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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2304


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (17:12): by leave—I rise to take note of the second report of 2012, Referrals made in November 2011, in particular is it relates to construction of projects 2 and 3 of the Christmas Island new housing program. Like so many documents that are tabled in this place, this report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works is yet another document that refers, yet again, to the need for the Labor government to spend even more money in a particular area because of its grotesque failure when it comes to managing Australia's borders. In this report, the alleged sum is $26.6 million that is required to build additional accommodation on Christmas Island. It is interesting to note that at clause 2.45 of the report, which is a final committee comment, the committee says this in relation to the spend of an estimated $26.6 million of taxpayers' money:

The Committee notes the challenges the Department faces in ensuring that all three projects fit within budget and meet the projected scope and schedule …

Then, at clause 2.46 of the report, the committee notes:

The Committee trusts that the Department will keep the Committee updated, should there be any further changes to scope or cost, as the projects progress.

I can almost guarantee to the Senate that there will need to be a further update to this place. There is no doubt that the scope of this project is going to change, because, as is stated quite clearly in the document, the need for this additional accommodation is due to the pressure that is being placed on Christmas Island. Why do we have yet another committee report documenting what will be a further unnecessary spend of taxpayers' money? The reason is quite simply this: as we have said in this place before, instead of taking decisive action to stop the boats coming to Australia, in the first three months of 2012 alone we have seen 16 boats arrive carrying 1,258 people, despite the heavy weather patterns, which in normal circumstances, if we were not faced with the current policies of the Labor government, would deter people from making the dangerous journey to Christmas Island.

We have made it very clear since August 2008, when the Labor government rolled back the proven measures of the Howard government, that the only way you stop the boats and the only way you stop the Public Works Committee from having to table reports that refer, yet again, to a further spend of taxpayers' money is by taking tough measures, and those tough measures are quite simply the measures that were rolled back by the then Rudd Labor government.

Why do I say that this committee document represents yet another waste of taxpayers' money? When you actually look at the committee document and you go to clause 2.1, it states:

The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport states that the Christmas Island facility is facing a critical housing shortage which impacts on the provision of public services.

Then at 2.5 of the report the department is kind enough to elucidate exactly why this critical shortage is occurring. It states:

Project 2 comprises the construction of a further 14 dwellings to accommodate the increase in personnel required for policing, health, administration and education services.

And I have to say, just as an aside, I bet there are plenty of country towns in Queensland, in New South Wales and in my home state of Western Australia that would love some additional accommodation—for local coppers, for the local doctors and for the nurses et cetera—but they do not get that because we are wasting money on Christmas Island due to the failed border protection policies of the current government. At clause 2.5 it goes on to say:

The increase in the number of dwellings corresponds with the growth in the island's population due to an escalation in immigration activity on Christmas Island.

There you have it—an admission by the relevant department that the reason this committee has had to table this report, which refers yet again to a further spend of taxpayers' money, is directly in relation to the increase in activity on Christmas Island, which we all know is as a result of boats that continue to come to Australia because of this government's failed border protection policies.

The reality however is that this $26-odd million is literally a drop in the ocean compared to what the government have actually spent as a result of its border protection failures. When we say that the Australian public are paying for Labor's failures, the additional estimates released by the government show a further budget blowout in asylum seeker costs of $866 million. That was more than 25 per cent of the original estimate—$866 million. Because of their failures and their inability to manage Australia's borders and despite the predictions in the budget last May, the government have already had to come early this year cap in hand to the parliament to ask for an additional $330 million to cover the shortfall in last year's costs and the expected increase for this year. That increase is reflected in the document that we currently have before us, and the increase is in relation to the activity on Christmas Island or, if you want to put it bluntly, the additional IMAs that are coming to Australia.

The $26 million represents a mere drop in the ocean. 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 more—almost three times more—than the $197 million that the Treasurer and Minister Bowen told the taxpayers that the bill would be for this particular portfolio when they released MYEFO for the period of November last year.

This document may only refer to $26 million, but the document is also qualified in that it says that even the committee itself believes that the department is not going to be able to stick to the $26 million estimate. We all know why. It is because the scope of the project will change. The scope of the project is directly related to the number of IMAs coming to Australia. We all know that the government—because I have asked the question in estimates—expects an increase in the number of IMAs going forward. The total number of arrivals since August 2008 has been 15,912 people and the total number of boats since August 2008 is 288. There is no doubt that Minister Bowen has vacated the policy space in this area. In fact there was an article today that referred to the final dismantling of the bricks in John Howard's wall on border protection, and this committee report really does say it all. Under this government, what taxpayers will continue to see until the proven measures of the Howard government are restored is cost blow-out after cost blow-out. Quite frankly, that is just an absolute disgrace. And it is contempt for the Australian taxpayer that this government will continue to come into this place and table document after document that treats taxpayers' money as if it was growing on a tree, because it does not. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.