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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2497

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (17:28): I am not sure if we have just seen Bob the senator or Bob the historian or Bob the blogger but I do congratulate my new colleague on his first speech. I note with some interest the content of Senator Bob Carr's speech in relation to the environment and I have a question for him: as premier, would he have gone to the people of New South Wales two days before an election and told them a complete untruth on what he was going to do about such an important policy as a carbon tax?

Because I remind Senator Bob Carr that two days before the last election the person who prevailed upon him to come into this place was indeed the very person who told the great lie of Australian politics in the last century, and that was: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' I ask Senator Bob Carr: would he have gone to the New South Wales people and told a complete untruth? That is what I would like to hear from Senator Carr when he makes his next speech.

I would like to refer Senator Bob Carr to an article in the Australian in February of this year written by Graham Lloyd, the environment editor. I will just read it because, with the greatest respect to the new senator, I did not think his Chicken Little approach to what lies ahead was a constructive debate in relation to where we will be in the next 10, 20 or 50 years. Graham Lloyd, the environment editor, said:

Himalayan glaciers are back on the frontline of climate change controversy, with new research showing the world's greatest snowcapped peaks lost no ice at all over the past 10 years.

Claims the Himalayan ice peaks would disappear by 2035 instead of 2350 cast doubt over the credibility of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2009 report. Now even the 2350 estimate of disappearing ice is open to question.

Research published in the scientific journal Nature showed satellite measurements of the ice peaks from the Himalayas to Tian Shan on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan have come to an unexpected conclusion.

While lower-altitude glaciers were melting over the past eight years, enough snow was being added …

…   …   …

In 2010, the head of the IPCC was forced to apologise for including in a 2007 report the claim that there was a 'very high' chance of glaciers disappearing from the Himalayas by 2035.

Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, conceded in January 2010 that 'the clear and well-established standards of evidence required by the IPCC procedures were not applied properly' when the claim was included.

I do want to talk about some other matters. One is that in 2012 we mark the 70th anniversary of a number of matters that were an indication of the darkest of days in 1942 and the challenges facing this nation. Without an exhaustive list, of course I note the fall of Singapore; the bombing of Darwin—and Natasha Griggs from the other place, the member for Solomon, is responsible for a motion, accepted by both chambers in the end, that we recognise the bombing of Darwin, and full marks to her; the battles of Sunda Strait and Bantam Bay and the sinking of HMAS Perth; the bombing of Broome and Wyndham; HMAS Yarra, sunk off Java; the battle of Java itself; the battle of the Coral Sea; attacks on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines; the Queen unveiling Bomber Command Memorial in London this year on 28 June; the sinking of the Montevideo Maru; the battle of the Kokoda Track in New Guinea; the battle of Milne Bay in New Guinea; the battle of El Alamein in Egypt; and of course there are others. This is a moment and a year of solemn reflection for this country.

I want to talk about another matter that relates to a function I attended with the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Tony Abbott, in Bendigo on 5 March. There the Leader of the Opposition in writing again pledged the coalition to address the DFRDB and the DFRB indexation matter. Again, the Leader of the Opposition has set in stone the commitment of the coalition to address the wrongs that should have been righted many years ago—and I acknowledge it should have been righted by the former government. But I am not here to debate what happened before; I am here to debate and talk about what we need to do now. This chamber should be ashamed that on 16 June last year when the opportunity was there to address this issue of the fair indexation of this superannuation, which we all know is a wrong that should be righted, the Australian Labor Party, the Greens and Senator Xenophon voted it down.

Senator Edwards: Shame!

Senator RONALDSON: A unique opportunity—and, as Senator Edwards said, a shame. It was indeed a disgrace. We will index the military superannuation pensions the way they should be. Can anyone in this chamber tell me—I know from our side that they can, they will have the answer; but can anyone from the Australian Labor Party or the Greens tell me how it is appropriate to index age pensions and service pensions differently for these men and women? It is outrageous, it is unfair and it is inequitable, and this chamber had the opportunity to address it in June last year and it did not do so. That is to the eternal shame of this chamber. It is to the eternal shame of the Australian Labor Party and the Greens, and they stand utterly condemned for not addressing fair indexation when presented with the opportunity to do so.

Don't forget, this was about fair go. This was the opportunity to give 57,000 Australian families a fair go, and a fair go was not given. I know there are many, many Labor members who quite rightly have been inundated with emails and other correspondence from veterans, not just from those on the DFRDB and the DFRB but from many veterans who are absolutely incensed about what has happened.

Senator Edwards: Completely let down.

Senator RONALDSON: Completely and utterly let down, as Senator Edwards said. But the coalition will not let these men and women down, and that pledge is absolutely now written in stone. Another matter of enormous concern is the decision of the government last year to slash $8 million from veterans advocacy funding and the Veteran and Community Grants program. Just to put this into perspective, the state where this will have the biggest impact is Victoria. When the government released its advocacy review there was money set aside, quite rightly, to enable work to be done to include in New South Wales and Queensland the sorts of veterans welfare centres that Victoria had. But, remarkably, it has now removed that money. A reduction in funding was not mentioned or addressed at all by the advocacy funding review. In fact, if you read the review properly there is probably a very good reason to increase funding. So the very welfare centre model that the government was putting money into to spread the centres has been utterly decimated by the government's decision to remove $8 million.

There is a very real chance that the Ballarat Veterans Support Centre will close. The Central Victorian Veterans Support Centre in Bendigo is under enormous strain. The administrator has taken a pay cut so the centre can remain open. It is the same in Geelong. It is the same in the Blue Mountains. Everywhere I go I am confronted with veterans advocates and pensioner welfare officers telling me they wonder why they are doing this work when the government itself refuses to acknowledge the work that they are doing. These are volunteers volunteering their services for the veteran community—some are veterans, a number are not. They believe this role is so important that they volunteer their services. And the government, in that budget decision last year, absolutely ripped the heart and soul of these centres and ripped out of those volunteers to some extent the commitment that they previously had. They themselves are saying, 'If that is the way the government treats us, why should we continue doing this?' I am confident they will because I know the cause is bigger than the incompetence of this government.

Turning to the BEST funding, young veterans and their families are the ones who potentially will lose the most out of these centres not providing potentially the level of service that they were. Those young men and women are the ones who, if they have got nowhere to go, are more likely to walk away from accessing their entitlements—legitimate entitlements given by the people of this country in recognition of the uniqueness of the military service they have been engaged in. The uniqueness of military service must underpin every decision we as a nation make and underpin every decision that comes from both here and the other place. The uniqueness of military service has not been recognised with the slashing of the BEST funding.

The veterans, quite rightly, are utterly incensed that they must pay for the incompetence of this government. It is not just the DFRDB recipients. It is TPI pensioners and the widows who cannot access the gold card. I can go on and on. I will tell you why these veteran issues cannot be addressed. I will go through some of the reasons. The Home Insulation Program: $2.4 billion was wasted and mismanaged. The Building the Education Revolution: a $1.7 billion blow-out on school halls with a program costing $16.2 billion and estimates of up to $8 billion wasted. The Computers in Schools program: blown out by $1.2 billion, with one million computers promised but only 300,000 delivered. The Broadband Network: promised for $4.7 billion but replaced with a $43 billion plan. There was FuelWatch and GroceryWatch. There was the solar home program: a $150 million blow-out with the program cancelled. Green Loans program: $300 million wasted, with the program cancelled. And, to rub salt into the wounds of those people who served this country, there has been nearly $1 billion spent on consultants by this government since they came to office in 2007. Government advertising is another one: the stimulus advertising, $50 million wasted; climate change advertising, $14 million wasted. There was $81.9 million to implement the ETS that never was. For the 2020 Summit: $2 million wasted. The tax bonus payments: $46 million wasted, with money sent to people overseas, criminals and dead people. It is about time we got our priorities right.

I will raise another matter. The cost of servicing the 'loan' that this government has imposed on the people of this country—every man, woman and child—is an interest bill of $8 billion. Given the appropriate amount of time, I could go through, chapter and verse, every single dollar that could have been spent from that $8 billion on the veterans of this country. That $8 billion would pay for the bulk of the issues that the veteran community, quite rightly, is angry about. If there was some good to have come out of this waste and mismanagement, there might have been an excuse for it. But how can any government turn around a country with budget surpluses and no debt into something now approaching about $130 billion to $140 billion of net debt and borrowing $100 million a day? I thank Senator Edwards and Senator Cash for assisted me with this figure: we are borrowing $100 million a day. It is absolutely outrageous. In the four minutes left I want to raise several other matters. I pay tribute to the outgoing Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, General Peter Cosgrove. General Cosgrove steered the Australian War Memorial through difficult times. I do not want to politicise these comments, but I will say the government was dragged kicking and screaming into providing the War Memorial with desperately needed funds. On behalf of the coalition and, I am sure, on behalf of this chamber and the Australian people, I thank General Peter Cosgrove most sincerely for his contribution. I do, on behalf of all those aforementioned, welcome Rear Admiral Ken Doolan AO RAN (Ret'd) as Chairman of the Council of the Australian War Memorial. Admiral Doolan joins a distinguished list of Australians who have served as chairmen of the Australian War Memorial's council. I have every confidence that Admiral Doolan will forthrightly represent the Memorial's views to the government and ensure that projects like the gallery's redevelopment are properly funded and delivered on time.

I turn to some remarkable comments by Councillor Cameron Granger, the Deputy Mayor of Geelong, who, of course, is a member of the ALP right and is in the faction of Richard Marles, the member for Corio. The Geelong Advertiser reports today that Councillor Granger at a Geelong business network breakfast had the gall to attack the Premier of Victoria over Alcoa. He made the quite remarkable comment: 'Mr Premier, we can't wait. Devise a plan to assist and get on a plane to New York.' Well, I have got some advice for Councillor Granger: why doesn't Councillor Granger, the Labor Party lackey Deputy Mayor of the City of Geelong, get on a plane and fly to Canberra and tell the Prime Minister of this country and the right wing of the Labor Party that he does not want a carbon tax, because the carbon tax is the one imposition that will destroy manufacturing jobs in Geelong. So if Councillor Granger gets on the plane and comes here, then let us see what outcome he will get and whether he can address this outrageous attack on Geelong manufacturing and other jobs, and this outrageous attack on Geelong families. When Councillor Granger says we cannot wait, I say to Councillor Granger: I can't and we can't wait for you to start doing your job properly and stop playing cheap partisan politics when the City of Geelong and the region of Geelong is under such enormous threat.

I will finish on this. The coalition has given the government our absolute commitment to bipartisan support for the Centenary of Anzac. It will be an extraordinarily important period in this nation's history. We have the opportunity over the term of that commemoration to provide our children and leave them with a legacy that should be modelled upon the legacy left by a former Labor veterans' affairs minister, Con Sciacca, who in my view left a remarkable legacy to this country with the Australia Remembers program. What we must do is generate in the hearts and minds of our young people ownership of those things that we hold dear. It is our children, and not the current World War II and other older veterans, who oddly have the responsibility to ensure that this country never ever forgets.