Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012

Mr McCORMACK ( Riverina ) ( 19:42 ): May I at the outset take issue with the member for Cunningham, who talked of the assistance package for those in the live cattle export industry which is part of these appropriation bills. The assistance would not have been necessary had the Prime Minister not, in a knee-jerk reaction, shut down the industry in the first place.

Nothing will reimburse the people—those hardworking people in Western Australia and the Northern Territory—for what they lost when the Prime Minister had that knee-jerk reaction. Nothing will put the industry back to where it was before this dreadful, stupid decision was made on the whim of a television program which was dubious at best. No-one wants to see animal cruelty, but no-one wants to see an entire industry brought to its knees to appease the sensibilities of the noisy minority. 

One way—the best way—to describe Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012 is 'money bills to fix up Labor's mess'. This is what these bills represent: a request by the government to draw down funds on the public account. The front page heading on the Australian newspaper said it all yesterday: 'PM losing battle over economy'. Yet, while the economy falters, businesses close, farmers struggle and regional towns die due to this government's ineptitude, what does Labor do? It ramps up the attack on the coalition in an internet advertisement, using selective quotes and more political spin, rather than doing what a government ought to be doing—governing for the good of the nation and the good of its people. How much did that ad cost? Who is paying? Probably hardworking union members whose fees should be spent on something more worthwhile than Labor propaganda. 

This government has failed to ease financial pressures on Australian families. Every day, in every way, this Labor government has let people down and let them down badly—very badly. It will continue to let people down for as long as it ploughs ahead with policies which hit the hip pockets of ordinary, everyday Australians: Mr and Mrs Average. This is a government which continually talks about economic credibility. This is a government which drones on about its jobs record. Labor cannot, however, justify any claim whatsoever to sound economic management. Its fiscal record is poor—pathetically poor. 

Mr Perrett interjecting — 

Mr McCORMACK: The member for Moreton can complain all he likes but he knows as well as anybody on his side how poor Labor's record is when it comes to handling the economy. As the opposition leader pointed out on the first day of parliament this year during the matter of public importance debate, Labor inherited $70 billion worth of Commonwealth assets and a $20 billion surplus and yet has produced the four biggest deficits in Australia's history. Yet last September, the same Treasurer who oversaw those four deficits was named world's best Treasurer by Euromoney magazine. What a farce! Even allowing for the global financial crisis—which, granted, did sap economic confidence the world over—Labor has failed miserably. 

Labor inherited a government with no debt. In fact it actually had $70 billion in net assets. This government's wasteful and reckless spending has now racked up a record debt of $200 billion and it is paying nearly $20 million a day in interest. The result of this mismanagement is increased taxes, cuts to family benefits and a lack of business and community confidence. This is certainly so in regional Australia. 

In Senate estimates yesterday the government admitted that Kevin Rudd's decision to abolish the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas has increased costs to taxpayers, with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's budget blowing out by more than $1 billion a year since Labor was elected. The costs of running the department of immigration were $1.6 billion in the last year of the Howard government. Now, under Labor, these have grown to more than $2.7 billion. It is not surprising to learn that department officials reported that the key reason for this increase was the growth in cost for managing asylum seekers. Across the entire immigration portfolio, and not including last year's blowout, the increase for the four years to 2014-15 is $759 million. This is $559 million, or almost three times more than the $197 million the Treasurer and the immigration minister told taxpayers the bill would be for immigration when they released the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2011-12 for this period just last November. 

How can Labor be so laissez-faire with taxpayers' money? They have blown out their estimates in just two months by almost $560 million. If—and it is a big if—Labor's immigration policies were working, you could almost be forgiven for saying, 'Oh well, keeping our borders protected is an expensive operation.' But, when the Howard government left office, there were just four illegal boat arrivals, all adults, in detention—just four people. As at 31 January 2012, there are 4,783 in detention and 1,600 in the community. That is Labor policy at its unworkable worst. A government's first priority is to protect its borders, protect its people. Labor has failed to do so and will continue to fail unless the Prime Minister acknowledges that the Howard government policies worked and implements the Nauru solution.
Labor has also wasted more than $1 million of taxpayers' money with department of climate change officials revealing the government has paid a consultancy firm to provide public feedback on the carbon tax. Good money, I suppose, if you can get it. This absolute waste of taxpayers' money on market research is almost unbelievable; except that we know how out of touch Labor is with the Australian public. 
First and foremost, the Prime Minister promised that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. Therefore, it must come as no surprise that the Australian public does not want this tax. There is certainly no need to have spent $1 million finding this out. Labor should have listened to the public from the start. But 'Labor' and 'listening' are two words which do not belong in the same sentence; unless of course the quasi-Prime Minister, Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, is doing the talking and has the ear of Julia Gillard. 

It is not just the public that Labor is not hearing. Labor has also ignored warnings from its own climate experts that Labor's Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute is an unnecessary waste of money. It has been reported that Peter Cook, the recently retired head of the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies said in a 2008 letter to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute was a mistake, unnecessary and that the money could be saved by building on existing organisations. This is $315 million of taxpayers' money being thrown away against expert advice. This blatant disregard for unnecessary spending only serves to highlight the Labor government's complete vanity project—which has been ignored by every other country—and its desire to pat itself or Senator Bob Brown undeservingly on the back. 

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has also been splashing out on consultants. In particular, $77,627 was spent on consultants to inform the department how to remove the agricultural sector's aspirations and needs from the department's mission statement. Can you believe that? The department now has a mission statement which is so pathetically politically correct that it does not resonate with the sector it is supposed to protect. This almost $80,000 identity-branding exercise resulted in the department being left with no distinct identity at all. 

As a country, our identity is sculpted from the agricultural sector. To remove this department's identity is like removing who we are as Australians and where we have come from. But this is hardly surprising. A government without a cabinet minister living in regional Australia—real Australia—is a government with no concept of the throb and the pulse of the nation. Regional Australia is the lifeblood of this country. It nurtures the nation. It sustains it, keeps it fed. That being so, the agricultural sector is not even on Labor's radar—unless it is cutbacks, of course. 

It would seem that a number of departments are having identity issues. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is also shelling out big bucks for consultants to help the department with its brand identity—more tealeaf readers. It is questionable why the department is undertaking a new branding exercise; but even more questionable is why the contract, which runs from 30 November 2011 to 30 June 2012, has blown out from $41,167.50 to $200,000. It seems highly plausible that this is another Labor backdoor attempt to have the public fund its desperate advertising attempt to sell the unwanted carbon tax. This is advertising which the Auditor-General has been highly critical of—spin, spin and more unnecessary spin. 

The Building the Education Revolution projects are yet another scheme which appeared to be of benefit to schools and students, but in true Labor style has resulted in more waste, more mismanagement, rorting and price gouging. In my electorate of the Riverina, $280,000 was spent on a library for Mangoplah Public School, which was completed last year. However, with no enrolments for 2012, the school is in mothballs, and sitting on the site is $280,000 which could have and should have been used elsewhere. 

Private schools which managed their own BER finances built value-for-money multipurpose centres and the like, using local tradesmen; whereas local schools had to make do with a one-size-fits-all approach, with outside contractors and projects with price tags which were unrealistic. Little wonder many people in my electorate refer to the BER as the 'builders' early retirement'. What it did do, however, was widen the gap between private and public schools. Parents of children in public schools drive past big new rinky-dink multipurpose halls at, for example, Catholic schools, and look on with envy, then drop off their kids at their local public school, which has a project which might have cost more yet pales into insignificance by comparison. Maybe that is what Labor wanted. 

Just like the misnamed Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill—class warfare by any other name. Labor purports to be robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. But they are no Robin Hood; let me assure you. Robbin' by hoods is more to the point. The BER is yet another example of this government's complete incompetence with finances. 

The absolute tangle of red tape and bureaucratic waste is highlighted in the government's administration of the set-top box program. Almost a quarter of the $308 million to put set-top boxes in pensioners' homes was spent on administration. Can you believe that? The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy received $24.5 million for the extremely vague 'department costs' and to manage the program. Centrelink received $42.2 million to assist in administering the household assistance program. All up, the government is having set-top boxes installed for $350 each. But I made a phone call tonight to Harvey Norman at Wagga Wagga, and they can do the same thing for just $99. That is $49 for the converter and $50 to have someone go around to the person's house to set it up. Therefore, Harvey Norman can install three for less than the price of one of the government's. 

In yet another blunder by Labor, taxpayers are still owed millions of dollars from the disastrous $2.5 billion Home Insulation Program linked to at least four deaths and more than 200 house fires—as tragic as that is. As Senator Simon Birmingham stated last year, this was clearly an 'unmitigated disaster'. The government ignored countless warnings. 

The Green Start program, another abandoned Labor scheme, has also left the taxpayer footing a $30 million bill. It is a disgrace. By abandoning the scheme, Labor had to compensate 10,000 assessors who were left without work or had undertaken training to do a job which no longer existed. Just when it seems that Labor's spending could not get more frivolous, we learn that AusAID has spent more than $110,000 for foreign aid workers to learn, wait for it—martial arts. The justification being that it allows workers to perform duties safely while working abroad. It also appears that Labor has been using taxpayers' money to assist its friends in the unions; probably no surprises there. In recent federal budgets, Labor has granted $20 million to the unions. In the 2010-11 budget, $10 million was given for a Trade Union Education Foundation grant; in the 2011-12 budget, $10 million was granted for educational resources to membership. 

This is simply unacceptable. Taxpayers' money should not be handed over so freely to the unions, especially when it appears that there is no accountability over the funds being used as directed. Labor is spending money at an unprecedented rate and its economic malaise is hurting Australia. It is hurting families and hurting Australian workers. Instead of curbing its spending by cutting back some of the wasteful schemes, or the kung fu lessons, Labor is instead passing on the cost to the Australian people in the form of taxes or by taking away private health insurance rebates. Labor's mismanagement is costing Australians now and it will continue to cost Australians for generations to come. 

What Labor could do is actually roll out some of the $5.8 billion set aside by the coalition for water savings infrastructure. So far, this money has been drip-fed to people and to irrigation corporations who could really utilise it to make the sort of water savings that could help the environment. We all want a healthy river system, and no-one wants a healthy river system in the Murray-Darling Basin more than the farmers who help sustain this nation, who grow the food to feed this nation. Our farmers in Australia are the best in the world, make no mistake. Labor might not recognise that, because the Prime Minister does not ever mention the word 'farmer' in question time, in matters of public importance or in any of her speeches. She never mentions the word 'farmer'. But they are important and they need water to grow the food to feed this nation and, more importantly, to feed other nations which do not have the resources and the wherewithal to grow food to feed their people. We have a responsibility as a nation in the Pacific to do that for them. But, so far, only several million dollars has been spent out of this $5.8 billion set aside for valuable water saving infrastructure which could be used to help on-farm and off-farm water savings, which could then go into the river system and provide the sort of water that could help the environment. But that is not being done. Labor needs to roll out the money and it needs to roll it out now.

Cristy Houghton