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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2883


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (15:33): We have just heard the Prime Minister say in this chamber that this government is going to do everything it can to help the New South Wales police and the federal agencies responsible for law and order to do something to stop drive-by shootings in Sydney and to address law and order issues and gun crime issues in particular. She then went on to say that we are doing just that. We had her minister for the portfolio stand up and laud the efforts of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Crime Commission for what they have done in helping the New South Wales police to solve these terrible crimes or to find illegally imported firearms.

Let us contrast those platitudes—and in this place we all know that platitudes come very cheap—with the commitment that they have actually shown to these agencies since they took office in 2007. We all know that if you want to find out where people's real priorities are in parliament follow the money and look at where they prioritise scarce resources. It is where they have allocated these resources that betrays and shows what Labor really think about law and order issues and where they place these issues in their hierarchy of importance. Labor's actions when dealing with Customs and Border Protection and with all our front-line security agencies tell the Australian people everything they need to know about this government when it comes to law and order. In every Labor budget—every single one—Labor has savaged Customs and Border Protection both in its funding and its personnel. Cuts to Customs are now so dire that criminals have been given an unfair advantage by this government's failure to do one of the most fundamental tasks we ask of a federal government—that is, to protect our borders.

When we talk of Labor's border protection crisis, it is more than their inability to control who comes to Australia. They cannot control what comes into Australia, and funding and personnel cuts to our front-line customs agencies are feeding directly into the ability of criminals to breach our borders. Whether it be the 16,000 people who have been smuggled here illegally by people smugglers or whether it be the ability of bikie gangs to bring in illegal firearms or of other criminal enterprises to bring in illegal drugs and other contraband, Labor's cuts are aiding them in their criminal enterprises. It is always instructive to go back to 2007, the last time this country had a good government, and to see what the government did in contrast to the actions of its predecessor. The Howard government increased funding to Customs when it came to office from 1996 in real terms by 238 per cent. The budget was increased from $357 million to $1 billion. It also increased funding to help the AFP with smuggling and to boost our quarantine controls. Other front-line crime prevention agencies such as the Australian Federal Police received similar increases. When Labor came to office they looked at those enormous real funding increases that the Howard government had made to our law enforcement and border protection agencies and said, 'That's an overallocation of resources that we're going to do something about.' How else could you possibly explain the savageness with which they have gone about slashing our front-line law-and-order and border protection agencies?

These agencies have already been placed under enormous pressure because of Labor's border protection failures, and the cuts that have been implemented in every budget have substantially increased that pressure. I just want to go through those cuts, because they are extraordinarily savage and they are dealing a blow to these agencies' ability to do their jobs effectively.

I will start with Customs. Customs was savaged right from the first Labor budget: $58.1 million was taken from Customs' cargo-screening budget. This cut meant a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of potential sea cargo inspections and an astonishing reduction of 75 per cent in air cargo inspections. Customs' annual report revealed that only 4.3 per cent of sea cargo was X-rayed and less than one per cent of sea cargo is physically examined when it comes into Australia. With the volumes of cargo increasing in coming years, these cuts will be even more savage.

But this is not the extent of Labor's cuts to Customs. They have cut their personnel. Last budget, another 90 staff were axed from the Customs and Border Protection Service on top of the 250 that were axed in the 2010-11 budget. Customs CEO Michael Carmody has been recently forced to cut 20 per cent of his senior executive service to cope with budget cuts. That is one in five people in Customs' senior executive service that has been cut.

Labor plan to cut $4.3 million in so-called low-risk activities from the agency. Astonishingly, they have cut funding for aerial surveillance in our northern waters—the planes that detect illegal boat arrivals and protect us from illegal fishers. They have cut the budget for the agency to conduct those patrols by $20.8 million. That is a net reduction of 2,215 aerial surveillance hours, or more than 90 days of aerial surveillance. They have cut $34 million over four years for passenger facilitation at Australia's eight international airports. They have cut $17.3 million over five years for the management of illegal foreign fishers.

These cuts have meant that this agency is unable to do the job that it is tasked with, which is to protect Australia's borders. Yet we have had the Minister for Home Affairs—this minister who just stood up and was not even able to fill his 10-minute slot in defending the government's record on these areas—lauding today in a press release what the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, with the assistance of the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police, has been able to do. He was not able to say one word about the savage cuts that have occurred under the Labor Party to the agencies that he now controls. We all know that the minister before him was grossly incompetent, and of course he received the ultimate sanction by the Gillard government: when you display gross incompetence, you are promoted to cabinet! But this minister now has the ability to reverse those cuts. He cannot be an effective minister unless he is able to reverse the savage cuts that have been made to the agencies that he is apparently tasked with overseeing for the federal government.

I know that he will get up and talk about our policies, which is the only defence that he has to the incompetence that has been shown by the Labor Party since they came to office. So let me assure him—and I can give him this very firm commitment today—that not only will we not cut front-line service personnel in Customs; we will restore the funding cuts that the Labor Party has made to cargo screening. This will make sure that Customs actually has a fighting chance of stopping illegal guns before they cross our borders, helping police forces like the New South Wales Police Force and every police force around the country. We will restore that funding cut. If he were going to be an effective minister, he would stand up in his contribution in the next five minutes and say exactly the same thing. If he cannot give that guarantee, if he cannot guarantee the funding and personnel of his own agencies, then he may as well give up because he will not be an effective Minister for Home Affairs.

I have talked about the cuts to Customs, which have been savage. This is an agency which, whilst it has had its funding and personnel cut, has been asked to do so much more because of Labor's inability to stop people smuggling. But all of our national security agencies have been savaged by this government. The Australian Federal Police have been lauded by the Prime Minister and the minister in parliament today, yet they have also been savaged by Labor's budget cuts. Seventy-two staff have been cut from the Australian Federal Police in the last budget alone. The so-called efficiency dividend has been increased from 1½ per cent to four per cent, which means a $91.3 million cut from the Australian Federal Police.

They have cut the air marshals program that keeps us safe when we fly. AFP numbers in Darwin and Canberra have been cut. I wonder if the member for Canberra will have anything to say about that, if she is making a contribution today. Darwin International Airport—I know the member for Solomon is very concerned about this—will lose air marshals on all of its flights.

The Australian Crime Commission has been lauded today again for its results in the operation to deal with illegal firearms in New South Wales, yet again you have to follow the money to see what the government really thinks about this agency and really thinks about its importance. Overall, the budget for the ACC has been cut in the last budget by $7.3 million, and 23 staff were taken from that agency, one of Australia's premier crime-fighting agencies, which actually exists to deal with the sorts of threats that the opposition has been raising and highlighting in the parliament today.

It is not just the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Crime Commission which have felt the Labor Party's razor. All of our front-line law-and-order agencies have been savaged by this government. Eight point eight million dollars has been cut from ASIO's ability to do training and liaison, and $6.9 million was cut from the ability of ASIO to do visa checks on visa applicants, which means that, when people arrive here illegally, the chances of ASIO being able to conduct a thorough assessment are extremely limited, because of the cuts that the government has made.

AUSTRAC, the body that tracks funds coming in and out of the country to make sure that organised crime cannot move money around, has had 21 staff members cut in the previous budget. It has had $12.1 million cut over four years for so-called operational efficiencies, which will clearly impact on the ability of that agency to do its job. If you are going to cut all our front-line border protection agencies—if you are going to savage the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission and ASIO—then you have to understand that that is going to reduce their ability to do their job. You cannot subsequently march into this parliament and laud—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The member for Stirling knows that his use of the word 'you' is inappropriate. He has been here long enough to know he cannot use it in that way.

Mr KEENAN: Madam Deputy Speaker, I apologise. Thank you for your guidance.

It is clearly going to affect the ability of those agencies to do the job they are tasked with by this parliament. You cannot reduce funding and resources and expect to get the same result. This is the problem with this government. Never listen to what they say, because platitudes come easily. You need to look at what they have done; they have undermined the ability of all of our front-line border protection agencies to do their jobs. You certainly cannot march in here and start lauding the efforts of those agencies.

These cuts are felt on the streets of every electorate. When you are dealing with street crime, you are usually dealing with drug crime. When you have a border protection agency that does not have the resources necessary to protect our borders, then you are increasing the ability of criminals to bring drugs to our streets.

Every time police forces in our states go out there to do their jobs, they can be sure that they are not receiving the support they deserve from the federal government, and that the federal government's actions—cutting the front-line agencies that are supposed to be helping them—are directly making their jobs harder. All of the state police forces are aware of the extent of these cuts and of the effects they are having on their ability to fight crime.

I understand from the media that this new minister is well regarded in the New South Wales Right of the Labor Party.

Mr Burke: Hear, hear!

Mr KEENAN: That has just been confirmed by the minister at the table. We also know that the New South Wales Right of the Labor Party is not what it used to be. When you are talking about a promising minister, it is relative to his ministerial colleagues.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: We also know that the MPI is not on this issue.

Mr KEENAN: I am directly talking about whether he is going to be a satisfactory minister for these portfolios or not.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I don't see what that has to do with the MPI.

Mr KEENAN: The test that we need to put before the new minister is: can he reverse the cuts that have been made to the agencies that are now in his charge? We know that, if he cannot achieve that, then he cannot march in here and laud the effectiveness of the AFP, the ACC or Australian Customs and Border Protection Service when they do have a success, because the cuts made by the Labor Party are undermining the ability of those agencies to have the success that he has been lauding.

I am happy to make that commitment on behalf of the opposition. We will ensure that front-line border protection agencies and front-line law enforcement agencies will not be subject to the sorts of cuts we have seen under the Labor Party. If this minister is going to be effective, he needs to get up now and give that same commitment.

I also give the commitment that we will reverse the savage cuts the Labor Party made to the ability of Customs to screen cargo when it comes into Australia. We will reverse that $58.1 million cut and make sure that they can screen cargo when it comes into the country and help the state police forces fight crime. He should give the same commitment. (Time expired)