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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 3984

Mr SULLIVAN (5:12 PM) —When this debate on the appropriation bills was interrupted last evening I had been talking about some issues relating to the Home Insulation Program. There are a few more things that I would like to say about that program, and the funding in this budget gives me the opportunity to do that.

Firstly, let me make it very, very clear that the lives lost in this program are a tragedy. Lives lost in any industrial accident are a tragedy, and members of the Labor Party and our colleagues in the labour movement are hit particularly hard by those losses. Workers ought to be able to go to work in the morning confident that they will return home that night. That is why companies registering to participate in the Home Insulation Program were required to give undertakings that, for the first time in this industry, they would comply with Australian and New Zealand standards and they would provide employees with training.

In the course of retrofitting more than 1,100,000 ceilings with insulation four people lost their lives and, as I said earlier, that is a tragedy. I do not want to diminish that tragedy in any way, but it would be as well for people to reflect on the incidence of industrial accidents causing death in this industry prior to the introduction of this program. I understand that in the previous 10 years four people also lost their lives in industrial accidents in the ceiling insulation retrofitting industry when the number of installations was roughly half those achieved under the government’s program. To put it another way, the incidence of industrial accidents causing deaths in this industry halved. Again, I do not diminish the tragedy of the lives lost, but this is a noteworthy improvement and it is clearly a consequence of the requirements put in place for those companies seeking registration.

Ceiling fires are cited as a second measure of the program and one which has also caused grief amongst those affected. If my information is correct, there have been around 120 ceiling fires in homes that have had insulation installed under the program. However, what is never published is the fact that in 2008 there were 84 ceiling fires in homes retrofitted with insulation that year. You do not have to be Einstein to recognise that 120 fires in 1.1 million installations is a massive improvement over 84 fires in the 67,500 installations fitted in 2008. From roughly one fire in every 800 installations before the introduction of the program to one fire in every 9,000 installations after the introduction of the program is an elevenfold improvement. I know that is not a comfort to those affected, but it too is a notable improvement over the industry’s performance prior to the introduction of the program and an improvement that ought to be recognised.

Clearly, the opportunity to participate in this program was irresistible to some with bad intentions, whether their gain was through claiming for installations not made, delivering shoddy work or ignoring their responsibilities. But processes were in place for finding those people out and dealing with them. Through the work of government inspectors, the Leader of the Opposition was able to rise in this place and declare that there were some 240,000 roofs insulated under the program that had potential problems. Note the use of the word ‘potential’. These are roofs that only may have a problem, not roofs that actually do have a problem. I do not know if the Leader of the Opposition included in his figures the 50,000 ceilings that have been insulated by means of foil rolls, which are of concern particularly in Queensland. But, as I am in an expansive mood, I will add those to his 240,000. Because I am in a really good mood, let us round it out to 300,000 roofs. That is 300,000 of 1.1 million roofs that may have a problem—not ‘do have’ a problem but ‘may have’ a problem. The other side of that calculation is 800,000 roofs that do not have a problem. That is 800,000 families saving $200 a year on their energy bills. That is $160 million a year of energy that does not need to be generated. That is also a great achievement.

We have acknowledged the shortcomings in the delivery of the Home Insulation Program, all of which manifested themselves in the actions of those dishonourable people who participated in that delivery. The government’s main miscalculation was in thinking that we could trust all participants to deliver our program honestly. This was the ultimate red-tape-free program. Give the government an undertaking that you will abide by the conditions and deliver training to your staff and the government gives you the opportunity to build a business for yourself and provide honest employment for others. I believe that those in the industry prior to the introduction of this program welcomed these enhancements and followed them implicitly. Unfortunately, some of the new entrants did not.

Yesterday in this place the opposition environment spokesman criticised the government for heeding expert advice and discontinuing the program, thus causing difficulty, if not insolvency, for many in the industry. If I recall correctly, the opposition’s constant braying last year and earlier this year was that the government did not heed expert advice. They were wrong, of course, but that matters little to them. In the eyes of the opposition, it would seem, you are damned if you do and dammed if you don’t. What is clear is that the opposition wanted the program scrapped, wanted a ministerial scalp and wanted to damage the government, and in all of those endeavours they found fellow travellers in the majority of the mainstream media. They might reflect on their role in the plight of the insulation industry today.

This budget also provides for increases in alternative energy targets, as a consequence of the Senate’s refusal, three times, to pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme suite of bills. Both the then Labor opposition and the Howard government went to the 2007 federal election promising emissions trading schemes—schemes that were fairly similar. The Labor government that was formed after that election proceeded towards that goal, ultimately negotiating an agreement with the opposition that would see the legislation put in place. However, the leadership of the opposition changed and the new leadership repudiated that agreement.

It is a great irony that, had the legislation even then been supported by the Greens, it would have passed the Senate and we would have an ETS ready to be implemented. The maths of the Senate is such that without the support of all the Greens plus Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding the government is not able to pass this legislation and has acted accordingly. Rather than waste time and effort trying again and again to convince Mr Abbott and his colleagues to support the legislation, it is important to note that Senators Fielding and Xenophon will not support the government’s legislation as they think it goes too far and the Greens will not support it because they do not believe it goes far enough.

The make-up of the Senate will change on 1 July next year, reflecting the result of an election due to be held between now and then. Most observers and commentators believe that the ALP and Greens combined will have a majority in the Senate chamber and the coalition will be irrelevant when those parties are in agreement. The Leader of the Opposition’s high-risk strategy may well deliver Australia an ETS that he likes even less than the one previously agreed between the government and the coalition. What the Leader of the Opposition can take as a given is that the government remain totally committed to the introduction of an ETS. He can also take it as read that we are not so daft as to continue to hit our heads against the brick wall of an obstructionist Senate, no matter how many times he might taunt us with the oft stated view that carbon pollution reduction is the greatest moral challenge of our time. We still believe that. They once believed it too. They no longer believe it. They are blocking it in the Senate and they think it clever to criticise us for a broken promise. The promise stands. The government are acting pragmatically. The opposition might like to reflect on the consequences for those polluters they are protecting, should they fail in their high-risk political game.

The resource superprofits tax has excited the multinational mining giants and some of our home-grown companies as well. This will, they say, kill the mining industry. I found a lovely passage online, and I would like to read it into the record today. It reads:

… here’s my big tip—the only thing that will kill the mining industry will be when they run out of things in the ground to dig up and sell.

Isn’t that the truth? That sounds remarkably like the opinion expressed in January by Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer. It is remarkably unlike the opinion he expresses today.

The Treasurer made a lengthy statement on this taxation measure in the parliament yesterday, and I recommend to readers of this speech that they read that statement also. However, there are some things that I want to reiterate. Ten years ago the mining industry contributed to Australia and its people one dollar in every three of profit and today it contributes only one in every seven—from around 33 per cent 10 years ago to around 15 per cent today. The current royalty and company tax regime means that as profits rise, taxes fall. That is why it is the megamines that are developed: they return less to the people of Australia who own the minerals and they return more to the people of the world who own the shares in the multinationals. Admittedly, some of those shares are held by Australians, but not the majority. The proposed new regime will make smaller mining operations viable, and they will most likely be undertaken by Australian companies, not multinationals. In fact, under this tax regime, mining companies earning less than 10 per cent return on investment will pay less in taxes than they do now, according to a table that I have seen.

I want to make a brief mention of the GP Super Clinics Program that is extended in this budget. The opposition has been loud in its criticism of this program, contending that only two GP superclinics are operational. Yesterday in the chamber we saw the pleased-as-Punch photographs of the member for Paterson taken at the recent opening in his electorate of the third clinic. This program was introduced as a five-year program, and those opposite know it. So let us have a look at progress to date, two years into a five-year program. Three GP superclinics, including the very successful Strathpine clinic in the electorate of the shadow health minister—and, incidentally, opposed by him—are open and operational. Seventeen GP superclinics are now under construction. Logically they will be operational within the third year of the five-year program. A further 15 GP superclinics are now under contract. Construction will no doubt start as soon as practical on those. One—only one—of the 36 original GP superclinics is yet to be put under contract.

This five-year program is well underway, and the extension of the program in this budget is a recognition of the popularity of the concept. In my own electorate of Longman I have already had some preliminary discussions in relation to accessing this extended program to overcome some of the health service gaps that are evident. I note that the opposition have indicated that, should they win government, they will cut this program. It is interesting that the coalition candidate contesting Longman supports that cut, despite having already made a commitment to a similar facility on Bribie Island which he says will not be affected because it is ‘fundamentally different’ to the GP Super Clinics Program—although exactly how it is fundamentally different seems to be a mystery. The bad news for him is in shadow finance minister Mr Robb’s fine print—that commitment, it would appear, has been discontinued.

This is an excellent budget. It is a budget for its time. It is a budget that honours the commitments made by the government 12 months ago—commitments that the opposition said we could not meet. The response from the opposition to this budget is as predictable as it is wrong. I commend the budget to the House.