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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2337

Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (12:08): I rise to speak to the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Finance) Bill 2013. I highlight the fact that during estimates we raised questions about the budget measures and asked the departmental officials whether they could confirm that the $200 million special dividend payment was to be made to the government this year. We asked whether it was usual for EFIC to make such special payments. The official indicated that it was actually a government decision that it would occur. When questioned whether there had been previous dividend payments, he indicated that there had not been except for once back in 2003 when they divested the credit insurance business.

When further questioned about how the government came up with a figure of $200 million—was that something that the department had identified or offered up, and how much could they afford to pay in light of their ongoing business?—the departmental official stated:

The decision was taken in the context of budget deliberations.

Why was that decision taken? The decision was taken because of the politically inspired drive by this government to achieve a surplus purely for their re-election campaign regardless of the damage that it was doing to other parts of the economy. It has had an impact across other areas. This area alone is important. EFIC is an important mechanism to allow our smaller exporters to have the opportunity to gain access to foreign markets, particularly when they are operating in an area where the commercial banks cannot or will not support them. In itself, EFIC is an important body. Taking funding away potentially limits its ability to support Australian exporters. If you look at our balance of trade at the moment you will see that we should be encouraging, not restricting, Australian companies to gain access to overseas markets.

The same management approach has had other flow-on effects. I have spoken previously in this place about the impact of MYEFO health budget measures announced earlier this year. The government consistently denies that it has reduced health funding, but independent analysis done by the Australian National University quite clearly identifies the reduction in funding that took place in the MYEFO to the health budgets. We have seen in the media how Victoria has challenged that and claimed some of those funds back, but in South Australia we are still seeing the impacts of that.

Some $31 million was taken away from the South Australian health budget, which means that the South Australian government has to make choices about what they can continue to fund. Just this week we have seen funding stopped for things like audits of deaths in surgery, which have been integral part of maintaining the quality of our healthcare system. These audits provide us with an understanding of what went wrong—if indeed something went wrong—how we can address that and how we can improve the system. That closed-loop auditing process has been an important part of our medical standards. South Australia is now the only state in Australia that has chosen to not fund that process. Why? Because it does not have enough money. Why does it not have enough money? Despite the protestations of the government, it does not have enough money because $31 million was taken away from it as part of the government's myopic drive towards achieving a budget surplus, which they have now finally admitted they cannot achieve.

Let us look at the management of different portfolios by this government. EFIC is just one good example that became very clear during estimates. It demonstrated that it was a very deliberate extraction of funds by the government towards their budget surplus. That same approach has been hurting different areas of the economy from health to defence industry and, in this case, the exporters. If there is one message that Australians continue to get it is that, if we want to have our economy grow, we need to be moving into the global market and exporting. Yet measures like this harm the chances of our smaller companies to gain that initial foothold in export markets.