Thursday, 16 February 2012
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012; Second Reading
Jane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
While I am regularly critical of the Gillard government's poor and reckless financial management, there are some projects which rightfully have the strong support of both sides of the House. The deputy opposition leader and shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, stated at the National Press Club foreign affairs debate in August 2010:
We are committed to the Millennium Development Goals both as a moral obligation and as part of our regional security.
However, according to AusAID, our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is 'unlikely to achieve any of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.' In a Lowy Institute address in 2011, the shadow foreign affairs minister said:
Under the Coalition policy of appointing a Minister for International Development Assistance, I expect that PNG will be the primary focus for that Ministry as we use development assistance and access to our markets to expand opportunities for growth and employment.
Ultimately, it will be our actions not our words, that will demonstrate beyond doubt that Papua New Guinea is one of Australia's top foreign policy priorities.
In the words of Ano Pala, the foreign minister of Papua New Guinea, Australia and Papua New Guinea are 'friends forever.' The long history of our relationship is well known to most Australians. Born out of the challenges of colonial rule, forged by the remarkable support given so freely by so many PNG citizens during World War II, tempered by the transition to independence, our relationship with Papua New Guinea is that of a family.
Papua New Guinea is a close and dear friend and I am delighted to take up the role as deputy chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of PNG. There are those who would say that our relationship has been a testing one. To that I would say: testing on both sides. There are those who are scathing as to their assessment of the future. To them I say the challenge is to assess Papua New Guinea against the context of where it has come from and what its achievements have been.
In my maiden speech I spoke of our responsibility to assist our developing friends with a genuine hand of friendship and support. I commented that:
The developed world has not found a successful form of providing aid to our neighbours in much the same way as we have much to learn in helping our own Indigenous Australians. In both cases we must persist, because if we fail we let our neighbours down and indeed our first Australians.
I travelled to Papua New Guinea last year with the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. The visit provided a great opportunity to assess firsthand where Papua New Guinea stands today. We met with a range of political leaders, police, businessmen and ordinary Papua New Guineans. The visit provided us with an insight into what is really happening there, not only the challenges by also the genuine opportunities for change.
Papua New Guinea is a developing country and it faces all the challenges that developing countries face. It faces the challenge of being a young country, having only achieved its independence in 1975. Its current situation is perhaps best summed up by Don Polye, the current Treasurer of Papua New Guinea, in a speech to the Australia-Papua New Guinea Business Council last year, where he said:
Some 36 years ago Papua New Guinea became in independent nation. The world watched and many predicted failure.
Despite the pessimism there is much for Papua New Guinea to be proud about. We have a strong economy. We have proud and vibrant people. We are not blind to our challenges.
Importantly we are learning to confront them. Our dreams have not progressed perfectly - whose do?
Let me be blunt. Our short history has been scarred by tribal warfare and ethnic clashes, shaken by the Bougainville conflict, damaged by the Asian economic crisis, betrayed by systemic and governance failures and shaken by the subjugation of women and children.
Yet the true test of a nation is not a recitation of its problems but rather how we work to overcome them.
In that candid assessment Mr Polye summed up where Papua New Guinea stands today. There are significant challenges, but we should not assume that PNG will not overcome them. However, it will take time. It will be challenging and it is essential that Australia stand shoulder to shoulder with PNG in meeting these challenges. It is important to note that, in economic terms, Papua New Guinea has seen 10 years of constant growth. In the year just gone, growth was over nine per cent. There are those who predict, after a predicted but small fall-off in 2013, growth in excess of 20 per cent as the ExxonMobil oil search LNG project comes on stream.
The current political situation is challenging from Australia's point of view but, for all of the allegations and the recent attempted military involvement, it is significant to note that the question of who forms government is before the courts, taken there by both the O'Neill government and Grand Chief Michael Somare. There is every indication that the decision of the courts will be accepted.
Papua New Guinea faces many challenges, particularly in the areas of health, education, guns, the forthcoming Bougainville referendum and, as the Treasurer highlighted, corruption. When one looks at corruption in Papua New Guinea, it is appropriate to acknowledge that in the time Papua New Guinea has been independent there have also been significant findings of corruption within Australia. That does not mean that we should disregard this issue, but it helps to put it in context. There appears to be genuine community concern about this issue, and it is increasingly reflected in the politics leading to the 2012 PNG election campaign. It is also pleasing to see the moves towards free education because, as in all developing countries, education provides a sound road for developing the most valuable resource—the people of Papua New Guinea themselves.
There are real issues in the area of health and I highlight three areas. First is the ongoing battle regarding HIV-AIDS. This is something that requires constant attention and constant support from Australia. Second, tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea is a significant issue. TB currently occupies 13 per cent of all hospital bed days in PNG and, of relevance to Australia, is the cause of 11 per cent of all deaths in Western Province, due north of Cape York. This is not only a problem for Papua New Guinea. It also impacts on Australia's northern borders and the people of Cape York. Added to this is the complication of the increasing incidence of multidrug-resistant strains of the TB virus. From Australia's point of view, it is essential that we maintain our previous support for the treatment of PNG nationals in the Torres Strait. There is also a real need to assist Papua New Guinea to build its microbiology capacity around TB to ensure that it qualifies for drug treatments provided by the World Health Organisation. This must be a dual approach. We must maintain our cross-border assistance and at the same time help Papua New Guinea meet the challenge locally.
Papua New Guinea has a devastating rate of maternal mortality, with 2008 statistics showing some 250 deaths for every 100,000 live births. That compares with the rate of eight deaths per 100,000 live births in Australia. However, Dame Carol Kidu, the country's only woman member of parliament, is reported by radio New Zealand referring to an even starker death rate of 733 per 100,000. She concludes that the issue should be treated as a national emergency. The United Nations Population Fund representative in PNG, Dr Gilbert Hiawalya, supports Dame Carol's assessment. He said:
The maternal deaths, mothers dying from giving birth or giving a life, is not on. The high mortality rate in PNG it is the highest in the Pacific region and the second highest in the Asia region because Afghanistan is the highest, so it's one of the highest in the world and I think it's important the leaders and all sectors of the community take the issue on hand.
This is an area where Australia can and must provide continuing support. There are of course other significant issues, and the challenges that confront Papua New Guinea and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville must be borne in mind. Australia, along with New Zealand and other Pacific nations, invested substantial funds, resources and effort in assisting Papua New Guinea to find a solution to the Bougainville conflict. Today, Bougainville is largely a peaceful society. Whilst there are issues in South Bougainville, it is remarkable how former combatants have moved on from the violence of the civil war. Bougainville has largely avoided the post-conflict crime that has dogged other post-conflict societies.
The peace agreement requires a referendum in the not-too-distant future. The management of that referendum and its outcome will be of critical significance to the future of both PNG and Bougainville. What is clear is that Australia's contribution was significant and well received. It is also clear that Australia must redouble its efforts to assist Bougainville in building its capacity. Any failure in Bougainville's move to a referendum because of a lack of capacity would raise serious and difficult issues for both Bougainville and PNG. One of the great challenges for Australia is the management of our aid budget. Consistently over recent years we have provided in excess of $450 million per year. Our aid program finds itself torn between the importance of delivering aid most effectively and, at the same time, ensuring that the money provided under our aid budget is actually spent on projects on the ground and avoids corruption. Anecdotal material would suggest that much of our aid budget is spent on the process of managing and protecting aid, thereby reducing the moneys actually available for projects. I accept readily that we must eradicate corruption from our aid delivery systems, but it also strikes me that there is an ongoing need to maximise our expenditure and to make our supervision less costly and more effective.
I want to pay tribute to Dame Carol Kidu, the member for Moresby South, the former minister for community development who took on the role as leader of the opposition in the PNG parliament yesterday. Carol has made a remarkable contribution to PNG—a Brisbane girl who moved to Papua New Guinea to marry Buri Kidu, later Sir Buri, Chief Justice of Papua New Guinea. After Sir Buri sadly passed away, Carol was approached by local people to run for national parliament. She has held the seat of Moresby South for a record three terms. She has fought a constant battle to better the lot of ordinary people, particularly those who are disabled and disadvantaged. She has been a strong supporter of the involvement of women in PNG politics. Dame Carol has indicated that she will not stand at the next election and it is appropriate that her enormous contribution be recognised and applauded.
Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour. Papua New Guinea is a good friend to Australia. Papua New Guinea faces significant challenges, but it is a robust, vibrant democracy and a nation that, with our help, will play an increasingly significant role in its own right in the Pacific. It is important that we acknowledge our responsibility to assist our good friend and equally important to acknowledge that we are part of one family.
Craig Thomson (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012 and to recall for parliament's benefit the great infrastructure programs that have been undertaken around Australia, but today I particularly want to talk about those that have happened in my electorate. In fact, it is quite remarkable to look at the history of the Central Coast, in that more has been spent on infrastructure in Dobell in the last four years than in the entire time the seat has existed. We have had a remarkable injection of much-needed infrastructure. One of the things people always used to say on the Central Coast was, 'We always miss out.' We are an area that is between Newcastle and Sydney and we always seem to miss out on infrastructure.
This Labor government has made sure that the people of Dobell, some of the poorest people in the state of New South Wales, are not missing out any more. This government has provided some vital infrastructure—some of it very essential and basic infrastructure. As an election promise that I was able to secure back in 2007, it is only this year that a pipeline has been completed which pumps water from Mardi Dam out of the Wyong River up to the big storage dam, Mangrove dam. In itself, this may not sound exciting, but the Central Coast was down to 13 per cent of its water supply. That was all we had left. We were very close to running out of water. This vital infrastructure means that the Central Coast is now drought-proof. In fact, the dam levels are already up to 40 per cent and that is because this pipeline allows the water management authority to harvest the overflows when there is a lot of rain and have that pumped up. This Labor government has ensured that water will not run out. People of the Central Coast are for the first time experiencing a lessening of their water restrictions—something we have lived with for so long that I do not think it is particularly changing people's habits, but it is a great credit that this has actually occurred. One of the other incredible investments that this government has made in my electorate is the $20 million commitment to Tuggerah Lakes. In fact, this was the first large investment made under Caring for our Country. Minister Garrett was at that time responsible for that announcement. Tuggerah Lakes has been described as the jewel in the crown of the Central Coast. But development has occurred around them and the lakes are not in the pristine condition that they were. This government, the only federal government to ever do this, stepped up to the plate and said that the environment of this once pristine lake system needs to be preserved. It is a lake system where professional fishermen still go out on their boats and fish. It is a lake system, though, that was in danger of becoming much less than what it should be. This $20 million that is being spent over five years has contributed greatly to the renewal of those lakes, helping to bring them back to a pristine condition.
At this point, it is worth acknowledging the great work that Wyong Council has done in delivering the services to improve the lake. You will not hear this terribly often, but they came in under budget. They delivered the work with a saving of over $2 million. But this government, because of our commitment to the environment and to the Central Coast, reinvested that $2 million back into the lake system to make further improvements.
One of the things I am very proud of is the commitment of this government to improving the health system on the Central Coast. We have seen some structural changes to ensure that an area health service that once went from the harbour bridge to the end of my electorate has been redefined to cover just the Central Coast. Decisions in this area on what is best in relation to public health are made by those people living there and they are directing the dollars to where they are needed.
One of the other things this government did was bring in GP superclinics. We have one at Warnervale, although it is not yet completed. It should be open in June. Having said that, it opened as an interim clinic almost immediately, and close to 1,500 patients go there each month, clearly showing the need for this particular service. While the permanent home is just some months away, the temporary home opened and was immediately used. That is another thing that is helping to assist in making sure Wyong Hospital, which has the fourth busiest emergency department in New South Wales, has a little less pressure on it, as busy families can now go to an after-hours GP superclinic. This is what governments should be doing: making sure that people who need assistance get access to that. In areas like mine, where there are new suburbs and new developments, often this vital infrastructure is one of the things that planners seem to get to well after the community has been established. That we have put these GP superclinics not just in my electorate but throughout electorates is something that this government and those on this side of the parliament should be immensely proud of.
Surf clubs and surf lifesaving are big parts of life on the Central Coast. We have 15 surf clubs on the Central Coast, six of them in my electorate. Soldiers Beach Surf Life Saving Club was the surf club that pioneered the rubber duckies and was instrumental in spreading that particular lifesaving device throughout the country. But, unfortunately, we have seen over the years a lack of investment in these vital pieces of infrastructure that help make sure that surf lifesavers, both professional and voluntary, can do the job that we want them to do—that is, to make sure that people are safe on the beaches.
Because of this government, this year we have been able to open up two brand new surf clubs—one at Soldiers Beach and one at Shelly's Beach. They are state-of-the-art surf lifesaving clubs, paid for entirely by this government, providing these vital homes for these two very important surf clubs for the Central Coast. It has had an immediate effect in relation to the membership of the surf lifesaving clubs that have been built. Both of these clubs this year are boasting increases in their membership of over 30 per cent. That means there are more surf lifesavers there to be on rosters, to make sure that people are swimming between the flags, being safe and being able to be looked after properly.
Another important thing that this government has done—and I am not going to go into the great efforts that we put into the stimulus package to make sure that people were employed—has been to focus on jobs. We were the first government that actually invested in business enterprise centres, the first federal government to put money into them. In my electorate, over 90 per cent of businesses are small businesses and a lot of them are mum-and-dad businesses. The Business Enterprise Centre at the Central Coast has played an enormous role. One particular story I would like to bring to the House's attention is the enormous success that a business, A Dozen Roses, has become. This was set up by a couple who migrated from Zimbabwe in very difficult circumstances. They basically came just with the clothes that they had on their backs, because of the circumstances there. They decided that they wanted to grow roses in Australia. Not surprisingly, when they were looking for the best place to grow roses, they picked the Central Coast because it is such a great place to do anything. So they came here and got the services of the BEC, and now they have three retail shops, they sell wholesale throughout Australia and are a booming success. The story of Merle and Tony Mann is a story that we should all acknowledge. But it is important—and they always acknowledge the help that they got from the BEC and that this government, in funding the BEC, made that possible. The three Central Coast MPs are very keen, and are lobbying hard, to make sure that that funding continues for BECs, because of the vital role that they play. We will be leaving no stone unturned to convince the minister that this is a worthwhile investment.
These are some of the great achievements and infrastructure developments that have happened in my electorate. If one were to listen to the opposition they would think that we had done nothing, we have wasted money and we have put up taxes.
Wyatt Roy interjecting—
Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
Order! The member will be heard in silence.
Craig Thomson (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The member for Longman can be given some slack, because he is too young to remember a whole range of things, so I thought it was important to spend what little time I have left to actually educate the coalition on this.
Opposition members interjecting—
Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The chair has asked for order!
Craig Thomson (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
This is courtesy of Steve Koukoulas, a well-respected economist, who has made a number of points that are worth repeating here. For example, what years were the highest years of taxation as a ratio to GDP? Of course, it was 2004-05 and 2005-06. The government then was the coalition. The percentage of tax to GDP was 24.2 per cent. In terms of big taxing governments, how many years since 1982-83 has the tax-to-GDP ratio been above 23.5 per cent? Seven times. And guess which government was in place in those seven times. All seven occasions in the history of Australia, since Federation, when the tax-to-GDP ratio has been above 23½ per cent, have been under coalition governments. So we can see quite clearly that the big-taxing governments have been coalition governments rather than Labor governments. Between 1971 and the end of the forward estimates there are only five years where spending has fallen in real terms. And guess what? In all five years where spending has been reduced it has been under a Labor government. How many times has that happened under the coalition? Never. There has never been a reduction in real spending under the coalition.
How many times has the tax-to-GDP ratio been below 21 per cent? Since 1982 it has been under 21 per cent on six occasions. How many times for the coalition? Zero. How many for Labor? Six—all six occasions. A myth keeps getting peddled about which governments have been high taxing and which have been low taxing. The facts speak for themselves. Coalition governments have always been high-taxing governments. Labor governments, including this government, have cut government spending so that they can make sure the economy is in the best shape it can be.
We also hear about the pressure put on interest rates. It is worth remembering that interest rates at the moment are 4.25 per cent. I will not be so cruel as to say what they were when we came to government. I will be more generous than that and talk about the average interest rates under the previous coalition government. The average was 5.43 per cent, or more than 120 basis points higher. Not only have we provided great infrastructure for the people of Dobell and the people of Australia but we have done it in a fiscally responsible way, in the great way the Labor Party has always managed the economy.
Patrick Secker (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I am very interested to hear the member for Dobell using all these figures about GDP. But, frankly, they are shonky because this government does not include the NBN spend. For the first time in Australia's history we have a government that is going to spend $47 billion or $50 billion and not put it on their bank balance. That is shonky. They are massaging the figures. There is no truer saying than 'there are lies, damned lies, and statistics', and that is what is coming from this government.
I am very happy to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-12 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-12. We know that this government is wasteful and does not care about regional Australia. Let us have a look at Labor's track record on road funding. In the 2008 budget the government announced an end to en route air service subsidies, threatening the viability of country air services, and earlier in 2008 Labor increased truck registration fees by 69 per cent and fuel charges by 1.37c per litre. I also remember the huge cut they made to the world-renowned CSIRO. They actually had to close a whole CSIRO research division. It was an absolute shame for research and development in this country for CSIRO's funding to be cut like that. The 2009 budget saw Labor cut funding for the AusLink program from the $31 billion promised by the former coalition government to just $26 billion, a $5 billion cut to the absolutely necessary infrastructure that we need to manage our lives. Appallingly, in 2009 Labor changed the criteria for the Strategic Regional Roads Program so they could transfer funding from regional roads and streets, with 82 per cent of funding to be spent in Labor electorates. The same year, Labor changed the criteria for the Black Spot Program to enable funding to be transferred from local roads and streets to national highway projects, which should be able to live on their own funding. The coalition was determined to never see that happen.
In Labor's 2010 budget there was not one new dollar for roads. That was a real shame. It was a similar story last year—no new money for roads from this government. There was an announcement of planning, but that was using $1.1 billion deferred from other projects. Late last year the government announced plans to bring forward that $1.1 billion of road funding to the 2011-12 financial year and the money will simply be transferred to the states early, with no new roads actually being constructed. What a mess. It is only there to falsely manufacture a so-called budget surplus in the next year. That is easy—take this year's deficit up, double it, and that way we might get a surplus next year. That is yet to be seen. Labor's track record on road funding is a disaster and I see no change until there is a change of government.
I want to tell the parliament about an important road in my electorate that I am fighting to have upgraded. The Dukes Highway is a major gateway from Melbourne to Adelaide. It is the busiest road in South Australia. It is a 189-kilometre stretch that starts in Tailem Bend and extends south-east to Bordertown before continuing into Victoria. The Dukes Highway also meets the Riddoch Highway, linking motorists from Adelaide to the south-east—an important freight route also. There are many important industries based in the south-east that transport goods not only to Victoria but also to the upper south and on to Adelaide via the Dukes Highway. In fact, goods from this area are transported to all places around Australia. The timber industry is a major road user, although if the state Labor government have anything to do with it the south-east timber industry will be starved while the state government's coffers flourish. There are many transport companies based in the south-east, some nationally recognised—Scott's, K&S Freighters, Dohnt's and Whitehead's, just to name a few.
Like most Australian highways, the Dukes is unfortunately no stranger to accidents. It is the most dangerous road in South Australia. Most accidents on the Dukes are because it is a highway on which vehicles travel at high speed. There are often head-on collisions or cars run off the road, caused by driver fatigue, as a result of fatigue, but of course if the road was better there would be fewer accidents. There is no doubt about that. The Dukes Highway accounts for 27 per cent of the state's national highway deaths—over a quarter—and 11 per cent of casualty crashes.
It is important to note that the Keith hospital is situated on the Dukes Highway, and it is a little known fact that the Keith hospital is the furthest place from Adelaide a helicopter can fly without refuelling. The helicopter is often used at Keith hospital to pick up those involving crashes on the Dukes Highway. Even if they are closer to Bordertown than Keith, they will be taken to Keith because of the helicopter. I point this out as the state Labor government has cruelly taken funding away from the Keith hospital. Despite the fact that I moved a motion in the House and my colleagues in the Senate did the same, and both motions passed without dissent, the federal government has not done a thing to help the Keith hospital—not a thing. It is defying the parliament.
So we have a situation where it is important to upgrade the Dukes Highway but also I and the Keith community want the government to restore funding for the hospital. It is too dangerous to have this notorious stretch of road without the support of a hospital. Keith is ideally situated, close to the highway. It is 100 kilometres away from Naracoorte, where the nearest hospital would be if Keith were shut down. I will not rest until the state and federal Labor governments fix the Keith hospital. For as long as it takes, I will keep bringing up this issue because I am committed to getting a better deal for the community and all the people who rely on the hospital, whether it be the employees, the families of employees or of course the patients.
At the last election, I committed to the Dukes Highway upgrade and will go to the next election committed to the Dukes Highway. It is not a project that can be completed overnight and if this current government had remained committed to roads, the Dukes Highway could well have been underway already. If a coalition government had been elected in 2007 or 2010, all the final planning and engineering studies would have been done and then of course the funding could have been part of AusLink 3—which would then mean 2014 to 2020.
In 2004, we created AusLink. It was Australia's first ever national transport plan. It was actually three times the size in terms of infrastructure in real dollars of the Snowy Hydro scheme. I think AusLink was a fantastic coalition initiative. In the electorate of Barker, the Sturt Highway received $205 million of AusLink funding for the accelerated upgrades in 2006 and the Dukes Highway received $15 million in funding for shoulder sealing to the Victorian border. That is just a snapshot; much more funding has been allocated for Barker under AusLink, which is a great program—and of course the commitments came under a coalition government.
Back at the 2007 election, Labor made a commitment to do a focus study of the Dukes Highway. Focus studies do not actually build roads. They do not achieve anything. That is a long way from the sort of upgrade that I am committed to. This government's word is not good enough for the Australian public anymore, because they are so good at breaking promises. I want to see more action on road funding.
Recently in Mt Gambier in my electorate, I hosted the Leader of the Nationals and shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, the Hon. Warren Truss. Together we visited some spokespeople and council representatives. During this visit, I reconfirmed the coalition's commitment to the Roads to Recovery program, a highly successful program under the Howard government. We brought in the Roads to Recovery program in 2000. After the visit to Mt Gambier, and I say it again now, we remain committed past the 2014 deadline. There is a point of difference with the Labor government, as they are not committed to the Roads to Recovery program. It would seem that the Labor government do not see the importance of maintaining our local roads.
Roads to Recovery has been a program through which the federal government can assist local governments to maintain over 650,000 kilometres of local roads, and it is hugely popular especially amongst councils. I can advise this House that I would travel that distance in about eight years driving around my electorate. Over the past decade, Roads to Recovery has funded around 34,000 projects across Australia. Under this program, I have seen many regional roads upgraded so people can drive down them every day, which was not the case in the past. Some had problems getting school buses and milk trucks down roads, but now they can regularly use them which is obviously very important.
When I speak with councillors in my electorate, they say Roads to Recovery is a great program and they would be really lost without it. In fact, in 2006 roads were estimated to cost local government $3.8 billion a year. So Roads to Recovery helped shoulder the cost and enable local roads to be maintained. I think it is a very interesting point that when we were in government this huge Roads to Recovery program was administered by only two public servants. It would be interesting to see how many there are now to do the same job.
Some great examples of Roads to Recovery projects in Barker are the Southend Access Road in the south-east, $358,000 in 2007; in 2002 in Robe, $298,000 was allocated; in 2006, Qualco Road in Loxton was allocated $150,000; in 2005, $12,300 for Kulda Road in Meningie; and in 2006, $16,762 was allocated for Trenerry road in Loxton. They were all coalition grants—none from Labor. There were many more roads in Barker that benefited from the Roads to Recovery program. That is why so many councils loved the program and told me that they would not be able to maintain the roads to the same level without it.
The coalition is committed to another fantastic program called the Black Spot Program which is, as the name suggests, a program designed to focus on specific areas of concern on local roads. The coalition reintroduced the Black Spot Program in 1996, after it had previously been abolished by Labor. Labor abolished it because they do not believe in keeping rural Australia connected. They would rather spend all their money in the capital cities. The Black Spot Program was another hugely successful coalition program because we know what regional Australia needs to keep growing. Many areas in Barker were successful in acquiring Black Spot Program funding—the Millicent to Tantanoola road was allocated $290,000 in 2006; in the Murray lands, the Palmer to Murray Bridge road received $270,000 in 2007; Light Pass Road between Vine Vale and Tanunda received $120,000 in 2004; and the Loxton to Berri road, one I drive on quite a bit, had $130,000 allocated in 2007. I look forward to many more areas in Barker benefiting from this program when the coalition government is returned to office, because we know that the Labor government does not spend money on coalition seats.
I want to come back to the really important motion to do with the Keith hospital that I passed in parliament last year. The government is defying the will of the parliament by not acting on my motion. I call on the Minister for Health, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek, to do what her predecessor refused to do. I call on the minister to do the right thing and help the Keith hospital. We did it when we were in government. The coalition funded the Mersey hospital. This government can fund the Keith hospital. (Time expired)
Ms Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise today to speak about Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012. I do so with some excitement because some of the measures in this bill will go a long way to assisting with the introduction of the clean energy bills package—something quite welcomed in my seat.
While I do not dispute the member for Barker's desire to represent his electorate and to speak forcefully for it, I am sick and tired of my constituency—people who live in the suburbs—being held to ransom and being told that we can no longer spend money in the suburbs. I hate to point it out to everybody, but that is actually where most people live! If you look at proportion of spend, that is where it goes. I can attest that in my years in opposition—all nine of them—the Howard government put no money into my electorate beyond normal program funding. I did not get one spend beyond that—not once. Being in a marginal seat, I always found it quite interesting that they were not trying to attract some votes by funding something. I used to try to get them to fund something in my seat so that they could claim it and we could have it done. But in the nine years of the Howard government where I was in parliament not one additional spend was made—not one sports centre, not one additional road upgrade and no extra money into my hospitals, which are two of the largest in the country. Now, under a Labor government, we have seen spending based on requirements and not just on vote buying.
I also want to point out, in discussing these appropriation bills, the quite outrageous hypocrisy and inconsistency of the amendment moved by the member for Goldstein, Andrew Robb, of putting these expenditures on hold. This is at the same time, in the last couple of days of parliament, as we have had those opposite moaning that we have now finally passed the changes to the private health legislation to cap and means test the private health rebate. On the one hand, the opposition is telling us we cannot afford to spend money, but on the other hand they are trying to prevent the government of the day securing better outcomes in health by taking back a proportion of the money going towards private health funds. That money was in no way, shape or form assisting the health system of this country. I want to spend a bit of time on these inequities in the opposition's argument and some of the inconsistencies around the private health insurance rebate. A lot of people in my electorate take out private health insurance, and I commend them for that. I myself have private health insurance and understand how expensive it is. But putting a rebate into the private health system did nothing to repair the health system. Let us look at this: it was money going to an insurance scheme. It was not going to private hospitals; it was not going to patients; it was not going to doctors. It was going to private health funds, to insurance schemes.
I said at the time the bills were introduced into the House by the Howard government many moons ago that this was inequitable. It was bad policy. Ask any health economist, any health expert. It was bad and flawed policy because, over time, more and more revenue from the health budget was going to prop up private health funds, insurance schemes. Surely if the coalition had wanted more people to take up private health insurance they would have made their schemes better.
I am sure that all of you in this place have had to deal with family members and individuals going to hospital. In the last couple of years my family and I have had to deal with both the private and public systems on many occasions. Tragically, 12 months ago my father died. He spent an enormous amount of time in the public health system. We could not have asked for better care than the care he got. Given the procedure that he needed and the fact that he was then going to spend an awfully long time in ICU, he could only have got that care in the public system. He spent a lot longer in ICU than any of us would have desired and several months ago he unfortunately died. But it was not because of the health care he got in the public system. No private system could have provided that care.
A couple of months later my mother ended up in a private hospital, where she was told: 'We can't do that procedure. We're going to put you in an ambulance and send you to a public hospital and we're going to charge you $500 for the joy of being here for the last couple of hours while we assessed that we cannot look after you.' She got nothing back from her private health fund. The inequities in the system are about how the system works, not about throwing more money at it. We have never gone to the crux of it: actually repairing the system.
My son has had to undergo surgery on numerous occasions because he was born with fused fingers. This was a very odd thing, a very simple little thing, but I wanted my son to have fingers that he could eventually use. All of this surgery was performed by a private practitioner whom we chose but it was done within the public hospital system. Why? Because the surgeon wanted to perform the surgery at the Children's Hospital because that is where all the care and equipment are that were going to be needed if, touch wood, anything ever went wrong. It never did. But that is where the surgery happened. He could have had all that surgery in the public system and we could have chosen to go as public patients but we elected not to because we could afford not to. It would have been the same surgeon and the same team but we chose not to. We were asked on that day whether we wanted to go public or private. It is about the inequities in the system, not just throwing more money at it and propping it up.
Health is a big issue in my electorate. A great proportion of my constituents take out private health cover. A lot of my constituents work in the medical sector. I have in my electorate two of the largest hospitals in the country. Many people from outside the electorate come to these hospitals. Members opposite probably have constituents who have come to Box Hill Hospital and Monash Medical Centre. Monash Medical Centre is a very big hospital that also has a private hospital within it, so it has the two systems working together. I also have Epworth Eastern, a great private hospital that works really well in conjunction with the public hospital across the road. I have some smaller private hospitals that do great work. I have amazing medical researchers at both Monash Medical Centre and Monash University. Health is a big thing in my area. It would probably be the largest employer after Monash University. It is a big issue and it plays an important part. But it is about funding it appropriately. Where should we fund this? I say propping up an insurance system is not the right way to go. Carol Bennett, CEO of the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, wrote in an interesting opinion piece:
Contemporary health policy discussions are generally about vested economic interests competing within an antagonistic political system. While these ‘policy’ discussions impact directly on health consumers, they are rarely referenced to real health outcomes.
Real health is about how we look after ourselves, our family and friends, our workplaces, our communities and our environments. It is about regulation and safety (seat belts, random blood alcohol testing, OHS, etc.), access to quality food and water and hygienic sanitation, access to preventative health. It is about exercise, nutrition and well-being. It is about belonging. It is about us.
Discussions about our health care systems are usually about money and there is a compelling case for adopting this approach. Around 1 in 8 Australians are employed in the health sector, making it the largest employment sector in Australia—
On the record, I flag a vested interest because my husband, as many of you may know, works within the health sector as a MICA paramedic. He also lectures at Monash University within that sector and I know it quite well. My father-in-law is a physician. I know there are a lot of people who work in the healthcare sector; I am quite related to it. I will go on with the article:
It is also a sector that is growing at a much greater rate than most others—healthcare needs are expanding, as are community expectations from our ageing population to have access to the best possible care. Health is a remarkably resilient economic powerhouse in Australia and around the world.
Almost all health policy creates economic winners and losers among the existing players. If a particular drug becomes much cheaper to consumers by being listed on our subsidised Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the drug manufacturer makes more money through increased sales. A higher Medicare rebate for certain procedures allows doctors to charge more and increase their income.
Any Health Minister proposing cost saving changes to the health system is going to have to run a gauntlet of opposition from those who will lose money if the policy change is implemented.
The article goes on to cite the situation under the last parliament when the then Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, tried to reduce the Medicare rebate for cataract surgeries. The article further states:
Cataract surgery rebates is one example cited by Dr Tony Webber, the former head of the Medicare watchdog, the Professional Services Review, in the current edition of the Medical Journal of Australia. Dr Webber argues that billions of dollars of savings can be achieved if the government is prepared to take on vested interests across the health system. He is right.
... ... ...
Vested economic interests in health care systems will always oppose any change that potentially reduces their income. Oppositions will usually seek to gain political capital by joining any chorus of disenchantment. Unfortunately these two forces currently seem to be the major drivers of our health care system.
That is right. It is about the politics, not the health. What we need to get back to are good health outcomes. Let us actually talk about where money should be going: into good health outcomes. The majority of the consumer watchdogs have welcomed the changes to the private health rebate, and there are great needs within that. Many of the players within the sector have welcomed the change because it will put money back into the system, where it is needed, not propping up the rebate.
Back in February 2009, the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association wrote:
The $3.5 billion private health insurance (PHI) rebate needs further scrutiny in the light of advice from the Federal Treasury that it does not deliver value for money, according to the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA).
The AHHA is the peak national body representing public hospitals, area health services, community health centres and public aged care providers.
AHHA has previously called for the PHI rebate to be evaluated to assess whether or not it represents the best use of scarce health resources ...
Since the program was introduced by the Howard Government it has never been assessed against its objectives. This is despite the fact that many economists and other health experts have expressed serious concerns that it is an inefficient use of tax-payer funds.
That is who is paying for this: the taxpayers. I am not talking about winners and losers or rich and poor. I think that is a spurious argument. I do not think it is about people subsidising others; it is about the best use of the money. It is about assessing where the health dollar can go. Again from the AHHA, yesterday:
Means testing the rebate will result in a fairer use of public health funding and not impose any additional burden on public hospitals.
AHHA has done extensive modelling on the impact of the proposal and found that only 15% of the insured population or about 1.53 million people will be affected by the changes. For this small group - the wealthiest in the community - their rebate will fall by between 10% and 20%.
We know from past experience that price has relatively little effect on private insurance membership. For example, when the rebate was first introduced in 1999, membership grew by only 2% for every 10% reduction in price. The proposed reforms will simply reverse that for higher income people. At an average 14% increase in price, only 31,000 would now be expected to drop their private insurance. This estimation is almost identical to that reached independently by Treasury.
Only a small proportion of those who drop it will ever appear in a public hospital setting. So it is about where the best bang for your buck can be found within health. In the short time remaining I would also like to put on the record what benefits my electorate has received from the changes the government has introduced. We have actually seen some infrastructure spending within Chisholm. I have been delighted to go to all of my school openings for the BER and the National School Pride program. I am going to go along very soon to Box Hill High School, where they have had a community partnership working together, to open the SATERN science block, which is a federally funded initiative. I had the delight of going to Ashwood College in my electorate, which was promised money by the Baillieu government. Tragically, Ashwood College has now been hit twice by arsonists and it has not been repaired after either of those fires. Whilst the state member for Burwood went to the election promising that the high school would be rebuilt, nothing has happened. Those children are being educated in an environment that is just appalling. The previous state government had committed the funds to build an entire new school on the site. That has now been scrapped. No money has been given. The only new building that has been opened on the site of Ashwood College is a new science wing built under the BER funding arrangement. It is a testament to what you can do in those schools. It will lift that school and it will help the community greatly.
I have had the joy of going to all of my Catholic and private primary schools, who have welcomed, embraced and are incredibly grateful for this funding. It has allowed them to do things they would never have done. Particularly in the Catholic sector there is great appreciation for what has gone on and most of them say, 'We spent the money wisely. We don't know what all the fuss is about.' I have had money go to all of my state, private and independent schools. I have had money go into the two universities and the TAFE within my seat. This will help us into the future in this education space. I commend the bills to the chamber.
Tony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Deputy Chairman , Coalition Policy Development Committee) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
In speaking on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-12 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-12, I want to take a detailed look at the economic approach of our current Treasurer. I could not help but notice last week in question time that the Treasurer expressed his admiration for one of his predecessors in that position. The Treasurer confessed to being a great fan of Edward Granville Theodore, who served in the one-term government of James Scullin. There is a reason why the tenure of Scullin as Prime Minister and Theodore as Treasurer was so brief. While Scullin might be neck and neck with former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and the current member for Lalor in the competition for the title of Australia's worst Prime Minister, there is absolutely no doubt that Theodore was the worst Treasurer this Commonwealth has ever seen.
I thought it might benefit the House to look more closely at the details of Theodore's record. It was almost 81 years ago to the day that Theodore was down the hill in Old Parliament House scheming to adopt policies that would have inflicted economic ruin on the people of Australia. Policies that would have shattered confidence in Australia's economy and consigned the Australian people to penury, poverty and pain. At the core of those policies lay a piece of legislation entitled the Fiduciary Notes Bill 1931. The bill was crafted as an ill-conceived response to the Great Depression. It was, thankfully, defeated in the Senate. Had it passed, this stimulus-on-steroids package would have blown out Commonwealth spending by a whopping 22 per cent over the 1930-31 budget levels.
That gives rise to the question of what the result would have been if Ted Theodore's Fiduciary Notes Bill had been approved by this House and the other place and had received royal assent. The answer to that question is hyperinflation. The same sort of massive, out-of-control inflation that ravages the creditworthiness of nations and the livelihoods of individuals. But inflation was not a casual by-product of this legislation. In fact, quite the contrary, it was the core objective. As Theodore openly stated in his second reading speech, the bill was deliberately intended to: 'trigger the upward movement of prices resulting from credits made available'.
The Scullin government's mad rush to catastrophe was stopped by a brave Labor man, Joe Lyons, and a handful of other brave Labor souls who put country above party. Lyons resigned from the Scullin ministry and on 11 March 1931 voted no confidence in the Scullin government thus expelling himself from the ranks of the ALP. Lyons's decision to go into political exile was an agonising one. He explained his reasons in a policy speech he delivered during the 1931 election campaign, when he led the newly formed United Australia Party. I would like to quote from that speech. He said:
It was not easy for us to break an association which had endured for the whole of our political lives. We made that break solely because we believed that the government, by its financial drift and dangerous inflation schemes, was leading the country surely and swiftly to destruction.
As Anne Henderson explains in her magisterial biography of Lyons, it was not so much that Lyons left Labor but that Labor left Lyons.
The truly interesting thing about the Fiduciary Notes Bill is the manner of its adoption by Theodore as Treasurer in the Scullin government. At the end of 1930 Lyons was serving as acting Treasurer while Prime Minister Scullin was overseas dealing with the crisis and Ted Theodore had been forced to step down from the frontbench due to a royal commission in Queensland. Acting in that role Lyons faithfully upheld a policy of responsible government finance.
But then two things happened. In January 1931 Theodore was reinstated as the federal Treasurer and New South Wales Premier Jack Lang entered the picture of federal politics and policy. Lang was a crude left-wing populist firebrand whose claim to fame rested on the fact that he tried to repudiate New South Wales's overseas debt. In early 1931 Lang began pushing those same policies of default upon the Commonwealth. Lang's political power extended not only to his state political colleagues but to the New South Wales Labor contingent in Canberra as well. So when Lang spoke Scullin and Theodore began to wobble. While they did not do what Lang demanded, they did dramatically change course because of him. Scullin and Theodore threw Lyons under the proverbial bus and abruptly swerved Australia towards a future of debt and deficit, funny money and inflation.
The historical record makes it crystal clear that this diametric shift of policy was not motivated by high-minded ideals or a crisis of confidence. No, the historical record demonstrates that Theodore's shift from responsibility to recklessness was motivated by weak political expediency. When the minions of Lang menaced the stability of the Scullin government, Theodore cast fiscal sobriety adrift in order to neutralise that political threat.
But that is not the worst of it. In October 1931 Theodore introduced the Debt Conversion Bill No. 2, legislation that essentially constituted a raid on Commonwealth and state bond holders. Through legislative fiat, that bill would have forced bond holders to forfeit 22.5 per cent of their investments. It was an arrogant act of confiscation. Oblivious to all the objections and heedless of any dissent, Theodore intended to deploy the coercive power of the state to trample roughshod over the private property rights of Australian people. Lyons spoke out forcefully against the nature of the Debt Conversion Bill describing it as being 'of most objectionable character, the most extraordinary thing ever done by any government'. The most telling condemnation of Ted Theodore's economic policies came from within the Labor's own ranks. South Australian Labor Senator Harry Kneebone took no prisoners in his denunciation of Theodore's Debt Conversion Bill. On 4 November 1931, during the Senate debate on the bill, Kneebone said:
People are sent to gaol for things much less criminal than what this bill proposes. … In my opinion we are not justified in passing such a deceitful piece of legislation. … We are asked to commit an act of injustice which will redound to the discredit of the Parliament for many years to come.
Despite such principled opposition from some Labor people, the Debt Conversion Act was accorded royal assent on 7 December 1931. Thankfully—only twelve days later—this misconceived legislation and the misbegotten government that spawned it were swept away by the victory of Joe Lyons and the United Australia Party at a federal election. And what a victory it was. In a landslide of historic proportions, Labor was reduced from 46 seats in the then 75-member House of Representatives to a mere 14. One of Lyons's first acts as Prime Minister was to repeal the coercive provisions of the Debt Conversion Act.
The 1931 federal election was a decisive repudiation of both Theodore's economic policies and of Theodore the politician. He lost his suburban Sydney seat of Dalley. But he has not lost his place in the heart of the current Treasurer, the member for Lilley. And the member for Lilley is not the only Theodore-groupie amongst those on the Labor side. Just yesterday the member for Wakefield approvingly described Theodore as a 'stalwart of the union movement'.
The historical and economic illiteracy of some of those opposite never ceases to amaze. There is no doubt that those opposite devote much time and effort to mythmaking and rewriting history to camouflage their party's record of economic failure. But the current Treasurer's hero worship of Ted Theodore can be explained by one of only two possible options—ignorance of the facts or ignorance of economics. It is entirely possible that the current Treasurer is not educated on the topic of Ted Theodore's disastrous reign of error. Or, alternatively, the current Treasurer knows all about it and actually believes Theodore' s approach was the right way to go. Those are the only two choices. It must duly be noted that the Labor Party does have form when it comes to the glorification of economic wreckers. Case in point: the incomprehensible reverence shown towards Jack Lang by another former Labor Treasurer, Paul Keating—despite the fact that Lang was sacked as Premier over his insistence that New South Wales should default on its debt obligations.
From our vantage point eight decades on, we see the decisive verdict of history on the question of who was right—Lyons or Theodore. After his resounding victory at the polls in December 1931, Lyons had the opportunity to put his policies into practice, until his untimely death in 1939. Lyons practised fiscal restraint, and restored confidence in the Australian economy. As Anne Henderson points out, from 1929 to 1940 Australia's real GDP grew by almost 17 per cent. Compare that stellar figure to the paltry 1.6 per cent growth rate over the same period in America, where Keynesianism reigned supreme under FDR's New Deal. On the question of unemployment, in the Australia of Joe Lyons the jobless rate had dropped into the single digits by 1936. By contrast, despite hyper-spending by the Roosevelt administration, American unemployment remained in the high teens well into the 1940s.
Those figures speak volumes. But I fear they speak a language that the current Treasurer, the member for Lilley, finds unintelligible. Ted Theodore was the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. At a critical juncture in Australia's history he failed to meet the challenge. With all the great figures who loom large in the annals of our nation, it is puzzling that the current Treasurer has chosen Ted Theodore as his icon of admiration and emulation. The member for Lilley would be well-advised to seek a more appropriate object of hero worship. In fact, I would suggest Anne Henderson's magnificent biography of Lyons might be a good place to start. He could then remember a true labour person who stood up for Australia in its hour of need.
John Murphy (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
The question is that the amendment be agreed to. I call the member for Hughes.
Mr Melham interjecting—
Craig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I welcome the interjections from the good member for Banks. I rise to speak on the appropriation bills Nos 3 and 4. What is most significant about these bills is what is not in them. Last year I had the privilege of attending the National Disability Awards ceremony in the Great Hall of our federal parliament. It was a truly inspirational night to celebrate the achievements of those who fight daily to overcome disabilities and to recognise the struggles of their carers. During the night the Prime Minister waltzed in and gave a speech. These are some of her words:
…in the final analysis, the disability support system in Australia needs more than tweaking at the edges. It is a system that no longer adequately serves our community. A system that has been characterised as:
Not the kind of system we would wish for ourselves or those who are dear to us.
… … …
Certainly your pleas fell on stony ground for many thankless years.
That happened, I think, because disability confronts us with our own worst fears and how easily fate could separate us from our easy, comfortable certainties.
… … …
… too many generations of parents have gone to their graves not knowing what the future held for their child with disability as they grew to middle age.
So I say this as your Prime Minister tonight: Not another generation will face that agonising choice.
… … …
Let there be no mistake. The decision I announced in August is a not just a preliminary hint or an aspiration.
It is the green light for a National Disability Insurance Scheme in this country.
… … …
The time for words is over. The time for action has come. We will get this thing done.
… … …
… the NDIS … will be a defining achievement of this term of government …
Naturally such an ironclad commitment to make the National Disability Insurance Scheme the defining achievement of this term of government was met with rousing applause. The Prime Minister left the stage to the cheers of hundreds of disabled Australians and their carers, not only those gathered in the room that night but also those thousands listening in their lounges.
The Productivity Commission has put the price tag of the National Disability Insurance Scheme at $6.5 billion. Given the Prime Minister's unambiguous words:
… The time for action has come. We will get this thing done.
… … …
… the NDIS … will be a defining achievement of this term of government …
I am sure that everyone who was listening to the Prime Minister's words that night would have left with the impression that the funds for the NDIS had been secured. But less than two weeks later, when the forward estimates were released, it was revealed there was not one single cent, not one solitary brass razoo, that had been set aside to cover the cost of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
It is one thing to mislead the Australian public on the carbon tax. It is one thing to mislead them on maintaining the health insurance rebate or to promise cash for clunkers or to promise the East Timor solution et cetera. It is one thing to shaft the good member for Denison, to mislead him on pokies reform and then leave him hanging out to dry when he is no longer needed. But to stand up at the National Disability Awards night, in front of a room full of disabled people and their carers, and to promise in regard to the $6½ billion NDIS that 'the time for action has come', the 'NDIS will be a defining achievement of this term of government' and 'we will get this done' when not a single cent has been allocated in the forward estimates makes the Prime Minister's statement nothing more than a cruel hoax upon the most vulnerable members of our society. This was a most shameful deception, 100 times worse than the broken promise on a carbon tax. Shame, Prime Minister, shame.
Daryl Melham (Banks, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
What's your leader's position?
Craig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
If the Prime Minister were being honest and if the member for Banks were being honest, she would have stood up at the National Disability Awards and simply said sorry to our nation's disabled and their carers. Sorry that her government has engaged in such wasteful and reckless expenditure that it has pushed the goals of the NDIS further and further away. Sorry that her government has made so many expensive policy blunders. Sorry that the Rudd and Gillard regimes have not only frittered away the $40 billion in the bank they inherited from the Howard government but also run up $140 billion on the national credit card, and that does not even count the NBN. Sorry that, as a nation, we now need to find every year $6.5 billion to pay the interest bill on the national credit card, year after year, until we start paying this debt down—coincidentally, the very same amount as the $6.5 billion annually we need to fund the NDIS. And sorry that her government has not allocated a Jatz cracker for the NDIS in the forward estimates, and they do not have a clue how they are going to find this money in the future. But, instead of the truth, we had the Prime Minister engaging in a cruel hoax upon the most vulnerable members of our society.
While this government has not been able to find a single cent of new money to start to pay for the costs of the NDIS, let's have a look at what this government thinks is a greater priority. This week, under questioning in Senate estimates, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency let it slip that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars are being used to indoctrinate toddlers on the benefits of the glorious carbon tax revolution—money to brainwash toddlers to support the carbon tax, but not a single cent to fund the NDIS. Now we have the Labor government spending $11 billion of taxpayers' money for an advertising campaign to justify its broken promises on the health insurance rebate, but not one cent to fund the NDIS. Then there was money for the 20-page propaganda booklet mailed to 9.8 million households back in August last year at a cost of $4.2 billion, simply to peddle Labor's carbon tax and the global warming theory, which the Auditor-General found contained facts which were not properly sourced and had no less than seven breaches of financial management regulations. But, still, there was not one cent to fund the NDIS.
Then there is the $3.9 billion—that is 'B' for billion—price tag that we have for the Labor government reversing the border protection measures of the Howard government, but, still, not one cent to fund the NDIS. Then there were the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the so-called set-top box program, which looks like it will cost an average of $698 for each set-top box they have given away when you can buy the same thing at Kmart for 19 bucks, but, still, they cannot find one cent to fund the NDIS. I could go on all day about the appalling waste and the things that this government has been able to find money for when they still cannot find one cent to fund the NDIS.
Perhaps the most telling example of the priority that this government has given to the NDIS is the millions that they are now spending on something called the Flannery Centre, named after the bloke who claimed that Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains because global warming had made the soil so hot that 'even the rain that falls isn't going to fill our dams and river systems'. The Flannery Centre is being built in Bathurst. You would think it would be a good name for a comedy club. Its website claims that, once finished, it will provide 'training and education about sustainability', 'a community response to climate change and sustainability', and 'clarity about the issues we face'. When there is no money to fund the NDIS, we have at taxpayers' expense the Flannery Centre, providing to the good citizens of Bathurst hours of training on how to compost and build worm farms. That is the priority of this government. We have the Flannery Centre's claim that it will provide 'clarity about the issues we face'. This appears to simply be code for supporting the carbon tax.
I wonder if the taxpayer funded Flannery Centre, in providing clarity about the issues we face, is going to tell the truth about the latest measurement of average global temperatures, measured by satellite. As for January 2012, the last month, it recorded that average global temperatures were the same as they were 32 years ago. The IPCC predictions—their prophecies—on warming are simply not coming true. As for the Flannery Centre wanting to provide clarity about the issues we face, perhaps it should detail the environmental damage done by hopelessly inefficient wind farms, which are doing nothing other than driving up the cost of electricity in Australia faster than anywhere else in the developed world. The American government estimated that in 2009 wind turbines alone had been responsible for the deaths of 440,000 birds, including golden eagles, swans and geese, that had either been decapitated or had their bodies smashed by the blades. The vice-president of the American Bird Conservancy, a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to conserve native birds, said:
Bird deaths from wind power are the new inconvenient truth. The total number of birds killed and the amount of bird habitat lost will dramatically increase as wind power build-out continues across the country in a rush to meet federal renewable energy targets.
For some reason I think these facts will be missing from the Flannery Centre account.
If the Flannery Centre would like to provide clarity about the issues we face, perhaps it will highlight the delusions of Professor David Viner, a senior research scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, who 12 years ago claimed that within a few years winter snowfall would become 'a very rare and exciting event'. Just look at the weather in Europe last week. Many towns in Europe recorded their coldest temperatures since records started 100 years ago. The record cold weather in Europe has killed more than 400 people—frozen to death—and caused thousands more to seek medical help for frostbite and hypothermia. Even the canals in Venice have frozen. But it is not only in Europe; it is right across the world. In Seoul, Korea, last week temperatures plunged to minus 17 degrees, the month's coldest temperature since 1957. In Alaska in January they recorded their coldest ever month on record. On 12 January this year even Canberra recorded its lowest January temperature ever, beating the previous record low set back in 1956.
These are facts that are unlikely to be told by the Flannery Centre. These facts are hardly consistent with the dangerous global warming theory. If the Flannery Centre really wants to provide clarity about the issues that we face, perhaps it could print up copies of the 470-page official government report entitled Transport energy futures: long-term oil supply trends and projections. In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four the totalitarian government used memory holes to make politically inconvenient documents and records disappear. That is exactly what has happened to report 117. Fortunately we were able to find a copy of this official Australian government report on the website of a private French citizen. This report warns that Australia's liquid fuels, which we need to run our cars, trucks, farm equipment and planes, the very lifeblood or our economy, are running out. The report warns that we have three options:
1. Oil is replaced with other (equally rich and abundant) energy sources (opening the whole debate about alternative fuel sources, e.g. gas-to-liquids, coal-to-liquids, electricity, hydrogen).
2. Improved energy efficiency results in energy use per unit of GDP declining markedly to match the shortfall—
the third option is the worst of all and the one the government seems intent on—
3. GDP declines to match the shortfall.
With our declining oil supplies we have to look at the problems this is going to cause in the future.
I go firstly to our trade deficit. By 2015, in less than three years time, because of declining oil supplies here in Australia and our growing reliance on imports, we will have to find at least an extra $15 billion a year to purchase oil from overseas. This threatens to cause a massive blow-out in our trade deficit. The second problem is that we are now in breach of our International Energy Agency agreements. Under these international agreements Australia is required to maintain a strategic petroleum reserve equivalent to 90 days of last year's net oil imports. The purpose of this is to provide economic and national security during an energy crisis, a wise insurance policy against a complete economic meltdown caused by a disruption in our liquid fuel supplies. In the past, with our supplies from Bass Strait, we have been able meet this. We no longer do. In fact, at current prices we would need to spend $300 million to buy the fuel to meet our obligations and by 2015 this sum will blow out to $1.5 billion and will grow from there every year. That is just to buy the oil, not to store it or provide the holding facilities. (Time expired)