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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1310

Mr HAASE (Durack) (21:11): It gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise this evening to address Appropriation Bills 3 and 4 of 2011-12. Might I remind members that 7 February was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. All will be familiar with the Dickens novel Oliver Twist. After a tortuous three months of slow starvation, Oliver worked up the courage to ask for more gruel. For this simple question, perhaps a matter of life and death, he was ordered into instant confinement and a notice was next morning placed on the outside of the parish gate offering a reward of five pounds to anyone who would take the boy off the hands of the parish.

If only this government were Oliver Twist. Then the people of Australia could banish them when they ask for more money to fund their failed asylum seeker policy. The costs of running the immigration department have leapt from $1.6 billion in the last year of the Howard government to now more than $2.7 billion a year. In the 2009-10 budget the government provided less than $500 million over the entire forward estimates to manage asylum seekers. But the direct cost for this period alone has hit $3.4 billion, without adding the cost of building and expanding detention centres. Labor are now spending in just five months on boat arrivals what they said they would spend in four years after abolishing the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas. So they are going back to parliament asking for another $330 million. Last year they asked for another $295 million and the year before an additional $120 million. In the last year of the Howard government, the cost of running the department of immigration was $1.6 billion. Senate estimates figures released last week show the cost of running the department of immigration is now more than $2.7 billion with the key reason for this increase the growth in costs for managing asylum seekers—no justification of any kind for the almost $700 million cost blow-out in its contract with Serco for immigration detention centres. As at 9 February almost 100 letters to questions on notice from the October 2011 supplementary budget estimates hearings for immigration and citizenship portfolio are still outstanding. This is all indicative of an incompetent minister and an incompetent government.

Now for some shocking details of the incompetence. I apologise in advance for perhaps boring you with this litany of complex figures. The additional estimates released by the government this week show a further budget blow-out in asylum seeker costs of $866 million, or more than 25 per cent. As a result, the government will go back to parliament this week and ask for an immediate $330 million to cover the shortfall in last year's costs and the expected increase for this year. Across the entire immigration portfolio, not including last year's blow-out, the increase for the four years to 2014-15 is $759 million. It is an increase in the amount they are asking. This is $559 million, or almost three times as much as the $197 million the Treasurer and Mr Bowen told taxpayers the bill would be for immigration when they released the midyear economic forecasts for this period last November. In just two months, the government appear to have blown out their estimates by almost $560 million.

In 2011-12, the immigration budget will cost $2.73 billion. This is $1 billion more than the $1.69 billion it cost in 2007-08. It is also $330 million, or 14 per cent, more than the now estimated $2.4 billion it cost to run last year. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's annual reports, the number of permanent staff employed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship between 2007 and 2011 has increased by 1,192, or 15 per cent. During the same period, the number of the highest paying Senior Executive Service positions has increased by 24 per cent. The median income for these positions in 2011 was $180,000 to $210,000. Asylum seeker management costs have been revised to $1.2 billion for the 2011-12 year, up from the revised figure of $880 million for last year. In 2007-08, asylum seeker management costs were less than $100 million. That is the cost for asylum seeker management, not the cost of the department, of course.

The blow-out revealed in these latest estimates takes the total budget blow-out from Labor's border protection failures over the last three years—that is, since the 2009-10 budget—to $3.9 billion. Prior to the release of these figures, the running total on asylum seeker budget blow-outs since the 2009-10 budget was $3 billion—that is not the cost; that is the blow-out—comprising $2.6 billion in recurrent expenditure and the balance on capital costs of new building and expansion works for detention facilities.

This week the parliament will debate two additional appropriation bills seeking parliament's approval to provide the Department of Immigration and Citizenship with an additional $330 million. These funds are needed to make up for a further blow-out in last year's costs and a further increase for 2011-12. These new immigration cost blow-outs will also come under scrutiny at the Senate estimates and did so last Monday. On Thursday, Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten introduced the bills and made no mention of these further and significant blow-outs in immigration costs. It was a reminder of his effort after the last budget, when we snuck into the dispatch box to raise the government's borrowing limit.

Analysis of the additional estimates shows that the largest increase in costs for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship was in managing asylum seekers, with the additional funding required to cover a further $116 million blow-out in expenses last year and an expected further blow-out of $120 million this year, or $102 million after taking account of the savings from not proceeding with the Malaysian people swap in other programs. The further blowout revealed for 2010-11 follows an earlier blowout of $291 million which was the subject of an additional appropriation this time last year. The original 2010-11 budget was just $471.2 million for these expenses The final cost has now been revealed as $879 million, which is an 87 per cent or $407 million increase on what the Treasurer told Australians in the budget before the last election.

The further revision of last year's figures, up by more than $100 million, seven months after the year ended raises questions about the government's trying to backdate budget blowouts to minimise the impact on this year's budget figures. In addition the government has increased funding over the forward estimates for asylum seeker management in 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 by a further $648 million. Once again, this takes into account savings from not proceeding with the failed Malaysian people-swap deal.

The total blowout for asylum seeker management revealed in the initial estimates from 2010-11 and over the forward estimates to 2014-15 is $866 million. This represents a blowout of more than 25 per cent on the cost revealed in the budget in May last year. This happened well after the government had ruined the border protection policies of the Howard government. In the November mid-year economic forecast statement, the government said that the net impact on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's budget over the four forward year estimates would be $197 million. These latest estimates now put this cost at $756 million—almost four times the original amount—of which $750 million is due to the blowout in asylum seeker management.

We are talking about approximately $1 billion-plus. What could we do with funds of that magnitude? In my own electorate of Durack, $1 billion would address so many of the existing inequities which have been created by the fact that the Durack population basically occupies rural and remote Western Australia. What comes to mind is a hospital. A fully equipped medium-sized hospital in any one of my regional centres could be built for $1 billion—and what an asset that would be. In all of the Durack electorate there are no private beds in a hospital. All of my Durack constituents take up private health insurance knowing that they are contributing to the health system costs by making their own contribution. If they need hospital coverage because they are taking a trip to hospital, they go to Perth, to which they have the enormous costs of transporting themselves. But at least they will not be making an impost on the public health system.

What could we do with $1 billion about the costs of remote living? We could afford to bring the taxation zone rebate into the 21st century. We could compensate people for the high costs of living in remote and regional areas in Australia—and certainly all of my electorate of Durack is in the category of remote.

What could we do for the tertiary education of the children of couples living in my electorate of Durack? What could we do to create a level playing field so that my tertiary students would be on something like an equal footing with metropolitan tertiary students and could live at home with mum and dad, borrow the family car, live off the smell of a greasy rag, move on to tertiary education with their cohort of high-school friends and be familiar with the whole environment? With $1 billion I could really create a level playing field by paying for a tertiary access allowance which would make the cost of living in the Durack electorate akin to the cost of living in metropolitan areas. What could we do with $1 billion? The mind boggles. What is currently being done with this $1 billion—dragged out of the pockets of the unsuspecting taxpayers of Australia by this government—is that it is being blown on a policy of border protection that is as good as useless. In fact, the government's border protection policy today amounts to advertising to the would-be people smugglers and emigres of this world, 'Come on down, because we will give you everything you have ever dreamt of.' When it comes to border protection policies, the current government of Australia has not got a clue.

In fact, so blind were the government to the realities that they cancelled a border protection policy that was put in place by Prime Minister John Howard that was absolutely effective and reduced the flow of personnel and boats to an absolute trickle. Yet, in his arrogance or ignorance, Prime Minister Rudd struck out that policy, gave permanent instead of temporary protection visas, trashed the Pacific offshore processing process and gave to the taxpayers of Australia an additional bill of $1 billion.

Tonight thousands of homeless people across Australia will be sleeping rough. What could we do with $1 billion to ease their plight? What could we do for a process of caring for those less fortunate Australians right across the nation? Today I had the good fortune of looking at a program that brought humour into aged care facilities. They do not want anything like $1 billion, but that is what we are wasting on the immigration policy today.

Look no further than the immigration policy when it comes to the follies of this government. They have trashed the good governance that was in place and replaced it with absolute folly—yet another foundation reason for the voters of this country to discharge this government.