House debates

Monday, 16 June 2014


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2014-2015; Consideration in Detail

4:46 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to be able to make this opening statement. How nice it is to be doing this consideration-in-detail phase of the appropriation bills on this side of the chamber. I must say, when we were in opposition, we used to actually turn up for this part of the appropriation bills proceedings. Perhaps we will get sensible questions from the member for Holt and the member for Griffith. But as a shadow minister I used to take these responsibilities very seriously, and we would come here for the whole hour and we would arrive here on time. Clearly these are not things that the shadow minister takes that seriously. I would have thought that, with the opportunity to question a government about a budget that they were so excited about, they would take the opportunity to do that. But clearly they do not.

This budget will help build on a more prosperous nation. Fighting and preventing criminal activity is a key priority for the Abbott government, since only safe communities can become strong and prosperous. This budget delivers on a number of our key election commitments. We are ensuring that all proceeds of crime are used to fight crime. We are doing this by reversing the previous Labor government's decision to freeze the $61 million retained in the confiscated assets account. Under this government this money will now be released for community crime prevention initiatives. Under the previous government, of course, they used to use this money to prop up their dodgy budget bottom line. The member for Lilley, who was the then Treasurer, used to literally take from criminals to prop up his budget bottom line—rather extraordinary. We will ensure that that money goes to fighting criminals.

Fifty million dollars will be invested to boost the efforts of local communities to address crime and antisocial behaviour through the government's Safer Streets Programme. Eighteen million dollars will be invested in the schools security program to ensure that our children can be educated in a safe and secure environment. For the first time funding can be used for security guards as well as to install security infrastructure such as CCTV, lighting and fencing in schools. One million dollars will be provided in 2014-15 to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to expand its oversight to Australia's new border force. Ten point two million dollars will be invested over three years to establish a Western Australian strike team within the National Anti-gang Squad.

Fifteen million dollars will be provided to states and territories through the National Bushfire Mitigation Programme to implement long-term mitigation strategies and better fuel-reduction programs. This measure will help to make sure Australia is better prepared and can withstand the impacts of natural disasters. Funding will also be provided to work with the United Kingdom government to have Captain Matthew Flinders's original 1804 chart of Australia transferred to Australia on long-term loan. The government has committed $193,000 over two years to fund this project. This chart is literally seen as the birth certificate of the nation and is a very significant part of our history.

This budget is also focused on ensuring that Australians are served by an efficient and effective civil justice framework. Notwithstanding the difficult financial circumstances that have been left to us by the previous government, the Abbott government has kept to a minimum savings sought from the arts sector. Across the forward estimates, total reductions in arts funding have been limited to only 3.1 per cent. Most of those savings come from uncommitted funds or from bringing forward the termination date of programs which were due to terminate during the life of the current parliament in any event. The government has decided to quarantine the 28 major performing arts companies—the great flagship companies which bring the best of classical music, opera, dance and drama to Australians audiences—from any reduction in funding at all. This reflects our commitment to the sector and in particular our commitment to giving audiences the maximum opportunity to enjoy the best of Australian performance art.

Because the government is committed to ensuring that those opportunities extend to Australians who live outside the capital cities, the government has decided to quarantine funding for regional arts from any reduction. As anyone with any knowledge or understanding of the sector is well aware, the arts have done particularly well in this budget, notwithstanding the very difficult choices that we face.

In this budget we also announced two new arts funding initiatives. Importantly, these measures have also had a positive impact on the budget bottom line. The key measures that we are doing to contribute to budget stability are the amalgamation of key Commonwealth merits review tribunals. This will make it easier to navigate the merits review system by providing an accessible one-stop shop for external merits review. I am happy to go into that at a later stage.

4:51 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It has been a pleasure to hear from the minister about the funding commitments that have been made and the cuts that have been made. There are a number of questions that arise but I would like to start with a very important issue—that is, the effect of the Abbott government funding cuts on access to justice in this country.

Access to justice is a significant concern for this country. It has been the subject of a number of inquiries and considerations, including most recently a draft report from the Productivity Commission in respect of access to justice, in which the Productivity Commission noted that there are not incentives for lawyers in private practice to engage in systemic advocacy work but that lawyers in community legal centres are uniquely placed to undertake advocacy work in respect of systemic issues.

Notwithstanding that the Productivity Commission has recognised the importance of policy reform advocacy work for the community as a whole—including in dealing with systemic issues and difficulties arising within the legal system—in MYEFO the Abbott government announced that it would be cutting $43.1 million from legal policy reform and advocacy funding over four years, including cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services and community legal centres.

The May budget continued that cut, and there has been a great deal of concern from the community and from community legal centres in respect of the effect that is going to have on community legal centres' abilities to engage in problem solving and in advocacy more generally. That then leads to concerns about access to justice, which in turn leads to concern about the administration of justice.

Is the minister aware that the Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser, said that the cuts went against the recommendations of repeated parliamentary inquiries that highlighted the chronic underfunding of Aboriginal legal services?

Is the minister aware that the Australian Council of Social Services urged the federal government to take a cool approach and avoid trying to restore the budget in one hit, saying that the cuts would have little impact on the budget bottom line but a devastating impact on those who need legal assistance?

What percentage of work do community legal centres do that is defined as so-called legal policy reform and advocacy work? Can you give an example of the policy work that would be the subject of the cuts being made? The cuts to policy reform will practically mean that experts in the field will not provide information to the government; why does the Abbott government want to take away funding that would allow for policy consultation from experts?

Is the minister aware of the wage disparity between private lawyers and community legal centre lawyers? Who has been consulted in respect of the impact of these cuts on Australians in need, taking into account the fact that community legal centres often provide—with a lot of expertise and on a very slender budget as it is—services to those people who cannot afford private lawyers' fees but equally do not qualify for legal aid assistance, such as people with debt issues, people with family law issues, people suffering family violence and people who are unable to access justice.

Is the minister aware of the concerns that have been raised by the courts in respect of the burden that self-represented litigants place on the courts? Does the minister consider that there will be an increase in the number of self-represented litigants that the courts are expected to handle as a consequence of these cuts to community legal centre funding and services?

Are you aware, Minister, of the comment from the community legal centres' national campaign, Community Law Australia, that as many as one in five people turning to community legal centres for assistance is already being turned away by those community legal centres because of a lack of resourcing? Are you aware as to whether any of the community legal centres whose funding is to be cut had been visited by or on behalf of the government and consulted before these cuts were decided upon?

Is the minister aware that an independent economic cost-benefit analysis of community legal centres published by the NACLC found that, on average, community legal centres have a cost-benefit ratio of one to 18—that is, for every dollar spent by government on funding CLCs, these services return a benefit to society that is 18 times the cost. To express it in dollar terms, the $47 million spent on the CLC program nationally in 2010 would yield around $846 million in benefit to Australia. Why would the government cut services which provide such benefits to this country? Thank you.

4:56 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, can I say that I appreciate that the member for Griffith has actually turned up. The shadow Attorney-General and the shadow minister for justice are both members of the House of Representatives, yet, astonishingly, they could not even be bothered to come in for this consideration-in-detail stage, which I think is just extraordinary. So I give you points for that at least. I also appreciate that you gave me some very detailed questions. I do not want to disrespect all those questions, so I will say something in a general sense, if you do not mind, and then we can have a look at some of the detail on notice, if you are happy for me to do that.

Can I say in the first instance that we are very committed to making sure that vulnerable Australians do have access to justice. This budget builds on the commitment that we had in previous years when we were in government. The government has renewed its commitment to the ongoing funding of legal aid commissions and will be negotiating with the states and territories to agree on a one-year extension of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. The agreement provides ongoing Commonwealth funding for legal aid commissions and will be extended by one year, until 30 June 2015. Extending the agreement will have no impact on the budget bottom line, because ongoing funding for legal aid commissions was already published in the forward estimates. The government is considering options for future legal assistance arrangements from 1 July 2015. It will focus on holistic delivery of front-line services to the most vulnerable members of our community, and the Abbott government is strongly committed to that. Extending the agreement will allow time for the government to consider the findings of the Productivity Commission's inquiry into access-to-justice arrangements and the review of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. This will also provide the government with the opportunity to develop a medium- to long-term approach to ensure equitable and sustainable service delivery.

I appreciate that there were a whole series of very detailed questions in the five minutes that the member for Griffith used. I will endeavour to get her the most sensible responses to some of those questions, if she could just accept my response in general terms for what we are doing in the future, pending the review that the Productivity Commission is undertaking.

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a question to the minister. I first need to provide the minister with a little bit of background in order for him to be able to answer this question. On Friday, I had the opportunity to meet the new principal of the King David School, David Opat. King David is an independent Jewish school in my electorate of Higgins and is one of the many fine independent Jewish schools located in Melbourne. David Opat is taking over from another fine principal, Michele Bernshaw, who served the King David School for more than 14 years and served it so incredibly well. The reason I want to draw the attention of the minister to the King David School, and other independent Jewish schools in the Victorian community and right around Australia, is that, unfortunately, we have seen many acts of graffiti, many acts of violence against property and threatened acts of violence against the person of staff, students and parents of students that attend these schools.

I hate to say it, but even in a great country like Australia there are people who do propagate anti-Semitic thoughts. In fact, I have seen this in my own electorate of Higgins, where there have been unnamed individuals who have distributed brochures supporting the boycotts to business and sanction scheme. Again, I know that it is a scheme that is supported by some members of the trade union movement. I think it is a very anti-Semitic movement and it is one that propagates some pretty unhelpful and inflammatory thoughts against good members of our community and good members of the Jewish community.

The question I have for the minister is: obviously, students have the right to feel safe at school. Parents want to know that when they send their students to school that they are going to be safe, and teachers need to be safe in their workplace. Can the minister explain what the Australian government is doing to secure the safety of students at schools like King David? For example, I know that we made a commitment to the Secure Schools Program and the reasons behind that commitment, and how that commitment has in fact extended beyond the previous commitment that we provided as a coalition government when we first got elected in 1996.

5:01 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Higgins for that question. I acknowledge that within her electorate she has a very significant Jewish school and also a lot of other significant independent schools, and that she takes the safety of students and the teaching staff there very seriously.

As does the Abbott government, and that is why we have committed to allocate $18 million within this budget for the Secure Schools Program. I am sure the member for Higgins would be interested to note that I have literally just come from a meeting with the Australian Council of Jewish Schools who, obviously, have a very keen interest in making sure that the students who attend the schools that they represent are protected when they go to those places. They are right to believe that the government has a keen interest in ensuring that that is the case.

The security issues that Jewish schools and other independent schools are concerned about are real issues. Sadly, you only need look back at recent history to understand why members of the Jewish community in particular are concerned about the safety of educational institutions that are associated with their community. We have seen some very drastic and terrible examples of that, to a very limited extent in Australia, certainly, but in Europe and other parts of the world we have seen dreadful attacks on Jewish schools, and we need to make sure that in Australia we are doing everything we can to make sure that educational institutions that might be targeted or at risk in this way are as difficult and hard to target as is possible. That is why we are allocating this $18 million. Funding will start in the 2014-15 budget to extend the Secure Schools Program, with $6 million available in each of the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 years.

For the first time under this government that funding, as well as being able to be used for hard capital security infrastructure will also be able to be used for security guards. Schools and students should not be distracted from their studies by the threat of violence because of their race or religion. This program seeks to extend their security infrastructure so that they can enjoy the same schooling experience as any other school.

I know that the member for Higgins is very concerned about The King David School in particular. I am very pleased to have Carmel School in my electorate, which is the Jewish school in Western Australia—and an exceptionally good school it is too, with excellent academic results year after year. But I am aware from my contact with the school and with the Perth Hebrew congregation in general that they remain very concerned about their own security. Unfortunately, they have had incidents. They would not be as serious as some other security incidents that have appeared around the globe, but they have certainly given them pause for thought. The government stands with them in doing all that we can to make sure that we are securing Carmel School, The King David School and other independent schools around the country that might require that attention.

I am about to write to state and territory education ministers and the Independent Schools Association, seeking nominations from their jurisdictions for schools which may be eligible for funding. Once we have had these nominations, the candidates will be able to apply for funding grants before being assessed, and the successful applicants will be announced. Clearly, that is going to have to be a competitive program. We are going to make sure that we cover the risks as we assess them, and we will be making sure that that money goes as far as possible to secure the school environment for the independent schools that are legitimately concerned about being at risk.

Because the member for Higgins was kind enough to ask that question, I will note that the King David School has already been a successful recipient of funding in previous rounds—almost $1 million under three grants went to the King David School—and I appreciate the contribution that that school does make to her electorate. I look forward to working with Jewish schools but also with other independent schools in being able to announce the successful recipients of the funding program in the 2014-15 financial year.

5:05 pm

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As far as details go, from the minister representing the Attorney-General's speech, first off I would like to ask him a question that relates to the Attorney-General's portfolio. I was chair of a committee that brought down a finding with respect to data retention. It was a component of the national security legislation. It was a reform that was countenanced in three tranches. We tabled this report in the last sitting week of the 43rd Parliament. I am led to understand that the Attorney-General's Department is looking at the various tranches of legislation as we speak. So my question is to the minister representing the Attorney-General. Could he please tell me whether or not they are going to introduce any legislation pertaining to data retention in the life of this parliament?

5:06 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Holt for that question, though I am not sure whether he started there with a barb about my un-inspirational delivery! But I will give him the benefit of the doubt, because that is a sensible question and one which the government is seriously considering. As you appreciate, I am representing the Attorney-General here today, and this matter would fall within his portfolio jurisdiction. But it is something that I take a keen interest in, obviously, as the minister with responsibility for the Australian Federal Police, and the police of course are very concerned about this and have been making representations to the government. He would understand the content of the representations because he would have seen their submissions to his committee. I must say that that committee does do very serious and sensible work, and when that committee makes recommendations to the government we take those recommendations seriously. I understand that the Attorney-General is looking at those recommendations at the moment.

It is very important that we have a regime in Australia which complements our national security and also helps our criminal justice agencies to do their job. I appreciate that, in the environment in which we live at the moment, there is a lot of myth and concern about this idea that somehow the state might be snooping on people. Everything we do in the law and order area and in the national security area when it comes to data retention and communications is to make the Australian people safer, and that is the absolute and primary objective that we will have in responding to his committee's recommendations. We need to look at these things sensibly. What we are doing is important for community safety, and I will not pre-empt that response to the committee, and I am not actually privy to that response in totality yet. But we do take the committee's recommendations seriously, and we do take the safety of the Australian people seriously.

5:08 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I put my question to the minister, I will just give some context. As a representative for regional Australia and regional South Australia in particular, and as someone who represents a large swathe of regional South Australia, the reality is: bushfires are an ever-present danger. Indeed, during the 2014 bushfire season we had no less than six large-scale bushfires raging across Barker, at Eden Valley, Rockleigh, Calperum Station, Ngarkat Conservation Park, Billiat and Tintinara. They burnt out of control between 20 December and 23 January. They burnt 232,000 hectares. They destroyed many significant assets.

I will give some further detail. The Eden Valley fire ignited just after midday on Friday, 17 January. It burnt through almost 25,000 hectares and was not declared as contained until Monday, 20 January, much to the relief of those on the front line and the personnel involved in managing the incident in the fire-affected communities.

Just after 5.30 on 17 January, a lightning strike ignited a fire within the Ngarkat Conservation Park, burning some 90,000 hectares. A fire also ignited near Rockleigh, on the Murraylands, just after 3 pm on 14 January. This is the third time communities in the area have been threatened by fire within 12 months. More than 80 CFS firefighters responded.

Just after 6 pm, on 14 January, fires ignited in the Margaret Dowling camp site, at Billiat, Katarapko and Kringin, with additional lightning following in the next few days, sparking the Calperum fire, exposing the community of Cooltong to significant danger. My question to the minister is this: given, Minister, what you have just heard about how my local community was so seriously affected by bushfires between December last year and January this year, what budget measures will help us better prepare our communities for bushfire events in the future?

5:11 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Barker for that question. It is a very good question and I appreciate that he has had discussions with me in the past about the bushfires that affected his community in January this year. The government is very aware of the toll that bushfires and other natural disasters do take on the Australian community. Unfortunately, as we all know too well, bushfires are a harsh reality in Australia, as are other natural disaster events. But every summer we continue to see communities that are devastated by bushfire. We know—and the member for Barker will know—that the impacts of bushfire last well beyond the event itself.

In the budget we announced the National Bushfire Mitigation Program, which will provide $15 million over three years, to help states and territories implement long-term bushfire mitigation strategies and better fuel reduction programs. I acknowledge that everything we do in this area is always done in conjunction with the states and territories, which do actually have first responder responsibilities for natural disasters in Australia. As the minister with responsibility for emergency management within the government I have discovered that the Commonwealth in and of itself does not have an enormous amount of hardware to respond to bushfires. We always do what we can with the assistance of the Australian Defence Force but, essentially, it is the responsibility of the states and territories. They do a magnificent job in doing so and the same goes for the way the South Australian government responded to the bushfires in January this year.

The National Bushfire Mitigation Program draws on a coalition election commitment. Through this initiative we can help to build stronger communities which are better prepared for when that bushfire threat becomes a reality.

The Abbott government recognises that we have to do something to address the increased toll that natural disasters are taking on Australian communities and businesses. That is why, with the support of all state and territory governments, we have commissioned a Productivity Commission inquiry into natural disaster funding. This inquiry will consider how we can best target our overall disaster funding in a way that better equips our nation for future disasters.

These are just two of the many investments we are making to better prepare the nation for future disasters. We are also providing over $52 million over two years to target natural disaster risk priorities in all states and territories and investing up to $12½ million to address the high cost of strata title insurance in North Queensland. And as anyone who spends a little bit of time in the coalition party room will attest—we do not normally talk about party room discussions, but I suspect the member for Leichhardt will not mind—the member for Leichhardt has been talking about this issue ad nauseam for many years. When we were in opposition, we were not in a position to do something about it. But the Abbott government has responded to those concerns, which are particularly acute in North Queensland with this $12½ million, which addresses the high cost of strata title insurance in his area and other parts of Queensland in particular.

I thank the member for Barker for this question. The way the Commonwealth government responds to natural disaster is very important. It costs the Australian taxpayer hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars depending on how bad any particular disaster season is.

This Productivity Commission inquiry is very timely. We will take the recommendations, which I expect to receive by the end of the year, very seriously, and we will look to implement them to make sure the enormous investment the Australian taxpayer is making in making sure Australian communities respond to natural disaster is spent in the most effective possible way. We will take the recommendations that the Productivity Commission makes very seriously and respond appropriately as a government.

5:15 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to address some questions to the Minister for Justice about section 18C, but first I want to mention the comments that have just been made by the member for Higgins and responded to by the minister in relation to the Secure Schools Program. What was missing from the minister's answer and, indeed, what was missing from what was said by the member for Higgins was any acknowledgement—and one was due—about the fact that there is bipartisan support for the Secure Schools Program and that there was $20 million in the 2008 budget for three years for the Secure Schools Program to fund security works not just in Jewish schools but in schools at risk from racially and religiously motivated violence, which we deplore, not just in Melbourne but throughout Australia. And there was a further $15 million in the 2011 budget over three years, which I had assumed had bipartisan support. For the Minister for Justice to be talking now and forgetting that for the last six years, supported by our Labor government, there have been works performed at Jewish schools throughout the country and, I might add, at some Muslim schools and, in one case, in a government school in south-west Sydney where security was needed to be enhanced because of religiously or racially motivated violence—and, of course, both parties went to the last election very directly supporting an extension of the Secure Schools Program and both parties at the last election supported not just an extension of funding for the Secure Schools Program for capital works but also an extension of funding to cover some recurrent funding for security guards in Jewish schools. I am very pleased to see the program continuing and I would have thought that the minister or perhaps the member for Higgins might have found it in themselves to acknowledge the work done by the Labor government over both of the last terms.

But I wanted to raise with the minister the appalling conduct of both the Attorney-General and the government in general over its reposed repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It might be that the member for Higgins can speak in this place about her condemnation of anti-Semitism, but it is a pity that her colleagues at the ministerial level—

Mr Keenan interjecting

I do not think it is a matter for heckling by the Minister for Justice; it is a much more serious matter than that. It is a pity that they have not been able to do anything about the Attorney-General, who thinks it is appropriate to stand up in the Australian Senate and say things like, 'People do have a right to be bigots, you know.'

I wanted particularly to refer to a letter by Moshe Gutnik, the President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, Yehoram Ulman, the President of the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales and Meir Shlomo of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, who thought it was necessary to write to The Australian newspaper last month, pointing out that Tim Wilson, the Human Rights Commissioner appointed by this government, was completely wrong when he suggested that there was any support from any rabbinical organisation in this country for the changes proposed to be made by this government to section 18C. They reminded the people of Australia—and I remind the people of Australia and every member of this parliament—that last month was the month in which Jewish people and others around the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. They ended their letter with these words:

None of us dares forget, and Wilson and the government would do well to remember that racist words have evil consequences.

What we are seeing from this government is a gutting of the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, a removal of the protections that have served Australia well for almost 20 years and its replacement, it would seem, with something that it is now absolutely clear would permit, among other things, all kinds of vile, racist abuse in public and, in particular, Holocaust denial to occur. This government should be ashamed of itself for its conduct in proposing a gutting of these provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the member for Higgins and the Minister for Justice need to be reflecting when they are so quick to say that they condemn anti-Semitism and that they want to do what they can to protect the Jewish schools in the electorate of the member for Higgins, because the two things go together.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister for Justice: when is the government going to make public the 5,700 submissions that it has received, and when is the government going to announce what it is going to do, which should be to drop its proposal on the Racial Discrimination Act?

5:20 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I will deal with the issue of the Secure Schools Program that the shadow minister raised. How nice that the shadow minister has found time to join us during the Consideration in Detail stage. It only lasts for an hour, but obviously he has only found time in his busy schedule to join us for half of that. It is true that the Secure Schools Program—

Mr Dreyfus interjecting

And now we are joined by the shadow minister for Justice—how nice that he can join us. He will last 20 minutes of the Consideration in Detail proposal.

Mr Feeney interjecting

I am sure that when you get up and have your five minutes you can say your piece on this, but I have been in here for the whole hour and I can assure you that I have monitored the movements of both shadow ministers. I was terribly disappointed that they could not be bothered to come and attend Consideration in Detail up until this point.

I will go to the point that the shadow Attorney-General has made on the Secure Schools Program. I appreciate that that was a program that also existed under the previous government, and I have no problem whatsoever with acknowledging that. Of course, it might have been nice if he had acknowledged that it was the Howard government that invented this program. Indeed, when I was a backbencher in the Howard government between 2004 and 2007, I worked very hard to make sure that the synagogue that exists within my electorate had appropriate protection, and the federal government joined with the Western Australian state government to ensure that that was the case. So I have got no problem acknowledging that the program existed under the previous government, and I am sure that he will join the love and acknowledge that that program existed under the Howard government also.

As to the references to 18C that the shadow minister has made, firstly I would note that there is no appropriation associated with 18C, and what we are here at the moment doing are the appropriation bills. Section 18C is not an issue that appears within the budget paper—it appears completely extraneously to that—but, because I like him so much, I am going to extend him some latitude to talk about the questions that he has asked me in relation to 18C.

As the member for Higgins has very sensibly reminded me—and the shadow minister is quite right to be passionate about anti-Semitism—I note that the BDS movement that is endorsed by some trade unions around the country is not condemned wholeheartedly by the trade union movement as it should be. Indeed, it is actively supported by some individual trade unions—trade unions which would be constituent members of the Labor Party. Where is the condemnation of those trade unions being associated with a movement that is blatantly anti-Semitic? I appreciate that the shadow minister is passionate about this—and it is right that he should be—but where is the condemnation of the trade union movement endorsing what is an anti-Semitic movement at its core? This feeds to the sort of prejudice that we were talking about, which the Secure Schools Program was designed to address.

On the specifics of the questions that he has asked me about 18C—

Mr Dreyfus interjecting

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will be heard in silence.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

At the moment, as the shadow minister would be aware, there has been a very considerable process of public consultation. We have received an enormous amount of submissions. The Attorney-General is currently working through those submissions and will be making some announcements about that in due course. We take the submissions that we have received very seriously—obviously we are interested in the views of the Australian Community. I appreciate that the debate around this has been passionate, and there is no problem with people having a bit of passion when it comes to what are very serious issues. We will be methodically and sensibly working through the submissions that we have received, and the Attorney-General will obviously be making some announcements in due course about that.

5:24 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a question of the minister. I will preface it with some brief comments. As a result of several visits to the electorate of Forde over the last couple of years the minister would be aware of the wonderful work that Logan City Council does in conjunction with Queensland Rail and the Queensland Police Service in putting together a CCTV network not only to help reduce the incidence of crime in our community but also provide safer streets on the whole for the local community. I thank the minister and the government for the investment of some $960,000 in CCTV cameras for the electorate of Forde. This has been greatly welcomed by the Logan City Council. It is complemented by an investment of over $1 million by Logan City Council in a new CCTV monitoring room and the upgrade of digital monitoring equipment to better link in with Queensland Police Service and Queensland Rail.

My question to the minister is: what decisions were made in the budget that have allowed the funding of this program through different uses of the proceeds of crime and how does this differ from decisions made by the previous Labor government?

5:26 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Forde for his question. I was very pleased to join him over the course of the last few weeks at Logan City Council for some announcements about the expansion of the CCTV network in his electorate of Forde. Logan has a very extensive CCTV network. In fact, it would be one of the most comprehensive networks anywhere in the country. Previous governments, including the Howard government, contributed extensively to that. The Abbott government is very pleased to join the member for Forde in announcing an expansion of that CCTV network. I note that the Mayor of Logan and councillors, from the interaction we had when I visited with the member for Forde, were very grateful for the assistance of the Abbott government under our Safer Streets program.

In the budget we have delivered on our election commitment, ensuring that all proceeds of crime money is used to fight crime. When the former government was in office, they froze that proceeds of crime money. It had always been expended to the benefit of law enforcement agencies to stop future criminal activity. They froze the confiscated assets account and they used that money to prop up the budget for political reasons. Had this continued, had we not reversed that when we arrived in office, up to $112 million seized from criminals, which we would have collected from their criminal activities, would have been locked in that account by the 2017-18 financial year. We reversed that decision so that proceeds of crime will again be available to fund local crime prevention strategies such as the Safer Streets strategy, which funds the Logan City Council CCTV network in Forde. We are using these funds straight away to address the legacy of underinvestment in crime prevention by the previous government. The previous government has a dreadful record on this—they froze proceeds of crime and they significantly attacked all of our law enforcement agencies. The Australian Crime Commission, in particular, was savaged by the previous government over six years. A third of its personnel and a third of its budget was cut.

We need to now move on and reinvigorate law enforcement agencies and make sure that proceeds of crime are being used to attack criminal activity—as they always were in the past, until the previous government got so desperate to pretend it had a surplus and subsequently froze that proceeds of crime money. Future decisions on proceeds of crime will be made at my discretion. This is an important step in reducing administrative red tape so that funding can easily flow back for what is needed in our communities. We will be looking at making sure our law enforcement agencies are also getting a fair share of that funding to do their very important work, after six years of underinvestment and budget cuts from previous governments. It has always been the Abbott government's intention that proceeds of crime be returned to the community so that the crimes of yesterday will be used to prevent the crimes of tomorrow. Projects will be funded to support crime prevention and law enforcement initiatives, including Safer Streets, as the member for Forde alluded to.

How fortuitous, the member for Swan and the member for Lindsay are also getting funding under the Safer Streets program, as well as the member for Higgins. I have been to all of your electorates and I am looking forward to coming to the member for Higgins' electorate to make an announcement about the Safer Streets funding that we will be deploying Higgins. This money has also been used to fund such things as the establishment of the National Anti-Gangs Squad team in Western Australia. We will be using over $10 million of the proceeds of crime funding so that a number of AFP officers and other federal law enforcement officers, including an officer from the Australian tax office, will be embedded in the Western Australia Police force, within their Anti-Gangs Squad, to work constructively to make sure that they are doing all they can in the national fight against organised crime and, in particular, of course, outlaw motorcycle gangs that have been the focus of the Western Australia Police attention until this point.

I thank the member for Forde for that question. I appreciate his ongoing interest in community safety within his electorate.

5:31 pm

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, my questions go to the selection process and eligibility for the Safer Streets program. As you would be aware, the target group for funding under the first funding round for the Safer Streets program were those organisations identified before October 2013. That is to say that some $19.3 million was set aside by you and allocated for projects, but only able to go to those organisations identified by you before October 2013. Those organisations identified by you have since been invited by you to apply for funding under the Safer Streets program by the Abbott government. As a consequence, organisations that were not hand-picked by you prior to October 2013, including those that had already been approved for funding under the former NCPF program, were barred from applying.

My question to you is: what did the selection process for identifying these organisations involve? What was the selection criteria used to identify successful and unsuitable organisations? Who identified the organisations to receive the funding? How did the selectors gain access to these organisations and determine they were suitable for the program? How were these organisations identified? Who identified them? Who reviewed these applications? When did the selection process commence? How long after the selection process began were successful organisations identified? When were the organisations informed that they had been chosen as funding recipients? Was there any consideration made for organisations that had been approved for funding under the previous NCPF? Given that successful organisations were hand-picked by you prior to the 2013 election, how did you assure that there was political neutrality? What processes were put in place to ensure an unbiased selection process?

Minister, I am very keen for you to enlighten us on these important issues. I note, with time being difficult, that on 16 June 2010, in proud, fine words in this place you said:

Surely for ministers of the Crown it is not that difficult to come in here and answer questions for 35 minutes on areas within their portfolio without going through this ludicrous parody of government members getting up and asking dorothy dixer questions and the minister then reading a prepared answer.

It is sad to see those fine sentiments turn to dust now that you are in office, but, having concluded your dorothy dixers—

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

You weren't here.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Mercifully, Hansard records your fine sentiments, Minister, and mercifully Hansard can shine a light on your hypocrisy. Having wandered your way through those time-wasting dorothy dixers, tell us about the selection process and tell us about how you selected those organisations before October 2013. Tell us how it is you assured that the government process would remain politically neutral?

5:34 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I must say, I do admire the shadow minister's front to roll in here after 40 minutes of consideration in detail, which only lasts for an hour, and complain that government members, who happened to be in the chamber, were asking questions. It is very difficult for me to respond to the opposition if they do not come into the chamber and ask me questions. One hour is allocated every year for budget consideration in detail, yet the shadow minister has come in here after 40 minutes has expired and asks me why it is that I had to respond to questions from members who actually were here in the chamber. Quite remarkable! But I do admire his sense of humour, if nothing else.

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will be heard in silence.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow minister was very keen for me to enlighten him—and of course I am very keen to enlighten the shadow minister whenever I get the opportunity to do so. I would like to give him a bit of history about proceeds of crime in Australia and how it came to pass that we committed those proceeds of crime to the Safer Streets Program. Governments of all persuasions, up until the advent of the Gillard-Rudd era, had spent proceeds of crime money on fighting crime. It stands to reason that, if you are going to take money from criminals, you would subsequently reinvest those funds—

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Deputy Speaker, I have a point of order on relevance. I did not ask for a history lesson. Can he please answer the questions that have been asked of him?

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask the minister to be relevant to the questions.

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I very keen to be as helpful as I possibly can be for the shadow minister. I am not sure if he is aware of the background. This background is vitally important to understanding what has gone on in this process. It is important to understand because governments of all persuasions have spent proceeds of crime money on fighting crime. This happened under the previous Howard government and it happened for the first few years of the Rudd government until the government got so desperate with their out-of-control spending that they looked for any pockets of money they could use to prop up the budget and pretend that they were running a better budget bottom line than they were. They froze the proceeds of crime and said: 'This money we have taken from criminals is now going to be used against the member for Lilley's dodgy figures to pretend that the budget is in better shape than it is.' This is what happened and it was a shameful thing.

Money that should have been used to fight criminal activity was actually used to prop up their dodgy bottom line. I think that is shameful. When we were in opposition we decided that that was a very bad decision. It was a bad decision for law enforcement and it was a bad decision for communities where that money could have been spent. So we said in 2012: 'We are not going to accept this. We will unfreeze proceeds of crime and will reinvest it in community projects all around Australia that make our streets safer.' Subsequent to that I spent a lot of time talking to communities about what their priorities might be. We spent a lot of time going around Australia talking to local members and community groups about what their priorities might be. We subsequently made a series of commitments at the election that we of course will keep. Like all of the Abbott government's commitments, we are going to make sure that they are kept. We made promises to communities, such as the communities in Swan, Lindsay and Higgins, and said that we would stand with them and fund community safety initiatives that they believe are going to be useful to combat crime within their local area.

That is the right thing to do, as opposed to what the Labor government were proposing to do with the proceeds of crime. They were going to sit on the money and use it to prop up their dodgy budget so they could pretend their budget was in better shape than it was after their years of excessive spending. If we had not come in and made the very important decisions that we made to unfreeze the proceeds, then there would have been $112 million accumulated within that fund up until the 2017-18 financial year.

The Labor Party spent outrageously in government. They went around looking for whatever pots of money they could use. They froze proceeds of crime money—money that would have been better spent within the community, money that would have been better spent on law enforcement all around Australia and money that we will reinvest in making sure that criminals all around the country find it harder to commit their foul deeds.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Speaker—

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Swan.

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

That's impossible.

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Batman will resume his seat!

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

But you insisted in opposition that you would not take dorothy dixers.

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Batman will resume his seat! I call the member for Swan.

5:39 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question to the Minister for Justice will be in reference to the Safer Streets Program.

Mr Feeney interjecting

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Batman will cease!

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Batman might think that they are dorothy dixers, but the people in my electorate of Swan will be very interested to hear the background to this question. Anytime you want to come to Swan, Member for Batman, you can. You can talk to the people of my electorate about the crime issues that we face. But, as of yet, I have not seen anyone from the Labor Party come to Swan to talk about crime issues since the election.

Mr Feeney interjecting

You had your turn. Just sit down now and listen. I would like to give the minister a bit of background on the crime in my electorate. As you would understand, being a Western Australian, there is what is called the crime corridor in the south-eastern part of Perth which takes in my electorate, Hasluck and parts of Canning. We have had serious crime issues on our streets such as violence. I went out with a police patrol late at night and they were telling me about a situation where they arrived at the Burswood train station to find that one of the youths there had had half his face ripped off. That was typical of the crime in some of the areas in my electorate.

We conducted some local action campaigns through the community and one of them was at the Lynwood Village Shopping Centre, where they were experiencing a lot of issues with crime in the car parks and people being threatened. With support from the local City of Canning and the support of the local shopkeepers, security improvements were made through extra security guards and some CCTV camera installations. This was funded not only by the City of Canning but also by the owners of the shopping centre. Also, in an area in east Lynwood, as a crime prevention measure there were improvements to street lighting. Again, the City of Canning came to the party. We met on site with Linton Reynolds, whom you may know, and also the CEO of the City of Canning. Further to that, there were improvements in street lighting in that particular area.

I was operating a mobile office at the Carousel shopping centre and, after complaints were made at the mobile electorate office, information was given to us and forwarded to the police, who, within seven days, managed to shut down a drug house that was operating within about 500 metres of the shopping centre. In another two instances, in South Perth and St James, we have managed to have two other drug houses shut down with the assistance of police and information provided by the local community. So there is a real willingness and appetite among the local community to get involved and support reducing the crime problems that we face in Swan. We also had some instances of crime at the Carson Street school in East Victoria Park. Again, through my efforts and those of the local community, we managed to get the school to have some extra security fencing put up, which has helped address their crime prevention issues down there.

Also, we have seen security improvements to the Red Castle hotel site in Lathlain, just near the Burswood station. There were some issues with drugs, some dealers and the Red Castle hotel, which had been left destitute and in isolation and experienced a fire. With help from the Victoria Park council and support from the police, we managed to have some hotel fencing put in and patrols for that area were stepped up as well.

As you previously mentioned, you came to my electorate recently, about 2½ weeks ago, to continue the good work that has been done with the CCTV rollout, particularly in the city of Belmont and in Rivervale and Kewdale. It was great that you could come that day, meet with the PCYC and with a shopkeeper who had just experienced a robbery attempt on his shop, and announce a $100,000 commitment to the rollout of further CCTV around the Belmont Forum Shopping Centre.

Based on that information, can you explain the difference between the former government's National Crime Prevention Fund and the coalition government's Safer Streets Program? Also, is it incorrect for Labor members to be saying that funding has been cut in crime prevention?

5:44 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Swan for that question. I was very pleased to join him in his electorate to make an announcement about the further commitments we would be making for the town of Victoria Park. I only have a limited period of time, so I will respond very quickly in answer to the member's question. In the lead-up to last election, after, as I explained to the House, the previous government had frozen proceeds of crime money and not reinvested it, as all previous governments had in crime prevention programs, at five minutes to midnight they ran around in the election campaign making commitments of that money. They had refused to spend that money whilst they had the opportunity in six years in government. They ran around making commitments prior to the last election that they were now miraculously— (Time expired)

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Finance Portfolio

Proposed expenditure $649,800,000

5:45 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I have four questions, to begin with, for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. First, I refer to the government's fiscal strategy as outlined on page 3-7 of Budget Paper No. 1. Can the parliamentary secretary explain how you would quantify (a) a strong surplus, (b) sound economic growth prospects and (c) low unemployment? Can the parliamentary secretary put a number on those three criteria? Second, does the parliamentary secretary agree with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection when he told the House on 3 June 2014:

If I go back to the PEFO—as we know, the PEFO is where the officials tell the truth about what the budget really is from the previous government. From the previous Government, that's what it does.

Third, can the parliamentary secretary confirm that the government's own budget documents, page 7 of the budget overview, confirm that funding to schools and hospitals will be $80 billion less than under previous arrangements? Parliamentary Secretary, is this not an $80 billion cut? Fourth, can the parliamentary secretary confirm to the House that this government's $80 billion cuts to hospitals and schools have led to a $16 billion cut to hospitals and schools in Queensland? If not, is the parliamentary secretary saying that the Queensland budget papers are misleading?

5:47 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I might begin by talking about the Finance portfolio and the government's budget measures therein, and then I will answer the shadow minister's questions. Some of the answers are contained in this introduction. Without reining in spending now and in the future the budget would have remained in deficit for at east the next decade, and I am sure that the shadow minister would agree that that is the case. Leaving future generations to shoulder the burden of our spending decisions, as well as cope with the impact of an ageing population, is just not fair. It is not fair on current taxpayers and it is certainly not going to be fair on future generations. We need to start paying our way so that those future generations are able to enjoy the standard of living that we now take for granted.

With this budget, the government has made significant steps towards reducing the huge deficit left to us by Labor. The budget represents an overall $43.8 billion improvement in the budget bottom line at the 2013-14 MYEFO in the four years to 2017-18. It places spending on a manageable trajectory and provides a credible path back to surplus—and we all want that. With this budget, by the end of the decade Commonwealth debt is projected to be $389 billion—still a large sum but a significantly reduced amount on the $667 billion debt which we were projected to reach had we not taken any action. In this budget, we have taken important steps towards improving the efficiency of the public sector by reducing duplication. The savings realised through more efficient government operations will be redirected to repair the budget and fund policy priorities. For example, the government will achieve savings of $43.3 million, over four years, by moving to more efficient practices for public affairs and internal communications for Australian government agencies. To investigate where else we might be able to realise further efficiencies, the government is developing and implementing a contestability framework over a three-year program of work to review whether government functions should be open to competition and the appropriate means for this to occur. This work will complement the scoping study into future ownership options for four operations announced in the budget. The government will provide $11.7 million in 2014 for scoping studies into the future of Australian Hearing, Defence Housing Australia, the Royal Australian Mint and the registry function of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

We are also getting our house in order by embarking on the progressive sale of non-defence Commonwealth properties surplus to requirements. The Commonwealth owns a number of properties which reflect historical rather than current or projected future needs. The first tranche of properties will include around 40 surplus non-defence Commonwealth properties, including vacant blocks and facilities which are no longer in use. The details of specific properties to be offered for sale will be released over time as part of a coordinated sale process. The first tranche is expected to deliver savings to the budget of $22½ million over the forward estimates. Finance has been provided with a modest amount of funding to meet the costs of engaging private sector experts to support the sale process.

In the digital age, information technology plays a pivotal central role in how agencies undertake analysis, collect information and deliver services. The budget provides a modest amount of funding for Finance to perform gateway reviews which will provide quality assurance for three significant major capital projects: for the Bureau of Meteorology's replacement of its existing supercomputer which is used for the bureau's weather forecasts and warnings across Australia and will reach its expected end of life in mid-2016; for the Department of Social Services to develop a second pass business case to further scope options to replace its grants management platform with a more flexible and integrated system; and for the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio to strengthen and enhance Australia's border protection services.

We inherited a mess, and the shadow minister asks about health and education spending going forward. We are certainly committed to the four years of the forward estimates and we are going to actually increase what Labor would have done for both health and education in those very important portfolio areas. We did not commit to anything further beyond that. Labor made promises they knew they would never have to keep. They made those promises for the out years, years five and six, knowing full well that we had a debt and deficit crisis. They knew full well that they would not have to deliver on those promises. They made agreements in the education sphere without Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory coming on board. We are a Commonwealth government; we make decisions based on good national priorities. When you do not have all states and territories signed up to a Commonwealth deal it just does not make sense.

5:52 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In this appropriation discussion and debate, I think it is important to understand the context in which the government has made its decisions and my question does go to that. But, first, I want to remind the minister that when we came into government in 1996 we inherited a situation where we had to pay back $96 billion of Labor's debt, which we did over about a 10-year period. Not only did we do that during the previous coalition government period, but we also provided for the future by putting more than $45 billion into the Future Fund and also putting moneys into other such funds. More than $6 billion went into the Higher Education Endowment Fund, which I note was raided by the Labor Party when it came into government. That is why we need to make higher education reforms, which we are doing in the upcoming budget.

The situation we have inherited coming into government, as I understand it, is that we have significant debt, with gross debt heading up to more than $665 billion if we were to make no change in the current budget. We are paying interest bills of around $12 billion today, which is about how much we currently spend on schools—that is, the Commonwealth contribution right here, right now, to schools—and, again, if nothing were to be changed it would go up to more than $35 billion in interest alone.

We saw under the Howard government multifactor productivity on average increase by about 0.7 per year during those years. We saw under the previous Labor government that multifactor productivity actually decreased by 0.7 per year on average. In this budget, because of the decisions that have been made in the appropriations, we are able to make investments in such things as productivity enhancing infrastructure. If we were to continue on a path of debt as a result of deficit after deficit being delivered, which is what the Labor Party delivered during their six years of government, we would have to pay interest bills that would mean we would not be able to make investments in productivity enhancing infrastructure.

Could the minister enlighten the House on the investments that we are going to be making in infrastructure as a result of the fact that we have made these appropriations measures?

I am particularly interested in my home state of Victoria. I know that we have made a broader announcement of more than $50 billion of investment over a seven-year period, but, in Victoria, I understand that we are going to make investments of around $7.6 billion, $3 billion of which is going into the East West Link, which will have a huge impact on productivity in my home state of Victoria. I would like the minister, if he might, to also talk about the asset recycling program, which will be able leverage up the investment that we are making with the state governments so that we can ensure that we can be on a path to prosperity and growth in our country, rather than a path of ruin and debt.

5:55 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Higgins fully understands and appreciates the mess that we have inherited after six years of chaos. Labor left Australia with a broken budget, a damaged economy and a serious mess to fix, and I know that this was no more better demonstrated than in the state of Victoria where we have got transport systems and infrastructure chaos needing to be repaired, and we are getting on with the job.

When the Prime Minister was first elected, he said he wanted to be the infrastructure Prime Minister. I know that he also stated, quite clearly and quite categorically, that we were once again open for business. He, as well the trade minister, have led important delegations and taken a lot of Victorian business people with them to open up preferential trade agreements with both Korea and Japan, which will mean considerable investments for Victoria into the future and getting on with the job of improving those key transport areas in Melbourne. Regional Victoria will follow, and, as the member for Higgins pointed out, it will lead to improved and bolstered productivity.

When Labor came to office, as we heard the member for Higgins say—and she would know, as she worked for Peter Costello, one of the great Treasurers of this nation—they inherited a surplus of $20 billion with no net debt and $45 billion in the bank. Between 2008-09 and 2012-13, Labor delivered deficits totalling $191 billion. Labor left additional project deficits of $123 billion over the next four years—so that is going up to 2016-17. As the member for Higgins pointed out, we are paying at the moment $12 billion of debt annually thanks to Labor's mess. That equates to $1 billion a month—you could build a lot of roads, rail infrastructure, schools or hospitals with that $1 billion each and every month that we are paying down.

The Deputy Prime Minister—the Minister for Infrastructure—has correctly pointed out that, if left unchecked, that is going to be $3 billion per month of money that we will not have to invest in Melbourne or regional Victoria. We have got to pay down that debt so that we can then get on with the job of building the important infrastructure not just for Victoria, New South Wales or the ACT—which the shadow minister proudly represents—but indeed for all of Australia. We do need to have productivity-building infrastructure. The Abbott-Truss government has reduced Labor's deficits by $43.8 billion through to 2017-18. Gross government debt is also forecast to be $389 billion in 2023-24, compared with $667 billion that Labor left us. Certainly, if we do not do something, our future generations are going to inherit a far worse mess than what we have got now.

As the member for Higgins pointed out, the trouble is that Labor spent way beyond the hidden amounts in their budgets. They left us with budget booby traps in every cupboard door that we opened in Treasury and Finance. There was $1.2 billion secretly cut from schools. There were projects funded by non-existent mining tax revenue. Labor spent money that they had never earned to the tune of $16 billion—that is $16,000 million of mining tax revenue that never realised anywhere near the amount projected. A virtually broke Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a really important agency, was left virtually penniless by the federal government. There was no funding for offshore processing, although we heard in question time today of the numbers of projected people who were supposed to come to Australia in the first six months—we have been in government nearly nine months now—but have not come, because our policies are working. They are policies ridiculed by the other side.

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection is getting on with the job of stopping the boats, which is also going to help pay down our debt, because we are not spending the amount of money on detention centres—nine of which we have closed—in processing people who arrive unauthorised on our shores. We fixed up depleted Reserve Bank reserves, another problem of Labor's. There are 96 non-enacted tax measures—more hidden costs left by Labor.

6:00 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

To hear the parliamentary secretary speak, you would think there had never been a global financial crisis. You would think that the government had not brought down a budget that increased the deficit relative to the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. In fact, what we have heard today from the parliamentary secretary is a comparison of the government's budget update with the government's budget rather than the baseline Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook with the budget itself.

I did not hear an answer from the parliamentary secretary to any of my four questions. I know the parliamentary secretary has authored a book called Wild colonial boys: bushrangers in the Riverinabut he really is a bushranger of the Riverina when it comes to answering questions in here: all shooting through and no standing to deliver.

He did not answer what a numerical forecast would be of a strong surplus, sound economic growth prospects or low unemployment. He also curiously did not attempt to differ from the minister for immigration on the notion that the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook is the baseline. I take it that he agrees with the minister for immigration. He did not disagree with the suggestion that the government has cut $80 billion from schools and education, and he certainly did not suggest that the Queensland budget papers were misleading when they reported a $16 billion cut to hospitals and schools in Queensland.

I want to ask four further questions, and see if the parliamentary secretary might this time turn his mind to answering some of them rather than presenting prepared speeches. Firstly, can the parliamentary secretary confirm that an error in Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2013-14, without amendment, would lead to $972.4 million in funding to the states, territories and local governments in 2013-14 not being legally paid? When did the government find out about this error? Did Finance advise the government of the error? If so, when did it occur? Can the parliamentary secretary advise how the error came about and how a print-production error could cause the error to occur? Can the parliamentary secretary advise when amendments will be tabled to fix the error?

Secondly, can the parliamentary secretary explain why all of the savings in relation to the Communications and Public Affairs Functions targeted savings measure have been allocated to Finance in its portfolio budget statement page 20, when the measures in Budget Paper No. 2, page 113, state that the savings are from 'various agencies'? Can the parliamentary secretary advise the House of the split between portfolios of the savings amount, and can the parliamentary secretary advise the House how the savings amounts were calculated?

Thirdly, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House of how many public-office holders in the finance portfolio will be affected by the salary freeze? Can the parliamentary secretary advise who those public-office holders are? Can the parliamentary secretary advise what levels of savings are obtained from the freezing of salaries of public-office holders in the finance portfolio?

Fourthly, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House the amount of savings obtained through ceasing the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation and winding up the Australian River Co. Limited? Given the proximity of this to the member's electorate, I hope he might turn his mind to answering these four very specific questions.

6:04 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise here to support the minister in this appropriation deliberation. I bring to everyone's attention the fact that, once again, we have inherited a Labor mess. Whether it be at a federal level or in my home state of Queensland, where the LNP inherited an $89 billion debt which was incurred by an outgoing Labor government, it is an atrocious record that we, as a coalition, inherit.

In the national debate, as in the debate we have in Queensland, you will often find the critics on the other side of the House offer no solutions as to how they would cut spending or, if they will not cut spending, what increases in tax they would burden the Australian public with. There is nothing of that magnitude; nothing of that noise. However, what we will hear is rhetoric and I rise to allay the Australian public's concerns when they hear misleading statements espoused by those from the ALP saying that there have been cuts to education when the reality is that in this budget, education spending will increase.

In Queensland, health spending will increase. Labor uses the opportunity to go into the outward years and say that is where the cuts will be. To understand their capacity to budget and forecast, you could go back and have a look at their track record in forecasting surpluses and deficits. I remind the House that the Labor government was, on average, out by $20 billion. It was not out by a million dollars; it was not out by $20 million; it was not out by $100 million. It was out by $1,000 million dollars multiplied by 20. They were continually out with their forward estimates, so it is a little bit of a long straw to be reaching out into the outward years to try to draw some soft analogy that we are cutting into health and education.

I say to the aged pensioners of Australia that there are absolutely no cuts. There will be two increases per year at the current rate of indexation and it is only after the out years, into 2017, when we will implement the lesser of the indexations.

We have to be the adults in the room. We have to come to this budget—to return to some type of normality—because, speaking as a businessman and as a representative of the people in my electorate, everyone knows what happens if you spend more money than you earn. Everyone knows what that situation looks like; everyone knows where you end up. The banks understand exactly where you end up. We should not drift too far away from those basic fundamentals that we apply in our own households and businesses, but Labor seem to distance themselves from that soft logic. We cannot sustain $1 billion of interest per month on borrowed money to service our debt. That is unsustainable. On the contrary, since we have come to office, we have put an extra 100,000 jobs on. You would hear from the other side of the House that we were the doom-and-gloom party, that everyone was going to lose their job. It is quite the contrary with 100,000 new jobs.

Labor's record of deficit and debt had us on a trajectory of no less than $667 billion dollars of debt. No-one will forget Labor's management of the fiscal economy when they wanted to introduce a mining tax—a mining tax that raised three per cent of its forecast revenue—and then went and spent the money they thought they were going to generate from it, leaving us in a terrible situation. They talk about trying to offer the Australian public some relief from the carbon tax. The instant relief in this budget would be for the ALP to go into the Senate and repeal the carbon tax.

My question to the minister is—

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have 21 seconds left. Everyone has to do their little bit of heavy lifting. Can the minister explain to the House how as parliamentarians—senators and members in this place—we will play our role in doing the heavy lifting? What impact do gold pass benefits for members and senators have, if the minister could explain?

6:09 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Wright. I also thank the shadow minister at the table for his previous questions which I will get to in this answer. The government has made clear that in order to rebuild Australia and to build a strong and resilient economy everybody has to do, as the member for Wright indicated, their share of heavy lifting. The last budget was brought down on 13 May by the Treasurer and the member for North Sydney quite clearly indicated that it was a 'contribute and build budget' and that everybody has to share the burden of the savings which need to be done in order to get our country back on track.

As announced in the 2014-15 budget, there will be a one-year's pay freeze on members of parliament and senior public servants. The Life Gold Pass Scheme is now closed to new senators and members entering parliament and former members who did not previously qualify for a Life Gold Pass who re-entered parliament on or after 6 March 2012. The government announced as part of the budget that for those who have qualified, the gold pass travel entitlements will be wound back for former and current members of parliament. As part of these reforms, spouses will no longer be eligible for travel and limits will be placed on eligibility and the class and number of trips per annum.

These changes are expected to deliver savings of $5 million over five years. It might not seem much in the context of $667 billion, but if left unchecked and let go and if we just do what Labor did for six years and bring in populist budgets, the costs will add up. But every cent counts and every dollar saved counts towards paying back some of the chaotic debt and deficit that we have inherited. It is a modest but important contribution to the repair task of the budget.

We are also removing the entitled members and senators use of private employment print agencies when recruiting personal and electorate staff. Under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 parliamentarians can choose to access their printing and communications entitlement to advertise for staff through print media should they wish to do that. These changes build on the changes stated in the government's announcement on 9 November 2013 on a range of reforms to strengthen the rules governing parliamentarians' business expenses and to improve the integrity of the parliamentary entitlements framework. It is all about accountability. It is also worth noting that the base salary for senators and members as at 1 July 2013 is $195,130 per annum, so parliamentarians will also pay the debt levy that is currently in front of the Senate.

The shadow minister asked me a series of questions earlier. I can tell him that Appropriation Bill (No. 6) provides for a total of just over $972 million in funding in 2013-14 and of this nearly $319 million relates to payments to states, territories and local government. The amendments will enable these payments. Quite correctly, he pointed out that there was an amendment to Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2013-14, circulated earlier today. A schedule was inadvertently omitted from the bill and the government will be moving an amendment at the appropriate point in proceedings to ensure that the schedule appears in the bill as intended. It is expected that that will go before the House this Thursday. The text of the amendment has been circulated and it will be formally moved at the appropriate point in proceedings.

These things happen. Certainly the previous government inadvertently forgot to mention a whole lot of things, like the fact that they would be imposing a carbon tax, which means a $550 slug to every family. Certainly every business is paying for the carbon tax which the Prime Minister at the time, Julia Gillard, said she would never, ever impose. These things happen. They should not happen but they do.

He talked about the Albury-Wodonga Corporation. That came in when Gough Whitlam was the Prime Minister and there was great whoopla and fanfare that it was going to end state and federal anomalies, and certainly border anomalies that exist between New South Wales and Victoria. At the time it was a great thing. It certainly boosted regional Australia. The amount the shadow minister asked about has not been quantified.

But we are not just about building up Albury-Wodonga. We are about building up regional cities, towns and villages right throughout Australia. That is why the member for Mayo in conjunction with the Deputy Prime Minister are getting out there with an infrastructure fund looking at roads, primarily, but also inland rail and a whole host of other measures which are going to make regional Australia strong again. Regional Australia was ignored under six years of Labor, but we are getting on with the job of doing the sorts of things that are going to boost productivity in those areas which grow the food and the fibre for Australians.

6:14 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The parliamentary secretary is the author of a book called 'Mud, Sweat and Cheers', and I feel as though we are getting today a little more mud and sweat than cheers. But I give him two cheers for answering two of the eight questions I have asked him so far. Through this process we have learnt that the government is fixing an error—a significant one, nearly a billion dollar error—made during the drafting process. We have also learnt that the government intends to cease the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation and wind up Australian River Co. Limited and yet cannot quantify the savings so gained. It is extraordinary to me that the parliamentary secretary who represents an electorate nearby Albury-Wodonga seems to regard this as an irrelevant matter. He seems to be unconcerned at the government's inability to quantify these savings.

Unfortunately, the first four questions I asked the minister remain unanswered, unaddressed, and as to two questions I asked earlier, it appears the parliamentary secretary does not know how many public office holders in the finance portfolio will be affected by the salary freeze. Extraordinarily, he is unable to advise the House of the split between portfolios of the savings amount relating to communications public affairs functions targeted savings. It is particularly unusual given an amount has been identified for Defence.

Let me press on through the mud and the sweat with five additional questions. Can the parliamentary secretary advise the House whether the changes in average staffing levels to the Department of Finance between 2013-14 and 2014-15 as reported in the 2014-15 budget are attributable to machinery of government changes?

Second, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House whether the change in average staffing levels for the Australian Electoral Commission between 2013-14 and 2014-15 as reported in the budget are attributable to staff who had been hired for the 2013 federal election?

Third, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House the reasons for the change in average staffing levels for ComSuper between 2013-14 and 2014-15 as reported in the budget?

Fourth, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House of the proportion of departmental expenses for the Department of Finance that are attributable to staff? Can the parliamentary secretary explain why there is nearly $100 million decrease in departmental expenses for Finance between 2014-15 and 2015-16?

Fifth, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House whether the Department of finance is undertaking a 'spill and fill' of all positions where staff could potentially be deemed as excess similar to what is being undertaken in the Department of Communications?

6:17 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary a question: Australian taxpayers want to see their hard-earned tax dollars used for public good. What is the government doing to promote a more efficient and dynamic public sector?

6:18 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Australian taxpayers do need to see that taxpayers' dollars are being spent wisely and that there is for government value for money in every tax dollar spent. In this budget, we made important steps towards improving the efficiency of the public sector by reducing duplication.

I might just backtrack a little, because I was asked by the member for Higgins earlier about the Asset Recycling Fund. Indeed, it will start on 1 July 2014 as a dedicated vehicle to provide funding and financial incentives to states, territories and other bodies to invest in new productivity enhancing infrastructure, including through the Asset Recycling Initiative. It is getting on with the job of building that important state infrastructure that is so badly needed.

The member for Parkes and I were at Queanbeyan on the weekend and we saw a Queanbeyan bypass initiative announced by not just the Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, the member for Oxley, but in close conjunction with the Deputy Prime Minister and the good Nationals member there, the member for Monaro, John Barilaro. That is an example of federal-state cooperation—getting on with the job of building that infrastructure which is so sorely needed. It would not have happened under Labor, member for Parkes—it would not have happened. And we were there to witness it first hand—the delight in people in Queanbeyan to that announcement. It certainly would not have happened under the previous member, Steve Whan, but is happening under the current member, John Barilaro.

The Asset Recycling Fund will start from 1 July, with an initial size of about $5.9 billion and with contributions from uncommitted funds currently in the Building Australia Fund and around $2.4 billion in uncommitted funds currently in the Education Investment Fund, which is around $3.5 billion. As the member for Higgins alluded to earlier, that is going to see considerable investment in the states. She certainly wants to see Victoria through all of those important transport grid projects in Melbourne and, certainly, regional Victoria will benefit from the Asset Recycling Fund.

As I mentioned earlier, the government is achieving savings of $43.3 million over four years. The member for Parkes would like to know that we are also realising savings of $19.4 million over the forward estimates by abolishing and merging some small agencies to improve coordination and to increase efficiency. For example, we are merging ComSuper with Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation so that the administration of the Commonwealth superannuation schemes occurs through a single entity. We are also realising the synergies between the activities of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

To investigate where else we might be able to realise further efficiencies, the government is developing and implementing a contestability framework over a three-year program of work to review whether government functions should be open to competition, and the appropriate means for this to occur. People who pay taxes want to make sure that their taxes are being used wisely, and want to make sure that they are getting value for money. This work will complement the scoping studies into future ownership operations for four operations announced in the budget, and that goes towards making the sorts of considerable savings that we need to fix up Labor's mess.

I need to answer the shadow minister's questions, and time permitting, I certainly will. For those questions I have not got the time for, I will get back to him on notice. For example, the staffing numbers you have asked for; I will certainly get back to you and provide written advice to that effect. He talked about Mud, sweat and cheersa publication I indeed authored; and certainly, Australian taxpayers have had to endure more than their share of mud and sweat through the past six years with the previous Labor government. And they were cheering on 7 September when the coalition was returned to government. They were certainly cheering, because they knew that the sensible people were back in charge. They knew that the mature people were in charge: the member for North Sydney was in charge of Treasury; the member for Cook was in charge of immigration and border protection; the member for Wentworth was in charge of communications; and the member for Wide Bay was in charge of regional development, infrastructure, local government—all of those important things that have grassroots people of Australia making sure that their voices are being heard in Canberra, because they were not being heard over the past six years. They were not being delivered upon; like the NBN—with no cost-benefit analysis.

We have had to do some things that have not been widely accepted throughout the nation. One of them was a co-payment of $7.00 to visit your GP. I know the shadow minister was in favour of that, because—speaking of writing publications—he authored a publication which actually endorsed that view.

6:23 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

If the government were confident of its own policy on a Medicare co-payment, they would be focusing a little more on what they said last year, rather than what I said while I was at university. The fact is that every prominent health expert opposes the government's GP tax, as do I.

It has been disappointing to hear the parliamentary secretary, the author of a book called And the big boys fly, flying away from some of the key questions that I have been putting to him this evening. I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's willingness to take on notice a number of the specific questions about staffing, but I was disappointed that he was unable to reassure many of my constituents who work for the Department of Finance that the department is not presently undertaking a 'spill-and-fill' of all positions. As parliamentary secretary, that is a piece of information that ought to be directly available to him. If he is unable to rule it out, then many of my constituents who work in the Department of Finance will be concerned that just such a 'spill-and-fill' is taking place. Those of us in this place expect a 'spill and fill' to take place every three years, but my constituents, hardworking public servants serving both sides of politics, should not be treated in such a way.

The parliamentary secretary was also unable to explain why there was a nearly $100 million decrease in departmental expenses for Finance, raising further concerns of a hit to Finance. The parliamentary secretary instead regaled us with tales of his visits to Queanbeyan, concerning me that he thought this was in fact consideration in retail, rather than consideration in detail. But I shall press on and put some further questions to him.

First, can the parliamentary secretary confirm that a) the capital and earnings of the Asset Recycling Fund will be available for new projects and b) only the earnings of the Medical Research Future Fund will be available for new projects? Can the parliamentary secretary advise what rate of return has been estimated for both the Asset Recycling Fund and the Medical Research Future Fund?

Second, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House of the amounts over the forward estimates that the Medical Research Future Fund is forecast to hold? Can the parliamentary secretary advise the House of the split between uncommitted funds in the Health and Hospitals Fund and savings from the health budget that make up the investment credits line for the Medical Research Future Fund?

Third, can the parliamentary secretary confirm that projects to be funded out of the Asset Recycling Fund have already been approved? Can the parliamentary secretary confirm that the amounts in earnings in the Asset Recycling Fund are greater than the amount in projects that have already been approved?

Fourth, can the parliamentary secretary advise the House whether the government is actively considering privatisations of the following entities: Snowy Hydro Ltd, the Australian Submarine Corp., Australia Post, Moorebank Intermodal Company Ltd, COMCAR and the Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd? The potential privatisations of these entities are of great concern to Australians, who are entitled to know whether they are under active consideration by the government.

6:27 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Border protection is an issue that is front and centre in the debate nationally. In asking a question on the issues of border protection, I pick up on one of the points that the previous speaker raised in an earlier line of questioning about how many Commonwealth employees and public servants would be affected by the wage freeze. I had the opportunity to read a paper recently and one of the alarming statistics to come out of the Public Service sector concerned bracket creep and the number of incremental increases in the middle sector of the Public Service. I know this is not a forum to ask a question of you on this subject, but I want to ask if the member for Fraser has actually received any constituent calls, because I know he is a diligent member for the constituents of Fraser, a large percentage of whom would be public servants. In my electorate, I have a number of people earning over $180,000 and I have not received any calls from those people about having to pay the extra two per cent. I am genuinely interested to know—it is not a political slight or anything—if there is going to be perceived fiscal uncertainty as a result of the wage freeze for the Public Service. In the event that there is, I ask that the member enlighten them as to why these measures have to be taken in the manner that they are, to try and pull back some of the debt and deficit mess, to use the description of the Labor leader.

It is abundantly clear that, as a coalition, we went to the last election stating four key policies, including abolishing the carbon tax. We are in the process of doing that, but we are being hampered in the Senate and we trust that the dynamics of the Senate, as of 1 July, will move to a position where we will be able to fulfil that core commitment. Secondly, we said we would build the infrastructure of the 21st century. Evidence of that is that, in my home state of Queensland, we will be investing $13.4 billion in conjunction with state governments, who will be offered an inducement to sell assets and invest in productivity measures that provide a benefit to the state and, in turn, to the nation.

We gave a commitment to the nation that we would fix the budget. Part of tonight's proceedings is doing exactly that. We are making the tough decisions. They are not popular decisions, but we are making these tough decisions so that the next generation—and my daughter who is 18 is currently studying environmental science in Toowoomba at USQ—do not have to carry the burden of debt and deficit. If the hard decisions are not made by us today, she will inherit that legacy.

Most importantly, we said we would stop the boats; we would address our border security. There are some enormous savings measures in this budget. This needs to be addressed. Scotty Morrison, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, has done an outstanding job. There are some fiscal benefits that will flow through with reference to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. There are some provisions that will come to light for the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. Could the parliamentary secretary who is responsible enlighten us how those measures are helping the coalition provide a better future for the nation?

6:31 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Wright for his interest in matters pertaining to immigration and border protection and his interest in all matters pertaining to good government, which is what we getting on with the job of doing. Labor's failed border protection policies resulted in more than 55,000 unauthorised boat arrivals in more than 800 boats, causing a blow-out of over $11 billion. Tragically and sadly, they resulted also in the deaths of 1,100 people, who drowned at sea. We have not had a boat arrive for nearly six months now and we have not had a drowning at sea. Each person who came under Labor's watch cost $170,000 to process. That is a huge cost when you are trying to develop infrastructure in, for argument's sake, the electorate of Bendigo, in the electorate of the shadow minister who is at the table, or in regional Queensland.

The shadow minister asked me earlier about health costs. Under the coalition, hospital funding for the ACT will increase from $266 million in 2014-15 to $311 million in 2017-18. That is under the coalition government. In 2015-16 funding to the states for hospital services will increase by nine per cent, or $1.4 billion more a year. It will go up by nine per cent the following year and the following financial year. It is a similar story with education. The amount of funding will go up and up.

He talked about Finance ASLs. It is all due to the machinery of government and the deregulation to PM&C. He talked earlier about the AEC. I am going back on some of the things he raised. I can cover in my letter to him the things I am unable to answer—and I will certainly get back to him. The change to the ASL was all due to the election. I am not aware—and this is in response to his previous question—of any plans to do a spill and fill, but difficult times do call for hard decisions. Difficult times call for difficult measures. As I said before and as the member for Wright indicated, we all have to contribute our share to building a better Australia. We all have to contribute our share to help restore confidence in government. We are doing that. We would like to think that Labor will get on board as well.

Investments in the Medical Research Future Fund, which the member for Fraser raised, will be managed by the Future Fund Board of Guardians, in accordance with an investment mandate to be issued by the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance, Senator Mathias Cormann. The Medical Research Future Fund, which will build up to a $20 billion pot, will go to, hopefully, finding some answers to some of the questions that have thus far eluded medical researchers. It will provide valuable research and development in finding hopeful cures for many of the illnesses which plague and beset our nation. It will provide valuable medical research into cancer, into dementia and into all sorts of dreadful ailments which affect each and every family.

The establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund will be subject to the passage of health savings legislation, and we do hope that Labor gets on board because they have been so obstructive in so many things. Even their own savings identified before the previous election have been blocked in the Senate by Labor for whatever reason. Five billion dollars worth of their own savings have been blocked by an obstructionist Labor in the Senate. It beggars belief. The HHF—the Health and Hospitals Fund—will cease operation on 31 December 2014. Committed funds from that pool at 31 December this year will be transferred to consolidated revenue, from which the remaining commitments of the Health and Hospitals Fund will be met. I have to say that that Health and Hospitals Fund did provide funding for some valuable projects in the Riverina, and I was certainly appreciative at the time. Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, a new hospital at Griffith and the multipurpose development at Hillston in the west of my electorate certainly benefited from that HHF.

The Medical Research Future Fund is the biggest international future fund of its type, and I know that this needs bipartisan support because Labor members know of the benefit of valuable medical research. I know the health minister and certainly the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash, are behind this project because it will provide valuable research into many illnesses. (Time expired)

6:36 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that the parliamentary secretary has referred to uncommitted funds from the Health and Hospitals Fund being added to the Medical Research Future Fund. I wonder if he might advise the House whether, in the event that the government's $7 GP tax fails to pass the parliament, as appears likely, the entirety of the Medical Research Future Fund will be uncommitted HHF funds. In other words, is the government only prepared to create a Medical Research Future Fund if it can do so by taxing the sick, and is it actually true that the government is unwilling to use a single dollar of general revenue to put into the Medical Research Future Fund? If that is the case—if, indeed, the government's only commitment to medical research depends on taxing the sick—many Australians, I think, will doubt the true commitment of this government to a medical research future fund.

I note that the parliamentary secretary failed to respond to my question as to whether the government is considering privatisations of Snowy Hydro, the Submarine Corporation, Moorebank Intermodal, Australian Rail Track Corporation, COMCAR or Australia Post. I am sure that my constituents—like me—look forward to an answer for that question.

Mr Buchholz interjecting

The member for Wright has asked me a question. I have to say that if I had to choose two members of the government with whom to have a beer, the member for Wright and the member for Riverina would be high on my list. I have a great individual regard to each of them, albeit that I disagree with much of what they are defending in this budget. The member for Wright asks me whether I have had representations from members of my electorate concerned about the salary freeze. The simple answer is, member for Wright, we do not know enough from the government—

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I call on the member for Fraser. The question is the Appropriations Bill consideration in detail. It is a function of the executive. I ask that you remain relevant to the question.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. Speaking directly to that expenditure item, my concern is the lack of information forthcoming from the government about the number of public office holders affected by the salary freeze. The parliamentary secretary has failed to demure from the minister for immigration's suggestion that PEFO is when officials tell the truth and that the government's budget should be measured not against its last budget update but against the state of the books when it took office. The parliamentary secretary's failure to differ from the minister for immigration on that suggests that he truly believes that the baseline is the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, and it must therefore follow that this is a government which has made the deficit worse, not better. For all the government's talk of 'debt and deficit disasters', this is really a government which does a great line in alliteration but a terrible line in deficit reduction, and it has in fact increased the deficit, not decreased it.

The income tax levy is just one example of that. Nearly half the revenue in the first year will be lost to a fringe benefits tax loophole. I ask the parliamentary secretary whether the government agrees with recent reports that around half the revenue from the income tax levy will be lost as high-income earners shift income into fringe benefits in order to avoid this tax.

6:40 pm

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question goes to the parliamentary secretary regarding Budget Paper No. 2, page 233, on smaller government, surplus Commonwealth properties and divestiture of some non-Defence surplus Commonwealth properties. In my electorate of Wright I am privileged to have the defence training facilities of the Canungra warfare training centre. I am often fortunate to meet ranking officers in the Australian military who at some stage of their illustrious career would have trained at that training centre. When I tell them I am from Beaudesert, they greet me with warmth, because they were hard days when officers were trained in intelligence and warfare in areas that are not that dissimilar to jungle-like warfare. To the northern end of my electorate, border up to Amberley air base and, just to the north-east, I have the Greenbank Army base facility. So I am surrounded by enormous assets in the Defence portfolio area. I compliment Defence on the program they have had for divesting themselves of buildings that have asbestos in them to make the area safer for those who occupy the rooms.

I also take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank the minister for the return of the gap-year program, which was a program that was abandoned by the previous government. It was a program that the Defence Force used to offer to year 12 students for 12 months after school where they could do a try-before-you-buy 12 months, touching every part of the Defence Force and then seeing if a career in the military was for them. Thank you, minister, for returning such a valuable gap-year program.

In addition to that, could you touch on something in the public arena around the Lodge refurbishment. This is in Budget Paper No. 2, also on page 233. There is additional funding going to that. I acknowledge the humbleness of our Prime Minister and the dwellings that he takes up at the moment. It shows the character of the man and shows that what he advocates from a fiscal perspective he actually practices. I am sure he would be complimented by those opposite as well.

6:44 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Wright for his strong advocacy for the military and certainly for veterans. Investment in defence fell to 1.56 per cent of gross domestic product in 2012-13—the lowest level of defence funding since 1938. We all know what happened in 1939. The 10½ per cent cut in the 2012-13 budget was the biggest since the Korean conflict. I do not think any Labor members could ever come in here and criticise our investment in defence, our commitment to defence and certainly what we have done in the space of the DFRDB and DFRB indexation for our returned service men and women has certainly been warmly welcomed by those people.

I was asked about the Lodge. The Lodge has national symbolic status and is listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List. Essential work is required at the Lodge to prevent further deterioration of the building fabric and to undertake repairs to wiring and plumbing at the property. The property condition reports identified essential works were required to restore the property's condition to a compliant level to meet Building Code of Australia and work, health and safety obligations. That work is going on. We need to restore the Lodge to its former glory, to its original glory. As the work has progressed, Finance has had the opportunity to identify additional beneficial works which could be undertaken while the property remains vacant. As you say, the current occupier of the position of Prime Minister lives in very humble digs here in Canberra whilst the Lodge refurbishments are taking place. Those refurbishments include works on balcony balustrades to achieve building compliance, and internal and external painting.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

None of the members over the other side calling out will probably ever occupy the Lodge, with any luck. We know that the member for Fraser has designs on the member for Maribyrnong's position at the moment. He could well do a better job but, unlike the member for Grayndler, he may well need the votes of both caucus and the people. He talked about some of the privatisation scuttlebutt that has been going around about Snowy Hydro and Australia Post. That is not on the drawing board at the moment. It has not been flagged by government. It is just media speculation. He also talked about the budget crisis being unreal. Parliament's independent budget adviser rejected claims by Labor and the Greens, and who would ever believe the Greens? The very worst Labor member, I have to say, is better than the best Greens member.

An opposition member interjecting

I am not saying the member for Fraser is the worst Labor member by any stretch of the imagination but, certainly, claims that there has been some sort of concocted budget crisis are unfounded. Remarks that effectively endorse government's warnings that, if left unchecked, gross debt would balloon to $667 billion are from no less than the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Phil Bowen, who said it was time to begin the return to surplus to protect the economy against future crises. Of course he is accurate. He told the Australian Financial Review:

It is time to start coming out [of debt and deficit], otherwise the longer you leave it the more exposed you become and the harder it is to wind it back.

It is good advice. Labor members need to get on board with the program that we have got in place, the infrastructure spend that we are doing, the commitment to our veterans and our defence and certainly the spending that we are going to be doing in health and education to get over the next four years, the forward estimates, and get this country back on track.

We need to make sure that this country's credibility is restored. We have to be competitive. We have to give our taxpayers value for their tax dollars. That applies whether you are in Pitt Street or Swanston Street or in regional Australia. I know that the people I represent, the people that the member for Wright and the member for Hughes represent and the people that you, Deputy Speaker Hawke, represent as the member for Mitchell want better value for money. They did not get it in six years of Labor, six years of racking up debt and deficit. But Tony Abbott, Warren Truss and the team are getting on with the job of restoring confidence and restoring respectability and accountability to government.

Expenditure agreed to.

Debate adjourned.