Senate debates

Thursday, 18 October 2018


Consideration by Estimates Committees, Community Development Program; Order for the Production of Documents

3:53 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I table documents relating to orders for the production of documents concerning designated financial entities and the Community Development Program.

3:54 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document tabled on the Community Development Program.

It's very disappointing to see the government's response to this. I put the motion for the order of the production of documents to the chamber, which the chamber supported, because it's about the evaluation of the Community Development Program. Senators in this chamber will be aware—and I am sure members of the community who are playing very close attention to this issue will be aware—that we started debate on the bill to change the Community Development Program, which is highly controversial, this afternoon.

We had an inquiry into the provisions in the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Community Development Program) Bill to change the Community Development Program, where we heard that an evaluation had been carried out on the program, but we were being asked to consider the amendments in the bill without the benefit of seeing that evaluation. You have to ask: why? Why were we being asked to consider the bill when we had not seen the evaluation? It gets worse. During the inquiry into the amendments to the bill that is currently before the chamber, we asked the department: 'Has the evaluation of the CDP been finalised? When will the evaluation be completed? Will the evaluation be made public?' The answer that we got was: 'Yes, the evaluation has been completed. Yes, it has been completed.' They went on to say: 'The decision will be made about the appropriate release of the final evaluation report once the government has considered the report's findings.' Is it any wonder that I moved an order for the production of documents when we know that that evaluation has been completed? That is why I subsequently moved to get it tabled, knowing full well that the government would not want to release it when it would enable us to be fully informed when making decisions in this place on the Community Development Program.

So, what did this minister table today? The minister tabled a copy of the Australian National Audit Office report into the design and implementation of a community development program, which we have all seen and which has been public for quite some time. Then the government had the audacity to table the report of the Senate inquiry into the appropriateness and effectiveness of the objectives, design, implementation and evaluation of the Community Development Program. Now, of course, senators in this place participated in that inquiry and know full well what was in that inquiry. The minister then went on to note, 'There is a further evaluation report that my department is currently in the process of finalising,' when we have been told full well by the department that the report has been finalised. They went on to say, 'Prior to finalisation of this evaluation, the department is engaging with the communities involved in the fieldwork component of the evaluation'—when the department has said that it has already been finalised; bear that in mind—'and a key part of the department's evaluation principles under the evaluation framework is to work with Indigenous Australians in a respectful and culturally appropriate way.' What a joke that answer is!

If you read the committee's report and the submissions to the inquiry into the bill, you will see that witness after witness said they had not been properly consulted about the government's bill and the changes it wants to make to the Community Development Program. In fact, every witness basically rejected the changes to the CDP. Here is the government, once again, hiding behind the need to consult when the department has already said that they have finalised the evaluation and when the community have said that they had not been consulted on the CDP changes. Yet the government hides behind consultation on the finalisation of the report—a report that is deliberately not being released publicly in terms of timing so that we don't have it when we are debating this bill. It is simply outrageous that the government spends Australian taxpayers' dollars on an evaluation that won't be released in time for us to have a properly informed debate on the CDP bill. It is treating the Senate with contempt and it is treating the community with contempt that they will not release this document and will not let us see what the community said about the CDP. You can only speculate that there are things in that report which they don't want made public before we have that debate on the CDP.

Well, I am not going to give up trying to get hold of that report before we, once again, debate the CDP in this place. The debate on this bill has started—a bill which is purported to help the community but which the community does not support. Very clearly they have rejected the proposed changes by this government, which will make people's lives worse. I listened to the things that the government senators were saying, in the short debate that we had earlier today, when they were making claims about how it will mean fewer penalties. Well, it simply will not! Aboriginal people will intersect with the new process, the so-called TCF, much more frequently, leading to much higher demerit points, so they will get to the point where they are getting penalties much more quickly.

The whole thing with the current CDP process, with the huge amount of penalties that have been applied, is that the government says, 'We waive them.' Despite that, the program is still having a significant impact. The big thing they say is, 'We waive them.' They can't waive them under the new process. It is an absolute fallacy to say this will make people's lives better. It simply will not and it is an attempt to stop us, the Senate, and the broader community having access to that report when we are debating this bill. What have they got to hide? Why not release it now?

Question agreed to.