House debates

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government, Community Safety

3:15 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Shortland proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's prioritisation of its own political interests ahead of the interests of Australian communities in safety and crime prevention.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

This MPI today is about safety and crime prevention. I'm going to begin by asking people to imagine a young police detective, maybe on a drug squad in a big city. Let's say, for argument's sake, that it's Brisbane. He spends every day making the community safer. He's making a drug—

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll get to you. He makes a drug bust. When he makes a drug bust, the assets are confiscated—the vile assets derived from the misery inflicted on victims and their families. The assets that are confiscated are then used for law enforcement, drug treatment and crime prevention. These funds are designed to prevent further misery being inflicted on families and to prevent more families being destroyed. If you're this young police detective, maybe from Brisbane, how would you feel if you heard about a minister in Canberra cutting funding to deserving projects and using those cuts to fund projects that his own independent experts score at less than 50 per cent? His own independent experts say aren't eligible for funding. Maybe you would ask why this minister was making the community less safe than it could be. I do wonder what a young Detective Dutton would think about a disgraced Minister Dutton of Home Affairs.

That's what we're debating today. There's a lot of heat and light in this debate, so let's go to some facts. This is a $17.9 million dollar program to make communities safer. The department and independent crime experts ranked the applications and recommended the top 70 be approved. What happened? The minister rejected those recommendations and slashed $5.6 million from the best projects to fund an additional 55 projects. Where were the applications cut? Three-quarters of the projects that were cut were in Labor seats or safe coalition seats. I do wonder how the members opposite feel about the inflicting of these cuts—the member for New England, for example, who saw a halving of the program funding for Inverell. That is the state of these cuts.

Who were the beneficiaries of the minister's remarkable intervention? There were two projects worth $200,000 announced during the Braddon by-election. These two projects, which we heard about during question time, were announced before the guidelines were even written and before applications were open. Imagine being one of the lucky councils down in Braddon, being given money they hadn't even applied for! That's a good trick. I'd love someone to teach it to me. These are two projects that the department subsequently made clear to the minister were unsuitable and ineligible. Unsuitable and ineligible! The two projects did not meet the guideline requirements of having scored above 50 per cent in all three merit criteria. The guidelines make it very clear that, if a project fails the 50 per cent test, it is ineligible for funding. Again, the Prime Minister was being very murky today when he claimed that the guidelines were being followed, because the guidelines are very clear: if a project scores below 50 per cent it is ineligible.

That's what the Minister for Home Affairs did. The minister who prides himself on being Mr Law-and-Order breached the program guidelines and funded two ineligible projects he announced before the program began, in a vain effort to win the by-election. To rub salt into the wounds of taxpayers, the minister spent $36,000 on a VIP RAAF jet to make the announcement. The official explanation from the minister's office is that he travelled down to Wynyard for a citizenship ceremony. What lucky new citizens they are to get the minister's message from the minister himself! If I were being mean, I'd say they might reconsider being Australian citizens if that was their first impression of Australian citizenship.

So the story goes from the minister's office: he was down for the citizenship ceremony. He spent 36 grand of taxpayers' money to do it, and he had an hour to spare in Wynyard. A normal person might say: 'I've got an hour between functions. I might go and have a coffee. I might inject $5 into the local Wynyard economy.' But not this minister. This minister decided to inject $200,000 into the local economy through two grants that are clearly in breach of the guidelines. What's worse is that the $36,000 RAAF VIP jet flight is equivalent to 20 per cent of the actual worth of the grants. So maybe, if he'd jumped on a Virgin or Qantas flight, he could have given a bit more money to Braddon.

Who were the other beneficiaries of the minister's cuts to the best and most meritorious projects? There were 53 other projects much lower ranked, and, coincidentally, over 50 per cent of the funding went to marginal seats and three-quarters of the funding went to coalition seats despite the coalition holding less than 50 per cent of the seats in parliament at that time. Now the minister, in a vain and very belated attempt to defend his actions, claims he simply cut funding from the 19 projects to spread the money across other deserving projects. That's his public reasoning. That would make some sense and have some semblance of truth to it if he'd just picked the next 53 projects in the rankings from the department. But, no, he didn't do that. He picked and chose all through the list of 210 projects, including literally the last ranked project, No. 210. This minister—let's be very clear—chose much lower ranked projects for pure political advantage. This minister chose lesser projects, projects less worthy, projects that would contribute less to community safety, for petty political advantage. He put his political advantage ahead of community safety, and that's a shameful, shameful act.

The second chapter in this affair is his grant to the National Retail Association, which happened to make a $6,500 donation to the minister. 'Deidre Chambers—what a coincidence!' What does the minister do in the same year he receives a $6,500 donation from the National Retail Association? He instructs his department to design a program specifically to deliver not 100 grants, not 10 grants, but one grant—one grant, coincidentally, to the National Retail Association for almost $1 million. It's a great ROI. I would love that. I would love a grant program that delivered to one person, being me. To layer another level of coincidence on this, one week after the National Retail Association pays $1,500 to have lunch with the minister—and what a lucky lunch that must have been!—the minister then instructs his department to expedite the grant design. There is a dinner where $1,500 is handed over, and a week later, coincidentally, the minister instructs his department to get a hurry on in designing the program. If there was ever a poster child for the need for a national integrity commission, this sorry saga is it. Again, the Prime Minister, first of all, didn't even know what this rort was. He used lines from another rort to try and defend the minister's actions and couldn't answer any questions about whether the ministerial code of conduct was breached.

Just four numbers go to the heart of this entire saga: 80, 71, 50 and 100. Eighty per cent of cuts to the best projects were in safe coalition or Labor seats, 71 per cent of the new lower ranked projects that received funding were in coalition seats, over 50 per cent of the funding went to marginal seats, and 100 per cent of the ineligible projects that were funded were in marginal seats.

We've seen from this government rort after rort after rort. We saw sports rorts, with $500,000 going to Mosman Rowers. We've seen the community development grants, where 75 per cent of funding went to coalition seats. We saw the $150 million Female Facilities and Water Safety Stream, which was designed to spend money in the regions but where only 10 per cent of the money went to the regions and the biggest project was $10 million to the North Sydney pool.

Some people listening out there might say: 'This is what all governments do. There's nothing to see here. These are standard operating procedures.' Let's be very clear here: the minister used money derived from human misery—drugs, murder, armed robbery—confiscated by our brave police men and women that was supposed to prevent further crime. He used that money to win votes in marginal seats, and this is the standard this government is setting. As General David Morrison said, 'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,' and the standard that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs have set is using money derived from the human misery of drugs, crime and prostitution to win votes in marginal seats. This is what this debate is about. They'll try and spin it and say no law was broken, but what about ethics? What about morality? That's what was broken under the program.

3:25 pm

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank you for your service in the Queensland Police Force and for everything you've done. I also note the member for Shortland gave a hypothetical story about detectives. Guess what? I was a detective. Guess who else was? The home affairs minister was a detective, and he was a great detective.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The assistant minister will pause for a moment. Members will not argue across the table. The members on my left will cease interjecting and the assistant minister will direct his comments through the chair.

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

First of all, when it comes to service to the police force, wherever you've served, especially as a police officer and a detective, you have actually been on the front line. You have seen the worst of society. In a time of need when a victim needs you, you are there to support them. You are there to hold their hand. You are there to guide them through the courts. You are there to protect them from bad people. It's as simple as that.

When it comes to the home affairs minister, he was the minister who established the home affairs department in December 2017. Being part of that department and seeing the Australian Border Force work so effectively, it is a great credit to the home affairs minister for everything he has done for this country. When it comes to pushing through laws on cybersecurity and making Australia a much safer place, he's the one who's been leading the charge on this.

When it comes to community safety programs, as I've said before, the home affairs minister and all coalition members take the safety of Australians seriously. That's something we'll always do. When it comes to organisations the home affairs minister has approved, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, men's sheds, the Scouts association—and I can say what's so important about the Scouts Association, and I've seen this firsthand. It's the early intervention to make sure young people don't go down the wrong path. This government is very proud of ensuring young people don't go down the wrong path. There's also the Salvation Army trust, St Vincent de Paul and numerous multicultural communities. After we had the awful terrorist attacks in Christchurch, our Prime Minister directed that the Safer Communities Fund needed to support those who could potentially be targeted by faith based extremists.

The Safer Communities Fund provides funding to address crime and antisocial behaviour and, as I said, even goes to the extent of making places of worship much safer places to be. When it comes to grants, I'm very surprised the member for Shortland raised this matter of public importance. I thought he would have been congratulating the coalition on this program because you've been awarded, for example—I notice the member for Macnamara has left the chamber; I don't blame him. I think he's received over 20 safer communities grants.

Opposition members interjecting

He has; his community has. I will also make this point: his community deserves them. Whether it be a Jewish or an Islamic community, they've been the highest beneficiaries of these grants, especially after the awful attacks in Christchurch, and deservedly so.

Can I mention the member for Spence? He funded six closed-circuit TV cameras and monitors to provide safety for staff and young people at the Salvation Army youth homeless shelter in Salisbury Downs, a very worthy project. The member for Ballarat funded installation of four fixed or mobile CCTV cameras and 10 security lights to boost the efforts of local councils and community organisations to address street crime and antisocial behaviour, again a very worthwhile project. Here in Canberra, we funded the installation of 21 closed-circuit TV cameras and 12 security lights to address incidents of vandalism, antisocial behaviour and anti-Semitic incidents at the Northern Canberra Synagogue and Jewish Community Centre. In Victoria, the member for McEwen's electorate received funding for five wide-angle cameras and two narrow-angle cameras to enhance community safety, improve security and reduce street crime and violence. The member for Moreton's electorate received funding for a grant around Annerley Baptist Church to increase community resilience and wellbeing by addressing crime, antisocial behaviour and other security risks.

I had the great pleasure, with the member for Calwell, of personally going to the Buddhist temple in her electorate, where we heard firsthand the concerns and fear of the Buddhist monks living on site, how they were concerned for their safety and how the congregation was in fear of the Buddhist monks being attacked at night, because they sleep over there. It is the same for the member for Bruce, in whose electorate is the Victorian Tamil Association of Dandenong. He also supplied a letter of support—and I congratulate him for that—for the St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Again, that had been the target of numerous cases of vandalism. Also in the member for Bruce's electorate, I had the great privilege of going to the Victorian Tamil Association and meeting the President there, Param, who received a government grant from the Safer Communities Fund to make the place a safer place for those who worship there.

Again, when it comes to the member for Isaacs, St Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, with Father Fredy—and I've visited there personally—was in desperate need of funding because of the sheer weight of vandalism occurring at that place of worship. Then we have the member for Lalor, with the SMVS Hindu temple. This temple has been firebombed three times. I was invited out there by the local Hindu community to visit the temple and see firsthand what is going on there. The good people of Lalor who go to this Hindu temple were living in fear of what could happen next. I'm very proud that the coalition government awarded funding to this community.

Then we have the Islamic Museum of Australia, in Thornbury. Again, I visited that. That is in Cooper, a Labor-held seat. When I met Mariam and the others who took me around—sadly, this was not long after the awful terrorist attack in New Zealand—their community was very concerned about what was occurring, and school visits had been cancelled. I'm very proud to say, again, that the coalition government awarded funding to the Islamic Museum of Australia.

Then we have the Newport mosque in the seat of Gellibrand, another seat in the west of Melbourne. In my role as assistant minister for multicultural affairs, I visited the Newport mosque, which I believe is the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. Sadly, people—especially young people—were not turning up to go to the mosque, because of fear of potential attacks. I congratulate them: they made the mosque open to the wider community to see how their place of worship operates. Sadly, that ended up being to their detriment and they needed to install security fences and cameras.

Since 2016, the coalition government has committed $180 million to local councils, places of worship and not-for-profit organisations to address, in particular, youth at risk, and I couldn't be prouder of what our home affairs minister has achieved in this portfolio to make Australia safer. On this side, we always put our national security first.

Mr Conroy interjecting

Giving coalition members a lecture about what it is like being a police officer and a detective—I don't think the member for Shortland would know one if he fell over one—is absolutely disgraceful. I served 18 years in the Victorian police force. It is disgraceful to question me or to question the home affairs minister, who always puts community safety first. You should be ashamed of yourself.

3:35 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm incredibly proud to be a parliamentarian. I'm incredibly proud to represent my community of Dunkley. Every moment I spend in this chamber I genuinely consider a privilege. It's been hard over the last few days and the last few weeks, and perhaps even over the last few years, to always feel proud about how politics is played out in this place. The minister's contribution to this debate just then can be summed up in the phrase: 'In our view, the end justifies the means.' Most of us were taught early on that the end doesn't always justify the means. Actually, if you want to be a real leader, if you want to be part of a government that leads the country, that has the country's trust and that people can look at and say, 'Everything they do, whether I agree with it or not, is done with the best intentions, with integrity, with morals and ethics,' then the means matter as much as the end.

No-one is saying that a program that delivers funding to help communities be safer is a bad idea. The member for Shortland wasn't saying that grants legitimately given, having gone through a proper process with integrity, that help communities to feel safer and be safer, shouldn't occur. What we're saying is that the way in which those programs are administered matters. That's the point of this debate. That's what people speaking on the government side should be trying to grapple with. That's why the Auditor-General is so important. That's why we should have an integrity commission in our national politics. That's why we have processes in this parliament that are supposed to be about scrutiny and debate, because it's not just the end that matters; it's the means, particularly when we're talking about taxpayers' money and getting elected to run a country. It matters.

It's why, before COVID hit, there'd been decades of serious decline in Australians' trust in government and their belief in, of all things, the democratic process. Twenty-six per cent of Australians had trust in their politicians before COVID. At the height of the bushfires, about one-quarter of Australians had trust in this federal government. Over the last year, there was some recovery in trust because of the way in which people in this parliament conducted themselves during COVID. There was an extraordinary increase in the trust in government—to about 70 per cent at the state level and 60 per cent at the federal level—by November last year. But what we have seen from recent ANU research is that it has gone back down again, extraordinarily quickly, to the low 50s. Exercises like the one that the minister for homeland security or whatever his correct title is—I apologise—engaged in with this community safety fund are part of the reason for this decrease. It's not the first time. As the member for Dunkley, I had to help three environmental groups to put in new applications for funding because they had had funding announced from a grants program that didn't exist at the time. This is why this is important. (Time expired)

3:40 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Member for Dunkley, for your contribution. What is the point of government? Why are we here in this place? We all have our priorities, but, at the very lowest common denominator, surely we can all agree that the most important reason for being here is to keep Australians safe. This has to be our No. 1 priority, and the implication that we are putting Australians' safety behind anything else is, frankly, not true. We are keeping Australia safe at our borders. We are keeping Australia safe on our streets. We are keeping Australians safe by rolling out vaccines for COVID. The latest of these vaccines has just been approved today, and, of course, Bennelong's own AstraZeneca vaccine is there at the forefront. While it's tangential to this debate, I hope you won't mind me thanking them for their hard work to keep us all safe and healthy. But I digress.

We are proud of the programs to help keep Australians safe. One such program is the Safer Communities Fund. This provides funding to address crime and antisocial behaviour through the implementation of crime prevention and security initiatives such as CCTV. It helps communities reduce violence and improve safety. Importantly, this fund joins with groups across the community, making us all partners in keeping Australians safe. It has worked and supported organisations such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, men's sheds, the Scouts association, the Salvation Army Trust and St Vincent de Paul. Since 2016, the government has committed over $180 million to local councils, places of worship, not-for-profit organisations and organisations working with at-risk young people, leading to greater community reliance and wellbeing.

We have benefited from some of this money in Bennelong. Following a number of attacks in a park in Eastwood, the local police and the chamber of commerce joined together to arrange for this fund to provide CCTV in the area, and crimes there have diminished significantly. I've subsequently held community events in this park, and the turnaround into a pleasant area is quite noticeable. The Safer Communities Fund helps reduce violence and, in turn, helps keep our community safer. This program has been the centre point of speeches opposite but is just one way the government is committed to keeping Australians safe and providing our security and law enforcement agencies with the resources they need.

As we move into the 21st century, our crime prevention focus needs to grow from just the physical to include the digital. Our businesses have moved there, our services are moving there and COVID-19 has even sent our social lives into the joy that is Zoom. We have all become dependent on the internet, and we cannot afford for these systems to fail. Keeping us safe online requires all of our community working together, from government to telcos to business and everyone across the community.

The government will invest a further $1.67 billion over the next 10 years to help us work together. We'll be focusing much of this money on keeping Australians safe online. We'll be ensuring our agencies have the power and capabilities they need to combat cybercrime and keep Australians, particularly children, safe, including 100 additional dedicated cyberinvestigators. We're finding new ways to investigate and disrupt cybercrime, including on the dark web. We're also helping small businesses stay safe and providing targeted advice and tools for SMEs to increase their cyber-resilience. We'll be launching 24/7 cybersecurity advice hotlines for SMEs and families, and we'll be working overtime to ensure that our responses to this highly agile sector are up to pace with the challenges.

Finally, I'd like to touch on something mentioned by the Minister for Home Affairs at question time. Like all of us, Border Force has been adaptive in responding to the COVID crisis. Not only have they helped our borders but also they have been instrumental in bringing in vaccines through customs by helping to clear the phials as they come in. Ultimately, they will also be helping to provide the logistics to roll them out across the country. In 2021, is there a better way to keep Australia safe than by facilitating the end to this terrible disease?

3:45 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is something strange that goes on in the minds of the members of the Morrison government when they think about and make decisions about how they spend the taxpayer funds that they are the custodians of. They see a bottomless bucket of largesse that they can share around wherever it's going to win them votes or save them seats. For a bunch who rabbit on about merit and being good economic managers and who talk about their integrity, their words simply don't match their actions. They ignore proper processes, they deny impropriety and that is not what our communities deserve.

Let's look at the record. We had sports rorts, where a minister redirected funding for community sporting facilities simply to support the Morrison government's political campaigning in marginal electorates like mine. Then there was the Community Development Grants Program last year, where 75 per cent of the funds went to coalition-held seats. Now we have bushfire grants, where we see the failure of this government to stop the New South Wales government from directing combined federal and New South Wales money—bushfire economic recovery funds—to Liberal and National seats. Of the $177 million of the first round of fast-tracked funding, just $2 million, or 1.1 per cent, went to state Labor seats and no money went to state Greens seats. But this government, just as it did during the fires when it took a hands-off approach, has taken a hands-off approach to bushfire recovery and allowed New South Wales to carry on its merry way. And we had the environmental grants that were announced by government members in 2019, before the program was even opened.

That brings us to the very latest: another day, another rort—the Safer Communities Fund, where the Minister for Home Affairs deliberately took money from projects recommended after scrutiny by the department, in safe and Labor seats, and redirected it to Liberal-National and marginal seats during the 2019 election campaign. Minister Dutton cut $5.6 million in funding for 19 community safety projects. These are the projects his own department had highlighted as the top ones, measuring highly on the criteria that were set. Today, the Prime Minister couldn't even explain how the minister had followed the guidelines when he announced two projects in the earlier Tasmanian by-election, before the guidelines even existed. Apparently that's not a problem that deserves an answer in this place.

I think we deserve more. I think every member who cares about their community deserves more accountability than that. Instead of these projects being assessed and then awarded funds on their merit, nearly $6 million was redirected to 53 lower ranked projects in coalition-held and marginal seats. This wasn't an election fund they were spending. This wasn't an election promise. This was allocated grants funding that was effectively being used to buy votes rather than meet the stated purpose of the program. The Morrison government is treating this money as if it's a personal slush fund. They know it's wrong. Then they try and hide and duck and weave when they're found out.

We all know that there is always a greater demand for funds than grants programs can meet. But Minister Dutton used the funds he cut from the highest ranked applications to approve projects that the department said did not rank highly enough to be funded. To approve two projects that had been deemed unsuitable and ineligible because they'd failed to achieve even 50 per cent of the score on each of the criteria is an extraordinary feat.

There is only one reason to behave in this way. It is a deliberate strategy by these ministers and this government. They do not do what's best for the community. It's purely about doing what is best for them.

Two of these areas that were cut were parts of Western Sydney in the seats of Chifley and Greenway, my neighbours. These were areas where the councils had gone to the effort of seeking funding. Maybe, rather than bothering putting in an application in future, councils should just ask themselves or ask the government: 'Is this round of funding for safe or marginal seats?' And then they'd know if it was worth their while. (Time expired)

3:50 pm

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a psychologist and a proud member of the Morrison government, I am committed to making Australian communities safer places to live and work. In fact, the safety of Australians is at the centre of my decision-making, whether that means supporting local community organisations in my electorate of Reid or strengthening national strategies to protect all Australians.

I know that families living in my electorate of Reid sleep better at night knowing that our government has put in place significant protections against child exploitation. In 2018, the government officially opened the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. This has meant that Australia has a single entity driving a coordinated national response to counter the sexual exploitation of children. An initial $68.6 million over four years was invested in this initiative. Our work in this area is exceptionally strong, as it needs to be. Our greatest duty is the protection of our youngest and most vulnerable Australians.

Despite decades of efforts by law enforcement, child sexual exploitation and abuse is a growing global epidemic. Law enforcement here in Australia is seeing an alarming increase in reports of child exploitation committed by Australians within our country and of Australians increasingly travelling offshore to offend. That's why our government passed world-leading legislation allowing us to cancel the passports of known child sex offenders, preventing them from going offshore to commit child sex offences. We cancelled or refused the passports of more than 3,700 offenders. We have revoked a record number of Australian citizenships of child sex offenders.

To protect young Australians from sexual exploitation, we have also strengthened protections in place for the online world. As a psychologist, I am especially concerned with the vulnerable position children are in when navigating the internet. Young people are particularly vulnerable because their brains are still developing, which increases their risk of being exploited through posting personal information and images online. They are also less likely to identify predatory or grooming behaviours.

The Morrison government has taken unprecedented steps to protect children from the risks posed by the online environment. We have invested more than $100 million to arm parents and children with the tools that they need to navigate safely through the digital world and to help people who fall victim to online harm. In a world first, the Morrison government introduced Australia's eSafety Commissioner, and I want to commend the work of the eSafety Commissioner, who has done amazing work to produce resources and practical advice for children, teenagers, carers, parents and older Australians. The eSafety Commissioner has the power to order platforms to remove a range of harmful materials, including cyberbullying directed at children, image based abuse or the unauthorised distribution of intimate images and some categories of illegal and harmful online content if hosted in Australia.

Our need to protect the most vulnerable members of our community extends beyond the digital world. The Morrison government's Safer Communities Fund is a great example of how we have achieved this. I know this grant program has practical and positive impacts across the local communities because my electorate of Reid is a prime example. Since I was elected, this program has provided more than $667,000 worth of security upgrades for schools and places of worship in my area.

In my electorate we have the most diverse range of people, belonging from very different faiths, so it's important that these places of worship are protected and that people feel safe and secure. These places are community hubs where people connect, where families, young people and the elderly come together. In Reid, both St Mary and St Merkorious Coptic Orthodox Church, in Rhodes, and the Sri Karphaga Vinayakar Temple, in Homebush West, have benefited from this very program. Their new CCTV and security infrastructure has meant that people feel safe attending worship services, undertaking charitable work or conducting youth programs in these buildings.

3:55 pm

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

After seven long years, the only noteworthy change in public administration this government can point to is the mandating of multicoloured spreadsheets in the administration of public grants. It's an appalling track record. I commend the member for Shortland for bringing this very important issue to this chamber, because this is not just a debate today about the administration—or, should I say, the maladministration?—of one particular grants program. For me, this goes very much to the heart of why it is we're here. This goes very much to the question of what good government is. Good government, when it's assessed by international agencies around the world, when it's assessed by experts in what it is that governments can do for the benefit of people, particularly the most vulnerable, I would say, generally points to two things: probity and effectiveness.

When we think about probity we think about things like transparency, rule of law and effective checks on corruption. As the member for Dunkley so eloquently pointed out, it's all of these good practices that underpin trust in government, something that is so critically important, particularly in democracies. The member for Shortland has pointed to many practices in the administration of this grants process that profoundly undermine what could be described as best-practice probity, like a minister rejecting expert advice from the department or a minister rejecting independent advice on the worth of projects. But we've seen this time and time again. As members on this side have pointed out, we've seen it in sports rorts. We've seen it at the height of the bushfires when this government was floundering—announcements being made and then members of the public being directed to websites to make political donations. We've seen it recently. The minister for health, in a very dubious way, pointed to an announcement using a Liberal Party logo. This undermining of good practice leads to an incremental lack of trust in government by our community.

This debate today is about so much more than this particular grants process, as important as that is, and it is something that members of the government who have come in here today to speak to this motion have failed to address. It's also about the effectiveness of outcomes. The minister, in defending the administration of this grants process, gave a rather meandering speech in which he listed benefits from various programs that have been funded around the country—completely missing the point. We are not here to say that particular projects aren't providing benefits to the community; rather, we have to look at the way the scheme is being administered.

I want to turn to the definition of the social science of economics, something which perhaps wouldn't be the first thing to occur to most people in this place, when it comes to this motion. Lionel Robbins defined economics as 'the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses'. The reason I raise this is that at the heart of economics is opportunity cost, and this remains true for the century preceding Lionel Robbins' definition. Every time you spend resources on one thing, you can't spend it on others. That is why it is not enough to come in here and randomly pick out areas of government expenditure and say it produced this or that benefit. Good government requires that you can explain the projects that missed out to the people who missed out—those voiceless people whose funding was denied because of choices and interventions made by the minister. That opportunity cost has to be defended by those opposite. It's not enough for them to come in here and pick out random projects. They have to explain and defend why other projects, projects that ranked above the projects that got funded, missed out.

My electorate is an example of that opportunity cost. As has been pointed out, $10 million was allocated to the North Sydney pool, not exactly a regional pool, while a major pool in my electorate has had no funding from the government to date. This pool is a facility which services a highly multicultural community. It's a community with high socioeconomic disadvantage and very poor outcomes—in fact, it has the second-highest rate of diabetes in Australia. The point is that you can look at the benefits of projects but you also have to look at the opportunity cost of the projects which miss out. It's the maladministration of these grants projects which causes so much harm on that front.

4:00 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Antisocial behaviour and crime affect many communities across Australia. It's almost universal, across demographics and in different socioeconomic areas. The Morrison government has been proactive in introducing crime prevention measures. I have listened to some of the unfounded assertions of members opposite that the program has somehow been inequitable. To the contrary, the Morrison government and the Minister for Home Affairs have been extremely proactive in protecting the interests of communities across Australia in the areas of law and order, public safety and crime prevention. Since the establishment of the Safer Communities Fund program, in 2016, the funding split between coalition versus Labor and Independent seats has been 51.4 per cent to 48.6 per cent, a fairly equitable distribution.

My own electorate of Moore has benefited from both rounds of the Safer Communities Fund program funding, through the installation of brighter lighting and closed-circuit television monitoring systems within the city of Joondalup. This investment in law enforcement technology complements the resources of the Joondalup district police station and the City of Joondalup rangers and security officers. As part of the first round of funding, the City of Joondalup received $327,700 for five CCTV cameras and upgraded lighting at five locations in the city centre. Round 2 delivered a $675,000 grant. Since 2016, the government has committed over $180 million to local projects.

This investment has deterred criminal and suspicious activity as well as antisocial behaviour, providing a safer environment within the city's major entertainment and business district. The streets are much brighter because of the new LED lighting, and families are returning to the Joondalup area during evenings, despite the impact of the COVID pandemic dampening business activity. The lighting upgrade has contributed towards reducing the fear of crime and increasing the feeling of safety within the Joondalup city centre for community members and visitors. The funding has enabled greater cooperation and information exchange between the City of Joondalup and the WA police, resulting in a safer community and greater community resilience.

I'm a regular patron at the restaurants and cafes located in the precinct around my electorate office, centred on Davidson Terrace, Reid Promenade and Boas Avenue, during evenings. The dim street lighting is not conducive to patrons walking between hospitality venues and returning to their parked cars. Many residents once avoided the area in favour of suburban venues. The Joondalup Business Association lobbied for many years, on behalf of its members, to improve the security of the city centre and revitalise the evening trade. As a result of the investment families will feel more comfortable, with brighter lighting, which will improve the ambience of the area. The use of CCTV and law enforcement technology is highly effective in deterring crime and antisocial behaviour. The Joondalup's CBD needs to become more vibrant both during and after business hours. Better lighting and better security are key ingredients in activating the city's hospitality and night-life venues, thus promoting jobs and local economic development.

The Safer Communities Fund has delivered on the coalition's ongoing commitment to keep Australians safe and secure the right access across the nation regardless of their postcode or electorate. As I said earlier, antisocial behaviour and crime affects communities across Australia almost universally, across demographics and in different socioeconomic areas. Only safe communities can be strong and economically prosperous, and the best way to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour is to prevent them from happening. The Morrison government has been extremely proactive in protecting the interests of communities across Australia in the areas of public safety and crime prevention. My electorate of Moore is one of the many electorates that have benefited from the government's commitment to law and order and public safety.

4:05 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last year, Transparency International released a report which concluded that Australia is perceived as a nation where corruption has worsened significantly over the past eight years. Who has been in government over most of the last eight years? It's the Liberal-National coalition, and it's therefore little wonder that this government still has not appointed a Commonwealth integrity commissioner and it's little wonder that last year it cut funds to the Australian National Audit Office. This is a government that doesn't like to be scrutinised. This is a government that wants to bury or hide its real activities away from the people who would otherwise expose it for what it is doing. And, if it does appoint an integrity commissioner, I have no doubt that it will do so in a way that limits the person's ability to properly investigate the government's own behaviour, because it has much to hide.

Over the years the government have been in office we have seen a litany of rorting, whether it's to do with infrastructure rorts, whether it's to do with sports funding or whether it's to do with, in more recent times, board and government agency appointments, which the member for Isaacs, who's here in the chamber, has made public statements about on more than one occasion. With respect to the sports rorts funding, I say this on a project on the border of my electorate and the electorate of Spence. The City of Salisbury missed out on a $500,000 grant for a $6 million project for a new athletics centre simply because there were no votes in it for the government. They knew that putting money into that project would not give them any return. For organisations that make submissions for these grants, it takes a lot of time and effort. It is not a simple process, and then to be treated so shabbily by this government who don't even follow their own guidelines is, quite frankly, something that no government should do and something they should be highly criticised for.

We then saw it with board appointments—in particular, the most recent one, the interim Inspector General of Water Compliance. This appointment has been criticised not only by people in my own state but by people from the government's own side of politics. A lot of these appointments are critical in decision-making across the country. We then come to the Community Crime Prevention Program, and the facts with respect to that are absolutely clear: 70 highly ranked projects were cut and 53 hand-picked projects were then funded to the tune of $5.6 million. Why? Because this government was trying to shore up its votes in some of the seats that it needed to win.

Only today there was a joint media release from the Law Council of Australia, the Community Legal Centres Australia, the Women's Legal Services Australia and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. It was headed 'Family Court merger opposed by 155 stakeholders'. That statement goes straight to the heart of safety, and I'll quote just one part of the statement from the Women's Legal Services spokesman Angela Lynch, AM, who said:

Our opposition to the proposed merger of the family courts is centred on ensuring the safety and best interests of the child and the safety of adult victim-survivors of family violence in family law proceedings. Safety must come first in family law.

That statement says it all. If this was a government that was concerned about community safety, it wouldn't be merging the two courts and it would be listening to the voices of the people who know. But instead it doesn't do that. What it does is continually look for how it can make political gain from using public funds for its own electioneering. It treats public funds as nothing more than a slush fund for the government to use come election time. We saw that very clearly with respect to the funding relating to this motion.

I go back to what I said earlier. Applications for all of these projects are not only time-consuming but go to the heart of the integrity of government, because guidelines are set and people think that if they follow the guidelines they might be eligible for the funding. To have their funds rejected by a minister who then just makes up his own rules is shameful, and, quite frankly, the government ought to stand to account for doing that. (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say the coalition's record on matters of safety and crime prevention speaks for itself through a number of grant and funding streams, commitments to the community and targeted financial assistance to those most vulnerable, all while ensuring the right fund mix is spread across our communities in Australia. Safety and crime prevention are a priority for this government. We have consistently worked towards our goal of ensuring that all our communities are safe, that there is downward pressure on crime and that we provide opportunities to every individual to develop the skills necessary to make good life choices.

As was mentioned yesterday in this place by the Minister for Home Affairs, under the Safer Communities Fund program we've committed over $180 million to local councils, places of worship, not-for-profit organisations and organisations working with at-risk young people, leading to greater resilience and wellbeing in our communities. Deputy Speaker O'Brien, you as a former police officer would well know that the role of police and investigators, whether they are state and territory or federal, is very difficult. It's an extremely difficult job, and it's hard to be at the coalface day in and day out. So we should recognise the work that police officers, and former police officers as well, across our nation do and thank them for their contribution to our communities.

Law enforcement and the justice system cannot do it alone. I have said many times in this place that it must start at home. It has to start with education and good respect for authority. But sometimes we understand that it can't start at home, because those support systems aren't there. So it is up to us, as a government and as communities, to provide that support infrastructure for those who are less fortunate, for those who do not have the parental guidance that most of us have had as we have grown up.

One unbelievable example of that is in Kempsey, in my electorate. The Macleay Vocational College received $500,000 back in 2016. This college provides a safety net for children who have fallen out of the mainstream, for those children who are cast aside for various reasons by the standard social infrastructure. A fellow by the name of Mark Morrison, who is the principal of that school, was awarded an Order of Australia for services to his community. I cannot think of anyone more deserving. He is running this school, and I have seen the results, with these young people who were given no hope now graduating with their high school certificates, trade certificates and skills, making them attractive to potential employers in the future. This was a government grant. This money is going to the right place so that we do not allow those who slip through the cracks to fall by the wayside.

Additionally, in the electorate of Cowper, there have been a number of grants secured over the past five years. In the past five years, the Kempsey Shire Council received $300,000 for CCTV; the Coffs Harbour City Council received $590,000 for security upgrades on the Park Beach Reserve; Nambucca Shire Council received $20,000 for fencing to minimise crime; Port Macquarie Rotary Lodge received $13,500. I could go on and on with these great grants. But I should note that, contrary to Labor's popular belief, marginal seats don't always get the funding. In fact, my electorate didn't receive any funding in round 4 or round 5. I note the statistics as to the allocation of these funds being 51 to 49 or thereabouts.

This government is providing the resources and the fair allocation of moneys to make sure that our communities are safe.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.