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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1922


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (17:29): Unfortunately for the people in my electorate and those right around the country these bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-2012 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-2012, are the latest evidence that the Labor government is utterly incompetent. It cannot manage the Australian economy and it cannot even manage its own programs. These bills are classic and practical examples. The government created a massive problem when it changed the coalition's proven strong border protection policies. In fact, the total blow-out in asylum seeker management costs since the 2009-10 budget, revealed in the latest estimates, is $3.9 billion. Over 15,000 people have arrived as a result. You have raised some important issues, member for Aston, and I ask: who was paying? I think we know—our electricians, our plumbers, our teachers, our nurses, our truck drivers, our farmers and our small businesses are all paying for this. Once again the Labor government is imposing more cost and more debt—$3.1 billion alone in these bills—on hard-working, aspirational Australian taxpayers. The government is doing this simply because it is dreadfully incompetent and absolutely addicted to wasteful spending. This government is borrowing $100 million every single day just to feed the greatest net debt our nation has ever seen. It has borrowed $136 billion and counting, which is larger than the disgraceful debt legacy of the Hawke-Keating Labor era. It also has cumulative deficits of $167 billion. They are appalling figures.

In 2007, Australia's total budget was $272 billion, but, as a result of the government's spending, it is expected in 2011 to be $370 billion plus. That is an increase in spending of $100 billion—40 per cent. Also, the government has lifted the gross debt ceiling from the 2007 level of $75 billion to $250 billion. The government has disgracefully wasted billions on its pet projects such as pink batts, which cost $2.5 billion and counting and is still wasting taxpayers' dollars even in this misnamed 'clean-out phase'. I see in one of the newspapers that nearly a quarter of the jobs in the program now are either unsafe or substandard, so it is still costing.

I believe the Australian people deserve to know the full extent of this out-of-control but tragic debacle. The judicial inquiry called for by the shadow minister for climate action, environment and heritage, the member for Flinders, is needed. The government, however, does not learn by its mistakes; it is a repeat offender. Just look at the reckless spending on set-top boxes. The cost of each one is now estimated to average $698, which is almost double the government's original estimate and more than the cost of a digital TV with a 106 centimetre screen. The set-top box program is so hard for pensioners to access that they often give up and themselves pay $100—a sum which includes installation—for a set-top box. We also know that the government has spent nearly $1 million on legal bills so far for the alleged corruption investigation into the member for Dobell. This Labor government, as we have seen this past week, is far more interested in its own survival than it is in the welfare of the Australian people. That is an indictment of it, and it is its legacy. This Labor government will be remembered for all the wrong reasons well into the future.

Let us look more closely at the appropriations in these bills. According to the government's own latest estimates, there has been an additional budget blowout in asylum seeker costs of $866 million. As a result, the government has come back to this parliament to seek an immediate appropriation of $330 million to cover the shortfall in last year's costs and the expected increase for this year. On top of this, the government is asking for an extra $759 million over the four years from 2014-15. In 2011-12, the immigration budget will cost Australian taxpayers $2.73 billion. That is $1 billion more than the $1.69 million it cost in 2007-08. This stands as a towering monument to the incompetence of the Gillard government, whose failure has to be subsidised by working Australians. In many cases these working Australians, who are underwriting Labor's failures, are the very people—those aspirational Australians—who are under attack by the Gillard government for working hard to support themselves. Average working families on standard incomes are being hit again and again to subsidise Labor's waste. They were hit by the baby bonus means test and by the family tax benefit means test, and they will be hit by the carbon tax ahead of us—all of which the Labor government promised was never going to happen. 'Trust us,' the government has said before each election. The government will also hit hardworking Australians with their private health insurance costs, and I am waiting to see what will happen with private school costs.

The small business sector in my electorate and across Australia is in the direct firing line of the government. Given the over 12½ thousand pieces of legislation introduced by the government, small businesses are virtually being red-taped into bankruptcy. Small businesses are doing it tough—we know there are, I think, 10,000 fewer than last year. And the South West is no exception. This would probably come as no surprise to members on our side of the House, who maintain very close relationships with their small business operators, but it must be news to the government or they would be acting to ease the burden on small businesses, which are the foundation of the Australian economy and employ millions of Australian workers.

The coalition take their issues very, very seriously, and we have formed our own committee to examine the impact of government regulation on the small business sector. During a recent walk through central Bunbury to talk to business owners in my electorate, I met several who were having to close their doors. These people should have been able to concentrate on their businesses, on making a profit to be able to employ people, instead of having to concentrate on government red tape.

Let me turn to what would be an appropriate expenditure that could have been addressed by the bills before the House, in the expenditure, had the government not wasted billions and billions of dollars. There are so many good projects out there that could and should be funded, and now is a prime opportunity to invest in the infrastructure needs of the South West. Such investment would not only secure the economic future of the region but would ensure good planning and social outcomes. Of particular importance is the transport infrastructure that is needed in the region and which I have raised repeatedly in this House. The billion-dollar blow-out in border protection alone—one of those billions—would have funded the infrastructure needs of the South West for a generation, including the delivery of the vital Roads to Export plan.

The region is a major exporter of alumina and mineral sands products. It will become a major coal exporter—but only with adequate investment in transport, as identified in my own infrastructure plan and in the Roads to Export plan developed by the South West Development Commission, the South West regional development authority and the Bunbury Wellington Economic Alliance.

The region will also only maintain and expand its tourism status with investment in safer roads, additional rail and a genuine regional airport able to take larger aircraft with the possibility of direct interstate flights. The Capes region has been identified as a prime location for a larger regional airport, and it would be a visionary investment in the South West. These are some of the projects that could be funded through the waste of Labor's spending.

After a two-year campaign to fix what was a disgraceful, independent-youth-allowance form of discrimination, which the Labor government arbitrarily inflicted on students and their families, the government was forced to change their rules—only to treat those same students badly again. The untrustworthy government told the Australian community that they would end the discrimination, but basically there is a parental means test for students seeking independent youth allowance. These are the students who already have to face anything from $15,000 to $30,000 a year more in costs just to go to school, just to go to university in a city, and these are costs that metropolitan and urban students do not have to find. For those outer-regional students, it is the first time that this means test has been applied, and it is just another attack on working families in my part of the world, in rural and regional Australia. It took a two-year campaign to end the appalling discrimination that we saw with youth allowance. What was even worse in this one was the number of young people who actually changed the courses they were taking while this was in place because they knew their families could not afford to send them on to university.

Two years ago I raised in the House the threat posed to the environment in my part of the world by phytophthora dieback. I have been disappointed by the lack of government action on this looming biodiversity disaster. Last year an update on the impact of dieback was given to the Committee for Climate Change, Environment and the Arts, which I hope will provide some greater impetus for the government to take action. The need to manage this insidious disease cannot be overstated, and I am seeking a far greater effort. I want to see a detailed, comprehensive map, including the South-West Land Division, assembled as quickly as possible. We need to know exactly where dieback is and where it is not on both state-held and private land. Following the comprehensive mapping of dieback, we must develop a planning and management toolbox that tells all landholders how to manage and reduce the spread of dieback in their specific areas. We also need to join the international science community and invest in research to find newer and better control mechanisms, including a treatment that can eliminate dieback from infected plants.

These are just some of the programs that could have been funded simply with the waste that we have seen generated by this Labor government. Ahead, particularly for small business, is the issue of the carbon tax. In spite of what has been said, there are many small businesses who, for many reasons, do not have the capacity to pass on the additional cost of a carbon tax. There are farmers who fit into this category. Dairy farmers are absolute price-takers. They have to cool millions and millions of litres of milk every year, and they are going to have to bear the cost of the carbon tax. I would like to see whether the major supermarkets are planning to pass on any additional return or price to the dairy farmers who are supplying them with milk, because they are having to meet the additional cost of cooling the milk as a result of the additional cost of electricity, which will be at least 10 per cent—I would say even more.

When transport, including that run on diesel, becomes part of this equation, as we know it will in 2014, the cost of the carbon tax is going to be far greater and certainly more than was projected for farmers and people living in rural and regional areas. We know how far loads are carted around Australia and we know the size of the freight task. So this tax is going to impact on small communities right around Australia, particularly those in my electorate. It is going to impact directly on small business. A whole raft of businesses are really concerned. They do not have confidence right at this moment. They do not have confidence in the policies of this government. They do not have the confidence to invest in themselves into the future. They do not have the confidence to continue employing people.

Last week I and other people from a range of businesses attended a meeting of transport operators, earthmoving operators and those involved in servicing that sector in my electorate. There was an incredible level of uncertainty and concern there. There was uncertainty around the carbon tax and the liability facing their businesses. They will have to either buy the expertise or employ people just to deal with this issue, to run the ruler over their businesses and to see what this tax is going to cost them, what their liability might be and how their businesses are going to manage going forward. So there is a lot more ahead for small to medium enterprises as a result of the carbon tax.

As I said, the appalling thing for people right around Australia and particularly for those in my electorate is the untold waste and mismanagement. I am sure every member would be able to identify many other purposes for that waste. We would have far less debt if there had not been the waste that we have seen from this government. The lack of confidence right around this nation is a result of the decisions made by this government.