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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1549


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (17:59): I rise to speak today on two budget appropriation bills that are currently being debated in this place. The purpose of these bills is to propose appropriations from the consolidated revenue fund for both the ordinary and annual services of government and for those that are not the ordinary annual services of government. These bills provide for funds in addition to those allocated in the 2011-12 budget to support government activities outlined in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

This week the government released additional estimates that show a further budget blowout in asylum seeker costs of around $866 million, or more than 25 per cent. This being the case, the government is asking for another $330 million immediately. This significant amount of taxpayer money is necessary to cover the shortfall arising from the year's cost and the expected increase for the year. Further, the entire immigration portfolio cost is expected to rise and, not including last year's blowout, the increase for the four years to 2014-15 is expected to be around $759 million.

To put this simply, this blowout is $559 million, which is almost 300 times more than the $197 million the Treasurer and Minister Bowen informed taxpayers the bill would be for immigration when releasing the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook for the period last November. Clearly, in just a few months the government appears to have reassessed their abacus and blown out the estimates by around $560 million.

In addition, the 2011-12 immigration budget will cost about $2.73 billion, or more than $1 billion above the $169 million it cost in 2007-08. On a comparative basis this is almost $330 million, or 14 per cent, more than the now estimated $2.4 billion it cost to run immigration last year.

The budget for management of asylum seekers has been revised, and that cost has increased to $1.2 billion in the 2011-12 financial year on the revised figure of $880 million provided last year. Again, on a comparative basis, in the 2007-8 financial year the cost for managing asylum seekers was less than $100 million.

Revealed during the latest round of estimates, the cost blowout takes the total budget for Labor's border protection failures over the last three years, since the 2009-10 budget, to $3.9 billion. In addition, the government has increased funding over the forward estimates for asylum seeker management in the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years by a further $648 million. This figure takes into account the savings from not proceeding with the failed Malaysia people swap deal.

I would like to reiterate the words of the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship:

The Government and Department did not revise their budget when they abolished the Howard Government’s border protection policies, despite Secretary Metcalfe admitting today that this was a major change in policy. The Government either ignored the advice on the cost impact of abolishing the Pacific Solution or the advice was never given by the Department or Secretary Metcalfe.

Having finished speaking about and highlighting the fact that there is a big blowout in our border protection for which all these extra funds are needed, I would now like to turn to interest rates and unaffordable housing.

Families in my electorate at Darwin and Palmerston know that since Labor was elected electricity prices are up 51 per cent, gas prices are up 30 per cent, water prices are up 46 per cent, education costs have risen by around 24 per cent, health costs have risen by 20 per cent, rent costs have risen by about 21 per cent and grocery prices are up by 14 per cent. And, as of today, with the passing of the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011, Australians will now pay more for their private health insurance. Forty thousand Darwin and Palmerston residents covered by private health insurance were betrayed today. Independent analysis shows that thousands of people will either downgrade or cancel their insurance because they cannot afford the additional costs that will be placed on them. People doing this are going to place an enormous amount of pressure on our already stretched public health system.

But, this being said, Territorians are still angry at the betrayal over the carbon tax. They tell me that they are very concerned with the increased cost of living and reiterate to me that they are already paying record house prices and the highest prices in any capital city for groceries, petrol and rent, along with soaring power bills and interest rates. I have raised this before in this House about the carbon tax and how it will affect every aspect of people's lives, and in particular the families that are already struggling to make ends meet. People in Darwin's northern suburbs tell me that they are worried that they will no longer be able to afford to pay the electricity costs associated with cooling their houses from the tropical heat. I was more concerned to hear from pensioners who tell me that they go to the shopping centre not to shop but to escape the heat and take advantage of the free air conditioning that is being provided by the shops. When asked, the reasoning was quite simple: the increasing cost of living, particularly in terms of power, means that in many instances these people are unable to afford the costs associated with cooling their homes. It is quite alarming.

I raise again the fact that the carbon tax appears to be a tax on remoteness and, indeed, a tax on the Territory. It stands to increase the cost of living and directly impact our key industries in the Northern Territory, including my electorate, such as primary producers, mining, tourism, construction and aviation. When I spoke against the introduction of the carbon tax, I gave the example of a local regional airline that will be significantly impacted. I want to restate the example today, as I think it is important that everyone understand how Territorians will be impacted, particularly small business people. Airnorth is an award-winning Territory-grown business that has been operating since 1978 as an air charter service across the Territory. Airnorth has 156 scheduled departures weekly, servicing 14 destinations and carrying in excess of 250,000 passengers annually. It employs 180 staff in Darwin. The picture that I have painted is of a solid company providing essential services to the Top End of Australia.

Airnorth will be impacted by the carbon tax. The executive chairman of Airnorth, Mr Michael Bridge, shared with me some of his company's concerns about the projected impact that this tax would have on its business and its growth plans. In the 2011-12 financial year, Airnorth budgets to use 15.5 million litres of aviation fuel; in 2012-13, it plans to use 16.5 million litres of aviation fuel; in 2013-14 it will increase to 21 million litres of aviation fuel; and in 2014-15 it will increase again to an estimated 25 million litres of aviation fuel. Based solely on the usage of fuel, the direct effect that a carbon tax will have on Airnorth in the 2012-13 financial year will be an additional tax of $986,700. In the 2013-14 financial year it will be $1,318,590. In the 2014-15 financial year the company will have to pay an additional tax of $1,651,000. If this company is to remain prosperous and provide the service that is required by its consumers, it will have no choice but to pass on those additional costs to consumers. That is bad news for consumers.

In addition to the issue of the significant increase in tax, Mr Bridge also highlighted to me that the Gillard Labor government had publicly stated that they are only taxing Australia's 500, 400 or 300 biggest polluters. Airnorth, as a small business in the Northern Territory, cannot be deemed one of the 500, 400 or 300 big polluters. But, as outlined here today, they are going to be taxed anyway. This is because the Gillard Labor government has applied the carbon tax to the aviation industry through the aviation fuel levy. This means that, no matter how big or small your aviation business, the tax will be applied. Airnorth is not the only Territory aviation company that will be affected. Locals like Hardy Aviation, Chartair and Pearl Aviation will all be paying the additional tax. They will all be penalised for building their businesses and needing to use more aviation fuel.

Cost of living pressures are also being felt across other small businesses and they are telling me that they are struggling. Margins are falling while costs are rising. We all know that small business health is a good barometer for the strength of local community economies. It is pretty concerning how many shops and small businesses are closing down. All you have to do is have a look in the Darwin mall to see how many vacant shopfronts there are. Small businesses are doing it tough. But I heard today in the chamber one of the ministers saying, 'That's okay: we care about small businesses'. What a joke. The small businesses in my electorate do not think that the government cares about them at all.

On the topic of the government not caring at all, I would like to talk about the RAAF houses in Eaton. I have spoken on this issue a number of times in this place. I would like to know why the Gillard Labor government is again defying the will of the parliament and the will of Territorians. A motion was passed unanimously last year to make these houses available to Territorians. Why will the government not listen to the call from Territorians? They want these houses to be made available. They do not want them sitting there vacant, wasting away. These are taxpayer funded assets and they should be used. I hope that there is no truth to the rumour that the Labor government is going to demolish 120 of the 396 houses in the suburb of Eaton while claiming that they are not up to Defence standards when they are most definitely up to community standards. I know that the community would be outraged at such a ridiculous and unwarranted decision. Even if new houses were going to be built in their place that would not justify a decision to demolish houses when there is such a housing shortage in my electorate.

I would like to spend a few minutes following up on some promises that the Gillard Labor government made in the lead-up to the 2010 federal election. I want to get an update on where these things are. A $1.5 million all-weather, world-championship-level BMX track was promised. That has not been delivered yet. I would like to know where that is. There was a promise for 1,200 new affordable rental homes for the Northern Territory. They have not been delivered yet. There was some talk that there had been an extension granted until 2015. That is still three years away, so I would like to get an update on that.

Then there was the promise for the new music and dance festivals and the Big Day Out, which was planned for March, April and May last year in Palmerston. Those months have all been and gone and those festivals have not occurred. Where is the money for that? Then there is the $5 million that was promised for a GP superclinic. That never occurred. As I have said, I did not support the concept of a GP superclinic. However, that $5 million could be used for medical services, particularly now that we are going to have much more pressure on our already strained public system. That $5 million could be given to us. We would really like to look at that. A GP superclinic has been built in the northern suburbs, but it was by a private company, and they are bulk billing—good news for the northern suburbs in Darwin. They did not need the government, but they would still like that $5 million.

To finish off, I would like to remind the House of a motion that I tabled last year calling for 19 February of each year to be gazetted as the Bombing of Darwin Day and for it to be named a day of national significance by the Governor-General. As this motion was also unanimously supported by the parliament, I hope that this coming weekend, with the 70th anniversary commemorations, the Prime Minister or one of her representatives will make an announcement in Darwin that the wishes of the parliament will be upheld and that 19 February each year will be recognised as a national day of significance. Additionally, it is my hope that, if such an announcement is made, all parties are acknowledged for their involvement in bringing this request to the parliament. I do not want just Labor people to be recognised; I would like the coalition to be acknowledged as well, because we took the lead in bringing this to the attention of the House.