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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1057


Mr MELHAM (Banks) (17:46): I am compelled at this stage to make some comments about what I regard as a mean-spirited speech by the member for Cook in this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-2013 and the cognate bill. Not only is it mean spirited; it is pretty miserable, but it shows one of the problems that the Labor Party has had to face since 1995, when John Howard took bipartisanship out of the migration debate. What we have seen for the last five years from the opposition is that, for political purposes, asylum seeker immigration matters are placed front and centre with no cooperation from both sides of parliament. That has damaged the fabric of the country. It has sent the wrong message overseas to the international community about this country's behaviour towards asylum seekers. And it has actually resulted in a situation where, quite frankly, the people who have benefited from this illicit trade know that there is a gridlock situation here similar, for instance, to the US congress and what President Obama has had to face on a number of matters. The opposition should not be allowed to get away with the fact that they have been responsible for the surge that has taken place because they have sent the wrong message.

When we were last in opposition, on a number of issues we might not have agreed with the then government, but we cooperated with them in the national interest. The classic was in 2001, and it created some problems within the Labor Party. That has resulted in the figures that have been a blow-out. I served on the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network with the member for Cook, and it was a very productive committee. Nineteen of the 31 recommendations were unanimous. The government picked up 26 out of the 31, to do with reviews by ASIO, community detention and a whole range of other things.

The Leader of the Opposition is to be commended in terms of Indigenous affairs, because that is an area now where we do not have the partisanship that we once had. But in relation to migration we need to get back to a situation where both sides are able to sit down and have a civil discourse, because, if the opposition wins and the member for Cook becomes the minister, he is going to inherit the problems that he created. It is not a simple situation.

Additional appropriations have been around since time immemorial. Both sides of the House have always requested additional appropriations because they are a finetuning, a tweaking, from the climate of a budget at the time of the budget. Before, the budget used to be in September; now it is in May, and you get your estimates in December. Of course the finetuning is there.

The basic philosophy behind this government is that we have placed importance on jobs, the protection of jobs and job creation. That comes through in the additional expenditures that we are dealing with in the appropriation bills that are before us today, because without those additional appropriations there would be job cuts, and those job cuts would have a multiplier effect on our community.

The proudest thing that I saw at the time of the global financial crisis when we were in government was the infusion of money into our community on a host of programs that included Building the Education Revolution, where schools throughout Australia, in Labor, Liberal and National Party electorates, all had capital expenditure put on them. That created jobs, but it also created infrastructure that created better learning environments in all communities, and the communities are repaying the investment that the government put in. Social housing was another classic example. I was with Minister Plibersek, who was the Minister for Housing at the time, and we opened up a social housing program in the St George area, which is now part of my electorate. They told me that, but for that program, they would have lost their jobs; the companies would have folded.

We need to acknowledge that what the government has been about is protecting jobs and creating jobs. Frankly, the fact is that we do not have a surplus at this point in time because of the world economy and a combination of factors in terms of slowdowns in sections of our community. We as a government need to provide the safety net, and that is what these appropriation bills do. We should not apologise for that. If we had done nothing, the Treasury estimate was that an extra 200,000 people would have been put out of work as a result of the global financial crisis. Instead, at this point in time in the life of this government, we have 840,000 jobs to date having been created. What does that mean for local communities?

The opposition tell us that what they will be doing is $71 billion worth of cuts. With a multiplier effect in the community by four, that is a $280 billion impact in terms of the whirlpool of money washing around in our economy. That will create devastation, and we have seen it in Queensland. In March we saw 25,000 jobs lost in Queensland when Premier Newman went berserk and cut the public service and other things. These are not just public service jobs. There are on-costs.

I happen to have the privilege of being the President of the Revesby Workers Club, a licensed club in New South Wales, and for the last seven years we have been working on a diversification program—a $100 million program where we are diversifying our income in relation to the club. We now have a 90-place childcare centre with over 29 new staff and a fitness centre with over 4,000 members and over 60 staff involved in that centre. These are extra jobs that are being created. The fitness centre was a smaller fitness centre earlier. We have a situation where we are going to the next stage. In April the first sod will be turned for a commercial development which involves a Coles supermarket, six specialty stores, a 4,000-square-metre medical centre and a 26-lane AMF 10-pin bowling facility. At the moment we have 380 full-time, part-time and casual members of our staff. We will build the next stage of the commercial facilities and there will be people leasing those buildings. We estimate a doubling in the number of jobs on the footprint of the site that the club owns, so they are not all going to be jobs where people are employed by the club. I have seen a growth up to now from 220 jobs—roughly a third full-time, a third part-time and a third casual—to the next level. As I say, we are relying on poker machines to be able to fund the loan facility, but it is also about an economy that is not burnt out. There are not a lot of loans around. We have been very fortunate in terms of our tendering process, getting very good tender prices because of the economics.

I dread to think what will happen if the Leader of the Opposition is elected as our next Prime Minister and his government does what the opposition say they are going to do in relation to cuts and sending people to Northern Australia. What we would be dealing with is different sorts of appropriations. We would be dealing with cutting and savagery on a scale that we do not know.

The last time we saw this was when the coalition was elected under John Howard and they had that horrific budget of 1996 when they slashed and burned across the sector, and ATSIC, as it then was—and I was the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs—had $470 million cut. We still have not seen a recovery from those savage cuts. Many community facilities that were run by women in those local communities folded—and then you ended up with the intervention.

So we should not apologise—and I do not apologise—for the fact that we are not having a surplus at this point in time. It is our ability to service and to protect our community that counts. In terms of our economic performance and rating, everyone outside Australia sees Australia as the shining light, as the beacon. They cannot get it. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron in the UK just cannot get what all this negativity is about. We have just been hit in the last couple of years by an economic tsunami and Australia has come through it better than any other country in the world. I think part of the problem is that there is a bit of cynicism out there. Because we have so effectively protected our workforce, they do not really appreciate what the government has done. That is life. We have got to be able to sell the message.

But the message really is: the coalition are not about creating jobs. It is in their interests to create an extra pool of unemployed so that they can attack the conditions of the working people of this country. What you will have will be a different attack. Rather than a Work Choices attack, there will be a greater pool of unemployed so that they can attack the conditions of the workers and take away their conditions—the further casualisation of the workforce.

So I am quite proud to be standing up and giving extra money to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in relation to these matters when it comes to community detention and infrastructure. What the member for Cook does not tell you is that if you actually keep people in detention it costs you about $100,000 a year and if you put them in community detention outside detention centres the cost is a fraction of that. So you are actually saving money because it is much cheaper. That is why there were, and always are, alternative sentencing options in our courts for juvenile offenders and others to putting them into high-security or maximum-security prisons or detention centres, because the cost is much more. And it is more humane.

Yes, there has been a surge—we know there has been a surge—but the opposition does not take the blame because they say that they are not in government and they seek to sheet the blame home on the government. In my opinion, they are culpable because of the environment they created. People have mobile phones. People have computers and there is a communication network. When we got that piece of legislation through the parliament that time as a result of the expert committee, there was a slowdown at that stage. But when you cannot get stuff through the parliament, that sends the wrong message to the people smugglers. It is a good thing, I would have thought, that there is an estimate that the cost will come down in the future. In a difficult area the government is trying to get around it. So I get a little bit annoyed at the cant and hypocrisy that I hear, not from all members but from some members on the other side, because they take glee in human misery and see political advantage in that human misery. It is not a place where we should go to. It is not a place they should go to, and I know that there are many members on the other side who do not go there, members who have crossed the floor in relation to the harsh measures that were introduced by the former government.

So as far as appropriation bills are concerned that give extra money, I am not frightened of them—I welcome them. In effect, they protect what I think is the most valuable role of government: protecting the jobs in our society. I saw what happened when youth unemployment went from 17.1 per cent in 1996 in the Canterbury-Bankstown area to 34½ per cent in 1998 as they closed the Skillshares, as they put fees on for TAFE, as they coordinated a whole campaign of cuts. Kids were on the streets, and you can trace some of the problems in Bankstown back to that time. We should learn from those mistakes. We should be creating opportunities for people. We should not be apologising in additional estimates for extra expenditure when they try to do these things.

Mr Somlyay has a bit of knowledge about economics. He has been around for a while, not just as a member of parliament but as an adviser before that. The budget itself is not the only night upon which a government puts forward its economic blueprint. There is tweaking that takes place, so it is no longer all done on the one night, it is done throughout the year—through MYEFO and a whole range of other things. So I am quite happy to stand here and support the appropriation bills and commend them to the House, but I express disappointment at the tone of the member for Cook's speech. It was a mean-spirited, nasty speech. I expect more from him. If he wants to be a future minister in a government I expect better of him. I expect the better side of his character to come forward. He was, of course, the state director of the Liberal Party at one stage, and that is what I think we heard today. He needs to grow up from that and act a little bit more responsibly, because I thought it was a rubbish speech.