Thursday, 17 October 2019
Emergency Response Fund Bill 2019, Emergency Response Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019; In Committee
May I seek some clarification of the procedural stage that we're presently at. My understanding is that the motion was just moved that we go to a rolling gag if we haven't dealt with this bill by 11.45 am, yet we're back on the bill now. Pardon my confusion, but what is going on?
I believe we're partway through moving Greens amendments, so my colleague Senator Faruqi will now proceed to do that.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: The Greens amendment has actually been moved, which is to oppose schedule 2. That is the question that is being put. The question is that schedule 2 of the Emergency Response Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 stand as printed.
() (): by leave—I move the amendments standing in my name on sheets 8780 and 8781 together:
(1) Clause 3, page 2 (line 20) to page 3 (line 2), omit the paragraph beginning "The balance of the Education Investment Fund Special Account", substitute:
(2) Clause 4, page 5 (lines 3 to 5), omit the definition of Education Investment Fund.
(3) Clause 4, page 5 (lines 8 and 9), omit "before that section was repealed".
(4) Clause 4, page 7 (lines 1 to 3), omit the definition of investment of the Education Investment Fund.
(5) Clause 8, page 9 (lines 7 to 11),omit the paragraph beginning "The balance of the Education Investment Fund Special Account", substitute:
(6) Clauses 10 and 11, page 10 (lines 9 to 28), omit the clauses, substitute: 10 Transfers from the Education Investment Fund Special Account
(1) The Finance Minister may, by legislative instrument, direct that, on a specified day, a specified amount is to be:
(a) debited from the Education Investment Fund Special Account; and
(b) credited to the Emergency Response Fund Special Account.
(2) The specified amount must not exceed the amount debited from the Education Investment Fund Special Account.
(3) The specified amount must not exceed an amount that is equal to three-quarters of the balance of the Education Investment Fund Special Account immediately before the commencement of this section.
(7) Clause 16, page 14 (after line 31), at the end of paragraph 16(a), add:
(vii) paragraph 136(1) (j) or 137(e) of the Nation-building Funds Act 2008;
(8) Clause 16, page 15 (after line 10), at the end of paragraph 16(b), add:
(vii) paragraph 136(1) (k) or 137(f) of the Nation-building Funds Act 2008;
(9) Clause 16, page 15 (after line 24), at the end of paragraph 16(c), add:
(vii) a paragraph of subsection 136(1) or section 137 of the Nation-building Funds Act 2008;
(10) Clause 16, page 15 (line 35) to page 16 (line 3), omit subparagraphs (f) (ii) and (iii), substitute:
(ii) in connection with the operation of the Agency.
(1) Schedule 2, page 10 (line 1) to page 15 (line 31), omit the Schedule, substitute:
Schedule 2—Other amendments Nation-building Funds Act 2008
1 At the end of Division 4 of Part 3
145A Education Investment Fund Special Account limited to purpose of vocational education and training infrastructure
(1) On and after this section's commencement, the purpose of the Education Investment Fund Special Account is limited to only making payments in relation to the creation or development of vocational education and training infrastructure.
(2) Subsection (1) does not affect payments that were authorised under section 176 before this section's commencement.
2 At the end of section 176
(9) The Finance Minister must not make an authorisation under subsections (1), (2), (4) or (5) on or after this section's commencement.
3 At the end of Division 4 of Part 3
187A EIF Education Portfolio Special Account limited to purpose of vocational education and training infrastructure
(1) On and after this section's commencement, the purpose of the ElF Education Portfolio Special Account is limited to only making payments in relation to the creation or development of vocational education and training infrastructure.
(2) Subsection (1) does not affect payments that were specified in a direction made under section 183 before this section's commencement.
I also oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:
These amendments retain $1 billion in the Education Investment Fund and transfer the remaining amount to the Emergency Response Fund. I don't expect these to pass, and let's consider why. This bill whips up a $4 billion opportunity to fund TAFE and turns it into a $4 billion fund to fund disaster responses. The government say: 'Don't worry about that. TAFEs have had enough money as it is. We're giving them plenty of money. They don't need $4 billion. You know what they say!'
I say you're living in a fantasy land. You think TAFEs have too much money? Where are you living! Come to my side of town. Come to the Devonport TAFE campus in Tasmania. Let me show you the rust, the holes, the water damage. Let me show you the equipment they are training the kids in my community with. Let me show you the date stamp that said it was manufactured during the Cold War. Tasmanian student nurses are being trained in rooms on top of the spray-painters, who are working on the full blow, and the air fills with paint fumes. That's where our nurses are! I hope your 50 mil is going to pay to fix that. Rain comes straight through the roof and lands on electrical equipment—that's right. Bring in the OHS. Bring in the damn union, if that's what it takes!
And this isn't about one TAFE campus in one state. Did you know that you can buy all of South Australia's TAFE buildings and land for $10 million? That is the value of land and asset these days. Tell me again how South Australia's TAFEs are getting their fair share. Point this out and you are told that you don't care about natural disaster funding. Give me a break! People are sick of the cheap student politics that is going on in this place. They've had enough. You can't close down the EIF on its merits, so you can change the bill to make it so that the money is going to something so inoffensive that nobody could possibly object. You may as well have shut down the EIF and transferred all the money over to the 'Curling up on a rainy day with a good book fund'. Nobody in this place, nobody in this country, is against you funding natural disaster responses.
And it seems like nobody in this place is against you ripping $4 billion out of infrastructure for tertiary education either. Well, guess what? I'm against it. I never went to university; I went to TAFE. I did not get the advantage that so many of you in this place did—and take for granted. To you, TAFEs are a cost. They are something to fund on your way to a university opening its latest $150 million centre of excellence in something or other. But for some of us TAFEs stand for something, TAFEs mean something. TAFEs are a cornerstone of rural and regional Australia. How are the Nats going? TAFEs are more than training centres; they are landmarks, they are symbols. When a symbol is left to fall by the wayside through a lack of investment, it says something about how that community sees itself. If you're not investing in training in my community, you're not investing in my community—and that's not all right by me.
Nobody thinks you shouldn't fund natural disaster emergency responses—you should. But you shouldn't be doing it for political purposes. You know what you should be doing—just funding it. If there is a bushfire or cyclone or flood, you don't stick your hands in the air and say, 'I wish I could help, but the money's all in the Education Investment Fund.' You just get on with the job and help—instead of worrying about a surplus. Yes, it's all about a surplus. How is that going for everybody? There are millions of Australians out there who are suffering—and this is just another move. It is more important to have a surplus so you look like economic geniuses over there. Well, you are not—and you are failing our children. Why are you doing this? Why are you selling out Tasmanians like this? I don't see the Tasmanians over there saying anything about their TAFEs. They know how depleted they are. No, they are all quiet. I don't know what to do if the Labor Party and the Liberal Party work together to do nothing for TAFE. I can't do anything if you both agree to do nothing. Do you think we don't need it?
Labor went to the last election—this is great—telling everyone they could find that they could fund the impact of six years of Liberal Party cuts to TAFE and training. Labor used to say that Australia is in a skills crisis—with 150 fewer apprentices and trainees and a shortage of workers in critical services, including plumbers, hairdressers, carpenters and motor mechanics. Doesn't the Prime Minister want to train Australians to do these jobs? Doesn't the opposition want to have training for our kids to do these jobs? You know who is making this happen? The Labor Party—who used to say that if you are serious about jobs you don't cut money from TAFEs. Here is the Labor member for Bendigo talking about this bill:
Because of the abolition of this program, universities, TAFEs and research institutions have said that they will either cancel or postpone future infrastructure investment or upgrades. When we're going through a skills crisis, why would you put that pressure on our universities and TAFEs?
Here is the Labor member for Macquarie talking about this bill:
Our TAFEs need improvement. We have wonderful opportunities for horticulture, for really clever stuff that would allow us to be exporting to niche markets in Asia, yet our TAFE has a glasshouse that is decades old and doesn't meet the standards that employers would expect for people to be trained in. So there is a huge need for this sort of investment.
She also said:
To take away money from education is a pretty heartless thing to do.
Here's the Labor member for Grayndler talking about the bill:
It undermines education infrastructure in this country.
Labor used to say:
TAFE must be backed by governments as it is critical to our future.
I'm sure TAFE are just thrilled to have your backing, Labor! I'm sure they're jumping from the stairs today! This is how they vote in the opposition. If they're so keen to compromise on everything they stood for as recently as May, you can only imagine what it would be like if they'd won the election and were forced to sit on the Treasury benches. Take a bow, the party of TAFE! The party of TAFE is voting with the conservatives to take away $4 billion in investment opportunities that could have gone to our TAFEs. You know what? Labor and the coalition are as bad as each other.
Next year I am sure the public will be pleased to see that we're in a surplus and we can afford all the great things that we can't afford right now. Maybe once we're in a surplus we can afford to replace the rusted floors of our TAFE campuses. Maybe we have to wait for the surplus before we can get the water damage repaired or the hole in the roof patched over. I'll tell Tasmanians: 'It's all right, guys. Just keep waiting.' I'll tell them to send their regards to you, Labor. Here's my question: if we've got so much money, why is the government and the opposition pretending that Australia can't afford to train our young people properly and have some cash to help out in a disaster? What is the point in penny pinching if it means we have to gut our TAFEs further? We could have done so much more with this money, so much greatness.
My heart goes out to those kids in regional Australia because, by Jesus, they're about to get slapped again. They're going to have to move away from their friends and family to get a decent education, and that is shameful. They could have been leaders in their community. They could have settled, started a family and brought more business and work to their community. Instead, they go to Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne, and most of them will never come back. Imagine what we could have done for those kids if we'd actually used the money from this fund. Our kids could have got the training they'll need for the future. We could have invested in the infrastructure that regional TAFEs so desperately need. We could have given students hope for a future in their own home towns. We even could have used this money to help train students to prevent disasters from happening in the first place. They could have learnt irrigation and water management strategies to help reduce the impact of drought. They could have learnt construction engineering to help build homes that can better withstand floods and fires. They could have learnt to work on wind farms and with hydroelectricity and solar to help Tasmania and other states reduce their carbon footprint. Instead, the fund has been sitting on the back books gathering dust since 2013.
Imagine what we could have done with this money if we'd started investing it many, many years ago, which is what it was originally meant for. Imagine if we'd used this bill as an opportunity to kickstart the fund, to figure out what students need and to do disaster relief, as you say you're doing.
I'm stunned that Labor and the coalition have done this dirty deal and sold out our TAFEs. I've got to be honest here: you're talking a lot about the ACT's marijuana laws, but I'm starting to think that's all for show and you're all on the stuff yourselves! It's beyond dumb.
To spend a minute arguing whether or not we need a fund for natural disaster relief—for the record, yes we do. And we don't have to do it like this. When a natural disaster hits and you're left to pick up the pieces of what's left of your life, you pick them up and start again. You're devastated, but you do what you can and keep going. The fireys who drag you out of a burning home may well hold a cert III in public safety from TAFE. Some of the people who help rebuild your home are trained at TAFE. The people who help repair your pipes are trained at TAFE. The ones who do your carpentry: that's TAFE. TAFE rebuilds those lives that are left devastated by fire and flood. TAFE trains heroes, and you're gutting it.
TAFEs don't just help my fireys, sparkies and tradies; TAFEs help remake lives too. When you suddenly find yourself a single mum and are forced to find a job to keep your kids in school and the sandwiches in the lunch boxes, you're pretty devastated, but you do what you can and keep going. Our TAFEs help these single mums too. It's the place up the road they go to get a qualification they never expected they'd need. It's affordable, flexible, practical, and it's damn useful. It will get them further in life. It doesn't take a natural disaster to leave a person needing a chance to start again. Sometimes you need TAFE for reasons you'd never have thought, and sometimes you take it for granted, but you miss it when it's gone. And it's falling down in front of us all. Floors, walls ceilings are all crumbling. I call that a disaster. That's a disaster. Good work, Labor! I can see why you don't want to call yourselves the opposition any more. At least you're honest about that.