. I suspect that he is a strong believer in the package because he knows the creation of such an agency is required to bring about a cleaner energy future.
Secondly, I suspect that the support on the other side of the chamber means that they do not really have an intention to roll back this legislation in the future. I strongly suspect that will not occur and that they know it. But I do welcome it.
Thirdly, as the member for Groom understands—and certainly our ministers responsible for introducing the clean energy future package understand—such an agency makes sense: it is rational, it is practical. What it really does is consolidate the decision making around clean energy proposals into a single body, incorporate the expertise that currently exists in a number of other bodies associated with renewable energy projects and their application throughout Australia and consolidate the ability to decide on new projects and the allocation of funds which currently exist or are not allocated as yet. So I do commend the opposition on their support of this really important, practical, sensible, realistic and appropriate legislation.
ARENA, as the new agency in the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism portfolio, will incorporate initiatives previously administered separately through a range of bodies, including the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, the Australian Solar Institute and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. The collective have done a remarkably good job as they evolved the various renewable energy projects, and of course the huge potential that still exists within renewable energies, and their expertise will be incorporated in ARENA. I find that very heartening. ARENA will have an independent decision-making board appointed by the Minister for Resources and Energy and it will also have a CEO appointed by the Minister for Resources and Energy on the recommendation of the ARENA board. ARENA's role will be to allocate funding to renewable energy and enabling technology projects. The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism will provide administrative support to ARENA. The legislation before us also deals with the governance arrangements in relation to ARENA.
The establishment of ARENA will not delay the delivery of existing initiatives, and the Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund application process continues, as will the rollout of the Emerging Renewables Program, while ASI, the Australian Solar Institute, will continue to deliver its existing programs. Upon its establishment, ARENA will take over responsibility for these initiatives. ARENA will manage the $3.2 billion investment in renewable energy investments to promote research and development, demonstration, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy projects to improve the sector's competitiveness. Around $1.7 billion in uncommitted funding from a range of consolidated programs will be available to the ARENA board to invest in new renewable energy projects such as large-scale solar, geothermal and ocean. It will also include projects that potentially involve renewable energy related transmission infrastructure investments between now and 2020.
This funding will be allocated in accordance with the funding strategy developed by the ARENA board. ARENA will fund projects that will help increase the deployment of renewable energy and drive down its costs in an Australian context. It will complement the new Clean Energy Finance Corporation. ARENA will oversee existing government support from the following initiatives and will have responsibility for managing the unallocated funds from these initiatives—for example, the Solar Flagships Program, the Australian Solar Institute, Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund (Solar), Renewable Energy Demonstration Program, ACRE Solar Projects, Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund, Australian Biofuels Research Institute, Emerging Renewables Program, Geothermal Drilling Program, Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program and, finally, Connecting Renewables Initiative. That is the purview of this legislation. As I said before, it is a consolidation of the ideas, technologies, funding, expertise and investment in research and development related to Australian renewable energy.
While I am on that really interesting topic of renewable energy, you cannot think renewable energy unless you think of Tasmania. We are the renewable energy capital of not just Australia but our wider region.
It could well be the world. We have been renewable for many decades. Most of that is associated with hydroelectricity. We also have excellent wind generation capacity, geothermal, wave power and so forth. What do we think about renewable energy? First of all, it is produced from resources that replenish themselves in a short time frame. Energy obtained from wind power or water—hydro, for example—does not use up any resource in its creation, thereby ensuring an inexhaustible supply. Other forms of renewable energy include solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, wave and biomass. Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas are finite resources that are being depleted at a rapid rate as well as producing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas of major concern because of global warming. We should all understand that. Renewable energy produces less CO2 emissions than energy obtained by burning fossil fuels and is consequently a preferable source of energy.
Tasmania is currently the leader in renewable energy generation in Australia and is well known for its impressive hydroelectricity system. Tasmania also has one of the best performing wind farms in the world. It is in my region and is called Woolnorth. This is in the far north-west of Tassie; in fact, it is right next door to a rather interesting place called Cape Grim—by the way, magnificent Cape Grim premium beef is produced in that area as well. And that is only rivalled in the world by King Island premium beef.
Ms Marino interjecting—
Indeed. As soon as you step out of Braddon I am sure that there are other contenders. However, we have a worldwide reputation for our beef. Cape Grim also has an air monitoring station. It is said to monitor the cleanest air in the world—and I am sure that you have heard this and believe it. That is where we take the air monitoring records. So we have the lot: the cleanest air in the world, the best beef in the world and the best wind in the world.
It is a utopia. And we have the best representative in the federal parliament, the current member for Braddon! Enough—you interrupt me.
Renewable hydro and wind power currently represents 87 per cent of mainland Tasmania's installed electricity generation capacity. There is indeed significant potential for the expansion of renewable energy generation in Tassie and for Tasmania to become a showcase for not just tomorrow's but today's renewable energy technologies. I mentioned before that we have hydro electricity. We are renowned for that. And hydro provides tourism potential. So we have all the benefits that flow from these massive hydro schemes.
The other renewable energy resource that have is wind. Tassie lies in the path of the Roaring Forties, the prevailing westerly winds that circle the earth at high southern latitudes. Tassie has world-class resources for the generation of wind power. Currently, there are two major operating wind farms in the state, Woolnorth in the north-west—which I just mentioned to you—and Huxley Hill wind farm on King Island. That wind farm's technology is also going to extend to Flinders Island, which is the jewel in the crown, I suppose, of the electorate of Bass as King Island is the jewel in the crown for the whole of Tasmania.
On 20 February 2010 the Minister for Resources and Energy and I had the great privilege of announcing the King Island Renewable Energy Integration Program, which was part and parcel of the government's renewable energy packages for Australia. This $15.28 million was a major funding boost, as part of a $46 million project on King Island and with technologies transferable to Flinders Island, in conjunction with the Tasmanian government and Hydro Tasmania. That has, effectively, integrated a number of renewable energy technologies, which of course can be transferable to other remote area locations. These are a combination of solar, wind and photovoltaic cells to store energy, along with the use and capacity of diesel generators. Because King Island is not connected directly to the Tasmanian mainland, the intention is to put together composite forms of energy but, most especially, to develop the renewable energy side of that so that the island can rely on renewable resources for its energy rather than on diesel. It is a really exciting project.
The Prime Minister recently visited King Island. In fact, it was only the second time a Prime Minister of Australia had visited King Island. I think former Prime Minister Robert Menzies visited some 50-odd years before. The Prime Minister joined with me and the community and visited that site. They are truly pioneering renewable technologies at work, which will be transferable to other areas in Australia. I congratulate the current Minister for Resources and Energy, Minister Ferguson, this government, the Tasmanian government and Hydro Tasmania for the terrific work that they are doing there.
That is not to say that Tassie is not investing even more in renewable energy. In terms of wind energy for Tassie, Musselroe Bay is the next cab off the rank. There are some very exciting geothermal projects in the southern part of the state. Technologies such as wave technology and the use of biomass are also being developed in Tassie. We will always remain the clean energy and renewable capital of Australia. (Time expired)
It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Consequential Arrangements and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011. These bills create a statutory authority, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act. The bill also establishes the position of the members on the board of ARENA and the ARENA chief executive and sets out ARENA's governance, financial and operational arrangements.
This is a very important part of the government's package to lower carbon emissions. As we all know, landmark legislation has been passed through parliament. The clean energy legislation is the first tranche of Labor's efforts to lower carbon emissions. It is evident that the government is taking the issue of climate change very seriously.
The second aspect of addressing climate change is the legislation that we have before us today. It is about producing innovation and investment and, in doing that, we will be lowering emissions. It is all about lowering emissions and providing a clean energy future. Members of this parliament know that the way to a clean energy future is not only by putting a price on carbon, which is really important because it acts as a disincentive to pollute; but there is the other aspect—and that is putting in place the technology that will enable us to move towards a renewable energy economy. It is all about creating new jobs and skills for the future. The piece of legislation we have before us today is about a clean energy future.
ARENA, the new agency, will incorporate initiatives previously administered separately through a range of different bodies, and there have already been an enormous number of initiatives taken by this government to move towards a clean and renewable energy future. Previously, this was administered through the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, the Solar Institute and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism; now it will all be under one umbrella while the government is making significant investments in a renewable energy future.
ARENA will manage a $3.2 billion dollar fund in renewable energy; invest and promote research and development; and demonstrate commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy to improve projects around $1.7 billion in uncommitted funds for a range of consolidated programs. It will fund projects that will increase the deployment of renewable energy like the Solar Flagships program; Australian Solar Institute; Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund; Renewable Energy Demonstration Program; ACRE solar projects; Renewable Energy Venture Capital; Australian Biofuels Research Institute; Emerging Renewables program; Geothermal Drilling Program; Second Generation Biofuel Research and Development Program; and Connecting Renewables Initiative. From that list, you can see that ARENA in a coordinating role will fund current projects at a higher level and see them working together.
In the region that I come from there have already been significant investments in new technology. A solar tower was opened in June this year and the development of that facility was supported by a $500 million grant from the government from the Australian Solar Institute in a partnership program. The Minister for Resources and Energy came to the opening. The Hunter region is already home to the CSIRO National Solar Energy Centre, the Australian Solar Institute and the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources as well as the Smart Grid, Smart City initiative, which I think is the way of the future.
The tower is surrounded by 450 locally manufactured custom designed mirrors, heliostats. It is capable of generating temperatures of up to 1500 degrees Celsius and is used to research solar energy. It is a smaller project at this stage but it is the type of innovation we will be seeing into the future.
I would like to share with the House that Moree Solar Farm has won a $1.5 billion through the Solar Flagships program and $464 million for the Solar Dawn project in Chinchilla, which is worth an estimated $1.2 billion. Around $306.5 million went to the project in Moree. That is a considerable amount of money, but we cannot just judge it in dollar terms. We have to look at what it is delivering to this nation, what it is delivering for the future sustainability of our nation and what role it will play in lowering emissions.
The Solar Dawn consortium's solar-thermal power hybrid plant near Chinchilla will be the largest generator of solar power in this country, and 85 per cent of Solar Dawn's power will be emissions free. That is rather spectacular. These are programs that exist at the moment but there will be many more programs established in future. There are programs that we cannot even think of at the moment because the technologies are unknown. It is because of ARENA and the investment in renewable energy in this country that we will be able to consider a future where we have lower emissions and a more environmentally friendly economy—an economy with new green jobs and an economy where we are producing energy in a much more efficient way.
I was privileged to go with the Climate Change, Environment and the Arts Committee to China. We looked at what actions China was taking to address climate change. The first thing I found overwhelming was the fact that everywhere we went in China people acknowledged the fact that climate change was a reality. They also acknowledged the fact that if we did not do something to address climate change, and if China did not do something to address climate change, their future and the future of our planet would be greatly jeopardised. There was a common will to look at climate change and to look at initiatives that could be taken.
For the record, six provinces in China have already introduced carbon pricing schemes. In addition to that I want to share with the parliament some of the exciting renewable energy initiatives that are taking place in China. We went to Baoding, which is a province not far from Beijing. We visited the Yingli Green Energy solar panel factory. It was a high-tech industrial development zone and we saw the products they were producing, which were all renewable and alternative energy generated. We also looked at the way the plant operated. We visited the photovoltaic grid-connected system at the hotel where we had lunch. The hotel was powered solely by alternative and renewable energy. We visited a number of exciting projects; we even saw a jointly funded project that was capturing CO2 and using it in food products. The CSIRO had contributed to that project. It showed a partnership between the Australian government and the Chinese government.
It was really interesting to see what was happening in that area. Whilst we were there we also visited Tianjin, which is an ecocity. It is not completed as yet; it has been reported in the media here. We picked up those reports here and decided that, while we were there, we would really like to see it. The first thing that became apparent was the lighting on the streets, which is powered by solar panels plus wind power. So two forms of alternative energy are used to power those streetlights. Interestingly, the whole of the environment is designed to encourage people to use bikes, to walk and to use alternative approaches to getting around in that area. It is a centre of great innovation and it is a joint project between Singapore and China. I would recommend to anyone that, if possible, they should go and have a look at it, particularly in a couple of years down the track, when it will be closer to completion.
We also went to Shanghai and whilst in Shanghai we visited their alternative energy display. It is obviously of great interest to people who live in Shanghai, because school children were being taken through the centre. You could see so many different and alternative forms of heating, cooling and different ways of cooking. It was very interesting to see how the Chinese had embraced the need for renewable energy.
Here in Australia, the establishment of ARENA will see that our commitment to renewable energy is coordinated and that here in Australia we are now fulfilling our commitment to a renewable energy future.
I rise to speak in support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011. Together they form part of the government's suite of policies designed to address climate change, to provoke and support innovation, and to guarantee our place in a burgeoning global renewable energy economy.
The main bill creates the proposed Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, whose role as an independent statutory body will be to provide independent administration of the support which government will provide to increase the competitiveness of renewable energy and, in so doing, to increase the supply of renewable energy. In that way, ARENA will deliver specific and targeted program assistance that will operate in addition to the two macroeconomic level incentives, namely, the price on carbon and the renewable energy target.
ARENA will be responsible for delivering financial assistance for the research and development, demonstration, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and related technologies. The ARENA (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill facilitates the effective absorption into ARENA of the functions of the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, ACRE, and the Australian Solar Institute, ASI, through the consolidation and streamlining for which ARENA is being established. As ARENA will come into existence on 1 July 2012, the transfer of assets, projects, personnel and so on from ACRE and ASI to the new ARENA structure is expected to occur in the second half of next year. As I have mentioned, ARENA will administer $3.2 billion in existing program funding, $1.7 billion of which is as yet unallocated, and the government is establishing ARENA on the basis of prescribed funding, out to 2020, for the sake of ensuring industry certainty and confidence. It is important, as we embark on this period of dynamic change in our economy, to remember that the pursuit of a strong and substantial renewable energy industry in Australia is based on a number of considerations. In the current public debate there is an understandably strong association between renewable energy and the problem of climate change, and it is well understood that non-renewable energy, which we derive from hydrocarbon fuels of one kind or another, produces carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to global warming and related climate effects. So, the more we employ renewable energy sources rather than non-renewable energy sources, the more we reduce our carbon emissions.
But the creation of a vibrant renewable energy sector in Australia offers a number of wider benefits. At the simplest level, a reduction in carbon pollution across the board will obviously deliver cleaner air, but there are also significant economic and energy security benefits that render nonsensical the outdated view of the pursuit of renewable energy as some kind of environmental imperative of marginal economic value. To take that view is to overlook perhaps the most important long-term reason for growing our renewable energy capacity and knowledge—that is that, even with considerable Australian and worldwide non-renewable resources available, those resources are finite and are being devoured at an ever-increasing rate. At some point civilisation will be forced to give up its reliance on cheap non-renewable energy, and those countries that not only begin that transition but become established as innovators and exporters in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields will reap the employment and economic benefits that will come with successful early adoption.
There can be no question that many other countries understand the imperative to move into renewable energy, and this brings me to the main point I want to make, which is that Australia has the opportunity to be at the forefront of an industry that is already showing signs of being one of the fastest growing areas of investment and innovation.
In the course of the climate change debate over the last decade, there have been those who argued that, with Australia's abundant non-renewable resources, we have no need to move into renewable energy and, indeed, would be harming our existing carbon resource strengths if we did so. That is retrograde thinking, in my view. It is complacent, self-limiting, head-in-the-sand stuff. The world is shifting, because it must shift, and we have the chance to be a leading participant in change. We have the chance to be both a country that will benefit from a range of new technologies and one that is also very likely to be the source of inventions that will benefit the global community to which we belong.
On this last point, a recent report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Program and produced as a cooperative endeavour with the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, provides a very useful overview of the current state of global renewable energy investment, which is growing strongly. One of the most startling pieces of data in this report is that for the first time in 2010 more was invested on renewable energy in developing countries than in developed countries. In fact, financial new investment in developing countries totalled $72 billion as against $70 billion in developed countries. In 2004, the ratio was four to one in favour of developed countries.
China has led that surge, with nearly $50 billion invested last year to make it by far the largest source and location of renewable energy investment. But while China's investment, predominantly in the form of asset finance for large wind farms, jumped 28 per cent in 2010, financial new investment in South and Central America grew 39 per cent to $13 billion; and in the Middle East and Africa region, investment surged by 104 per cent to $5 billion. While this steep climb in global renewable investment is very welcome, it is also a reminder that the world is moving rapidly and that we would be fooling ourselves if we thought we were leading the charge or going out on a limb in this area.
Total global investment in renewable power and fuels reached $211 billion in 2010, a 32 per cent increase on 2009 and approximately 5½ times the investment made in 2004. In the report's foreword, Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, summarises recent progress by saying:
Renewable energies are expanding both in terms of investment, projects and geographical spread. In doing so, they are making an increasing contribution to combating climate change, countering energy poverty and energy insecurity, stimulating green jobs and meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
The UN climate convention in Durban later in the year, followed by the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil in 2012, offer important opportunities to accelerate and scale-up this positive transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.
All of this is encouraging news because investment in renewable energy and related technologies is leaping ahead, even through a time of economic instability, and even in circumstances of constrained financial confidence and capacity. 2010 was also the first year that total investment in solar came close to matching the investment in wind, once you include the $60 billion in small-scale distributed solar capacity investment, up from $31 billion the previous year, much of which was concentrated in rooftop photovoltaics in Europe, led by Germany. That shows the wisdom of this government's historic support for household solar PV. Indeed, since the election of the Labor government in 2007, we have supported the installation of something like 150,000 household PV units at a rate of close to 40,000 per annum, which is in stark comparison to the former government's effort in supporting barely 12,000 in their 11 years in office. I know that in Western Australia, where the WA government has overseen a 50 per cent increase in electricity prices in three years, there are now thousands of households with the in-built capacity to better weather such costs.
The support provided by this Labor government has begun, quite literally, a transformation of the suburbs, so that solar panels on roofs are no longer novelties and, though still represented by a minority of houses, are now at least relatively commonplace. But as the household solar industry has become established, and with the combined effect of economies of scale, lower input costs and a high Australian dollar, the direct government support is being sensibly scaled back. That is the responsible approach: first, to turbocharge innovation and investment, and then retreat once the industry and market has become established, both here and globally. And, happily, it remains the case that a 1.5-kilowatt household solar system can be installed on the roof of most average Australian houses for around $2,000, with a likely capital payback period of between five and seven years.
The experience in Australia in terms of cost and price reduction through the strength of well-established industries and competitive market forces is reflected globally, with the price of PV modules per megawatt falling 60 per cent over the last three years according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance Estimates, and the price of wind turbines falling 18 per cent per megawatt in the last two years. This is the proof that investment in renewable energy development and commercialisation will in time provide energy source options that are increasingly cost competitive with non-renewable sources. But the investment and the regulatory support is essential if that is to occur.
It stands to reason that the recent vertiginous jumps in the cost of electricity will be retrospectively attributed to the carbon price, though it will be cravenly dishonest for anyone to do so. The reality is that the government's Clean Energy Future policy will provide the investment necessary to spark Australian innovation in new sources of energy and new energy frameworks, with better long-term outcomes for Australian households than would be possible if we took a do-nothing approach and allowed Australia's renewable energy sector to lag in the wake of what is occurring elsewhere.
I have spoken before in this place about a company in my electorate, Carnegie Wave Energy, which has pioneered a wave-power technology using specially designed buoys that are anchored to the seabed and generate both emission-free electricity and emission-free desalinated water from the ocean's movement. Carnegie already has a commercial-scale demonstration of its technology on the seabed in WA's Cockburn Sound, and is pushing ahead with agreed projects in Ireland, Bermuda and Reunion Island. The Irish wave energy project, as one example, is a proposed five-megawatt demonstration project for which the conceptual design and site study was 50 per cent funded by the Irish government's Sustainable Energy Authority under the Ocean Energy Prototype Research and Development Program. This is the kind of forward-looking and supportive approach that Australia has embarked upon, and I am sure that companies like Carnegie Wave Energy will look to the opportunities provided through the creation of ARENA in order to expand and leverage the success they have already achieved.
There can be little doubt that the global economy is on the cusp of an energy profile transformation and that many countries, developed and developing, are working to establish footholds in this critical sector. Australia has a role to play, both on its own behalf for the benefit of Australian jobs and energy security and as part of our historic role as an innovator—as a country that has delivered, for the world's benefit, advances that go back to the Westinghouse air brake, the first invention to be granted an Australian patent, and of course include recent inventions like the cochlear ear implant, the cervical cancer vaccine, and CSIRO's wi-fi technology. Renewable energy and related technologies represent an opportunity that must be embraced—and this is a government that is intent on seizing that opportunity or, rather, on opening up a window through which Australian companies can take their part in one of the most important, exciting and innovative areas of human endeavour and industry. As we look forward to the visit by the President of the United States, it is timely to consider the approach being taken in this area by the world's largest economy. In June last year, President Obama spoke about the clean energy challenge. He said:
For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America's century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candour.
… … …
We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny.
This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels will take some time, but over the last year and a half, we have already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry. As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient. Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that will someday lead to entire new industries.
Each of us has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us. As we recover from this recession, the transition to clean energy has the potential to grow our economy and create millions of good, middle-class jobs but only if we accelerate that transition. Only if we seize the moment. And only if we rally together and act as one nation workers and entrepreneurs; scientists and citizens; the public and private sectors.
It is an essential part of the Labor ethos that a strong economy should be the foundation for positive long-term reform. These bills, which go hand in hand with the clean energy future package, are very much consonant with that ethos. It is a characteristic feature of Labor governments that we take on the difficult big-picture structural changes that are necessary to put Australia on the path to prosperity with fairness, to productivity that is sustainable and to a social and physical framework for our communities that in the face of future challenges is optimistic but realistic at the same time. These bills are part of that task which I wholeheartedly support.
I rise to support the Australian Renewable Energy Agency Bill 2011 and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011. I am very pleased to support these bills as they are part of a very important step towards our clean energy future. This Labor government has already done significant heavy lifting when it comes to renewable energy. In 2009, we introduced the Renewable Energy Target of 20 per cent which provides a cross-subsidy to the renewable energy sector. Already the renewable energy target has led to $8 billion of total investment in renewable energy.
This government has started the hard work of transitioning our country to a clean energy future. These bills before the House today take it another step by bringing together and consolidating a number of different programs administered by a number of different agencies under an independent body named ARENA. ARENA will manage the $32 billion in renewable energy investment to promote research and development, demonstration, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy projects to improve the sector's competitiveness.
This will be incredibly important as this country harnesses the opportunities that a clean energy future provides. Renewable energy technologies not only provide the opportunity for our country to reduce our carbon emissions but also provide the opportunity to invest and innovate and to support industries which can deliver to the rest of the world. This is a really exciting opportunity that a number of businesses in my electorate are taking up. In particular I want to say that there will be a real opportunity through the Tonsley Park redevelopment that will benefit significantly from this transition to a clean energy future. Most people would remember the old Mitsubishi site. I know you are very familiar with it, Deputy Speaker Georganas. Unfortunately, Mitsubishi decided to pull out of that site and no longer manufactures cars in South Australia. While this was very disappointing for the local area and for a lot of workers, it has presented an opportunity that the state government has taken up. The state government has bought the site, which is very large, and has a vision that it will be a hub of innovative companies and sustainable technologies, including clean tech and environmental industries, along with the associated advanced manufacturing. It will integrate industry, education, training, research and community amenities. This is a very uniquely positioned site which sits between Science Park and Flinders University, and the state government is also looking to build a TAFE to teach young people—and older people as well—skills in this new industry for the future.
So I believe that our clean energy future will provide a lot of opportunities. This bill is part of this. I saw today that the opposition has agreed to support this bill. I am not sure what happened to their 'We will repeal the clean energy future'—obviously step by step. They are backing down on that, and I have no doubt that in the future we will continue to see a backdown from the opposition. We believe in going forward with this, ensuring that we do have a clean energy future. My electorate, in sites like Tonsley, is really set to benefit in this emerging industry that I think will create a lot of jobs and a lot of innovation.
I thank the member for Kingston for that very concise, objective, constructive contribution to this key debate. As many members who have participated in the debate have indicated, this bill establishes ARENA, the members of its board and its chief executive officer and sets out how ARENA will operate and be funded. The bill delivers on the Australian government's commitment to establish ARENA as part of its clean energy future plan announced on 10 July this year. ARENA has been very much the ambition of my department and my office and finally consolidates in a rational approach the existing renewable energy grant funding currently managed by the Australian government and by Australian government funded renewable energy agencies. I extend my appreciation to the Australian Solar Institute and ACRE for the constructive manner in which they have approached the government's objective to establish ARENA. They have made a fine contribution to our endeavours on clean energy over recent times.
ARENA will provide a robust framework to deliver funding for new clean energy technologies, providing the certainty of funding and long-term policy settings and a renewed focus on innovation in renewable energy and related technologies essential to keeping Australia at the forefront of technology change in what is already becoming a major growth industry. I look forward to seeing how ARENA will support the renewable energy sector to innovate, prosper and assist Australia in meeting a huge challenge—climate change—while maintaining a secure, efficient and affordable energy supply.
I would also like to respond to a couple of comments made during the course of this debate. I first indicate that I appreciate the contribution from all those who have spoken in these bills, but I particularly welcome the constructive approach and support for this bill by the coalition in not opposing ARENA's establishment. That is very important because it says to the renewables sector that there is some certainty in the operation and funding of ARENA in the future. I especially note the contribution of my shadow minister, the member for Groom, Mr Macfarlane, and the understanding of the renewables sector by the member for Flinders. With regard to the contribution of the member for Groom, particularly reminding us of the achievements of the Howard government in terms of the MRET, I wonder if he has had discussions with Senator Boswell of the National Party and whether he shares his enthusiasm in being reminded that the MRET was a coalition achievement. I think not. Putting that aside, both the member for Groom and I understand the challenges of technology, as do the member for Flinders and, I might say, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mr Greg Combet. There are huge challenges in developing clean energy technologies, and this is clearly seen in the progress of a legacy program I inherited from the coalition, the LETDF projects, which to date have been far more difficult than would have been envisaged when these projects were announced by the Howard government. I say this because it is easy to sit on the sidelines and say that progress is not being made, but in terms of the clean energy debate and the issues around innovation, it is not easy.
We as a government will not seek to pick winners but to contribute generous taxpayers' dollars to working with industry, both domestically and internationally; our research institutions, including our universities and CSIRO; and our CRCs to try and do whatever we can to make the necessary breakthroughs to achieve clean energy on a reliable low-cost base for Australian consumers in both industry and households. For those reasons, recognising these challenges, ARENA is a very sensible policy development and therefore has the support of virtually all members of the House.
I note Senator Milne's contribution to this debate yesterday, when she saw fit—for whatever reason, I do not know—to put out a press release talking about avoiding political interference in particular projects. Let me be very clear about this. In my time as a minister as I have always taken expert advice and relied heavily on my department and expert committees to ensure proper merit based assessment in spending Commonwealth money on clean energy technologies. I therefore take exception to Senator Milne's comments and to her reflection on my department and its professionalism and those people who gave freely of their own time and made a huge contribution in serving on the expert committees, which have seen a huge amount of work done and enabled us to get to this point in terms of trying to test clean energy technologies.
I also say, given the member for Melbourne's contributions, that perhaps Senator Milne needs to have a discussion with him. I specifically refer to his comments regarding Solar Systems. His comments without a doubt suggest that the government should have waived requirements around milestones to get taxpayers' money out the door to Solar Systems. I simply suggest that this seems to be at odds with comments from the Greens, principally Senator Milne, about the need for proper process. Before talking about the politicising of the administration of grants, they want to have a look at themselves in the mirror. At the time of Solar Systems, I acted on the advice of my department, and that is key to how you handle the integrity of selection processes. The money was allocated to a particular project, not to running the Solar Systems business, and I am concerned by suggestions from the member for Melbourne that we should have waived project milestones just to suit his pet project in his seat of Melbourne.
Again, I simply note for the House that this just shows that the Greens really do not care about proper process and integrity in projection selection. They are more about picking their pet winners with no regard for due process and proper accountability of taxpayers' money and agreed milestones, for proper and prudent expenditure of finite taxpayers' moneys for which we have responsibility as a government to allocate to clean energy technology. Any suggestion otherwise is wrong, and criticism of projects reflects on the integrity of my department, our now expert advisers, who have done a good job to date.
Furthermore, this is often the Australian Greens' and Green NGOs' approach to life: lobbying for outcomes that do not follow proper process, whether it be seeking to block economic development if they object to a particular project, irrespective of the integrity of necessary regulatory processes, be they of an Indigenous or environmental nature. We have seen this on a range of project issues around Australia at the moment. In essence, the rule of law is set aside by the Greens and NGOs for environmental and Indigenous approvals because of a dozen short-term political objectives with respect to membership or raising financial assistance from the broader community. It is not the role of government to select particular companies or technologies. Due process, separate from political considerations, should be the determinant of these complex issues. Having said that, I simply say as the minister that there is a proper assessment on the merits of supporting different technologies and I want to see that the projects are assessed on merit. That is the approach I have adopted and that is the approach I will take with the establishment of ARENA. That is why one of ARENA's first tasks will be to develop a funding strategy to guide ARENA 's support for renewable energy technologies. Likewise, the ARENA board and the CEO will be appointed free of political interference in accordance with a skills matrix to ensure that the best advice is provided to government. There is no use lobbying government about friends or political mates to be appointed to boards in terms of my ministerial responsibilities. They will be based on a skills matrix, integrity and what they can contribute to a process and not on the basis that a particular minor party or an environmental NGO wants to sponsor their nomination.
In conclusion, I welcome the contributions of all the members who have participated in this debate. I extend my appreciation to the departmental team led by Nicola Morris for all their hard work. This is a complex bill put together over a very short period. In doing so, they ensured that they consulted with a range of organisations, both government and non-government, to ensure that we got it right. I think the fact that effectively the whole of the House of Representatives, as a result of this debate, has indicated support indicates that they have got it right and they are to be commended for a job well done. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I thank members for their contributions to the debate on the establishment of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, to which this bill relates. This will complement the principle establishing ARENA by ensuring that the transfer of administration of existing projects and programs to ARENA is managed with minimal disruption to the renewable energy sector and allowing existing projects to largely carry on with business as usual.
The measures in this bill will allow for the ARENA board to promptly commence operation on 1 July 2012 and to quickly determine its strategy and forward work plan. Timely and seamless transfer of existing programs and projects supporting renewable energy and related technology funding is important to sustaining momentum in the renewable energy technology sector and to ensuring that ARENA is able to carry on with all the good work done so far by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, the Australian Solar Institute and the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Online Games) Bill 2011 seeks to amend the current uncertainty surrounding the classification of mobile phone and online games by granting a two-year moratorium on the formal classification of online games. As many members would be aware, technology in this area evolves incredibly fast. It is difficult to keep the regulatory environment up to date, although the opposition considers that this bill, in asking providers of online games to self-regulate, is a sensible approach. The proposed amendments contained within this bill will see the insertion of a new category of exempt online games into the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, which removes the requirements for mobile phone and online games to be classified.
The coalition supports the bill, which seeks to simplify the classification process of online games and the self-regulation amongst the telecommunications industry pending the results of the Australian Law Reform Commission review of the National Classification Scheme. It has been 20 years since the Australian Law Reform Commission was required to give a reference relating to censorship and classification. This is a reflection of the rapid pace of technological change and the amount and type of media available to the Australian community. It is time for legislation to reflect the complicated modern communications landscape that has been completely rewritten since the globalisation of media. It is no longer feasible for the Classification Board to trace online media content considering a large proportion does not come from an Australian based distributor.
The coalition supports the need to improve the classification information available to the community and to enhance public understanding of these classifications so parents can make informed decisions on the content they expose their children to when purchasing and participating in online games. Today's consumers have access to an ever-increasing variety of online games. They are available on many platforms including mobile phones and other electronic devices. Many members would be familiar with games such as Angry Birds Online or other such games that we can get on our iPad, but that is of course one of literally the many thousands of online games now available. The idea that the Classification Board could sensibly classify them all individually is clearly something that is not feasible and that this legislation seeks to address.
At present the classification of mobile phone and online games is regulated under the National Classification Scheme. This cooperative scheme between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments contains the procedures for classification of mobile phone and online games, but the responsibility to enforce legislation remains with the states and territories. The coalition is concerned that at present the majority of mobile applications and online games are not classified before being made available to the public, which is a breach of the current state and territory legislation.
In recent times there has been a significant increase in the number of games and applications readily available for mobile devices and other platforms. There are literally thousands of application submissions every month for licensing with Apple products alone. The National Classification Scheme was not established with this huge quantity of content in mind. Under the current legislation, the Classification Board does not possess the administrative resources to assess even a fraction of the mobile phone and online games that would be submitted for classification, not to mention the significant financial burden that this would place on the industry. With the current regulatory uncertainty surrounding this issue, members of the telecommunications industry have expressed concern about the current regulatory uncertainty and they require clarity on the present legal requirements for the classification of mobile phone and online games.
This bill seeks to amend the principal act to create a much-needed category of exempt online games and, as a result, remove the requirements for mobile phone and online games to be classified for a two-year period. When the current legislation was originally written, it could not possibly have envisaged the rapid rate at which gaming technology has expanded, let alone the rapid development of online games and mobile phone applications. The aim of the bill is to provide clarity for both the local games industry and the community about the regulation of mobile and online games. The industry will still be able to submit these types of games to the Classification Board of Australia for classification but, importantly, will no longer be in violation if they choose not to do so. The industry will be required to self-regulate under the proposed two-year moratorium and maintain awareness of the sanctions for under-classifying its products. The proposed changes to the act are intended to remain in place for two years, after which long-term reforms to combat this issue will be established following the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its review of the National Classification Scheme, to be finalised in 2012. The coalition believes it is important to ensure that the proposed exemption will not apply to computer games which are likely to contain offensive material and would normally be refused classification. It is highly important that existing protections against this category of offensive material continue to apply to online games. Children today are already overexposed to violent and immoral images through their widely unrestricted ability to access the internet and online games. Clearly it is often extraordinarily difficult for parents to police their children's access to this sort of content. The classification of online games is essential to help provide better information and advice to parents to help prevent their children, including their teenagers, from accessing games that may contain gratuitous sex, violence or drug use.
In some circumstances there is arguably a need to restrict access to some online gaming content on the basis of our community standards. However it is important that the parliament also acknowledge that the majority of these games are played by adults who have the right to choose to play online games that contain adult content. It is not up to us as a parliament to act as people's parents, and clearly adults should be the best arbiters of what they should access in almost all circumstances. Some stakeholders, including Apple, understand that policing the output of this type of material in the traditional sense is near impossible. However licensors such as Apple take great care in compliance monitoring of their products before making them readily available for wider distribution.
The coalition knows it is essential to keep many of the other regulatory protections in place. Under the Broadcasting Services Act individuals can lodge a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority when they are concerned that an online game contains prohibited material. The Director of the Classification Board will still retain the power to investigate any computer game that it suspects contains contentious material that is likely to require the game to be classified as higher than an M rating. The ideal outcome for the Australian Law Reform Commission's findings would be for it to recommend measures that will reduce or avoid a financial and regulatory snarl for the telecommunications sector whilst providing clear and precise classifications for the gaming industry and the wider Australian community.
In summary, the huge increase in volume and variety of online games has made the existing classification regime impractical and redundant. The coalition supports the two-year moratorium on formal classification of online games, pending the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Whilst the coalition supports the bill, we believe it is necessary that 'refused classification' material not be subject to the moratorium. We must continue to balance the rights of adults to make informed choices with the protection of our children. This legislation will require the telecommunications industry to self-regulate its products and it will still face sanctions for the incorrect classification of inappropriate material that it makes readily available to consumers. It is vital to reform the current classification framework in Australia, otherwise we run the risk of damaging our creative industry in this increasingly globalised media environment. We therefore support the passage of this bill through the parliament. It does seem to be a sensible approach to the ongoing technological challenges that are thrown up by the significant advances in technology for online gaming.
I commend the government on coming up with a sensible approach to this issue and we look forward to seeing what the Australian Law Reform Commission comes up with. Certainly from the opposition's perspective a properly working self-regulatory approach would be preferable to going back to a more heavy-handed approach where the government needs to look at individual things before they are classified in a way that would certainly be impractical and would require levels of resourcing for the Classification Board that I do not think would be warranted when another approach might work.
I rise to speak on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Online Games) Bi11 2011. As the member for Stirling said, the bill seeks to establish clarity around the classification of mobile phone and online games by providing a two-year moratorium on the formal classification of online games. The proposed amendments to this bill will see the insertion of a new category of exempt online games into the classification act which removes the requirements for mobile phone and online games to be classified.
The coalition supports the bill, which seeks to simplify the classification process of online games and the self-regulation amongst the telecommunications industry, pending the results of the Australian Law Reform Commission review. It is worth noting that it 20 years since the Australian Law Reform Commission has been given a reference relating to censorship and classification. Twenty years hence the Australian community, as a result of the rapid advancement of technology in terms of media, has access to a plethora of applications that are now available, for example, on iPhones or iPads. The member for Stirling was talking about Angry Birds. I have not played that game but I have seen many people on planes playing it.
Globalisation of media in the complicated modern communication space requires legislation particularly to do with classification that must be adaptive and reflective of advancing technologies. The feasibility of the Classification Board tracing online media content is impractical when a large proportion is distributed from offshore. Classification information available to the community must be improved. The coalition supports such improvement in the understanding that, in particular, parents require information so they can make informed decisions when allowing their children to be exposed to social or online media, which includes the purchase and participation of online games. I know as a parent I have always used the movie classifications as an important part of my decision-making process.
I fully support the call to improve classification information. Technology has advanced exponentially—so much so that today's consumers have access to an ever-increasing variety of online games that are available on many platforms, including, as I have said, mobile phones, iPads, iPods and other similar electronic network devices. Currently, the classification of mobile phone and online games is regulated under the National Classification Scheme, as the member for Stirling said. This cooperative scheme between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments contains the procedures for classification of mobile phone and online games, but the responsibility to enforce this legislation remains with the states and territories.
A large number of mobile phone and online games which are currently available to the public are not classified before being made available, and therefore are potentially in breach of current state and territory legislation. This is of considerable concern to the coalition, particularly when you consider the thousands of application submissions each month for the licensing of Apple products alone.
When established, there was never an expectation that the National Classification Scheme would be involved in processing the level of content currently available. In consideration of the current legislation, it is clear that the Classification Board does not have the administrative resources to assess even a portion of the mobile phone and online games that would be submitted for classification. The telecommunications industry has expressed concern about the current regulatory uncertainty and they require clarity on the present legal requirements for the classification of mobile phone and online games.
This bill seeks to amend the principal act to create a much needed category of exempt online games and, as a result, remove the requirement for mobile phone and online games to be classified for a two-year period. The drafters of the current legislation could not have foreseen the significant and rapid development of gaming technology, particularly of online games and mobile phone applications.
The aim of the bill is to provide regulations for mobile and online games which the local industry and community can understand. It is intended that the industry can still submit these types of games to the Classification Board of Australia for classification but, importantly, as the member for Stirling said, they will no longer be in violation if they do not do so, as the industry will be required to self-regulate under the proposed two-year moratorium. The proposed changes to the act are intended to remain in place for two years, after which long-term reforms to combat this issue will be established following the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission after its review of the National Classification Scheme, which is expected to be finalised in 2012. The coalition believes that it is important to ensure that the proposed exemption will not apply to computer games which are likely to contain offensive material and would normally be refused classification. It is highly important that existing protections against the category of offensive material will continue to apply to online games. Children today are already over-exposed to violent and immoral images through their widely unrestricted ability to access the internet and online games. There is a strong feeling within the community about introducing R-rating-plus ratings on video games such as Grand Theft Auto. I must say I was shocked when I first saw teenagers playing Grand Theft Auto. This is a game in which players score points by stealing cars, bashing policemen and displaying violent sexual behaviour towards women. I am by no means a prude but I do have some concerns about a game that promotes bashing policemen and being violent to women. I do not think this is the type of game our young people should be playing.
I have in this place already raised my concerns about the increased levels of violence and lack of respect shown to our police officers. With games like Grand Theft Auto being so lifelike and so available, I suspect—but I may be wrong—that there might be a slight link somewhere between violent games and the increased violence within our community, particularly towards police officers. I certainly think that this has to be one of the contributing factors and I believe that the classification is an essential tool in assisting parents to make some key decisions.
The classification of online games like Grand Theft Auto is absolutely essential, as I have said, to provide better information and advice to parents to help prevent their children and teenagers from accessing games that may contain gratuitous sex, violence or drug use. I know that when my son was growing up, my husband and I reviewed all of his console games and movies to ensure that they were appropriate for his age. As a teenager he was not allowed to access games or movies that we considered to be unsuitable. The classification level was a key consideration in these decisions.
In some circumstance there is arguably a need to restrict access to some online gaming content on the basis of our community standards. The coalition understands that a large majority of the games played online are played by adults. As adults they have the capacity to make up their own minds as to whether they can play games that contain particular content. As the member for Stirling has already stated, stakeholders, including Apple, accept that policing the output of this type of material in the traditional sense is nigh on impossible. Having said that, it is understood that Apple takes great care in compliance-monitoring of its products before making them readily available for wider distribution.
The coalition knows it is essential to keep many of the other regulatory protections in place and under the Broadcasting Services Act individuals can lodge a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority when they are concerned that an online game contains prohibited material. The director of the classifications board will still retain the power to investigate any computer games that it suspects contains contentious material that likely requires the game to be classified at a higher than an M-rating.
Ideally, outcomes from the Australian Law Reform Commission findings would see measures recommending streamlined financial and regulatory processes for the telecommunications sector whilst providing clear and precise classification for the gaming industry and the wider Australian community. The significant increase in volume and variety of online games has made the existing classification regime impractical. The coalition does support the two-year moratorium on formal classification for online games pending the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Whilst the coalition supports the bill it is our firm belief that it is essential that any refused classification material not be subject to the moratorium. We must continue to balance the rights of adults to make informed choices with the right to protect our children.
This legislation will require the telecommunications industry to self-regulate their products and they will still face sanctions for the incorrect classification of inappropriate material that they make readily available to consumers. It is absolutely vital to reform the current classification framework in Australia. Otherwise we can run the risk of damaging our creative industry in the ever-increasingly globalised media environment. As my colleague the member for Stirling has already said, the coalition supports this bill.
Sitting suspended from 13 : 00 to 16:04
I rise to speak in support of the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Online Games) Bill 2011. The Gillard government is well aware of the dramatic uptake of mobile and online gaming in recent years. Unlike the controlled environments of our local clubs, these 'pokies' can be in any pocket, anywhere, any time.
As at October 2010, 43 per cent of Australians owned a smartphone, and in fact my wife just received one today—against my advice! One year on, I am sure that that percentage is even higher than 43 per cent. At least 40 per cent of mobile phone owners use their phones for games, and in 2009 69 per cent of children used the internet to play online games. I know, with your youngish children, Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, you would know how hard it is to make sure that the games they play online are appropriate. With a six-year-old, I try to make sure the games are appropriate, but there are the ads that come up alongside, and some of the avatars they have always seem to be a certain type of female—one that I would not necessarily want a six-year-old boy to be seeing.
Faced with these statistics about our mobile phone use and the use of the internet for games, the government must rise to the challenge of ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place for these emerging and present technologies. The laws relating to how we classify or rate media are important for allowing consumers to make informed choices about what they see and what they hear. They are also very important for protecting children and young people from viewing inappropriate material or material that they did not wish to see. The laws also provide a degree of regulation for a highly competitive industry.
The National Classification Scheme classifies films, including videos and DVDs, computer games and some publications, not billboards. With a flood of new computer games available on a variety of platforms, including mobile devices and other network services, it is not possible for the Classification Board to classify all of these games. I understand that they already review more than 800 games a year. And to review a game is not easy, as I know, having had a brother who worked in this area. You must make sure you go through all of the game to make sure you go to the different areas where there might be inappropriate material; it is not an easy job.
To impose a strict classification scheme would not be viable because it would place an unrealistic financial burden on the industry. However, I understand that the industry is also crying out for certainty and clarity regarding the legal requirements for the classification of mobile and online games. The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General agreed in March that mobile and online games should be treated like other online content rather than stand-alone games. Therefore, this bill before the House amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to exempt mobile phone and online computer games from classification for two years.
This will not apply to computer games likely to be refused classification or RC. That is material that any reasonable adult would find would offend decency, morality and propriety. This is material that nobody should see.
So, despite the two-year grace period, there will be safeguards remaining to regulate these mobile and online games. They include the following. Individuals can still refer an unclassified computer game to the Classification Board. So, as MPs, we can still be contacted by someone who has a concern about a game and we can notify the Classification Board. The Australian Communications and Media Authority, ACMA, will retain the power to investigate potential prohibited online content including computer games likely to be classified MA15+ or above. The director of the Classification Board will retain the power to call in games for classification if they contain contentious material. That power—the power to call in—is a very important power; it is one not used frequently but always to great effect. Law enforcement agencies will continue to be able to apply for classification of any unclassified computer games—maybe some of the games that come on phones already. These protections ensure that there are avenues for consumers to raise complaints when necessary when community values are being crossed. They also send a strong message to the industry that, if they want to push the boundaries, they will most likely face classification.
This bill is not the end, but it does give certainty to the industry and it gives the government time to work with industry to develop a more considered approach to the classification of mobile and online games. I know that, as a Queenslander, Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, you would realise how important this industry is for Queensland, because there are a lot of gaming 'factories' in Brisbane city. From there we export those games all around the world.
So this is a fast evolving medium—too fast for me, that's for sure—and it would be foolish for the government to rush in with an unworkable and unsustainable system. The two-year exemption is the right approach for now. The government is expecting a report from the Australian Law Reform Commission early next year which will provide some recommendations on how we can better address these classification matters in the long term. I look forward to that report and I commend the bill to the House.
In 1971 Messrs Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney launched the first commercial computer game onto the market, a game called Computer Space, shortly followed in 1972 by Pong on the Atari machine. They launched both a home and an arcade version of this game—a slot coin machine. They quickly became very, very popular and clones were thereafter introduced. From that was launched an industry which has found its way into every corner of the globe and, dare I say, into most Australian households.
From those very large cathode-ray tube based machines that looked like a large television set in the corner of a games arcade, or in a corner of a lucky person's bedroom, we have come a long way. New platforms have emerged from personal computers: laptops; mobile phones, as the member for Moreton has just described; tablets, such as iPad and the like; and new systems for delivering these games onto those devices. It is not only the platforms, the form of the games and the medium which is transforming but so too is the demographics of the gamers themselves. No longer is the stereotype of a computer gamer just a Coke-sipping, pizza-munching teenage boy holed up in his bedroom; the gaming population is very quickly being feminised. In fact, a recent study by Bond University by Dr Jeff Brand showed that 41 per cent of gamers are now females, It also showed that over 79 per cent of households have a platform for the delivery of a computer game and that, increasingly, Australians are taking to this form of entertainment like they take to many other forms of new technology.
So it is necessary for the government to look for a new and a balanced approach. The member for Moreton quite succinctly said that we need to balance the need to protect the interests of consumers, particularly minors and the unsuspecting, from offensive and inappropriate content while at the same time we need to have in place appropriate mechanisms which encourage a burgeoning industry. And it is indeed a burgeoning industry here in Australia, and in my own electorate in Throsby, where the University of Wollongong has quite a number of resources within its ICT faculties where people are graduating with expertise in the production of computer games and very quickly moving into commercialising their skills, talents and applications.
The bill before the House today attempts to take the first step in more sensibly regulating how we deal with online computer games and computer games delivered onto mobile platforms. At the moment they are currently regulated through Australia's National Classification Scheme. This is a cooperative scheme between the Commonwealth, states and territories. Procedures for the classification of publications, films and computer games are set out in national legislation; and provisions dealing with the consequences of not having material classified and the enforcement of the classification are decisions contained in complementary state and territory laws.
State and territory enforcement legislation contains a range of offences against the sale and the use of computer games and establishes a number of conditions on the possession, demonstration and advertising of computer games. At present the significant majority of computer games are not classified prior to being made available to consumers. That is certainly in breach of those state and territory provisions. It is not because the state and territory law enforcement authorities are falling asleep at the wheel; it is quite simply the fact that the way that online games are now entering the market and the way that they are now being marketed to consumers does not easily lend itself to regulation in the traditional way. This iPad I have here can quite quickly and quite easily download applications and games from anywhere on the globe within minutes. Quite literally, there are hundreds and hundreds of new applications and new games coming onto the market every day. It would be impossible for a state or territory regulator to appropriately classify each of these ahead of them being presented to the market for consumption.
This legislation proposes to put a new arrangement in place which would enable a new category of game to come onto the market without classification and without being prohibited by the existing regime. I have spoken about the importance of putting in place a scheme which encourages the development of computer games and creates some certainty for the industry—because the need to withdraw is seen by the industry as a significant threat. The Minister for Justice, who is now with us in the chamber, gave an example in his second reading speech of how Apple quite reasonably shut down the games category of its iTunes store in South Korea after new national laws were introduced there which established a games rating board to classify all mobile phone and online games on a mandatory basis. Clearly the introduction of this legislation was seen by iTunes as so much of a risk that they withdrew their games from that market.
The current situation presents a significant compliance issue for the National Classification Scheme. Industry has expressed concern about this regulatory uncertainty and has called on the government to clarify the present requirements. The reform will involve a simple amendment to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act to provide a two-year exemption from classification for mobile phone and online computer games. It is important to note that this exemption will not apply to computer games likely to be refused classification. Existing offences contained in Commonwealth, state and territory legislation will continue to apply to those games.
It is necessary to address this issue in the short term to respond to industry concerns about compliance and to provide clarity about regulatory requirements for mobile phone and online games. A number of safeguards, however, will remain in place to regulate these computer games. For example, individuals will continue to be able to submit, if they wish, any unclassified computer games to the Classification Board for classification. That is to say, somebody who has a concern or is offended by the material contained within one of these new categories of games is able to contact the Classification Board and ask that they appropriately classify that game. If the game is seen to be inappropriate and fails the classification test, withdrawal from the market will be required.
The ACMA will also retain the power to investigate potentially prohibited online content. This includes computer games likely to be classified as MA15+ which are not behind a restricted access system. The director of the Classification Board will also retain the power to call in games for classification if they contain contentious material likely to cause the game to be classified as M or higher. Finally, law enforcement agencies will continue to be able to apply for classification for any unclassified computer games.
It is expected that a longer term solution to this matter will be considered by the Australian Law Reform Commission as part of the broad review of national classification standards which is currently underway. I am advised that the ALRC is due to report at the end of January next year and it is almost certain that we will be revisiting this matter. But, in the interim period and until the ALRC is able to present the minister and this House with a more thoroughgoing set of recommendations, this bill provides some certainty to industry balanced with provisions which protect vulnerable consumers, unsuspecting consumers and minors from offensive content. On those grounds, I commend the bill to the House.
I thank the member for Throsby for his contribution and the members for Moreton, Stirling and Solomon. This is an important bill. Consumers now have ready access to an increasing number and range of computer games on a variety of platforms including on mobile devices and other network services. The business model for computer game design and delivery is increasingly moving to mobile and online markets. The numbers of mobile device and online games currently being introduced into the Australian market presents a number of practical challenges for regulators. It is for this reason we are introducing this bill.
At present, the significant majority of mobile devices and online computer games are not classified prior to being made available to consumers, in breach of state and territory laws concerning the sale, demonstration and advertising of computer games. Indeed, I raised these matters at the attorneys-general meeting earlier this year because of the practical problems we have in applying the laws as they stand. If legal requirements were enforced, the National Classification Scheme, in its present form, would be unable to sustain the administrative burden that this would impose. It would result in significant compliance costs for industry and may threaten the existence of small operators. This bill is intended to provide an interim solution. It will address concerns raised by industry and the director of the Classification Board about the legal requirements and the obligations for the classification of computer games that are playable on mobile devices and online.
The government is committed to ensuring that our classification system maintains community confidence. To this end, the Australian Law Reform Commission has been asked to conduct a review of classification in Australia in light of changes in technology, media convergence and global availability of media content. As part of this review, the commission is considering the best way to classify computer games. This review will inform the government's consideration of long-term reforms for the classification of mobile device and online games. I commend the bill.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I rise to speak on the Personal Property Securities Amendment (Registration Commencement) Bill 2011. This bill seeks to extend the commencement date of the personal property securities regime beyond that specified in the principal act due to technical issues with the online registration system. As explained in the Bills Digest, the purpose of the Personal Property Securities Act was to establish a register of personal property securities in place of separate registers tracking whether or not there is a mortgage, a loan or other financial impediments over assets. The original Personal Property Securities Act established rules governing the priority of competing security interests by references to the Personal Property Securities Register.
The Bills Digest notes that the intermediary provisions in the Personal Property Securities Act, which received royal assent on 14 December 2009, consist of two main concepts: migration time and registration commencement time. Migration time is the period during which data from the current state, territory and Commonwealth registers recording security interests in personal property is to be transferred to the Personal Property Securities Register. Under existing subsection 306(6), a determination of an earlier time is a legislative instrument; however, section 42—disallowance—of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 is not applicable to the determination.
As the Personal Property Securities Act is currently drafted, the migration time is required to start no later than 1 January 2012. The Personal Property Securities Act does not allow for the minister to determine any later time. The registration commencement time is from the start of the month—that is, 26 months after royal assent to the bill—or an earlier time chosen by the minister. The registration commencement time, which was established in the transitional provisions, will be the day that the Personal Property Securities Register begins operation.
The bill seeks to extend the commencement date of the personal property securities regime beyond that specified in the principal act because of technical issues with the online registration system. When the Personal Property Securities Bill was introduced, the explanatory memorandum accompanying the bill indicated that it was expected that the Personal Property Securities Register would be operational before 1 February 2012. On 3 May this still appeared to be the case when the Attorney-General announced that he anticipated the national register would operate from October 2011. This is no longer the case, hence the need for this bill, which will amend the Personal Property Securities Act to allow the minister to provide for a later commencement date.
Systems testing by industry volunteers such as the National Australia Bank and GE Capital have disclosed that there are unresolved problems with the operation of the computerised register. The need for an extended commencement time is not explained in the explanatory memorandum and, sadly, that is symptomatic of a Labor government which consistently fails to deliver on its promises. The coalition believes that the explanation should be made public to a Senate committee. My colleague and friend the member for Macarthur will speak in more detail on how the proposed changes in the legislation will affect a hire company in his electorate.
In summary, the personal property securities legislation will rationalise the current Commonwealth state and territory laws on securities in personal properties. It will create one set of national rules and one single national online register. The coalition supports the passage of this bill through the House and reserves the right to move amendments subject to the recommendations of the Senate committee.
I rise to speak in support of the Personal Property Securities (Registration Commencement) Bill 2011. The Federal Attorney-General made it plain that the purpose of this legislation is to ensure that the Personal Property Securities Act does not commence operating before the PPS Register can be made available for public use. He also made the point in his second reading speech that, if he did not determine an earlier time, what he described as the migration time will be 1 January 2012 and the registration commencement time will be 1 February 2012.
This legislation has a long history, and it is important for personal property securities. Land title is held across the states and territories, and it is in their jurisdiction. If someone wants to refinance their mortgage or they want to purchase a property, they contact the land titles office in the state or territory. They can do that online. In Queensland, solicitors usually do that if they are acting in a conveyancing role; indeed it is the solicitors for the mortgagee who do that. Of course, the mortgagor has to pay. For a very long time this country has had a regulatory framework for personal property which is totally unsatisfactory: different registers for different types of debtors; different registers for different types of properties; no registers for some securities; and different consequences for a nonregistration. Because of the eccentricities of Federation and because of the procrastination of previous coalition governments, nothing much was done. This reform had its genesis back in 1990, when we were in power and the then Attorney-General referred the adequacy of the situation to the Australian Law Reform Commission for review. Not much was done in relation to the reform for about 16 years until the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General put out an issues and options paper on it. So for a long time a worthy and important financial reform in this country lay dormant, and that is very sad indeed. This particular legislation deals with personal property. That is commonly known in law as personalty, and it is any form of property other than land or the buildings and fixtures which form part of that land. So it can be intangible things such as shares, intellectual property, contract rights or tangible things such as cars, boats machinery or crops.
The Personal Property Securities Act 2009, a commitment of this federal Labor government and a worthy piece of financial reform in this country, created one national law with one set of rules governing personal property, securities or interest held in property other than land. It simplified about 70 items of state, territory and Commonwealth legislation. It made big changes to the rules of equity and common law which govern securities in terms of personal property. These are very complex areas of law. This is some of the most significant law reform we have seen in this country, and it took a federal Labor government to do it. Virtually nothing was done in this area—in fact, there was not a jot of legislative reform—by those opposite when they were on the Treasury benches. The PPS reform will improve the ability of individuals and businesses, particularly small to medium-sized businesses, to use more of their property in raising capital. It is good for the economy and it is good for those businesses and their profitability.
Development of these types of reforms has been occurring across the world. Canada, New Zealand and the United States have all undertaken this type of thing, but of course this all bypassed the coalition when they were in power—it just seemed to go over their heads. But, after completion of a trial of the system, about 4.6 million records will be migrated onto the new PPS and we will see the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia assume responsibility for the PPS register and the customer contract centre when it commences in early 2012. The new role will form a very core part of the role of ITSA,. It will be an information provider to major creditors, financial institutions and the public.
This bill will help the government in terms of the registration time, and I think it will be important because not just government but also stakeholders, industry, consumer advocates, small businesses and individuals will have access to a register so they can have security. If you are a lender and you have the asset in your possession and you are lending the money, you have security. But, if you are a lender and the assets are in the hands of the person who wants the money, you do not have that kind of security and you cannot check out online whether that person has then decided to falsely, fraudulently or wrongly decide to seek further security. If you are plan to buy a car, you want to know whether there is some form of security over that car when you are going to buy it at a dealer or privately.
So the PPS will make important changes. It will improve the ability to raise capital. It will also mean that a person can have knowledge by checking online. I think there are some overlaps in the current law, and that was my experience when I was in private practice. It depended on the jurisdiction—New South Wales was different from Queensland—and on the type of interest. I certainly saw different types of interest, tangible and intangible. I think that the registration requirement being the same across all jurisdictions will make a difference. I am sure that the jurisdictions in this country have been created differently and that section 51 of the Constitution means that the things the Commonwealth can do in the various jurisdictions are very different; but I applaud the COAG process because we have seen a national system for registration of personal property arise, and I think that is an important reform. The Department of Finance and Deregulation has estimated that 10 of the 27 of this government's seamless national economy business regulation reforms will add about $3.5 billion to the Australian economy with about $1.8 billion flowing to business profitability and advantage. We see business regulation and small business assistance as fundamental core business for this government. We believe it is important to the Australian public. About 4.4 million Australians work in small business. In fact there are more sole traders than trade unionists in this country. We believe ongoing regulatory reform is vital and we have undertaken many steps to reduce red tape.
This particular measure is important. I am pleased to see that a federal Labor government has implemented it. When they were in power the coalition government could not be trusted to tackle this reform. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for small business sat in the government of Mr Howard and could not see fit to make this reform, but I am pleased that they will support it now in opposition. Consumers need to protect themselves when purchasing goods which could be repossessed, by using a function on the PPS register. The opposition say they are prepared to do in opposition what they would not do in government—that is, get rid of red tape in business. They have had a Damascus road conversion in relation to this issue, and we are pleased that they will now support small business in a way they would never do when they were in government. The coalition government promised to cut red tape for small business by 50 per cent in its first term of government, and guess what? They left the country with eight different regulatory systems in terms of key business regulation. They have left a legacy of neglect, which we are now fixing up. Their lack of interest is matched by our acute interest in this area. It has taken this government to embark on a bold agenda in competition and consumer reform and in regulatory reform like the PPS to cut the red tape and to make sure that we engage in economically sound measures so that this country's wealth can be spread across the whole economy.
I support this reform. I think it is good for the economy. It will make our economy stronger. It will protect security. It will give greater opportunity and the ability for business to raise capital. It will protect consumers and individuals who might be going to purchase assets and who want to use those assets to raise money, for example, in the creation of jobs in small business. This particular measure is worthy of support and I commend it to the House.
I rise today to support the Personal Property Securities Amendment (Registration Commencement) Bill 2011 and the regime established by the Personal Property Securities Act 2009. The Personal Property Securities Act establishes a national system for regulating personal property and security interests. This will repeal the fragmented and confusing system that currently exists. Central to this new system is a national online electronic register which is to contain registration for personal property and security interests. Parties can seek registration of their interest for a registration application either before or after they have entered into a security agreement or when the security interest has attached to a personal property. Reforms will also introduce uniform interest priority rules and interest enforcement mechanisms which will apply to all personal property and security interests across Australia.
Naturally a reform of this magnitude will have a substantial impact upon commercial dealings in this country. Because of this, I would encourage the government to complement the rollout of these reforms with an education campaign so that businesses, especially small to medium sized businesses, will be able to understand precisely how the reforms will impact upon them and their operations. I am also concerned by the fact that the bill before the House today seeks to delay the commencement of these reforms and that no explanation has been offered as to why such an extension of time is appropriate.
The existing system of Australian personal property securities law involves more than 70 Commonwealth, state and territory acts administered by 30 government agencies. This is problematic for the following reasons. There are different registers for different kinds of debtor, property and forms of securities. Because of this level of particularity, some forms of securities do not have the appropriate register and thus cannot be registered. There are different rules for registering different forms of security. Some registers are electronic while others are paper based. Different registers have different consequences for nonregistration and, in some cases, security interests must be registered in more than one jurisdiction for them to be fully effective in their provision of priority protection for the creditor. There are substantial compliance costs involved in investigating the appropriate register and the different rules which apply to registration of different interests and in registering an interest in numerous jurisdictions.
The fact that these costs exist has deterred businesses from registering their personal property and security interests under the existing voluntary registration system. This practice of not registering their interests exposes businesses to the risks associated with personal property being used as security for subsequent borrowings. If this occurs, businesses as second lenders would not be made aware of any other existing security interests in the property. Furthermore, even if an interest is registered, the second lender would be hard pressed to find any other existing security interests in the property due to the lack of uniformity and organisation under the current system. This situation of uncertainty has substantial implications for businesses, including losing their interest in the property upon a borrower's becoming insolvent and the first lender claiming their superior interest during liquidation.
The presence of these issues prompted the Law Reform Commission to recommend the establishment of a single system that would uniformly regulate personal property security priorities in all Australian jurisdictions. In 2008, this recommendation was considered by the Council of Australian Governments, who supported the idea of a single online national system for the registration and regulation of personal property securities in Australia. COAG advocated that a uniform national system would lead to significant cost savings for business through reduced compliance costs and greater choice and certainty for consumers and businesses who borrow money against secured personal property. The legal profession has echoed this sentiment by conveying that the establishment of a national law supported by a national electronic register would result in substantial efficiency gains, despite the fact that the reforms will introduce major changes to Australian commercial law.
My coalition colleagues and I, particularly the member for Solomon, support the much needed reform of Australia's personal property securities law that the Personal Property Securities Act offers. We agree with the assertions by the Law Reform Commission, COAG and the legal profession of a need to simplify regulation of personal property security interests in Australia. The Personal Property Securities Act regime represents the best way of achieving this. This is because the act condenses the regulation into a national regime which includes a national electronic register for all security interests in personal property, as well as uniform national priority rules and enforcement provisions for personal property interests.
However, I do maintain concerns about the level of education that has been provided to small and medium-sized businesses about the potential impact of these reforms. Any potential injustices that could be caused by the reforms to businesses will be due to the lack of adequate education for those who are or will be significantly affected by the new personal property securities system. To avoid any potential injustices, these reforms should be complemented by a comprehensive PPS Act education campaign for these businesses and other relevant stakeholders during the commencement period of the new national system.
I have received correspondence from businesses in my electorate of Macarthur that are engaged in the hire-purchase industry. They are concerned about the impact of these reforms on their business operations. Under the PPS Act regime, businesses engaged in the hire-purchase industry will face the unprecedented risk of losing ownership of their equipment. This is because the ownership on its own no longer guarantees the hire companies' ability to retrieve their equipment if a customer becomes insolvent or inappropriately deals with the equipment in favour of a third party. In order to guarantee their interest of ownership, hire companies will have to register their interests for every item of equipment in accordance with the act's regime.
This represents a significant compliance cost for these companies as they change their inventory management and accounts systems to integrate the personal property security system into their business practices. However, once these companies adapt to the changes introduced, they will be able to reap the benefits of the PPS Act regime. The benefits will include: being able to check for prior interest when purchasing new equipment by checking the personal property and securities electronic register; being able to effectively secure their interests through perfection and registration in the event of a customer's insolvency; and the super priority given to purchase money security interests, or PMSI. This super priority applies only to goods that are inventory, and it allows hire companies to retain priority even if a subsequent interest holder in the inventory equipment perfects their interest before the hire company. This mechanism provides an important and necessary protection for hire-purchase companies as it allows for the new regime to cater to specific needs of the hire-purchase industry.
The Personal Property Securities Amendment (Registration Commencement) Bill that is currently before the House seeks to amend the principal Personal Property Securities Act to allow the Attorney-General to determine that the commencement time for the regime be other than that provided for in the act. Essentially this allows the Attorney-General—who is in this room today—to extend the commencement time of the regime. On 3 May this year, the Attorney-General announced that he anticipated that the national register and the personal property and securities regime would be operational from October this year. However, this has not proven to be the case and he is now seeking to pass a bill which allows him to postpone the commencement of the act. No explanation has been offered by the government for why there is now a need for such an extension of time. My coalition colleagues and I will encourage the government to provide such an explanation to a Senate committee so that the public can remain informed of the process of a substantial reform.
This is especially important to the business community as they need to know when it will be appropriate for them to begin implementing their new policies and procedures so as to ensure effective compliance with the new system. Businesses and industry associations have been trying their hardest during the past two years to seek advice so that they can educate themselves on the potential impacts of these reforms, how they will specifically affect their operations and how they can best ensure their compliance with the new system. By delaying the commencement of these reforms, the government is leaving the business community in limbo yet again. They have been told that the reforms that they have been bracing for for two years will be delayed without being told why. This leaves commerce in this country in a state of uncertainty as the business community wonders whether further changes are going to be made to the system.
I ultimately support the Personal Property Securities Amendment (Registration Commencement) Bill. However, for the reasons I have given I would strongly encourage the government to subject the bill and the reasons for it to a Senate committee for consideration. This is so that any issues associated with the implementation of the regime can be effectively resolved so as to provide the business community with the certainty that will allow them to effectively implement their Personal Property Securities Act compliance plans.
I rise in support of the Personal Property Securities Amendment (Registration Commencement) Bill 2011. Back in 2009 the Labor government introduced legislation to provide one consistent law regarding personal property securities across the country and one online register. This replaced about 70 Commonwealth, state and territory laws and at least 40 registers, some still held in paper form. I well remember my time as an articled clerk when I seemed to spend half my time waiting to access some of those registers. I said to the Attorney-General before, and I will say it again on the public record, that he is putting articled clerks out of work. That is a good thing because it is simplifying their jobs.
Personal property securities are interests in personal property that secure a payment. For example, it might be a car loan for an individual or multimillion dollar company charges. Our sensible reform provides greater protection to consumers. For example, when the online register is up and running early next year, individuals in the market for a used car will be able to do an online search to see whether a particular car is being used as security for a loan. This bill will make technical but urgent amendments to the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 to enable the effective and stable operation of the PPS register next year. I understand the register is ready for final testing but some stakeholders, including banks, are concerned that the 1 February deadline is not feasible. I understand they need more time to prepare for the new system. States and territories also need more time to migrate their data and make the necessary legislative amendments, so it is important that we get the timing right for this momentous change.
This bill amends the definitions of 'migration time' and 'registration commencement time' to enable the Attorney-General to determine an earlier or later time for each. This is a practical and necessary measure to ensure the online register is stable and ready. Personal property securities reform is a part of this government's effort to slash red tape, remove duplication and deliver greater consistency across this wonderful nation. This is never easy. In fact, I am sure the Attorney-General can say it was like mustering cats on occasion. But at the completion of the trial about 4.6 million records will be transferred to the new PPS register. This is a massive undertaking in anyone's terms. A precipitate launch of the online register to meet an arbitrary deadline would be pointless and perhaps self-defeating. In response to the concerns of state and territory governments and other stakeholders like the banking and finance sector, the PPS will only become publicly available when stakeholders are confident to use the new system. The open-ended time frame provides greater flexibility to allow the Attorney-General to determine the best time to launch the online register.
On a related topic, I note in my local Quest paper on Thursday, 27 October that Cash Converters has taken out a prominent ad in my local newspaper calling on me to abandon reforms to payday lending. There is an ad with a photograph of me which is attributed to Ray Strange, but I hasten to point out that whilst Ray Strange does work for News Limited, it was Kim Smith who took the photograph. I recognise it because it is a photograph of me with my book. But, as the House is aware, payday loans offer consumers easy access to cash to meet urgent expenses. They are usually very short term and, unfortunately, very high interest. They can be as high as 38 per cent. These kinds of loans are preying on and exploiting desperate and vulnerable people who have legitimate reasons, mostly, for turning up—the washing machine or the car has died. However, with the exorbitant interest rates it is obviously not a good financial decision.
The government is acting because it is the right thing to do. I will not be intimidated by scare and smear campaigns from sectional interests. It has not worked for Clubs Australia and it will not work for Cash Converters. Their glossy ad urged people to bombard my office with complaints. Instead, I actually received emails like this one this morning, which I will read out. I will not name the person who sent it. It says:
I noticed an advertisement in the Southern Start from Cash Converters where they oppose moves by yourself to provide some limits to their short term loans operations.
I don't exactly know what legislative plans you have, but what I do know is that these short term loan businesses charge extremely high interest and target the poor end of town. I believe that it is beyond question that these businesses exploit the poor.
This next bit is bolded:
If you are making legislative moves to protect the poor from businesses that exploit them, then I support you all the way.
Please send me any information you might have about your plans.
This was from a gentleman from Acacia Ridge.
I do not begrudge Cash Converters their right to spend their cash to state their case or even to organise a campaign against me. In fact, I met Paul Hartley and Greg Lemon from Cash Converters last week. I recognise their concerns. Obviously this legislation is important. We do not want to send people towards loan sharks. Cash Converters are a reputable business. They did not actually mention the ad. I think they might have done since it was already at the printing press. I do think in this instance they are out of step with the community.
The bill before the House shows how well this government is working with all the states and territories as well as the private sector to bring about reform and to get rid of red tape. I commend the Attorney-General on his consultative approach and commend the bill to the House.
I would like to thank all members who spoke in this debate for their worthwhile contributions. As mentioned throughout the debate, the Personal Property Securities Amendment (Registration Commencement) Bill 2011 amends the definitions of the migration time and the registration commencement time in the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 so that the times can be determined rather than just be the default times in the PPS Act.
In my second reading contribution I set out the reasons for these amendments. Under the current legislation, if an earlier time is not determined by default the migration time will be 1 January 2012 and the registration commencement time will be 1 February 2012. But the amendments that we are dealing with will enable times to be determined for both migration time and registration commencement time which could be earlier or later than the default times in the PPS Act. The ability to determine the commencement of the PPS register will assist governments to ensure that stakeholders have confidence that the online PPS register will operate effectively.
I indicate our appreciation for the work that is being undertaken by stakeholders to ensure that this transition to the new system is effective. The government is doing what it can do in terms of roadshows and distributing information to inform small business. But, equally, a number of the larger financial institutions are undertaking considerable effort to educate their customers.
Personal property securities, as has been mentioned by a number of speakers, is currently governed by complex regulatory arrangements. But the PPS Act will replace these with a single, national, functional approach. The PPS reform will simplify over 70 Commonwealth, state and territory laws and replace the many existing registers of interest that complement these laws with the one PPS register. PPS reform is essential for making secured financing more accessible and efficient by lowering risks for lenders, increasing competition between finance providers and providing greater certainty for both lenders and borrowers.
In conclusion, PPS reform is a key aspect of the government's continued commitment to cooperation with the states and territories on the government's deregulation agenda and the National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless Economy. I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the states and territories in achieving this reform. All of the states have now passed their referral legislation. The states and territories have also made consequential amendments to their own legislation dealing with personal property securities interest. The passage of this bill and the commencement of the PPS regime in early 2012 is a significant achievement and will deliver major benefits for many sectors of the Australian economy. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That the House record its deep regret at the death on 29 October 2011 of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin during combat operations in Afghanistan, place on record its appreciation of their service to their country and tender its profound sympathy to their families in their bereavement.
I join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the defence minister in honouring Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, who were tragically killed in Afghanistan on the weekend and to lend our thoughts and prayers to the seven wounded in action and the families of those touched by this tragedy. We also pause to remember the 29 other Australians who have made the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan and the over 200 that have been wounded in action in service to their country.
That these three young leaders were killed in action let there be no doubt. Operating a mobile mentoring patrol at the Forward Operating Base Pacemaker in the Zamto Valley in northern Kandahar, these men were astride the main north-south insurgency route. That their assailant was one they had trained, perhaps even fought with, is vexing in the extreme. Yet know this: our men died as they lived, fighting to the end. As our 10 men fell, three never to rise again, they fell with weapons firing killing him who sought their lives. Their quick response no doubt saved other Australian lives.
It says something about the Australian warrior that, immediately after the shooting, the wounded medic applied his own tourniquet and then rapidly attended to his injured mates. An armed patrol of fighting vehicles in the area rapidly converged on the patrol base to provide immediate fire support. I can imagine that every man in that armoured patrol risked exposure out of the vehicle manholes to ensure that every single heavy weapon was manned ready to assist.
Brothers-in-arms fell on the weekend. As the brother of Corporal Birt, whom he served alongside in Afghanistan, accompanies him home, we pause to reflect that Australians have known this type of tragedy before. In World War I alone, 2,800 sets of brothers perished; 153 mothers gave three sons and five mothers gave four sons. Once again, mothers and fathers, wives and children have given their most treasured possession for the cause of freedom. In a few days Mrs Birt will again welcome two sons home yet she will hug only one of them. I do not think we can begin to imagine her pain.
As we collectively grieve as a parliament in joining with our nation and as we express our gratitude, let us renew again today that we will offer more than words and tears, that we will offer nothing less than our unwavering support and complete commitment to those that fight wearing our flag—the same flag that flies here in this place. We mourn you lads as we mourn your loss.
Firstly let me associate myself with the remarks of the previous speaker and for all those who have spoken in this condolence motion. I particularly want to associate my remarks with those of the Prime Minister, both in expressing my condolences to the family and friends of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin and expressing support for our mission in Afghanistan.
We remember Captain Bryce Duffy. Captain Duffy was born in Sydney in 1984 and was only 26 years old. He graduated from the Royal Military College, RMC, in December 2006 and was from the 4th Field Regiment Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery based in Townsville. Captain Duffy was a dedicated officer who had held long career aspirations in the Army, having recently completed the SAS selection course—no mean feat in itself. He was passionate about his place within the Australian Defence Force and Army and always strived to serve his country in the best way possible. Captain Duffy's selfless dedication to duty was demonstrated by the fact that he had volunteered for his second tour of duty in Afghanistan at short notice after a fellow officer was wounded in action. Of him, Captain Duffy's family have said:
He was forever the consummate professional, extremely competent and very well respected by his colleagues and commanders.
He was passionate about what he did, truly believed in his cause, and always strived to serve his country in the best way possible.
Captain Duffy is survived by his partner, parents and family.
We remember Corporal Ashley Birt. Corporal Birt was born in Nambour in Queensland in 1989. He was just 22 years old. He wore the Australian Army uniform with pride and died doing the job he loved. His sacrifice will forever be remembered. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army in June 2007 and was recognised for his natural leadership style, work ethic and dedication. He was a great mate to his many colleagues and was well liked by all who knew him. He was described as a larrikin and someone who was always smiling. His mates remember him as a great bloke, a distinguished sportsman and an excellent soldier. Corporal Birt was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He had previously deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2010 and was nominated for a soldier's medallion for his work in Operation Queensland Flood Assist. Of him, his family have said:
Ashley was a proud soldier who loved his job. He was a loving son, devoted brother, wonderful uncle and loyal friend who will be dearly missed.
Corporal Birt was a member of Combined Team Oruzgan and is survived by his parents, Don and Linda, and brother Dale.
We remember, also, Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. Lance Corporal Gavin was born in Manly in 1984 and was 27. He enlisted in the Army in 2004 and was a highly respected member of the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He was acknowledged by his superiors for his positive attitude and loyalty. Those soldiers who served either alongside him or under him were motivated by his professionalism, mateship and outstanding specialist skills. He was very highly qualified soldier, having completed specialist training as a combat first aider, Pashtu linguist and infantry support weapons operator. He was a devoted husband and father of three children—Joshua, Holly and Olivia. His family were all very proud of him, saying he loved his country and believed in what he was doing. His brother Joel said Lance Corporal Gavin was a fine soldier and a better husband and father. Lance Corporal Gavin was deployed to East Timor three times and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan.
Despite this terrible tragedy, this dreadful loss, progress is being made in training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces in Oruzgan province and across Afghanistan generally. We will not be in Afghanistan forever and we are on track to transition to Afghan-led responsibility for security arrangements in Oruzgan in 2014, but on this very, very sad day we will reflect on the service and sacrifice of these brave men and all members of the Australian Defence Force. We will provide support to their families at this difficult time and into the future.
Our thoughts are also with seven of their comrades—seven soldiers that were wounded in this dreadful attack. These men have now been flown to Germany to Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre where they will be given the very best treatment. We are very heartened by news in recent days that their condition is improving, including one soldier's condition being upgraded from life-threatening to serious. They remain in the thoughts and prayers of Australians everywhere.
Our condolences also go to the families and friends of the Afghan interpreter that was killed and to two other Afghan interpreters and an ANA solider who were wounded.
This is a very difficult time for those families but it is very important in the hullabaloo of this place with the arguments across the chamber that we as a parliament stand together to recognise the service and sacrifice that has been made on our behalf by these brave men. When we think about that bravery, we need to just contemplate for a moment what it is like—and I have said this previously in this place—to invest your life in an Australian uniform. Once you sign up to the ADF, there is a capacity for you to be deployed to an area such as Afghanistan and put your life in great danger.
These brave souls have done that and to their comrades, who are no doubt feeling very deeply at this time around the events that took place so recently and seeing these three brave men lose their lives, we say: thank you for your continuing work, your intestinal fortitude, your courage, your capacity, your resilience and your bravery. At this time of tragic loss, we remember Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt, Lance Corporal Luke Gavin—lest we forget.
Today I join my parliamentary colleagues in mourning the loss of the three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and the wounding of seven others. The incident in the forward-operating base was the most tragic at war for Australia in 40 years. I pay tribute to Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin who died seemingly unnecessarily on parade at the hand of a man they thought was a friend and ally. They died as heroes, men who answered the call of their country in the tradition of the Anzacs and those over a century who have fought to keep our country safe.
The loss of these three Australian soldiers far from home came as a shock to all Australians. Brendan Nicholson wrote in the Australian today:
It is not widely known that of the 32 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the past decade, 15 were involved in training and mentoring Afghan troops. Many more have been wounded.
The weekend killings highlight the dangers faced daily by these instructors, who often work from forward-operating bases and patrol bases, small forts built in valleys captured from the insurgents in what was once the Taliban heartland.
During a parade, the experienced Afghan soldier blasted 10 of the Australians and several Afghans with an assault rifle.
Today I particularly want to pay tribute to Corporal Ashley Birt. Corporal Birt was from Gympie in my electorate. He was just 22. He graduated from the Gympie State High School in 2006 with five high achievements. He excelled in most sports but hockey was his favourite. He travelled about 100 kilometres up the road to play hockey in Maryborough with Brothers for five years. He and his family regularly made the trip. He excelled in hockey and entered representative level and rose to be selected as a shadow in the Australian country under-21 team. He was a talented sportsman.
Our armed forces work in dangerous places under trying circumstances, but tragic news always comes hard, with a jolt. I extend my personal condolences to Corporal Birt's family. Don and Linda both work for the Gympie Regional Council. Ashley's brother, Dale, was also in Afghanistan and will return with his brother's body. His family said that Ashley was a proud soldier who loved his job. I want to assure his family that we as a nation and a community are equally proud of him. Corporal Birt was an outstanding and enthusiastic soldier, a very fine Australian. He joined the Army in 2007 and was allotted to the Royal Australian Engineers as a geospatial technician. He was in the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron.
His service career was impressive. He was quickly promoted. He became a lance corporal in February this year and a corporal in April. He had been identified as a natural leader, a young man with a great future. He was nominated for a soldiers medallion for the work he did in helping rebuild lives in the wake of the Queensland floods. His home town of Gympie, of course, was amongst those that were flooded in that widespread event. He also earned military honour and recognition: the Australian Defence Medal, the Australian Service Medal with clasp Solomon Islands II, the Australian Service medal with clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism, the Afghanistan campaign medal, and the NATO non-article 5 medal with clasp International Security Assistance Force. These are truly remarkable awards in recognition of outstanding service, and all this for a soldier who was just 22.
The bitter irony of his death is not lost on any of us. Our troops are in Afghanistan mentoring Afghan soldiers to provide security to the Afghan people. This is a rebuilding mission, a mission to put Afghanistan on course to full self-determination and to provide safety and cohesion for the people of Afghanistan. The success of this training work is pivotal to bringing forward the day when Australia can leave Afghanistan to care for itself. It is a mission of the most strategic importance to Australia and our people. The scourge of terrorism knows no borders and we are striking at its roots. Yes, it has been a military operation, but it is also a battle for the hearts and minds of the people who live in those places. The relationship being forged by our troops with the Afghan people is a vital component in curbing, subduing and ultimately defeating the mentality that begets terrorism and breeds terrorists.
Just a few weeks ago Corporal Birt was interviewed on Ten News and he was asked about how safe he felt mentoring Afghan soldiers. He said: 'The locals always get screened. They've got to come through all the security first before they even get into this place.' I guess in the aftermath of these tragic events some may say that confidence was unfortunately misplaced. I think it more reflects on the realities that our troops face every day and the bravery our troops display day in, day out. In a country like Afghanistan, our soldiers are never out of danger. The knowledge of the dangers of this unique mission, combined with the realisation of the importance of the task, does not make Corporal Birt's loss any easier to bear.
Gympie is one of Queensland's oldest towns and is proud of its contribution to Australia's wartime effort. The city has fine memorial gates and a marvellous memorial wall. After many years, a new name has to be added to those gates. An extra name will go on the Gympie State High School's new honour board in the school's 100th year. The flags of the city and the region fly low. The Melbourne Cup race meeting at the town's racecourse paused yesterday to remember. The Gympie Regional Council meeting began with prayers. The horror of war came to Gympie this week after so many years of peace. The cost of the Afghanistan commitment became real to another community which has lost one of its own, one of its finest. They will never forget his engaging smile and his warm personality. But I hope that those feeling the pain of his loss can take some consolation in knowing his was a sacrifice in the name of creating a new and safer Afghanistan and, as a result, a new and safer world for all of us.
It is with great sadness that I rise once again to offer the condolences of the people of Canberra to the family and friends of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that their families and friends are going through right now. All I can offer are some humble words to express the deepness of my sympathies and those of my community at this very difficult time.
These three men gave their lives in the service of their country and, although I did not know them, I have no doubt they served with distinction, with honour and with courage in the true spirit that has come to embody the Australian Defence Force. I know Defence is a large organisation and is scattered right across Australia, but here in Canberra it is headquartered and Canberra is a defence town. In the short time I have been member for Canberra, and also in my former life as a consultant to Defence, I have been privileged to meet many of the men and women of the ADF and members of their families. Early this year I was fortunate enough to be able to see their work on the ground in Afghanistan as part of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade mission to Afghanistan as part of the Defence subcommittee.
The soldiers we are mourning today did great work, like the men and women still deployed in Afghanistan. They are rebuilding a nation that, for three decades now, has known nothing but poverty, conflict and oppression. They are making a difference in a very real way to the people of Afghanistan, all the while making sure that we here in Australia are safer and more secure. I know this because while in Afghanistan many Afghanis, especially women, thanked me for what Australia is doing and thanked me for what our international colleagues are doing. They thanked us for the huge international effort that is going on there. I would like to pass on that thanks to the families and friends of Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin.
Every time I meet a member of the ADF I am struck by their professionalism and dedication. More than that, I am struck by the pride they have in their work and the pride they have in their nation. They are truly remarkable people worthy of our respect and appreciation. When I meet their families I see in them the pride they have in their son or their daughter, their mother or their father, their brother or their sister, aunt, uncle, cousin or close friend. It is a large but very close-knit family, and I know they will be reeling from these latest deaths. They will be reeling because their situation will have been made even more difficult by the knowledge that the deaths came not in the heat of battle with the Taliban insurgency but on the training field, at the hands of someone they called an ally.
While there can be no preparation for the death of a loved one, even one serving in this dangerous deployment, to have the death come at the hands of someone you were training and supporting to build a better nation—someone you may have called a mate—must be truly devastating. So, to the families of Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin, I say that, while none of my words will bring them back, please know that my thoughts, Canberra's thoughts and the thoughts of a nation are with you. You are part of an extended family which honours the sacrifice of your loved ones and which will support you now in your time of grief. Everywhere you go in this country, know that you are among friends. I know the Army and the ADF will not let their names, their deeds or their sacrifice fade from the memory of this country—and I know I will not either.
I join with colleagues on both sides of this House and the people of Kooyong in paying my respects following the tragic deaths on 29 October this year in Afghanistan of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. These brave men lost their lives, and seven of their fellow Australian soldiers were injured, at the hands of a rogue member of the Afghan National Army in an attack at a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan. In the same attack an Afghan interpreter was also tragically killed. My heart goes out to the families of Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin.
Captain Duffy, who was based in Townsville with the 4th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, was on his second deployment to Afghanistan after bravely volunteering when a fellow officer was wounded in action. He was a decorated soldier with the Australian Defence Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and a meritorious unit citation, among many others. He is survived by his wife, his mother and his family.
Corporal Birt is survived by his parents, Don and Linda, and his brother, Dale, and was a highly qualified geospatial technician and a decorated soldier. He was a recipient of the Australian Defence Medal, the Australian Service Medal with clasp Solomon Islands II and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, among many others. Prior to his first deployment to Afghanistan, Corporal Birt had served in the Solomon Islands on operation Anode, and on operation Queensland Flood Assist.
Lance Corporal Gavin was a member of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment—2RAR—based in Townsville. He was a decorated soldier awarded the Australian Service Medal with clasp Timor-Leste, Australian Defence Medal and Australian Active Service Medal with clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism, among many others. He was well trained as a combat first aider, Pashto linguist and infantry support weapons operator. Lance Corporal Gavin was on his first deployment to Afghanistan and is survived by his wife and three children.
Having travelled to Afghanistan earlier this year in a bipartisan delegation, I have seen firsthand the valuable work our soldiers are doing to bring stability and security to this troubled region and, by definition, to bring stability and security to Australia and our interests both here and abroad. We should not lose faith in this cause, despite these tragic deaths. It is a difficult task and there will be setbacks. But as a nation our interests are advanced by this deployment. We will never forget the sacrifice of Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin. Our thoughts and our prayers are with their families at this very difficult time. Lest we forget.
It is with great sorrow that any member of this House stands to speak on a condolence motion about any fallen soldier. It is even more difficult to stand here to mourn the loss of three soldiers. On what was one of the bloodiest days—29 October—for our nation in this campaign, three of our fine soldiers were killed. These three brave men and their families have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
Captain Bryce Duffy, who was only 26 years of age, has been described as an exceptional and dedicated officer by those who served with him. We are told that he was a soldier who loved the Army and loved his country. Captain Duffy grew up in Brisbane and came from a military family. His ambition had always been to join the SAS, and he was not far off this goal. He was a decorated soldier, having been awarded the Australian Defence Medal, a Meritorious Unit Citation, the NATO Non Article 5 Medal with clasp International Security Assistance Force, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and an Australian Active Service Medal with clasp International Coalition Against Terrorism. He is survived by his partner, his mother and his family.
Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, 26 years of age, had previously served in East Timor before being deployed to Afghanistan. Our hearts go out to Lance Corporal Gavin's wife Jacky and their three children, Joshua, Holly and Olivia. Our hearts also go out to his parents, Judith and Michael, who are living every parents' nightmare of having to bury their son.
Corporal Ashley Birt was the youngest of the three, aged just 22. Corporal Birt was a member of Combined Team Uruzgan and had been nominated for an award for his work during the Queensland floods. Corporal Birt lived in Gympie, where he was well known to the community, and has been described as a larrikin and someone who was always smiling. His loss is a tragedy for his parents, Don and Linda, and for his brother, Dale. Words cannot describe the emotions they must be feeling at this time. Our thoughts and prayers are with them just as they are with the other families.
What makes this loss of three young men so extraordinary are the circumstances in which they lost their lives. These deaths did not occur on the battlefield but in the relative safety of the operating base at Shah Wali Kot in Kandahar province. These murders were at the hands of an Afghan soldier—an Afghan soldier whom they had gone to Afghanistan to mentor. They had dedicated themselves to training this soldier, and it is for this reason that we feel an extra level of pain and distress. These fine men risked their lives to help build a nation—and a nation as fortunate as ours has now been betrayed by those whom we seek to help. It is indeed a great tragedy.
We cannot, though, be blinded by this great tragedy to the tremendous good our soldiers are doing in Afghanistan or to the reason they are there. They are there to support the pursuit of democracy and freedom and to secure not only our nation's liberty but also the liberty of all free nations. To pull out now would mean that these lives have been lost in vain. It would create a dangerous vacuum, and the people who gave the orders for this murder would reassert control. We must stay the course, we must keep our resolve and we must never forget why these men and their families have ultimately paid the highest price in sacrificing their lives. Lest we forget.
I rise to pay tribute to the lives of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. They were doing tough, difficult and deadly work on our behalf, trying to make Afghanistan safer. Their deaths are a reminder that Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place. The shocking circumstances of the way they died make it all the more difficult to comprehend. Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin were killed by one of the men they were trying to help—one of the men they were training. This will obviously be a terrible blow to the confidence of our soldiers and to the trust they have worked so hard to build with their Afghan partners. It will take some considerable time to restore that confidence and that trust.
I do not often agree with the Leader of the Opposition, but I did on Monday when he said that this attack was a reflection more on the malice of the enemy than on the merits of our cause. That cause is to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorism. There are days like Sunday when it is easy to wonder whether that is possible—but it is. This is not easy work. There will inevitably be more dark days ahead. But the merits of our cause should not be doubted. The strategy we have is the right one. We are training an Afghan National Army which will ensure the security of Afghanistan when we are gone. And we are making progress—we are building up that army, and the security situation in Oruzgan is improving.
Captain Duffy, Corporal Bird and Lance Corporal Gavin all lived in Queensland. Collectively they served not just in Afghanistan but also in East Timor and the Solomon Islands and as part of Operation Yasi Assist and Operation Queensland Flood Assist in January and February of this year. These were outstanding men and their loss will be deeply felt by the communities they were a part of, at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville and Gallipoli Barracks in Enoggera. This loss will be ever more felt by the people who knew them and who loved them most: their mums and dads, their brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, and their wives and children. I send my most sincere condolences to all of them. Lance Corporal Gavin's wife said in a statement this morning:
I'm not sure how to live a life without him in it. We are all so incredibly proud of him. He died doing what he loved and what he believed in. We will never forget him.
All Australians are proud of him—we are proud of all three men and we too will never forget them.
Today I extend my deepest sympathies to the devastated families and friends and the courageous colleagues of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. These three brothers in arms were shot dead on Saturday, 29 October, by a rogue member of the Afghan National Army during a parade at a remote patrol base in Kandahar province. This is the worst single incident in Afghanistan involving Australian personnel, and 32 Australians have now died in the Afghanistan mission with 209 wounded, including 43 this year.
It is with great sadness that we in parliament acknowledge the deaths of three fine men, described as exceptional and dedicated diggers. They epitomised what it means to be Australian soldiers—beyond brave, determined, mates, resolute. Mothers and fathers and wives and children have given their most treasured possession for the cause of our freedom for the sake of a better world. While the pain of the loved ones who mourn the most is unimaginable, I hope that in time the gratitude of a proud nation helps to ease their burden.
Yesterday a video was posted online of Lance Corporal Gavin speaking about his deployment to Afghanistan. In this four-minute documentation recorded not long after the death of the 29th Australian digger, Private Matthew Lambert, Lance Corporal Gavin spoke of the difficult conversation he had already had with his family and of his wishes for his wife and children should a similar incident occur. Lance Corporal Gavin simply stated:
My family knew of my dream to follow in the footsteps of the soldiers before me.
A man of few words, when he was asked what he most missed when away on deployment he clearly and simply wrote on a small whiteboard, 'My kids'—a heartbreaking image embedded in the mind of the viewer. But it is a comforting thought that his children will know that they were and will be forever on his mind.
I also extend my best wishes to the seven Australian soldiers wounded in the incident and to the family of the Afghan interpreter who also lost his life. Their deaths were not in vain. The motives of this mission are admirable, just and right.
I am from Wagga Wagga, the city which proudly has Blamey Barracks Kapooka, home of the Australian soldier, on its outskirts. The officers at Kapooka training the recruits to carry on the outstanding work of those serving in Afghanistan know how important it is for our troops to be physically and mentally equipped for the challenges which lie ahead. They know how crucial it is for our soldiers to be the very best they can be, and Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin certainly embodied that fine Kapooka tradition, exemplified by every recruit—that digger ethos, that Anzac spirit. Disturbingly, of the 32 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan during the past decade, 15 were involved in mentoring and training Afghan troops—for some, tragically, a betrayal of trust—but we must not give in to terrorism, not now, not in the future. We cannot allow terrorists to form training camps to continue coercing suicide bombers to carry out random acts of evil against innocent people around the globe. We must stay the course in Afghanistan for the sake of humanity; for all those who cherish the ideals of a free world; for the good local people who want us and need us there and who value our presence; for those who want their children to grow up in a peaceful world; and certainly for and on behalf of the memories of Captain Bryce Duffy, aged 26, Corporal Ashley Birt, 22, and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, 27.
We will bring our brave military personnel home when their valiant work is done. These three slain heroes are coming home, not the way anyone would have expected but to be laid to rest. They will be remembered solemnly on Friday week, Armistice Day, when we pause, as is customary and reverent, at 11 o'clock on the 11th day of the 11th month to reflect upon the sacrifice of all those who have laid down their lives on active service. They will also be remembered each and every Anzac Day and they will be missed each and every day by their family and friends. In the words of the English poet Laurence Binyon in his third stanza of the ode For the fallen:
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow,
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
Lest we forget.
I rise to mark another sad day for Australia, to share my condolences for three brave young men taken before their time and the seven diggers who lay wounded far from home. We are a nation with a heavy heart as we mourn Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, who now join 29 others who have fallen in Afghanistan. The deaths of these young men occurred in circumstances that make it more confusing to accept, not killed in the battlefield but by a rogue ANA soldier—an experienced ANA soldier who had already served for three years and who was part of the force our diggers are mentoring. It is frightening to imagine those minutes, the uncertainty about whether it was the beginning of a Taliban attack and seeing your mates falling around you. Of the 12 Australian soldiers present, only two were not struck by rounds. Australian coverage shone through. One medic paused only to secure his own tourniquet before aiding the wounded, saving his mates. Soldiers back at the base raced to donate blood; anything they could do to help.
This rogue soldier has dealt a shocking blow to the confidence of our mentoring operations. Australian soldiers are amongst the most professional in the world and the most courageous. However, these three men mean that out of our 32 fallen, 15 have lost their lives while involved in training and mentoring Afghan troops. It is a crucial role, demonstrating that our defence forces are truly committed to making Afghanistan a better place for its own citizens. We must all remember that danger and bravery is not only the province of battle but of improving lives.
Our diggers are mentoring Afghan forces, sharing the dangers they face in order to keep insurgents on the move, to locate weapons and caches, and to help give local Afghans confidence against the Taliban. They are succeeding. Over the past 18 months allied forces have achieved in driving insurgents out of areas they had considered safe for many years. I hope that their achievements, their commitment and their dedication to the goal of making Afghanistan safer will provide some comfort to their families. All of Australia is proud of our diggers. All Australian hearts go out to the families of the fallen.
Captain Bryce Duffy from the Townsville base volunteered for his second tour of duty on short notice, after another officer was wounded in action. He was serving in the 4th Regiment of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery. He had just successfully completed the Special Air Service and leaves behind his partner, mother and family. Lance Corporal Luke Gavin of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was from Sydney. He had learnt the dialect of the local province. He was a Pashto linguist and had been trained in combat first aid. Lance Corporal Gavin is survived by his wife and three children as well as his parents.
Corporal Ashley Birt, just 22, and from Gympie was part of the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron. He will be brought home to his parents and family by his brother, who was serving by his side in Afghanistan.
These young men were all unique and all leave behind people whom they loved and who loved them. They were dedicated to their cause, and their country is proud of them. I extend my condolences to the families of these men and keep our other Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan and around the world in my thoughts and prayers. Lest we forget.
I rise to support the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition as well as those speakers before me on this condolence motion on the deaths of three fine Australians: Captain Duffy, Corporal Birt and Lance Corporal Gavin. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families in this time of great sadness for them. We sincerely wish them strength and courage in their bereavement and into the future. I also acknowledge the seven Australian soldiers who were wounded in the same incident, and we wish them a speedy recovery.
The betrayal of an Afghan soldier who had been considered an ally makes these deaths particularly tragic. I repeat the words of the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Tony Abbott, in saying:
This … is more reflection on the malice of the enemy than on the merits of our cause.
Captain Duffy joined the Australian Defence Force Academy in January 2003 where he completed a Bachelor of Science and graduated from the Royal Military College in December 2006. He was posted to the 1st Field Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery in Brisbane where he served until 2010. He was transferred to the 4th Regiment in Townsville in 2011 as the assistant operations officer before his second deployment to Afghanistan in September.
Captain Duffy had recently completed the SAS selection course and was looking forward to joining their ranks in the future. His dedication was evidenced in the fact that he had volunteered for his second tour of duty at short notice after a fellow officer was wounded in action. Captain Duffy is survived by his partner, his parents and his extended family.
Corporal Ashley Birt is survived by his parents and his brother. He enlisted into the Australian Regular Army in June 2007 and joined the Royal Australian Engineers as a geospatial technician. Following initial training and a specialist technical geospatial basic course in 2008, he was posted to the 1st Topographical Survey Squadron as a geospatial technician. He was promoted to lance corporal in February 2001. This was Corporal Birt's first deployment after assisting with the Queensland flood relief efforts in January.
Lance Corporal Luke Gavin is survived by his wife and their three children. He enlisted in the Army in 2003 and, on completion of his basic training and initial employment training, he was posted as an infantryman in the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in Townsville in 2005. He was promoted to lance corporal in January 2009.
Lance Corporal Gavin was a highly qualified soldier, having completed specialist training as a combat first aider, a Pashto linguist and an infantry support weapons operator. Lance Corporal Gavin was on his first tour to Afghanistan after three previous tours to East Timor.
Last Saturday's incident now brings the total number of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 32 and the number of wounded to 209. I know that, with the death of these three fine soldiers, it will also be a difficult time for the families of the other 29 soldiers who have been killed in the battlefield in Afghanistan in recent months and years.
While these soldiers have died tragically, they have died in great honour in serving our nation in the cause of making Afghanistan safer from terrorism. Their sacrifice is not in vain. We honour their memory and we thank them for their service to our nation. Lest we forget.
I rise to join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all those who have contributed and will contribute to this very solemn and important condolence motion in memory of Corporal Ashley Birt, Captain Bryce Duffy and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin, all of whom died while on operation in Afghanistan on 29 October this year. Along with them, seven Australian soldiers were wounded, some very seriously.
This was Captain Bryce Duffy's second deployment to Afghanistan with the Mentoring Task Force. He also served on Operation Yasi Assist earlier this year. He was a Townsville based officer of the 4th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. Captain Duffy is survived by his wife, his mother and the broader family.
Corporal Ashley Birt was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He had previously served in the Solomon Islands and was part of Operation Queensland Flood Assist in January of this year. Nambour born and Brisbane based, Corporal Birt is survived by his parents and brother.
Lance Corporal Luke Gavin served three tours in East Timor and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He was a skilled soldier and a valued member of his unit, 2nd Battalion, RAR, based in Townsville. Lance Corporal Gavin put duty first. He is survived by his wife and, very sadly and tragically, their three children.
These three soldiers and those who were wounded with them have many things in common, including bravery, courage, absolute commitment, selflessness—you name it. They were putting their lives on the line for their country. Another thing they have in common is that they are all volunteers. All the men and women of the Australian Defence Force give themselves voluntarily. They serve in active duty voluntarily. Another thing they would all have in common, I am sure, is a total belief in what they were doing in Afghanistan. That was certainly my experience as Minister for Defence. I am sure they all understood the risks involved in what they were doing and were more than prepared to run those risks. I suspect that also applies to their families. From my experience—and I do not know their families; I am making an assumption—I think it is fair to assume that their families understood that they were doing what they wanted to do. These soldiers would have had the full support of their families, as anxious as their families would have been as a result of their deployment to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a dangerous place. It is a dangerous mission, but we are there for good reason. We are prepared to play our role in a safer, more secure global community. They are there to protect Australians. There is a direct link between the capacity of jihadists to train and launch their ills from Afghanistan and the safety of Australians—there is no doubt about that. I was the defence minister when we reconfigured our operations there and established the Mentoring Task Force. Journalists immediately asked whether this would be more dangerous. I had no hesitation in being transparent and saying yes, it would be. It would be more dangerous because people would be out in the field patrolling alongside members of the Afghan National Army with little experience and training. The other risk, of course, was that we were sending our people to train alongside people we did not know all that well, people who may or may not have the same commitment as our own boys to the task at hand. While the first risk was a fairly obvious one, we are now, sadly, fully aware of the second risk. This is not the first occasion on which we have lost a soldier to a rogue member of the Afghan National Army. I experienced this myself when I travelled to a forward operating based in Afghanistan—I will not name the base. I very courteously asked the head of my personal security detachment whether I could remove my vest, given we were in the relative safety and security of the forward operating base. He reluctantly agreed—of course, I would not have done so if he had not agreed, because I was his responsibility—but not 10 minutes later he asked me to put the vest back on and pulled me aside to what he obviously thought was a safer place. It was not until later I learned that one of the Afghan National Army soldiers had threatened my life. It was not a distressing experience for me because I did not even know it had happened and I did not know what the soldier's intention was. Maybe it was benign and he was big-noting himself; maybe he was on drugs and had lost his composure—I do not know—but from that moment I fully understood the potential risk for our troops. Again, they understand that but they also fully appreciate now more than ever the possibility that one of those whom they serve beside is not loyal to them or to the task.
I cannot imagine how difficult that is. I cannot imagine what it is like to go out on patrol alongside soldiers who are supposedly on your side but who may at any time turn against you. That is one of the things we should be dwelling on this evening and throughout the course of this debate, because I am sure it is playing heavily on their minds. On that basis, our appreciation for what they are doing as volunteers should rise even higher, given the circumstances they face in Afghanistan.
Again, we are grateful to them for what they did and we are grateful to their fellow soldiers for what they continue to do in those very difficult circumstances. This is not the time to breach the trust and commitment they are giving us by bringing into question the worth of the mission there. I have made the connection between their work and our own national security—there is a very real one. We cannot blink. As difficult as it is we must stay the course and finish the job. We must remain there until the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police are in a position to maintain their own security so that, in partnership with the international community, we can get on with building a democracy, building a legal system, therefore building a rule of law and building an economy.
What will really fix Afghanistan in the end is an economy capable of producing the sort of growth we need to bring the Afghan people out of the 16th century and eventually into the 21st century. It is achievable. It is possible for the Afghan security forces to develop to the point where they are capable of taking care of their own security. It will take time and we must give that time. All of us in this place must at every opportunity reassure our boys there, and of course the female soldiers playing an important role in Afghanistan, that we are 100 per cent behind them. Again, I could not imagine going out on patrol next to ANA soldiers, taking all those risks and wondering whether it is going to be all for nil because, at some point, the politicians back in Canberra are going to give up and bring people home before the job is done. That is certainly not what the boys want to hear and it is certainly not the message we should be sending them. The only message we should be sending them is that we will do everything in our power to ensure that the 32 Australians who have given their lives in Afghanistan have not given their lives in vain. Lest we forget.
I rise to join the previous speakers in this difficult task and offer my condolences not for one digger lost in combat, but three. That two of these were from my city of Townsville makes an already difficult job more all the more challenging.
Captain Bryce Duffy came from a military family. He was transferred into Townsville's 4th Field Regiment in January this year and was deployed on his second trip to Afghanistan in September. Captain Duffy is remembered as a highly professional and dedicated soldier who was passionate about the defence career ahead of him.
Can I say that 4th Field Regiment did a fantastic job in and around Townsville post cyclone Yasi, particularly in Cardwell. I remember speaking to a colonel or lieutenant colonel from 4th Field Regiment in relation to a concrete toilet block. If you have ever been to Cardwell you would know there is a concrete toilet block on the beach there. It has been there forever. It was probably there before World War II. I think if they carbon dated it they would find it is a million years old. They said that cyclone Yasi had destroyed it so much it looked like they had gone 200 metres back up the road and put a couple of shells through it. Through all the hard work they did during that time—it was hot and it was very hard work—they kept a smile on their faces and they were always laughing.
Corporal Ashley Birt was on his second overseas deployment, having served in the Solomon Islands this year. Those who served with him have described him as a great mate, a proud soldier and a natural leader. He was a dedicated geospatial technician and had risen quickly through the ranks performing a job that, in the words of his superior officer, normally only a senior corporal could manage.
I would like to acknowledge at this point that, in addition to their overseas deployments, Captain Duffy and Corporal Birt were involved in the Defence Force contingent that supported North Queensland communities following the natural disasters this year. And not only in North Queensland, but all of Queensland. Corporal Birt was involved in the aftermath of the South-East Queensland floods and Captain Duffy, of course, after Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland. On behalf of the north Queensland community I would like to recognise their roles in helping out in what was truly our hour of need. It is funny, normally you have to go through a whole chain of command to get the Defence forces to help out in civilian time. But Brigadier Stuart Smith rang the mayor of Townsville, Les Tyrrell, and said, 'I've got a whole bunch of blokes out there ready to go.' There was also 3rd Brigade, 5th Aviation, the RAAF and the Navy. Everyone in the ADF in Townsville rallied to the point and became the greatest workforce our city could ever hope for.
Lance Corporal Luke Gavin was posted to Townsville's 2RAR in 2005. As they say in Townsville: 2RAR; second to none. A highly qualified soldier, he was promoted to lance corporal in 2009, having undertaken specialist training as a combat first aider. He was a Pashtu linguist and an infantry support weapons operator. His family has stated that he believed strongly in Australia's role in Afghanistan. Those who served with him, both superiors and subordinates, have recognised his professionalism, his mateship and above all his ability as a soldier. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with the families and friends of these three brave soldiers at what must be an incredibly difficult time.
I would also like to mention all our front line soldiers, seven of whom were injured in this attack. To lose any fellow servicemen must be difficult. To lose three in one attack and still have to get on with the job the next day is unthinkable. Their resilience is a credit to them and their country and is not going unnoticed.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention the impact that this has had on the Townsville community. As a garrison city and home to Lavarack Barracks, Australia's largest and greatest army base, we are immensely proud of the job our troops are doing in Afghanistan and of the role the Defence Force plays in our community. A tragedy like this affects everyone in Townsville. I know that we are all grieving alongside our troops. I received phone calls this week from people wanting to erect monuments to soldiers who have fallen in this conflict. I have counselled them that the army, and the units from which they have come, have made no such call. As with all major conflicts, monuments come after the fighting has finished; not before. This is a time for family. This is a time for the community to come around itself, close itself and be warm with itself.
To once again have lost soldiers at the hands of a rogue Afghan National Army soldier, an ally, makes the circumstances of this tragedy even more difficult to comprehend. This mentoring task force is an extremely important part of our mission in Afghanistan and it is vital if Australia is to be able to leave that country better able to defend itself and the world from the threat of terrorism. At this time we must remind ourselves of the importance of this role. There is no better gift that Australia, as a democratic and free society, can give a troubled nation than the empowerment to protect their own country and those rights that we are proud to have in our own country. In remembering this, we must be resolute in our support of this goal, just as our soldiers on the front line are. Think of the health standards that we bring; the education and things that we are bringing into the country; and respect for females. As a society, if we can just keep on going this way at these incredibly difficult times, it must be done.
This has been a very difficult week for the defence community and the Townsville community in general. I was at the farewell—the pass-out parade—for 2RAR as they made their way in a staged deployment to Afghanistan. The then Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, spoke for about 15 minutes to the troops, and for the first seven to 10 minutes of that speech he spoke directly to the families of the soldiers—the men and women who were going to be left behind. He told them of what was available in the Townsville community, and he told the community of Townsville and the ADF in general to avail themselves of what was there—that they are part of that family. That is how important and how grown-up our system has been. I was very lucky at the time: I walked down to and from the parade with a warrant officer who had been to and from Vietnam. I said to him, 'What was this like when you went to Vietnam?' He said, 'We got nothing on the way out and less on the way in, mate.'
As a defence community and as a community in general, we have come to respect the role that our soldiers have played, and no community more so than Townsville. The Australian community must also rally around our troops. We ask a lot of our soldiers, and the bravery that is shown as they diligently go about their mission is a source of pride for their families and for all of us as Australians. The courage of these three soldiers in pursuit of what is a noble cause has not gone unnoticed, must never be forgotten and will not be in vain.
I say this to the men and women who are left over there: this is a very stressful time for anyone. When you are in a conflict situation, the way it is explained to me, your own little bit of solace—the time when you can let your guard down just a little bit—is inside your compound. That has been removed. These guys are on high stress levels all the time now, and we as a community, especially those people that are not involved in the direct conflict, must remember that when they come back we will have to be there for them. We will have to look after them, because this will leave scars. So, to those of you guys who are still there, I say: you must stay strong, you must trust your mate, you must keep your chin up and your head down at the same time, and you must avail yourself of counselling. You must be able to talk to people, and you must be able to sort out any problems you may have or you may think you have.
I am very proud to represent the city of Townsville—the men and women of 3rd Brigade, and people from Townsville and the Defence Force in general that are part of the Mentoring Task Force. I am very sorry to be here, and I do not like doing these things, but it is a damn sight easier than being over there. Lest we forget.
Before I move a motion, I wish to associate myself with the words that have been said just now by the member for Herbert and with the words of everybody else who has spoken in this debate on the deaths of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. There are no words that we can say in this debate which will fill the hole that has been left in the families and the lives of those that are left behind, but I think it is important to know that they have the solidarity of every member in this place as they go through this very difficult time.
Thank you for your contribution. I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.
Honourable members having stood in their places—
I thank the Committee and those who have spoken.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 24 March 2011:
How many overseas business class flights were taken by Canberra-based AusAID staff in each calendar year from 2005 to 2010.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
A number of itineraries by AusAID staff include more than one destination. The figures are calculated using the first destination of the itinerary.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 24 March 2011:
How many AusAID contracts with service providers were terminated due to corruption or project mismanagement in each calendar year from 2005 to 2010, and can he disclose the names of these service providers.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
Two organisations that were involved in implementing AusAID-funded activities were identified has having their contracts terminated from 2005 to 2010 for reasons of fraud or mismanagement. A further 21 project staff of organisations implementing AusAID-funded activities had their employment contracts or sub-contracts terminated during this period as a result of fraud or project mismanagement. Details are set out in the table below.
Given the sensitivities involved in these investigations, it would be inappropriate to provide the names of organisations and individuals involved.
Where possible, AusAID or implementing organisations took action to recover funds.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in writing, on 18 August 2011:
On what date did the Minister or staff of the Minister's office first see the text contained in the request for tender for the Australia Network contract and/or associated documents.
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
This question is ambiguous. The RFT is the document issued to bidders. I was made aware of its content at the time I was appointed Approver by Cabinet.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in writing, on 18 August 2011:
Did the Minister or staff of the Minister's office receive a briefing, written or verbal, from the Minister's department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or a member of the selection panel regarding any of the information provided by tenderers for the Australia Network contract in their tender submissions; if so, (a) on what date, and (b) can he indicate the nature of the information provided.
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
I was involved in the Cabinet discussions on the additional criterion added to the Request for Tender. Consideration is a matter of Cabinet confidentiality. I received the Tender Evaluation Board (TEB) report on 31 August 2011. Actions taken are confidential to the tender process until announced.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in writing, on 18 August 2011:
Did the Minister or staff of the Minister's office receive a briefing, written or verbal, from the Minister's department or a member of the tender panel for the Australia Network contract regarding the panel's progress.
The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
See the response to Question in Writing No. 531.
Did the Minister or staff of the Minister's office receive a briefing, written or verbal, from the Minister's department or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding the report of the tender panel for the Australia Network contract, including any recommendation on a preferred tenderer; if so, (a) on what date was the brief (i) received by the Minister's office, and (ii) sighted by the Minister, and (b) can the Minister indicate what type of ministerial action was requested by the Minister's department, and what resulting action the Minister took.
See the response to Question in writing No. 531.
Has the Minister or staff of the Minister's office been given a copy of the report of the tender panel for the Australia Network contract; if so, on what date.
I received the Tender Evaluation Board (TEB) report on 31 August 2011. Actions taken are confidential to the tender process until announced.
On what date was the Minister's department first notified of the Government's intention to extend the existing Australia Network contract.
In the relevant Cabinet Minute. Dates of Cabinet Minutes are generally not released by any Government.
Has the Minister, any staff of the Minister's office and/or the Minister's department received correspondence from, or had a discussion with, any of the interested parties involved in the tender process for the Australia Network contract since the Government's decision to seek further information from them; if so, (a) on what date, (b) what parties were involved, and (c) can the Minister indicate the nature of the correspondence and/or discussion.
I have not spoken to any bidder on bid issues since being appointed Approver by Cabinet.
Has the Minister, any staff of the Minister's office and/or the Minister's department received any correspondence from, or had discussions with, any of the interested parties involved in the tender process for the Australia Network contract about the impact of the Government's decision on the financial viability of their proposal; if so, (a) what parties were involved, and (b) can the Minister indicate the nature of the correspondence and/or discussion.
See the response to Question in Writing No. 536.
Has the Minister or any staff of the Minister's office received a briefing, written or verbal, from the Minister's department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and/or consultants expressing concerns about the change to the request for tender for the Australia Network contract and/or associated documentation; if so, (a) on what date, and (b) can the Minister indicate the nature of the concerns.
I was involved in the Cabinet discussions on the additional criterion added to the Request for Tender. Consideration is a matter of Cabinet confidentiality.
Has the Minister or any staff of the Minister's office received a briefing, written or verbal, from the Minister's department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and/or consultants regarding the additional costs associated with expanding the Australia Network's coverage in to the Middle East and North Africa; if so, (a) on what date, (b) can the Minister indicate the nature of the concerns, and (c) what is the additional cost.
See the response to Question in Writing No. 538.
Has the Minister or any staff of the Minister's office received a briefing, written or verbal, from the Minister's department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and/or consultants regarding the expansion of the Australia Network in to the Middle East and North Africa and its impact on the Network's penetration rates in Asia and/or the Pacific; if so, (a) on what date, and (b) can the Minister indicate the nature of the concerns.
See the response to Question in Writing No. 538.
In respect of the proposed carbon price, is he able to indicate (a) how many self-funded retirees will be ineligible for Government financial assistance, and (b) what Government financial assistance will be provided to single self-funded retirees and couples with incomes and savings of up to $25,000 and $50,000 respectively, who do not hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) I am unable to provide an estimate of the number of self-funded retirees who will be ineligible for household assistance, as many are outside the tax and transfer systems. Accordingly, the Government does not hold information on their details or numbers.
Depending on their personal circumstances, self-funded retirees may receive assistance through tax cuts, increases to the Seniors Supplement, or a combination of the two. Retirees who are primarily self-funded but also receive some Age Pension will receive the same assistance as Age Pensioners through the new Clean Energy Supplement. As per the Government's commitment to assist all low income households to a level that at least covers their average expected price impact, low income self-funded retiree households that are not fully assisted to offset their average expected cost impact through tax cuts or payment increases will be able to apply for the Low Income Supplement.
(b) Single self-funded retirees and couples with incomes and savings of up to $25,000 and $50,000 respectively, who do not hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, are likely to be under Age Pension age. They will receive assistance under the Clean Energy Future package, through the following mechanisms, depending on their particular circumstances.
Self-funded retirees with these incomes, which are less than $80,000, who pay tax on private earnings may receive tax cuts as a result of increases in the tax free threshold from 1 July 2012. The tax package will also increase the thresholds for the senior Australians tax offset, providing a greater offset to eligible self funded retirees over Age Pension age at some income levels.
Further tax cuts will be delivered in 2015 for all taxpayers with a taxable income of up to $80,000, with most receiving a tax cut of up to $385 in total. Over a million low income individuals will no longer have to lodge a tax return by 2015-16.
Tax concessions are already provided to self-funded retirees from 60 years of age – well below the current Age Pension age of 65 years for men and 64.5 years for women.
Self-funded retirees in low income households who have not been adequately assisted through the tax or transfer systems may be eligible for the Low Income Supplement from 1 July 2012.
Self-funded retirees who have an adjusted taxable income, including income from tax-free superannuation pensions, below $30,000 for singles and below $45,000 for couples combined (without dependent children), may be eligible for the annual $300 Low Income Supplement.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 14 September 2011:
In respect of the 64 clinics under the GP Super Clinics Program, how many (a) funding agreements have (i) concluded, (ii) specified a date for practical completion, and (b) organisations achieved practical completion of the works on or before the original specified date for practical completion.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) (i) Funding Agreements with GP Super Clinic grant recipients include a 20 year Designated Use Period following the achievement of Practical Completion for the GP Super Clinic construction or refurbishment. This means that no Funding Agreements have yet concluded.
(ii) All of the Funding Agreements with GP Super Clinic funding recipients include an indicative date for Practical Completion. It is acknowledged that the Practical Completion date for individual projects may vary from the original indicative date as factors beyond the control of funding recipients may impact a project from time to time. Such factors include the availability of land/suitable premises for the clinic, local council planning and approval processes, availability of construction workforce and materials, and weather conditions. The size and complexity of the construction project can also impact on the anticipated project timeframe.
(b) As indicated above, the timetable for achieving Practical Completion by GP Super Clinic funding recipients is heavily dependent on external factors beyond the control of the funding recipient including the availability of land/suitable premises for the clinic, local council planning and approval processes, availability of construction workforce and materials, and weather conditions. The size and complexity of the construction project can also impact on the anticipated project timeframe.
The Department monitors the Funding Agreements for each GP Super Clinic and negotiates variations to milestone timeframes, if required, to reflect the impact of these external influences.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 14 September 2011:
In respect of the GP Super Clinics Program and the funding agreements for such clinics, on how many occasions have organisations proposed variations (a) to the works, and for each occasion, (i) what was the reason provided by the organisation, and (ii) was consent in writing provided by the Commonwealth, and (b) which would have an effect on the (i) timeframes for completion of the works, and (ii) timeframe for the date of practical completion.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) and (b)The timetable for achieving milestones in the GP Super Clinics Program Funding Agreements is heavily dependent on external factors beyond the control of the funding recipient including the availability of land/suitable premises for the clinic, local council planning and approval processes, availability of construction workforce and materials, and weather conditions. The size and complexity of the construction project can also impact on the anticipated project timeframe.
The Department monitors the Funding Agreements for each GP Super Clinic and negotiates variations to milestones in the Funding Agreement, if required, to reflect the impact of these external influences.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 14 September 2011:
In respect of the Deliverables and Milestone Schedule in Annexure A of the funding agreement template for the GP Super Clinics Program, (a) on how many occasions has an organisation failed to meet a deliverable or milestone by the date specified in its funding agreement, and (b) how many clinics have failed to meet the following milestones as specified in their funding agreements: (i) execution, (ii) tenure, (iii) project commencement, (iv) seeking regulatory approvals, (v) construction tender, (vi) award of tender, (vii) approval to commence construction, (viii) construction commencement, (ix) financial acquittals and report, (x) midpoint of construction, (xi) start up and operational arrangements, (xii) notification of practical completion, and (xiii) report of completion of works.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) and (b)The timetable for achieving milestones in the GP Super Clinics Program Funding Agreements is heavily dependent on external factors beyond the control of the funding recipient including the availability of land/suitable premises for the clinic, local council planning and approval processes, availability of construction workforce and materials, and weather conditions. The size and complexity of the construction project can also impact on the anticipated project timeframe
The Department monitors the Funding Agreements for each GP Super Clinic and negotiates variations to milestones in the Funding Agreement, if required, to reflect the impact of these external influences.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 14 September 2011:
In respect of the GP Deliverables and Milestone Schedule in the funding agreement template for the GP Super Clinics Program, how many clinics have met the following milestones as specified in their original funding agreement on or before the date specified: (a) execution, (b) tenure, (c) project commencement, (d) seeking regulatory approvals, (e) construction tender, (f) award of tender, (g) approval to commence construction, (h) construction commencement, (i) financial acquittals and report, (j) midpoint of construction, (k) start up and operational arrangements, (l) notification of practical completion, and (m) report of completion of works.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) to (m) The timetable for achieving milestones in the GP Super Clinics Program Funding Agreements is heavily dependent on external factors beyond the control of the funding recipient including the availability of land/suitable premises for the clinic, local council planning and approval processes, availability of construction workforce and materials, and weather conditions. The size and complexity of the construction project can also impact on the anticipated project timeframe.
The Department monitors the Funding Agreements for each GP Super Clinic and negotiates variations to milestones in the Funding Agreement, if required, to reflect the impact of these external influences.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 14 September 2011:
In respect of the GP Super Clinics Program, how many clinics (a) have provided to the Commonwealth a commencement of services/formal launch timeline by the date specified in their original funding agreement, (b) have commenced services on or before the date specified in their original commencement of services timeline, and (c) have held a formal launch on or before the date specified in their original formal launch timeline.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) to (c) Formal launch dates are not specified in the GP Super Clinics Funding Agreement.
The timetable for achieving milestones in the GP Super Clinics Program Funding Agreements is heavily dependent on external factors beyond the control of the funding recipient including the availability of land/suitable premises for the clinic, local council planning and approval processes, availability of construction workforce and materials, and weather conditions. The size and complexity of the construction project can also impact on the anticipated project timeframe
Once the construction or refurbishment of a GP Super Clinic site is completed, and the construction is deemed fit for use by an appropriate authority, services may commence.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 14 September 2011:
In respect of the GP Super Clinics Program, how many (a) GP presentations were made at the operational clinics in June and July 2011, and (b) nursing and allied health presentations were made at the operational clinics.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
The current presentation data collection framework was implemented from 1 February 2011. The framework provides for the identification of GP, nursing and allied health presentations and the collection of data every two months by my Department from operational GP Super Clinic sites and those delivering early services.
(a) From 1 June 2011 to 31 July 2011 there were approximately 65,000 presentations to GPs at the 14 GP Super Clinics that were already operational or commenced operations during this period.
(b) From 1 June 2011 to 31 July 2011 there were approximately 20,000 presentations to nurses and allied health professionals at the 14 GP Super Clinics that were already operational or commenced operations during this period.
asked the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, in writing, on 15 September 2011:
(1) How many (a) trade training centres in schools are currently operational, and (b) students are currently undertaking training at trade training centres in schools.
(2) Will the Minister provide a list of all trade training qualifications on offer in operational trade training centres in schools.
(3) Of the trade training centres in schools that have already been built, how many are just for an individual school.
(4) How many trade training centres are currently under construction.
(5) What has been the average cost per (a) trade training centre, and (b) trade training centre of those attached to only one school.
(6) How many trade training centres in schools have been approved, with construction yet to commence.
(7) What is the outstanding approved funding commitment for trade training centres in schools.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) (a) There are 109 Trade Training Centre projects that are operational.
(b) The Department is currently finalising data on the number of students undertaking training in trade training centres in schools. Once finalised, information will be published on the Departments website.
(2) A list of qualifications being delivered in Trade Training Centres that are operational is at Attachment A.
(3) There are 60 Trade Training Centres that are benefiting standalone (individual) schools.
(4) There are 93 Trade Training Centre projects under construction.
(5) (a) Based on the approved funding in Rounds One, Two and Three of the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, the average cost of a Trade Training Centre is $3.58m.
(b) Based on the approved funding in Rounds One, Two and Three of the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program, the average cost of a standalone Trade Training Centre is $1.27m.
(6) There are 72 Trade Training Centre projects that are approved with construction yet to commence.
(7) $1.03b was approved and announced by the Minister for Rounds One, Two and Three of the Program. Negotiations with education authorities and schools have led to the execution of funding agreements flowing from those approvals. The total amount committed in funding agreements executed to date is $939.05m (with a further approximately $83.89m expected to be included in funding agreements to be executed shortly).
$710.78m in funding has been paid to date under executed funding agreements, with a further $312.17m in anticipated expenditure to meet remaining milestones in executed, and soon to be executed, funding agreements.
Data is current as at 16 September 2011.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 15 September 2011:
(1) What total sum of funding has been allocated to general practice after hours care in (a) 2011-12, (b) 2012-13, (c) 2013-14, and (c) 2014-15.
(2) For the same period, what total sum of funding has been allocated to each individual program that supports general practice after hours care.
(3) What sum of funding was allocated to the General Practice After Hours program in (a) 2003-04, (b) 2004-05, (c) 2005-06, (d) 2006-07, (e) 2007-08, (f) 2008-09, (g) 2009-10, and (h) 2010-11.
(4) What sum of funding has been allocated to the General Practice After Hours program in each year over the forward estimates.
(5) What sum of funding has been allocated to the Practice Incentives Program (PIP) After Hours Incentive in each financial year since its inception.
(6) What sum of funding has been allocated to the PIP After Hours Incentive in each year over the forward estimates.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) Funding allocated towards general practice after hours care is as follows:
The funding outlined in the table above includes funding allocated towards the Medicare Local After Hours Program, the after hours GP helpline (including the addition of a videoconferencing capability), the General Practice After Hours Program and the
Practice Incentive Program After Hours Incentive 1.
(2) The total sum of funding allocated towards each program that supports general practice after hours care is as follows:
The Australian Government also supports after hours service provision through the Medicare Benefits Schedule After Hours Rebates for GPs and other medical practitioners. After hours rebates are higher than equivalent rebates offered during standard hours.
(3) In the 2008-09 Budget measure, Responsible Economic Management – After-Hours medical services – streamlining grants funding, the Government announced a streamlining of the former After Hours Primary Medical Care and Round the Clock Medicare: Investing in After Hours GP Services programs into a single program, known as the General Practice After Hours Program.
The sum of funding allocated to the After Hours Primary Medical Care and the Round the Clock Medicare: Investing in After Hours GP Service programs from 2003-04 to 2007-08 is as follows:
From 2008-09, the sum of funding allocated to the General Practice After Hours Program is as follows:
(4) Funding allocated to the General Practice After Hours Program over the forward estimates is as follows:
Grants under the General Practice After Hours Program will no longer be offered from 1 July 2012. All existing General Practice After Hours Program grants will be honoured, funding for which is reflected in the forward estimates.
From 1 July 2013, funding previously allocated towards the General Practice After Hours Program will be redirected through Medicare Locals to support after hours primary care.
(5) The Practice Incentive Program After Hours Incentive was introduced in August 1999. The annual expenditure since its inception is listed below:
(6) There is no specific funding allocation for the Practice Incentive Program After Hours Incentive in the forward estimates.
On 1 July 2011, funding for the Practice Incentive Program After Hours Incentive and a number of other Practice Incentive Program incentives was consolidated into the Practice Incentives for General Practices Fund, which has a funding allocation of around $1.055 billion over four years.
The Practice Incentive Program After Hours Incentive will cease on 30 June 2013. Funding previously allocated towards this incentive will be redirected through Medicare Locals to support after hours primary care.
1 As of 1 July 2011, there is no specific funding allocation for the Practice Incentive Program After Hours Incentive in the forward estimates. All figures are approximated based on previous expenditure for this incentive.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 15 September 2011:
In respect of the Practice Incentive Program,
(a) how many different types of practice incentive payments are available under the program, and
(b) what is the annual expenditure on each type of practice incentive payment under the program.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) There are 13 incentive payments under the Practice Incentives Program (PIP).
(b) The expenditure of each incentive for 2010-11 is set out below:
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 21 September 2011:
In respect of the GP Super Clinics Program, (a) how does her department assess the level of Chronic Disease Management (CDM) at a GP Super Clinic, and in total (b) how many (i) CDM items have been paid by Medicare, (ii) GP Management Plans have been prepared, (iii) Team Care Arrangements have been coordinated, and (iv) Medicare funded CDM allied health items have been delivered, at a GP Super Clinic.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) The Department receives Implementation Progress Sheets from each operational GP Super Clinic. These Sheets include information on the range of primary care services including acute services, preventative services and chronic disease management services that are provided at each Clinic.
(b) This information is confidential under the secrecy provisions (Section 130) of the Health Insurance Act 1973 as it would provide activity and billing information for individual medical practices.
Under the GP Super Clinics Program, self reported data is collected on patient presentations to GPs, nurses and allied health professionals. Data is not collected on the basis of Medicare/non-Medicare services.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 22 September 2011:
In respect of the Specialist Training Program: (a) what sum has been allocated to the program over the forward estimates, (b) by specialty and by State/Territory, how many positions have been funded in 2010 and 2011, and (c) how many accredited training posts have been funded in (i) private hospitals, (ii) specialists' rooms, (iii) clinics and day surgeries, (iv) the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service, (v) regional and rural hospitals, (vi) community health settings, and (vii) non-clinical settings.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) From the 2011-12 financial year funding for the Specialist Training Program falls under the new, flexible Health Workforce Fund. The appropriation for the Health Workforce Fund is as follows:
(b) Specialist Medical Colleges
Australasian College of Dermatologists—ACD
Australasian College for Emergency Medicine—ACEM
Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators—RACMA
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists—RANCOG
2010 Specialist Training Program Posts
2011 Specialist Training Program Posts
1. Specialist Training Program (STP) posts may be composed of multiple rotations across various setting types and localities. The figures provided are indicative of all sites funded under the program which fell into the nominated categories. These categories excluded public settings (non community) in RA1 (e.g. public metropolitan hospitals) and private non-community settings such as Diagnostic laboratories (e.g. pathology lab).
2. Of the STP post locations identified in the table, approximately 50 percent of the training sites are located in rural and regional areas (ASGC RA 2-5). There are 518 STP positions in 2011, with a number of positions involving rotations in different settings and to more than one training site. On this basis, up to 58 percent of all current STP places are providing at least some of their training in a rural location. These training locations may be at a rural and regional hospital, but could also be at sites in the other categories such as community health settings or specialist rooms.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 22 September 2011:
How many eye clinics have been established in the Asia-Pacific region as part of the Avoidable Blindness Initiative.
The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As part of the Avoidable Blindness Initiative, thirteen eye clinics have been established or upgraded in the Asia-Pacific region:
In Cambodia, the Takeo Eye Hospital was established and a new eye unit was created at the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Hospital; in Fiji, a new Pacific Eye Institute was built; in Papua New Guinea, four vision centres were established; in Vanuatu, two new clinics were established and one was upgraded; and in Vietnam, three district eye care facilities were built or upgraded.