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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1540


Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (17:18): Today I want to talk about appropriation bills Nos 3 and 4 and then to range a little more widely, as is allowed when debating appropriation bills, into another area. The funds being sought through these bills are supposed to cover the shortfalls in funding which the government tells us have happened because of the instability of global financial markets. The amount involves little more than $3.1 billion. Of course the global financial environment will have an impact on our economy; no-one doubts that. But it is this government's financial incompetence and continuing waste of money that has made these extra appropriations necessary.

The government tells us that Australia continues to outperform the developed world in economic growth, that we have strong public finances, that we have sound resources investment. Another strength they claim is low unemployment, which is most definitely not the case in my region. The most recent unemployment statistics for the Wide Bay Burnett region show unemployment to be sitting at 5.3 per cent, almost two points higher than when Labor came to power in November 2007. When I refer to the Wide Bay area, I do not refer to the electorate but rather to the lower part of the electorate of Flynn, my electorate of Hinkler and the electorate of Wide Bay itself, with a little bit of Maranoa thrown in for good measure. When we get down to youth unemployment, for the 15- to 24-year-olds, the figure is even more concerning, at 11.4 per cent. These are not figures that any government should be proud of. They are figures that will increase because of the government's addiction to taxation, spending and, sadly, wasting.

This philosophy can be seen in full living colour courtesy of Labor's carbon tax agenda. Australians always knew Labor's carbon tax would cost them dearly, and today, courtesy of these bills, we get a taste of by how much. Most of the funds being appropriated under bill No. 3 relate to measures and programs being put in place because of the imposition of a carbon tax on the Australian economy. A full $2.8 billion is being sought to fund program blow-outs and policy decisions made by the government. The money includes $1.3 billion to support several agencies in their task to roll out Labor's clean energy manifesto and a further $1 billion so that the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency can make cash payments to coal fired power stations to help them cope with the changes that are being wrought.

One figure which caught my eye is the $106 million to be spent on completing the ceiling insulation inspection program for households throughout Australia. There are some in my electorate that still have not been fixed up after 18 months. One in the township of Howard is particularly worrying. I was one of the first whistleblowers about this dog of a program, and, for my efforts, I was howled down by the then minister. I was accused of manipulating a local insulation company to create headlines for the program. In fact, I found out recently that the then minister actually sent people from his office or from the department—I am not sure which—to check everything I had said in the parliament. I thought that was extraordinary—to send someone all the way from Canberra to Bundaberg to check me out. But I had my facts right. There were 14 forms of rorting going on. I documented them. I tabled them in the parliament and the tabled document was raced up to Bundaberg so they could check out whether I had been telling the truth. Well, I was telling the truth, and all those things were subsequently proven to be true. I was telling one of my constituents about the money being sought to fix this fiasco, and she said to me, 'As if people weren't ripped off enough in the first place. Now it's the tidying up phase which is costing heaps of money. There are so many better ways they could have spent that money.' I could not agree more.

I think the people of Hinkler should also be clear on where their hard-earned dollars are going and just how much is being spent on setting up this carbon tax. These are just a few of the ways taxpayers' dollars are being spent through these appropriation bills. Thirty million dollars will be spent on setting up the Clean Energy Regulator, which will assess emissions data and make sure industries comply with carbon pricing. One hundred thousand dollars will go to the Department of Finance and Deregulation so it can review the establishment and operations of the Clean Energy Regulator. Six million dollars will go to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to promote the carbon tax to small businesses and community organisations. Thirty-six million dollars will go to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities so it can set up a biodiversity fund. The Department of Human Services gets $36 million to dish out to people who need compensation for the extra costs from the carbon tax—perhaps we could tolerate that one.

Also included in the appropriation bills is another $24 million in assistance to cattle producers, who were disgracefully abandoned by the government when, last year, they had a knee-jerk reaction to what was going on in Indonesia. I suspect that this is nowhere near enough assistance for this industry and the businesses associated with it. I know from cattle producers in Queensland that they are really worried about where the industry might be going, particularly in relation to the live cattle trade.

I also note that in these bills the government is seeking an immediate $330 million to cover the blow-out in asylum seeker management costs, following the scrapping of the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas. In fact, across the entire immigration portfolio, not including last year's blow-out, the increase for the four years to 2014-15 is three-quarters of a billion dollarsthat is extraordinary. Then there is the $550 million, which is almost three times more than the $197 million the Treasurer and Minister Bowen told taxpayers the bill would be for immigration when they released the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook for this period last November. So, from November until now, we have had a blow-out of nearly three times more.

In just a couple of short months, the government seems to have allowed this thing to escalate by $560 million. I am sure that the hardworking, tax-paying people in the Hinkler electorate were also horrified to hear that the immigration budget has increased by a billion dollars since 2007-08, going from $1.69 billion to around $2.7 billion today. That is a lot of money. Perhaps this has something to do with the 15 per cent increase in permanent staff and the 24 per cent increase in the number of the highest paid positions, with the median pay packets being between $180,000 and $210,000. That is five to six times the average wage of people living in my electorate. You can understand, firstly, their being so worried and upset about the way this boat people fiasco has been handled but, secondly, knowing the people handling it on behalf the government are earning five and six times what local people in my electorate are earning they find particularly galling. Asylum seeker management costs have been revised to $1.2 billion for the financial year, which is up from the revised figure of $880 million last year.

On a more bipartisan matter now I would like to deal briefly with the apology to the Indigenous community and the Prime Minister's statement today on Closing the Gap. I do not resile from where I stood on that matter. I was one who certainly had to grapple with that apology. I entered into it with an open mind and a humble and, dare I say, contrite heart. I thought that if we were all going to have to do it then we should do it well. I based that initially on the fact of children being separated from their parents. All societies, primitive and developed, across the world, even some of the most hated and despotic societies, have recognised the bond between a mother and her children. Only the most hardened and experimental have tried to separate children from their parents, particularly from their mothers. These children were brought up for most of their lives in an institution, with some of them never seeing their parents again and others being told most cruelly that their parents or their mother had died—worse still, some did this in the name of a loving God. It was an outrageous blasphemy for people to do those things and to pretend that they were doing it in charity. I am not saying that there were not some very good and well intentioned organisations that did look after Indigenous kids and did give them a future—and I know some of those from my own experience of people I have known over the years. But there are others that were totally unacceptable. I think too it is fair to say that, far from helping those children, the psychological damage to the parents and the bewilderment of the children probably put that generation back 10, 15 or 20 years and the catching up is still going on. I see some pleasing things in the Prime Minister's speech of this morning. The figures do show some closing of the gap but there is still a long way to go. One thing I am troubled by is on the margins of this problem. It is where we get into this so-called cultural sensitivity. I repeat what I said in my speech four years ago when I was talking about this cultural aspect. I will read it out and you can take your own meaning from it. I said:

How this can be acceptable today in the Australia we live in is well beyond me and it is down to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians to accept responsibility for it. Paternalistic attitudes, no matter how well intentioned, have spawned a welfare mentality crippling many Aboriginal communities and drastically reducing self-reliance, personal responsibility and self-determination. I feel that for decades now, political correctness and confected cultural sensitivities have been the greatest hurdles we have faced in fixing the serious problems of Aboriginal Australians. One Indigenous leader has said:

Culture is often invoked as a justification for this lowering of expectations and standards. It will be invoked by indigenous community members as well as those developing policies and delivering programs, as a justification for not upholding rigorous standards that apply in the mainstream. We must be careful to ensure that we are not unconsciously using culture as an excuse for failure, poor performance and under-achievement … why is ‘cultural appropriateness’ never invoked as a justification for higher standards and higher expectations—and higher levels of achievement, rather than lower? Beware whenever the words ‘culturally appropriate’ are used: it is usually an alibi for low standards and dumbing down.

Those are the words of Noel Pearson in his 2004 position paper Bending to dysfunction, bending to the problems. I heartily endorse what he said. I think too there are still a lot of anomalies in getting Aboriginal children into education. We thump our breast and we say that education is the door through which they will escape the grinding poverty, but I still do not think we have created nearly enough opportunities for those children.