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Monday, 3 March 2014
Page: 1285

Mr CONROY (Charlton) (12:00): When I was speaking on this bill previously, I was going through the $11½ million cut to the Building Multicultural Communities Program grants—a cut that could have been avoided using just 10 days of the interest bill from the government's nakedly political injection of $8.8 billion into the Reserve Bank Reserve Fund. As part of this cut to this grants program, we were seeing the Ethnic Communities Council of Newcastle and Hunter Region lose a $150,000 grant to build the first ever multicultural men's shed and a community garden at their community centre. Members from all sides of this House will be aware of the wonderful contribution that men's sheds provide to our community, and to have a multicultural men's shed was a truly innovative idea from the ethnic communities council. Ninety men had already registered to join this shed, and they have lost their $150,000 grant which was awarded in the previous government and fully budgeted for.

Given that the funding agreements for the program stated that the projects had to be completed by 30 June 2014, most organisations had begun the planning process, and many are now well advanced in their project and are considerably out of pocket. Vedic Samiti are out of pocket for more than $14,000 after undergoing a lengthy building design and development approval process, and the ethnic communities council has invested around $49,000 on plans, DA approvals, electrical works and site preparation. I am advised that on Tuesday, 25 February, the department called the ethnic communities council to advise they will reimburse $4,500 for costs associated with the lodgement of a development application to Newcastle council. However, they refused to acknowledge the more than $44,000 invested by the council in utilities fees, design, EISs and electrical work required to get the approval for the DA.

So these groups made the decision to invest in these projects in good faith; they had had their grants awarded, in accordance with the grants process; and now they are considerably out of pocket because of the actions of the Abbott government. These are groups that have very low budgets. They operate on a shoestring, often through the operation of goodwill and donations from the community. To see them out of pocket to such a great extent demonstrates the contempt this new government has for community groups.

I am sure that, like members on this side of the House, coalition MPs would have enjoyed attending citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day and welcoming our newest citizens. These ceremonies are wonderful demonstrations of our modern, multicultural Australia. I would just highlight the hypocrisy of this government: although they pay lip service to multiculturalism, they have in fact cut funding to the very groups that are on the ground making multiculturalism work.

In the time remaining, I would like to discuss another part of the appropriations bill, and that is defence funding. At the moment, we have the naval shipbuilding industry in crisis. The entire industry is in a crisis where they are waiting for work. Most of the shipyards in this country that build naval ships—Forgacs in the Hunter, and BAE at Williamstown and Henderson—are looking at work running out in the next year. We are looking at between 4,000 and 5,000 job losses if nothing is done, including 900 jobs going in my region of the Hunter Valley. Once lost, these jobs will be very hard to rebuild—and we will need to rebuild them because, under the current white paper, the Royal Australian Navy will need to acquire 40 major naval vessels in the next couple of decades.

It is essential that we build most of these ships if not all of them here because there is a direct link between the ability to build a naval vessel and the ability to maintain them. As an island nation it is essential for our national sovereignty that we can maintain our own naval vessels so that we are not dependent on any other nation in the world.

Labor had a solution, and we took to the last election a proposal to bring forward the replacement of two supply ships and to guarantee a minimum amount of work being provided in Australia with a real opportunity for both ships to be built entirely within this country. This would have helped Forgacs and it would have helped BAE, who would have had to compete for the work but would have had a decent shot at overcoming the shipbuilding valley of death that they currently face.

There are other options, including building a fourth air warfare destroyer, advancing the replacement of the patrol boats that have seen some operational maintenance difficulties, or beginning early construction of our frigate replacements based on a hull modelled on the AWD. All of these options are worth exploring, but we need urgent work to resolve this issue.

If these shipyards, most particularly BAE in Melbourne and Forgacs up at Tomago, do not receive the opportunity to bid for new contracts shortly, they will have to start making workers redundant, and this will lead to 4,000 to 5,000 direct job losses and the impact on families and communities, not to mention the impact on other communities that depend on that work, whether those are steel suppliers or other specialty subcontractors.

This will be not only an economic and social impact; it will be an impact on our national defence. Once these jobs are lost, they will be very hard to rebuild and, as an island nation, this will be a great tragedy that will reduce our national sovereignty. So I urge the new government to find a solution quickly on this. They were briefed on this when they were in opposition. There should be a bipartisan approach. No-one wants to score political points on this. We need a solution; otherwise, we will see thousands of jobs going, devastating communities that have already seen significant job losses, whether it is in the Hunter Valley or in Melbourne, where they saw the loss of Toyota and other industries from that region.

I urge the new government to take action on this. I will be working very closely with the employers, the unions and the workforce in my area. I have already talked to Mr Lindsay Stratton, the CEO of Forgacs, a few times about this issue, and I have spoken to the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, which represents the workers on this site. This is an important issue. I urge the government to take action, not sit on their hands and wait for a new white-paper process. We need an urgent resolution now, or we will lose thousands of jobs and face a reduced national capability.

This appropriations bill contains a number of initiatives. Some of them are nakedly political, like the $8.8 billion injection into the Reserve Bank in one year, which will see dividends paid only six weeks later back to the government. It yet again demonstrates the skewed priorities of this government. It is all about superficial politics, not acting in our national interest.