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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 274


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (19:01):

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to speak on the report for 2012-13 of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Firstly, I congratulate the former Labor government—and the former minister, the Hon. Jenny Macklin MP—for the great and innovative work of the department under her leadership. This report demonstrates the breadth and depth of the work Labor undertook across a range of important portfolios and is in stark contrast to the government's lack of commitment or focus on communities, families and individuals doing it tough.

Under Labor, to ensure our success and to keep a clear focus on matters of critical public interest, we allocated portfolio responsibilities to three ministers and two parliamentary secretaries. The report acts to further highlight that under the Abbott government, housing, community services and Indigenous affairs have been downgraded or there is little or no commitment to them. Housing, homelessness and social housing have no dedicated minister. Disability reform, disabilities and carers have no dedicated minister or parliamentary secretary. These are very important portfolios which now no longer have dedicated ministers and are instead all lumped together with a range of other important social service portfolios across ministers Andrews and Payne.

As we know, the Prime Minister has with great fanfare taken personal responsibility for the full range of legislation and issues around Aboriginal Australians. What we now know is that the Prime Minister has promptly contracted out those matters to Messrs 'Twiggy' Forrest and Noel Pearson. Who will be taking responsibility, for example, for the Indigenous Land Corporation, the Northern Territory Land Council or the Indigenous Business Council—to pick a few at random? Will these organisations with proven track records be disbanded, defunded or simply handed over to Twiggy and Noel? Or will they be giving the responsibility to Senator Scullion? I would certainly question how the Prime Minister of Australia, with all of his other domestic and international responsibilities, has the time to give proper focus and respect to Aboriginal people.

I recently attended the AHURI conference in Adelaide. More than 800 housing and homeless NGO representatives attended and Minister Andrews gave his first speech on housing—an opportunity to present the government's agenda and excite the sector. Instead, the sector left feeling deflated and unsure of the Abbott government's agenda, with the only firm commitment coming from the minister being to disband the Prime Minister's Council on Homelessness.

I express my deep concern about the government's approach to this range of portfolios, and I question the government's ability to give the same detailed response and make the positive impact that Labor made in this area. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.