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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4401

Senator BARNETT (5:03 PM) —At the request of Senator Parry, I move:

That the Senate notes:

(a)   the ineptitude of the Rudd Labor Government to deliver promised services to the Australian people; and

(b)   the mismanagement by the Rudd Labor Government in relation to:

(i)   border protection,

(ii)   migration,

(iii)   Indigenous policy,

(iv)   home insulation, and

(v)   the Building Education Revolution.

I stand to speak to this motion and, in doing so, want to confirm on the record that the Labor government has failed to deliver. We have the same horse but a different jockey. We have, as Mr Abbott said at lunchtime, the same dud product but a different salesman. Ms Gillard was responsible for four programs in education and child care, and she has manifestly failed in each of them. She has failed to deliver, and I want to mention those four before I move to the area of Indigenous policy. Those four areas in particular relate to Building the Education Revolution.

Ms Gillard was responsible for the school hall rip-off—$16.2 billion was spent on schools, there was a $1.7 billion blow-out and at least $5 billion was wasted. That is $5 billion of taxpayers money that has been wasted through mismanagement, gouging and state government substitution. There was no requirement for value for money. That is a disgrace. Non-government schools, of course, were allowed to self-manage their projects, and they did well. They did get value for money, while government schools were ripped off.

Ms Gillard was also responsible for the computers in schools program, a $1.2 billion blow-out in which 300,000 laptops were delivered out of 970,000 promised. Goodness! She was also responsible for the abolition of the Australian Technical Colleges and the introduction of the trades training centres. There were 2,650 promised in every government secondary school. How many were delivered? Thirteen were delivered, and the program has blown out for longer than it took to prosecute World War II. That is just ridiculous; it is hopeless.

Ms Gillard was responsible for implementing the childcare policy ‘to end the dreaded double drop-off’. That was the policy of Labor in 2007; that was what they said they would deliver. They said that they would deliver 260 childcare centres. How many were delivered? There were 38 delivered, and the promise has now been junked by federal Labor.

Ms Gillard, who is now the Prime Minister, is responsible for those four programs. She has been and is responsible for education and child care, and she has manifestly failed to deliver. So why would you now make her Prime Minister, running this country? I am very concerned for and on behalf of the Australian public. I am very concerned because of the shocking waste and mismanagement that continues to persist throughout this Labor government. Yes, the horse is the same. The Labor government is the same, but we have a new jockey—that is, Ms Gillard. I welcome her to that position but I am very concerned for and on behalf of the Australian people.

This week, with respect to Indigenous policy, the now Gillard Labor government had an opportunity to follow through on passing Mr Abbott’s wild rivers bill. I am very proud to say, as Deputy Chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, that this Senate supported our recommendation and passed the wild rivers bill earlier this week. That is great news, so I am now calling on Ms Gillard to immediately pass the Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2010. There is still time. She can do it. That was passed in the Senate on Tuesday night, and it provided hope for Indigenous people in Far North Queensland. That is good news for those people in Far North Queensland.

The coalition’s report to the Senate—and I have it here in front of me—is dated June 2010. It is a very good report. Specifically the coalition senators’ report is excellent, because the report and its recommendations in that regard have been accepted by the Senate. Our report argued that there was a breach of statutory process by the Queensland government in 2009 and it confirms that they still have serious questions to answer in Queensland. I will come to that further in a minute.

The current Queensland Wild Rivers Act severely restricts the capacity of Indigenous communities in wild river areas to use, develop and control their land. If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives and supported by Labor it will ensure that Indigenous communities are properly consulted and given the opportunity to achieve a consensus before consenting to the making of any wild river declaration affecting their land. This will certainly increase opportunities for Indigenous people in Far North Queensland. It will give them opportunities to engage in the real economy and to address their related social issues, such as welfare dependence and unemployment, consistent with the objective of closing the gap. The bill, if it is supported by Labor, will provide opportunities for the Indigenous people in these communities to be economically and socially prosperous.

I just want to put on the record my thanks to the coalition senators who participated in this report—my colleagues Senator Russell Trood, Senator Stephen Parry, Senator Ian Macdonald, who has been very feisty in his vigorous support for people in Far North Queensland, and of course National Party Senator Ron Boswell. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Nigel Scullion, and he should be congratulated for his efforts in steering the bill through the Senate so successfully.

Amazingly, I have learnt just today through a report in the Australian that the Queensland government have apparently advised that another seven river systems will be added to the wild rivers register.

Senator Boyce —Another seven. That is what they are trying to do.

Senator BARNETT —Another seven, Senator Boyce. This is a disaster. It is going to inject fear into the hearts and minds of people in Far North Queensland, particularly in Indigenous communities. It is very wrong, because the Queensland legislation does not just cover rivers. It covers river systems, catchment areas and basins, and they are being used to greatly increase the size of protected areas. The current situation is certainly worse than what many people ever accused Joh Bjelke-Petersen of creating. The facts stand there for everyone to see. It is not just about a river; it is much broader and the consequences are huge.

I note that some of the serious concerns expressed in the Senate report related to the breach of the statutory process by the Queensland government. That is set out in our report. The Queensland state election was held on 21 March 2009, with the current minister, the Hon. Stephen Robertson MP, sworn in on 26 March 2009. On 2 April 2009 the governing council approved the 2009 declarations, and that approval was gazetted on 3 April 2009. There is now a High Court challenge to that declaration and to the declarations regarding the wild rivers in Queensland. I hope that it does not come to a hearing. I hope that this bill will be passed and that that litigation can be withdrawn. But it just confirms again that this is a very dicky situation for those in Far North Queensland and their economic opportunities in the wild river areas.

What did the Brisbane diocese of the Anglican Church say? We have quoted them in our report. They said:

… the Wild Rivers legislation in Queensland negatively impacts the wellbeing of the Indigenous population within the Cape York Peninsula area as it reduces the ability of Cape York Indigenous communities to engage with the real economy.

This is a church group in Queensland that have put forward their views, and I hope that the Labor Party and those in Queensland consider them seriously and lobby their federal members and senators to support the coalition’s bill.

What has happened in terms of attracting investments since these wild rivers declarations were made in Queensland? It has been demonstrated recently. Five days after the making of the Wenlock basin wild river declaration on 4 June, Cape Alumina Ltd announced that it had placed its $1.2 billion Pisolite Hills bauxite mine and port project in west Cape York Peninsula under review. That means it is on hold, stalled, with no further investment, jobs growth or opportunities for Indigenous communities on the Cape York Peninsula. A day later, Matilda Zircon announced that it was relinquishing its exploration tenements and applications in the Cape York Peninsula. This is bad news for Far North Queensland. We need to turn this around to provide opportunities for the future.

We have a section in our report on the development applications lodged to date. In recent correspondence Balkanu highlighted the adverse impact on Indigenous community vegetable gardens for people with residences included within the high preservation area either side of the declared river. They said that a community vegetable garden within a high preservation area is only permissible if it does not involve clearing of vegetation. It is difficult to imagine circumstances on Cape York where a community vegetable garden could be established without some clearing of vegetation. Indeed, that is a very persuasive argument. High preservation areas have in almost all declarations been declared to the maximum of one kilometre either side of a declared wild river and its major tributaries with no scientific justification. The best soils for community gardens are within this area.

Of course, the coalition senators expressed concern about this, about the intrusion into native title landowners’ ability to use their land in whatever manner they see fit and about community vegetable gardens, particularly in circumstances where the proposed use is intended to improve physical and social wellbeing. The regulatory complexity is set out in our report, too. Under the Queensland regime it is very bad indeed. The Cape York Land Council made submissions in which they had very persuasive arguments. The scheme injected high levels of uncertainty and complexity, and it was clearly shown that Indigenous native title landowners in wild river areas had not been provided with the knowledge and resources they need to navigate and work within the wild rivers regulatory scheme. We do not want that. We do not want uncertainty. We want to provide economic and social opportunities for those in these areas. Two years ago, the Prime Minister at the time, Mr Rudd, in his apology to Australia’s Indigenous people stated that for Australians:

… symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong. It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history.

I call on Ms Gillard, as the Prime Minister, to get behind this bill and show that action is more important than words—not just to be all talk and no action. Labor certainly has not backed its rhetoric with action and that promise, unfortunately, has not been delivered; it has not been honoured. This is an opportunity to back up that apology, which had bipartisan support from both sides of the parliament. This bill provides an opportunity to support the Closing the Gap initiative. As Tony Abbott said when he introduced the bill:

… on the same day that the Rudd government subscribed to the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Bligh government in Queensland applied the wild rivers legislation to the significant rivers of Cape York—effectively blocking Aboriginal people from developing their land in the catchments of the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart rivers in Cape York.

That is well noted and, of course, it has extended further than that as a result of these definitional issues. We in the coalition are very concerned. We have raised concerns about the full or partial abrogation of native title rights. We have noted that these buffer zones effectively become lock-up areas. We call on Labor to back up the rhetoric. We call on Ms Gillard to act in support of those in Far North Queensland—those Indigenous communities who want to have a future—and support this bill.