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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 448


Senator BARNETT (2:20 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Precisely how will the government ensure that their so-called stimulus plan for schools and infrastructure does not encourage further state Labor mismanagement of their responsibilities?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you for that question. I appreciate that the Prime Minister and the premiers have only just held the press conference. I was able to watch a little bit of it before I came in here. Possibly Senator Barnett did not get an opportunity to see that. Quite clearly, the Prime Minister has stated that, firstly, we make no apology at all for investing in schools, something those opposite have been laughing at and making a mockery of. We make no apology. We have signed the states up to the toughest criteria to ensure that there is no substitution—there is no withdrawing of state funds and topping up with Commonwealth funds. That was the agreement that even the Premier of Western Australia signed off on.

I watched as much of that press conference as I could before I came in here. It is quite clear that the COAG communique sets out the responsibilities of state governments. They will not be allowed to withdraw their funding for programs and substitute Commonwealth funding. Let me quote from the communique:

... a process to ensure that there is no substitution of capital effort by the states in the areas of schools, energy-efficient homes, social housing, regional roads, black spots and boom gates, overseen by heads of treasuries and reporting to COAG through the Ministerial Council for Federal Financial Relations.

So there is a very specific commitment that the states have signed up to, and we will be holding them to that. (Time expired)


Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that federal Labor abolished the coalition’s Investing in Our Schools Program? Secondly, is the minister aware of a statement made by Premier David Bartlett today on ABC radio in Tasmania where he said:

We have projects in housing and in schools that are ready to roll, ready and waiting for this sort of injection.

Hasn’t the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Bartlett, today confirmed that infrastructure funds merely replace already planned state government spending with borrowed federal debt?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —When you write your supplementary question before you hear the first answer, you are going to end up sometimes in a slightly embarrassing position. I have just read to you from the communique that Premier Bartlett has signed. It is quite clear. As you appear not to have heard it the first time, I will happily read it to you a second time. It says:

... a process to ensure that there is no substitution of capital effort by the states in the areas of schools, energy-efficient homes, social housing, regional roads, black spots and boom gates, overseen by heads of treasuries and reporting to COAG through the Ministerial Council for Federal Financial Relations.

It is set out in black and white. There has just been a joint press conference. Perhaps in your rush to get the question through the tactics committee this morning you did not get a chance to update it because of the announcement. This is now new information. (Time expired)


Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister has clearly not answered the question as to his awareness of Premier Bartlett’s statement. How will the substitution of federal funds for state funds stimulate the economy? Is the government merely bailing out Labor state governments, after a decade of incompetence, at the expense of future generations of Australian taxpayers?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Those opposite, who all of a sudden have discovered the words ‘schools’, ‘hospitals’ and ‘infrastructure’, who starved the states of public housing funding, who starved the states of hospital funding and who starved the states of education funding, now want to stand here and be taken seriously. If you want to be taken seriously on schools, on infrastructure and on roads, vote for this package. If you want to be taken seriously, vote for this package to protect families and to protect jobs.

When you return to Tasmania and start explaining to people that you are more interested in playing short-term politics than protecting their jobs, you will suddenly discover that all the short-term politics in the world will not protect you from voter backlash. What you are putting forward here is crocodile tears about public infrastructure when you had 12 years to do something about it. What you did was rip the funds out of all public infrastructure. (Time expired)