Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:06 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to questions without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Abetz), the Leader of The Nationals in the Senate (Senator Joyce) and Senators Cormann and Sinodinos today relating to the 2013-14 Budget.

When last night we learned that, on the latest version of the government's budget projections, the budget would return to surplus or, I should say—let me not fall into the trap laid by the Labor Party—would, for the first time, achieve a surplus in 2015-16, no fewer than eight years after the election of the Labor government, eight years in which every budget has been or is projected to be in deficit, I was reminded of the tale of Lemuel Gulliver. After he visited Lilliput, Gulliver went on to travel to the land of Balnibarbi and, as Jonathan Swift records:

The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. … He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate.

Last night, when we heard Treasurer Swan say that after eight years a Labor government would eventually have the budget back in surplus, I was reminded of the man of meagre aspect in Gulliver's Travelswho, after eight years, would have succeeded in extracting sunshine from cucumbers. The fact is, this budget is comprised of rubbery figures, dodgy methodology and incredible assumptions. I draw the attention of the Senate to just one of them, which goes directly to Senator Abetz's question concerning the cost of boat arrivals. Let me take you to Budget Paper No. 1, page 6-49, which is the assessment of the costs incurred by unauthorised illegal boat arrivals, estimated in this budget to be $4.376 billion. We all know that the rate of unlawful arrivals has not only been growing but also has been growing at an accelerated rate—

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

At an exponentially accelerating rate. Yet, incredibly, when one looks across the forward estimates, we have a projection that the costs incurred due to these unauthorised arrivals will fall in 2014-15, will fall again in 2015-16 and will fall yet further in 2016-17. How did we get to this methodology when, at a time when the number of illegal arrivals is growing exponentially, the projection is that they will fall? You have to look at box 9 for the methodology:

The methodology for forecasting the number of IMAs involves projections of arrivals for the second and third forward year, derived using a technical assumption that is based on a medium-term, 10-year rolling average arrival rate.

That is the technical assumption. We do not know the derivation of that technical assumption but we use a 10-year rolling average arrival rate, which means we make our projections starting in the year 2002-03 when there were no boat arrivals; then in 2003-04, when there was one boat arrival; in 2004-05 when there were no boat arrivals; in 2005-06 when there were eight boat arrivals; in 2006-07, when there were four boat arrivals; in 2007-08, when there were three boat arrivals; in 2008-09, when there were 23 boat arrivals; in 2009-10, when there were 117 boat arrivals; in 2010-11, when there were 89 boat arrivals; in 2011-12, when there were 112 boat arrivals; and in this financial year when, as of today, there have been 333 boat arrivals. So to project forward for the next four years, at a time when boat arrivals are increasing exponentially, you take a 10-year rolling average to deflate the figures back to the way they were during the Howard government.

3:11 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is often my good fortune to follow Senator Brandis in these contributions and he has not disappointed again today, starting off with a fairytale about a sooty man in a place called Balnibarbi and he talked to us about market gardening. That was the bulk of his speech. This really speaks volumes about this opposition: when presented with the opportunity to ask the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong, a serious question about the budget announced only yesterday, instead they seek to indulge their disingenuous and cynical hysteria about desperate people who are seeking asylum in this country. This opposition is doing a disservice to the people of Australia, who deserve a serious analysis of this budget, not more xenophobic, stop-the-boats propaganda. The people in Victoria whom I represent deserve a lot better.

Before I move to more serious subjects, I pose this question to the opposition. In 2011, the UNHCR report estimated the cost of mandatory detention to be $339 per day per asylum seeker. The same report indicated the cost of community processing to be between $7 and $39 per day per asylum seeker. If the opposition's primary issue of concern with yesterday's budget is the amount spent federally on asylum seekers, as a question from their leader in the Senate would seem to indicate, will the coalition commit to abolishing mandatory detention and implementing a community processing model in the interests of financial responsibility? Is that what they are suggesting to us or was the question on spending on asylum seekers merely designed to leverage political advantage through the continued promotion of a callous attitude to human misery?

As I said earlier, the people of Victoria deserve a lot better than this. When we have had a $60-billion write-down in revenue since the last budget, when there are many issues that deserve serious consideration and analysis by this Senate, again we see the opposition resorting to this callous campaign, trying to exploit the human misery of people who seek asylum in this country. As I said, the Australian people deserve a lot better and people in the electorate of Melbourne deserve a lot better. I am taking a keen interest in the electorate of Melbourne at present. I want to talk about what this budget does for the people of Melbourne and where we as a government have provided an economy to benefit Australians, particularly those in the seat of Melbourne.

In the area of health, during this term of government we have contributed $426 million to VicHealth to create a leading national, comprehensive cancer centre. We have contributed $120 million to build a new principal site in Melbourne for the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. We have spent over $43 million to deliver 365 high-care and 607 low-care residential aged-care places. We have spent $39.8 million to complete the construction of the Melbourne neuroscience project, a world-class neuroscience research institute. We have spent over $10 million to provide emergency and elective surgery under the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Public Hospital Services. We have spent $7.5 million to establish a Prostate Cancer Research Centre at the Epworth Hospital and provided $7.3 million to the Royal Melbourne Hospital to expand the 23-hour unit to include an additional four overnight surgical beds and reduce waiting times for elective services. As we announced in yesterday's budget, there will be an additional $18.3 million provided over four years to build on the $15 million already provided to support the Youth Cancer Networks Program around Australia. The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne is leading this project for Victoria with assistance from Melbourne Health and the Royal Children's Hospital.

Let us look at tertiary education in the seat of Melbourne. Funding for the University of Melbourne has grown by 56 per cent from $503.4 million in 2007 to $784.6 million in 2012. The number of Commonwealth supported students at the University of Melbourne has increased from 22,301 in 2007 to 24,307 in 2011, and the number of postgraduate places has increased by 66 per cent. I could go on and on and on to talk about this government's achievements.

3:16 pm

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of answers to questions given by Senator Wong. While Senator Marshall, I hope, remains in the chamber could I point out to him that some four out of five questions were directed to Senator Wong today in relation to various aspects of the budget and not just in relation to asylum seekers. Senator Marshall, I have to tell you that I am offended constantly by your protestation that you hold the high moral ground on refugees and on the asylum seeker debate. The questions to Senator Wong today were about the very fact that there has been another budget blow-out on the cost of your continued failed border protection policies. When the Treasurer announced last night, once again, a $90 billion—

Senator Marshall interjecting

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Order on my right. Senator Kroger, you have the call.

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, the disgraceful interjections we have just heard go to the very core of my opening comment that they profess to stand on the high moral ground on this particular issue. I say to them to repeat that to the families of people who lost their lives at sea when they were fooled by people smugglers to hop on boats at high costs. Tell that to the families and then say that this is a humane policy. It is a continuing failed policy and it is one that has continued to fail. I am astounded that they are not ashamed and Senator Marshall, who is now retreating out of the chamber, is not ashamed. Even during the budget presentation they never ever acknowledged that they are fiscally incompetent and are failing in their policies. They have been consistently fiscally incompetent in the management of Australia. Not once during that budget presentation was there any acknowledgement of any failure, and it is something that the Australian people would like to hear. They would like to know where your policies, from your own advice, have failed and how you are going to fix them—not a 10-year plan, not even a five-year plan, but how you are going to fix what is failing Australians every day.

We hear daily that there is a blow-out of billions and billions of dollars in the cost of dealing with the Gillard government's failed border protection policies. We hear, for instance, that in April alone there was a record number of arrivals—some 3,369 on 46 boats—and that seems to be on the increase. The one thing that we are assured of is that there is growth, which this budget has underscored—and that growth is growth in the people smugglers' business model. It is the only evidence of any area that has significant growth, and it is burgeoning. They are working on the basis of the old fire sale. They have four streams, if you like, across the seas where they have boats arriving, and we cannot provide sufficient surveillance. (Time expired)

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I need to go, Senator Sterle.

3:22 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You are allowed, Senator Marshall. I wish I could come too, Cobber, but unfortunately I have to stay.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the chair, Senator Sterle.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Mr Deputy President, it does us no good as legislators or senators to hear some of the nonsense and rants that come through this chamber. I understand the smoke and mirrors. I understand that senators are tapped on the shoulder in the morning and told that they have to put in a little bit of effort in the Senate chamber at some stage but, goodness me—through you, Mr Deputy President—Senator Kroger, that does you no good. I think you are a decent person most of the time. I have had the privilege of travelling overseas and representing our country with you, but that really was quite poor. I want to say why. Unfortunately, coming from Western Australia, the favourite punching bag in the west is asylum seekers—the poor devils who jump on boats.

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, because you've got no surveillance along the coast.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Kroger, I think you really should listen, because I am desperately trying to save you from digging a bigger hole than you have already dug. You accused Senator Marshall of being disingenuous—that is my word, not yours—regarding the families who lost their lives in the tragic accident off Christmas Island. That was really below par. I was in this chamber and I remember the antics of the Greens when we wanted to change the Immigration Act. We wanted to introduce a change to the Immigration Act that would engage the Malaysia solution—anything to stop the boats. The Greens' performance was ably assisted by the opposition over there. For Senator Kroger to pull out that tragic accident and have a real cheap whack at a government senator on this very important issue does her no justice.

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, it doesn't have to happen. They don't have to lose their lives.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Mr Deputy President, I take the interjection when Senator Kroger said it does not have to happen. No, Senator Kroger, we hope the heck that it never has to happen, but you and the rest of your Senate colleagues on that side of the chamber made absolutely no effort to give us a chance to change the Immigration Act and put something in place. Would it have worked? Would the system have stopped those plying that disgusting trade? Through you, Mr Deputy President: sadly, Senator Kroger, we do not know, because you did not give us the opportunity. You played very cheap politics. You would expect that from some of the Greens, with their crocodile tears, but that was disgraceful. So, through you Mr Deputy President: Senator Kroger, stop digging. The hole is pretty deep now and whatever you say now will do you no credit in this argument.

I want to pick up on Senator Abetz's comments when he yelled at Senator Marshall when he was making his very important contribution. Senator Abetz yelled and said, 'We will stop the boats.' I would love to hear from the rest of the Liberal leadership. I have sent tweets to Senator Cash and co. asking: 'How will you stop the boats?' I do not think that is an unfair question to ask an alternative government. Going back nearly two years ago in this building, in Senate estimates, I asked Admiral Barrie whether it would be safe to turn back the boats. Admiral Barrie was very clear. As a young commander on an Australian Navy vessel, he was in charge of the first boat under the Howard regime that tried to turn a boat around when it was sabotaged. None of us in this building condone that, but that is a fact. That is the reality: they sabotaged the boat and sunk it. Admiral Barrie said, 'It is not a safe thing to do.' That was not a secret little meeting we had in a dark nook or cranny in Parliament House; it was at Senate estimates. It was splashed across most of the newspapers the next day.

We have Mr Abbott and the Liberals saying, 'We're going to turn the boats back,' or we have Senator Abetz, changing their language, saying, 'Now we're going to stop the boats' or 'Now we're going to turn the boats back when it's safe.' I do not think that is an unfair comment, because many times I am asked by Western Australian constituents to ask Mr Abbott or Senator Abetz, or any other senator or Liberal member of parliament: 'How the heck are you going to do it?' It is very easy to get a headline—create all the xenophobic headlines that you want—and start the hate campaigns, but I do not think it is unfair that one of you, whoever it may be, answers. If the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, cannot do it, send someone out who can. Tell us: how are you going to stop the boats; how are you going to turn the boats around? Mr Abbott went to Indonesia, met with Mr President Yudhoyono and did not even have the guts to raise it with him. (Time expired)

3:27 pm

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion that the Senate take note of answers given by Senator Wong to questions asked by Senators Abetz, Joyce, Cormann and Sinodinos. Senator Sterle, before you leave the chamber, you made mention that it does us no good as legislators to talk in such ways. It also does us no good to refer to the well-used and hackneyed saying 'smoke and mirrors', because that is exactly what your Treasurer, Mr Swan, delivered last night. We sat and listened to it. There are members in this chamber who sat with me and listened to the Treasurer's 'smoke and mirrors', as you refer to it. I specifically refer to Senator Abetz's question to Minister Wong. She lampooned Senator Abetz about the fact that the priority today is boats. It is boats. It is about credibility, it is about believability, it is about honour and it is about capacity in the budget. As we all know, last year they said, 'Come hell or high water, this surplus is going to be delivered.' Not only was it not delivered; it missed the mark by about $20 billion. That is the case for all the budgets that Labor have delivered. Might I say, you have been in government over the last 13 years, and in the last 12 years you have never delivered a surplus. In fact, I might make the point that over in the other chamber, Wyatt Roy, the member for Longman, has never seen a Labor surplus in his lifetime and is unlikely to, I would suggest, given the ruling class in the Labor Party.

I also take the point that the shadow minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, has made that Labor's boat budget blow-out has now eclipsed $10 billion since they have come to office, since they abolished those successful border protection measures of the Howard government. Ridiculously, last night the Treasurer stated that, while next year's planned budget is $3 billion, it represents a new record. These costs are reportedly based on an estimate of just 13,200 arrivals, which represents a drop of some 37 per cent on the arrivals to date this year—and we still have six weeks to go. So they are budgeting for fewer people to arrive, when in fact what is really happening out there is that there are more people arriving.

Once again I go back to: what do you believe? What is your belief? What do you honourably expect from a Treasurer and a government after six years in power, and what is their capacity? Senator Abetz said that, with all of this money that has been spent, we could have built five world-class teaching hospitals. I make that point again: five. In fact, in South Australia it could have gone a long way towards fixing up Labor's ridiculous expense of $2.2 billion on their desalination plant and now what they are saddling South Australian taxpayers with: a $2½ billion hospital, when the increased capacity needed in the forward years could have been done at the old site.

Once again it is just reckless spending: 'An extra $5 billion here, an extra $5 billion there—in fact, we'll make a prediction about next year's budget because we really aren't accountable. We haven't been accountable for the last year.' Five hundred times the Treasurer promised a surplus. Senator Wong in this chamber today said that there was some degree of accountability. There is no accountability, and it is a shame for this country. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.