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Order in the House -

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(generated from captions) THEME MUSIC Welcome to Order in the House, in Federal Parliament. a review of the week's business Deputy Prime Minister... macho and mincing, In a choice between I would have gone for macho myself, the Leader of the Opposition, and obviously or poodle has gone for the poodle. faced with the choice of a doberman and jocks-led recovery look now? Prime Minister, how does your socks will lose their jobs And how many more workers incompetence? because of your economic losses are announced in this country, It is almost as if each time job you can hear the champagne corks pop party room. in the National and Liberal Party This is a national disgrace. It is a scandal. They say the buck stops with me... Order. Order... order! ..and it certainly does. After the Opposition Leader to his front bench, announced changes used a question on job protection the Deputy Prime Minister to lampoon one of those promoted. incentive payments ..on top of all existing $2,800 incentive payment we are putting in place an additional organisations for employers or group training an option, a possibility, that give an out-of-trade apprentice their apprenticeship. a position to complete right the way through, It would be completion with $1,000 of that $2,800 paid when the apprentice completes. who find themselves out of trade And for those apprentices a position with a new employer but who aren't able to secure

or with a group training organisation on-the-job experience that can give them across a range of employers, we are also investing in registered training organisations in training providers apprentices to complete their study to create new pathways for those don't have the benefit even though they of a connection with an employer or a group training organisation. are important measures We believe that these that is committed to jobs from a government and committed to education. Mr Speaker, of course in this area what the opposition stands for. we do not know that they voted against jobs We do know, of course, against the stimulus package, when they voted that their regard for education and we do know is reckless to say the least, having been appointed with the new shadow Treasurer investing in schools is ridiculous. being a man who has said that That was his... shame. response to our... Amazing. That was his resume her seat. Order... the Deputy Prime Minister on a point of order. The Manager of Opposition Business relevance Mr Speaker, it's very clear on is now no longer answering a question that the Deputy Prime Minister that was about apprenticeships.

about investing in schools. She is now answering a question I would ask you to bring her back... seat, I will listen carefully... The Member for Sturt will resume his ..order, the Member for Banks... ..I will listen carefully conclusion of her answer. to the Deputy Prime Minister's The Deputy Prime Minister. I would have thought that, Mr Speaker, in the Liberal Party given the reaction of the member for Sturt to the appointment of Opposition Business, as the Manager apprenticeships himself he wouldn't be talking about at the current stage. apprenticeships himself. He wouldn't be talking about Order, order... the member for Warringah I must admit that I did want to see making a comeback. Deputy Prime Minister... macho and mincing, In a choice between I would have gone for macho myself, the Leader of the Opposition, and obviously of a doberman or poodle, faced with the choice has gone for the poodle. Order. rather than Cold Chisel, Presumably he prefers Abba we see on display. because that is the kind of thing her focus to the question. The Deputy Prime Minister will turn and I apologise to you for that, I do digress, Mr Speaker, some amusing interjections but we are getting about musical choices now. from the opposition backbench in this comparison. I think they are willing me on

the back foot in the economic debate But the government was forced onto gathered strength. when the wave of job losses Questions without notice. Are there any questions? The leader of the opposition. Thank you, Mr Speaker. to the Prime Minister. My question is addressed I refer to Pacific Brands laying off 1,850 Australian workers.

clothes, homewears. Workers who had been making shoes, I refer to the Prime Minister's claim

would create 75,000 jobs. that his December cash splash a few weeks ago And the Treasurer's claim

was spent on, and I quote, that the cash from the cash splash 'socks and jocks, and polo shirts'. and jocks led recovery look now? Prime Minister, how does your socks will lose their jobs And how many more workers

economic incompetence? because of your ALL: Hear, hear. The Prime Minister. announcement today by Pacific Brands Mr Speaker, when it comes to the all Members of this house the response from should be one of extreme disappointment at the decision. Furthermore, reflecting on the fact distressing news that this is devastating and for the workers concerned. Devastating and distressing news for the workers concerned. our advice to the government Our understanding, entitlements will be paid. is that we understand that full adjustment program, Under the TCF structural immediately eligible affected workers will be of customised assistance. for intensive support for the TCF sector, Mr Speaker, this is bad news it is bad news for the economy. the Innovation Minister I understand that by the Chairman of Pacific Brands had been informed the government could do that there was nothing by the company. to reverse the decision put to the government That was the position by the Chairman of Pacific Brands, as I'm advised. I refer the Treasurer to his numerous statements in January this year, that the $10 billion cash splash had, and I quote, "A very significant impact on spending on the basics of life such as socks and jocks. Today, Pacific Brands, the manufacturer of Bonds, Holeproof, Clarks, Hush Puppies, King Gee and Hard Yakka sacked 1,850 Australian workers in Cessnock, Wentworthville,

West End, Nunawading, Coolaroo and Bellambi.

Mr Speaker, does the Treasurer now regret claiming his $10 billion Christmas cash splash would create 75,000 jobs when all we are seeing are more job losses? The Treasurer. The Treasurer has the call. Well, Mr Speaker, it's certainly a sad day when we see so many job losses. There is no doubt about that. The reason the government are so emphatic about delivering our Economic Security Strategy last October, and our Nation Building and Jobs Plan is precisely to support jobs in the Australian community. Order... One can only imagine how much worse it might be if we had not acted last October. (SHOUTS AND JEERS) It's almost as if you can hear the glee in their voices, Mr Speaker, so they can score a cheap political point about such a serious matter. Because it is the case that the Economic Security Strategy will support 75,000 jobs... Order. ..will support 75,000 jobs. And what we know... What we know is how much worse our situation would be if those opposite were currently on this side of the House. How much worse it would be. Because, Mr Speaker... (MPS PROTEST) Order. ..the economic security strategy... This is a serious matter. It shouldn't be a... Those to my left. It's a very serious matter. The economic security strategy that we brought down last October was estimated to lift growth between .5% to 1% and to support up to 75,000 jobs. Member for... That is the model... That is the modelling from the Treasury. Our nation-building and jobs plan is estimated to lift growth by about .5% in '08/'09 and .75% to 1% in '09/'10. We have to think about it like this - we are in the middle of a global recession. We have seen the sharpest contraction in the global economy in our lifetimes. That is delivering a very significant shock to the Australian economy and substantially reducing demand. It is causing higher unemployment. We pointed directly to this in February

when we delivered our nation-building end-jobs plan. We said our number-one priority

was to support employment in the Australian community. Who opposed that plan? Order. Those over there opposed that plan and effectively, when they came into this House and voted against the nation-building and jobs plan, they voted for higher unemployment. Their approach is to sit on their hands and do nothing. The Leader of the Nationals. My question is to the Prime Minister and I refer again to Pacific Brands' laying of 150 Australian workers, many of them in regional Australia. I ask him, is the Prime Minister now going to create 77,000 jobs from his stimulus package to make up for 1,850 that have been lost by Pacific Brands? I would say to the Leader of the National Party, did he vote for that package at the end of last year?

I thought the Leader of the National Party, following the lead from the Leader of the Liberal Party last year on the question of the economic security strategy - which contained within it $4.8 billion worth of payments to pensioners,

on top of that, some $1 to $2 billion in allocations for first-home buyers - my recollection is that they stated their support for it. That was the package last year.

I understand further that they then voted for it. But then they engaged in what is called the Liberal-Party three step - first, support it. Secondly, seek to undermine it. Thirdly, oppose it when the political opportunity presents itself. Either you have a strategy, as the Government does, an economic strategy to see Australia through this global economic crisis - that's our approach. The alternative is, from the Liberal and National parties, a political strategy to seek to take political advantage from this global crisis. It is almost as if each time job losses are nod in this country, you can hear the champagne corks pop in the Liberal and National party rooms. For the individuals involved, most particularly the 1,850 workers who heard this difficult news today about Pacific Brands, we understand that they would be feeling hurt and distresses. Obviously, we will be there with personalised and intensive assistance to work with them and we've been very clear that this kind of distressing news, the news that there will be other days on which we hear news like this as the global financial crisis and global recession bear down on our economy, but the Government will continue to take decisive action as necessary to support those individuals and to cushion our economy against the full effects of the global financial crisis and global recession. I refer the Treasurer to an announcement by Lend Lease just before Question Time

that they are to cut 1,700 jobs, including 340 jobs in Australia. I ask the Treasurer, given that the Government has dressed up all of its announcements since the Budget as nation-building and jobs, why has Australia's largest property developer

just cut jobs across the nation? The Treasurer. I'm certainly disappointed to hear that that is the case and it is another demonstration of why the Government has acted so decisively and swiftly with our economic security package and our nation-building and jobs plan. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that those sectors and industries are under a lot of pressure. That's is why the Government has moved swiftly to stimulate demand,

but most particularly to put direct investment into building and construction... (JOE HOCKEY SHOUTS) ..something that has been opposed tooth and nail in this House by those opposite. You can't come in here after opposing every single measure put forward by the Government to stimulate demand and to push construction after you've oppose despite all and then claim that somehow the Government is responsible for it. The Member for Boothby. My question is to the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion. Is the Minister aware that while the Government was forecasting that 300,000 more Australians would be out of work by June next year the department responsible for getting Australians back into jobs

held a week-long Happiness Seminar for 100 of her public servants? These Happiness Seminars were run by Professor Martin Seligman,

who has coined the expression Learned Helplessness

to describe someone who refuses to take responsibility for anything. Will the Minister take responsibility for this extravagant spending of almost $1 million of taxpayers' money or has she learned helplessness? The Deputy Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Order. I thank the Member for his question and note... Order. ..how unusual it is to get a question on education from those opposite.

But if the Shadow Minister asking the question had got to the bottom of these facts, he would have realised that the expenditure he refers to includes a training seminar for teachers. I actually believe... Order. ..that supporting teachers to be... Order! ..better teachers in their classrooms is not a waste a money. The Liberal Party would be aware of the worldwide research

that says there's nothing more important... MEMBERS INTERJECT MAN: Let him go? You let him go? Forgot his boots. The Deputy Prime Minister has the call. So, if I could refer the member to the seminar for 209 teachers led by Martin Seligman, I note his attempt to parody what Martin Seligman did at that seminar, but can I say to the members opposite that Professor Seligman is a noted educationalist from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the leader in the development of the Penn Resiliency Program. That program has been shown to make a difference... You will not be laughing in a second. to make a difference to mental health issues amongst young people, including issues like anorexia and depression. That is actually serious and ought not to be catcalled about. People in this country, I believe, are concerned about mental health issues for teenagers. Perhaps those members calling out are not. But if they are not concerned about those things then they are clearly out of touch with the value system of Australians.

Australians are concerned about those things. Professor Seligman held a seminar, yes, for which a subsidy was made available through my department ? a seminar for 209 teachers. And I can certainly refer the member, he used a figure that also included expenditure on this. I can certainly refer the member to the fact that this seminar was attended by teachers across the country, including teachers in South Australia, who came there to learn from those professional development activities. So perhaps in their haste to make a cheap political point the Liberal Party might like to think through these issues. 'Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon came under fire over bungled pay for Australia's elite SAS troops.' The Member for Patterson. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister for Defence. Minister, how many SAS soldiers have been disciplined or sacked for daring to raise concerns about your government's demands for debt repayment of up to $50,000? Does the Minister believe the SAS soldiers who speak out on this issue should be sacked or disciplined? The Minister for Defence. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The key point here, Mr Speaker, is that the Member for Patterson

asked me a question relating to a determination by the independent Defence Force review tribunal... MEMBERS INTERJECT ..and the implementation of that decision by the Department of Defence... The Minister for Defence. I simply say to the Member for Patterson, I will listen carefully to the minister because I understand that he'd be raising relevance and I will listen carefully to the minister and his response

to today's question. Minister.

Mr Speaker, when the impact of that decision, or the the implementation of that decision on the special forces soldiers came to my attention, I immediately directed Defence to suspend any recovery action. MAN: They haven't! SPEAKER: Order, order, order! I was advised, as late as about 1:55 this afternoon, that that suspension remains in place. I told the House last year that I would fix this problem. In addition to directing Defence to suspend the recovery payments, I have also directed them to fix the problem. I have been frustrated that Defence has been so slow to fix the problem, but on February 18... MEMBERS INTERJECT Order! The Minister has the call.

Minister. On February 18, the Chief of Army, who has intervened in this issue at my request, issued a directive which will suspend the operation of the tribunals determination both retrospectively and prospectively. I reaffirm my commitment to this House that no...

The Minister will resume his seat. The Member for Patterson on a point of order. On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I didn't ask him about the pay. I asked him about the disciplinary action as per this email, threatening military staff, they raised it with members of parliament... The member will resume his seat. The member will resume his seat. And that was on... The member will resume his seat! MEMBERS INTERJECT MAN: I'm glad you think it's a laughing matter, Minister. Order. The Member for Patterson has asked his question, he's been given a great deal of latitude. He should sit. I'll be the decision-maker on that, Minister. I repeat, Mr Speaker, that I directed that any recovery action be suspended. That suspension remains in place. I repeat my guarantee to this House and to all special forces soldiers who may have been... The Member for Patterson No, the Member for Patterson will resume his seat. But I remain committed, and in fact I guarantee, that no special forces soldier will be financially disadvantaged by the implementation of the independent Defence Force tribunals determination of March 2008. The Member for Mackellar will resume her seat. The Member for Patterson. Mr Speaker, the Minister, on relevance, the Minister has not addressed one point... The Minister has concluded his answer. Mr Speaker, I seek to take leave to table the email order... Is leave granted? Address me. Leave is not granted. The Minister will resume his seat. The member will resume his seat. MEMBERS INTERJECT MAN: Oh, you ARE absolutely gutted! Order!

The Leader of the House will resume his seat. MEMBERS INTERJECT The Member for Patterson will withdraw. I withdraw 'gutless' and I call him scared. No. The Member for Patterson knows that he must withdraw without... Well, Mr Speaker, they haven't answered the question at all. The Member for Patterson will leave the chamber under 94(a) for one hour. MEMBER INTERJECT Does the Leader of the House want the call?

Reluctant as I am, because this means that this has import to everybody in the chamber, I now issue a general warning. Now, people...

People will understand this is the first time I've used this device,

because I think that it's a fairly crude device when on occasions only one side or sections of the chamber

have been at fault. MUFFLED MURMURING Well, reluctant as I am do it this way, whoever made that comment has... won out. The Deputy Leader Of The Opposition. Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister For Defence. How many serving SAS soldiers stationed at Campbell Barracks in my electorate of Curtin have been hit with debt-repayment notices regarding their salaries and how many thousands of dollars have they been forced to repay? The Minister For Defence. Well, Mr Speaker, the reality is that Defence can't give me those numbers - INTERJECTIONS Order! ORDER! I remind honourable members, the Defence Minister has the call.

So farcical, Mr Speaker - Members for Mackellar will leave the Chamber for one hour under 94A. Hear! Hear! The Minister For Defence. ..so farcical, Mr Speaker, is the state of the systems we have inherited. INTERJECTIONS This is - This is a question - Order. The Minister will resume his seat. Minister resume his seat. The Deputy Leader Of The Opposition on a poi- Mr Speaker - on a point of order - if this Minister doesn't know... Order! ..how many soldiers - Deputy Leader Of The Opposition RESUME HER SEAT. Deputy Leader Of The Opposition

will leave the Chamber for one hour under 94(a). INTERJECTIONS LAUGHTER The... Order. The House will come to order. CHATTERING AND LAUGHTER

CHATTERING CONTINUES Order. When the House comes to order. (SIGHS) I'm reliably informed that the Minister is 20 seconds into his answer. Minister. Well, those issues go to a range of problems, Mr Speaker, including ICT problems. And the inflexibility and lack of capacity of those systems and, of course, the informal process which was granting special forces soldiers competencies without a formal course. That is just a fact, Mr Speaker. Now, I re-affirm my commitment to ensure that nobody wrapped up in the processes of the implementation of the Defence Force Review Tribunal's determination will be adversely affected by this... this series of events. The Deputy Leader Of The Opposition.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is for to Minister For Defence. I refer the Minister to his guarantee to this House four months ago that he would fix the problem with SAS salaries. Is the Minister aware that as recently as four weeks ago, due to debt-recovery action by the Government, a serving SAS soldier received zero dollars, zero dollars in his pay packet

and has been unable to make his home loan payments? INTERJECTIONS The Minister For Defence. INTERJECTIONS Order! The question has been asked - INTERJECTIONS

..the Minister - The Minister For Defence now has the call. I thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Member for her question. I'm not aware of the particular case, although I have noticed... Order! ..Senator Johnston has been... bandying around this piece of paper -

unwilling, by the way, Mr Speaker, to share it with me. So I invite the Member to table it, so that I can...if possible... Order. Order! INTERJECTIONS The Minister For Defence... INTERJECTIONS Order. The Minister For Defence The Minister resume his seat. INTERJECTIONS Minister. Minister. INTERJECTIONS CONTINUE The Minister For Defence. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I know that the names in the document have been blanked out - and I know that from Senate estimates - so there isn't a privacy issue. It would be helpful. Because, as I said, Mr Speaker... ..last October I immediately... Order. ..directed... Order. The question has been asked. It is being responded to. The Minister. In October of last year I directed the CDF and the Chief Of Army to put an immediate stop on any recovery action... INTERJECTIONS Order. ..a stop that has been in place up until this time. So, it could be that recovery for some other reason was taking place.

And if the Opposition want to share the information with me, I'd be happy to assist in any way that I can. But Defence, Mr Speaker, recovers debts for various reasons, various reasons. And I am advised that, given the stop, this is not likely to be a case where someone has been affected by the implementation of the DFRT's decision. Minister, how much money has been deducted from the pay packets of SAS soldiers by way of debt recovery since August 2008? Has the Minister personally met with any serving members of the SAS who've had their salaries reduced and been hit with debt notices? If so, when did these meetings take place? The Minister For Defence. Mr Speaker, I thank the Member for his question. Not surprisingly, the issue of special forces' pay was the key topic in Senate estimates this morning. And the member asks a very detailed question - the same...the same question that was asked by Senator Johnston of senior military leaders at great length this morning. And...senior military leaders, including the Chief Of The Defence Force and the Chief Of Army,

answered those questions, including... INTERJECTIONS Order. Order. ..in great detail - Order. INTERJECTIONS Order! Order. The question has been asked. The Minister is responding. Minister. And again, Mr Speaker, I share with the House the...

the words of Senator Johnston following... INTERJECTIONS ..following those answers.

Order. The Minister will resume his seat. The Member for Sturt on a point of order. Mr Speaker, the Westminster System requires a minister to be accountable to the Parliament in question time. What is the point of order? He's been asked a question and he should at least attempt to an-

The member for Sturt will resume his seat. He knows that he can approach the dispatch box and raise a point of order. The point of order is relevance. to the question. The Minister is responding. The Minister has the call. INTERJECTIONS

And so... Order! The Minister has the call. Given... Given, Mr Speaker, that those opposite weren't obviously listening very well earlier on, I'll repeat Senator Johnston's quote. INTERJECTIONS Order!

INTERJECTIONS CONTINUE Order!

The Member for Patterson. The Member for Cowan is warned. Minister. Thank you, Mr Speaker, Senator Johnston says,

now, after extensive grilling in Senate Estimates, Senator Johnston says, "Now, can I thank you, General," that is General Gillespie, Chief of Army - Order! "for the way you've answered my questions today." The minister will resume his seat. The Member for Fadden on a point of order. Mr Speaker, relevance. Men in harms way have had their pay deducted. The Member for Fadden will resume his seat. The minister is responding to the question. The minister has the call.

Senator Johnston says now, "Can I thank you, General, for the way you've answered my question today. I am satisfied things are moving ahead positively. I have what I need for my satisfaction." The minister will resume his seat.

The Member for Murray on a point of order. Yes, it's about relevance. The minister was asked - The member will resume her seat.

The member will resume her seat. She's raised a point of order on relevance. I have indicated by giving the call to the minister that he's responding to the question. The minister has the call,

and I'm listening carefully to the response. Minister. "I am satisfied that things are moving ahead positively, I have what I need for my satisfaction that these men will be looked after properly." The Member for Aston will resume his seat. The minister has the call. So, Mr Speaker, the shadow minister responsible

has publicly said in Estimates that he is satisfied with the progress of this issue, having grilled senior military people on this issue.

Now, they say the buck stops with me, Mr Speaker, they say the buck stops with me. Order! Order! And it certainly does, and it does with every minister in my position. The Leader of the Opposition. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence, and I refer the minister to his failure to answer a very straightforward question from the Member for Faddon, and I give him the opportunity to answer it now, and I ask the minister, how much money has been deducted from the pay packets of SAS soldiers by way of debt recovery since August, 2008? Has the minister personally met with any serving members of the SAS

who have had their salaries reduced and been hit with debt notices, and, if so, when did those meetings take place? Minister for Defence. Mr Speaker, I can't give the figure because Defence can't give it to me. Now, this debacle has arisen after a ruling by the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal in May last year,

which reconfigured the terms and conditions under which some classifications of SAS soldiers would receive their pay entitlements. The change in arrangements was backdated to the previous August, in effect retrospectively revising their pay entitlements. Now, this is not a case of mistaken payments where somebody suddenly finds millions of dollars dropped into their bank account or the wrong address is given and suddenly they find all this money that they know has got nothing to do with them.

These were men who were being paid in a way that the Army thought that they thought and believed was appropriate at the time,

they had no reason to believe they were being overpaid at all, and I, Mr Speaker, have very real doubts very, very real doubts whether the Army properly, legally, certainly morally, should be docking their pay or questioning their pay at all. Now, the Opposition raised this scandal at a Senate Estimates hearing on the 22nd of October,

that is, more than four months ago. On the same day, this incompetent Defence Minister stood in this House, pleaded ignorance of the issues raised, but then guaranteed to the Australian people that he would fix the problem immediately. And he said, and I quote, "I can guarantee to the House that this problem will be fixed." And I ask all Australians to reflect on the character of a Minister for Defence

who could say on the 22nd of October that this problem would be fixed, and in January, dock all of the pay of one of our finest fighting men. Nothing in the pay slip, nothing. Talk about the thanks of a grateful nation. No thanks from this minister. The minister should have fixed this long ago. We all know that. He said he would, but he hasn't. The problem will continue and drag on for months. It is an outrageous dereliction, abandonment of duty,

by a minister of the Crown. This minister, if he was honourable, would resign today,

and not trouble the Prime Minister. And if he won't do the right thing, if he won't accept the responsibility for his incompetence, if he won't be prepared to say he got it wrong, he's failed, he's too incompetent and slovenly to have this job, then the Prime Minister must act and sack him. It would have been a much more responsible act for Senator Johnston to come into my office and say, "Mate, I think we have a problem, I think we have a problem with our Special Forces Soldiers, and, mate, you and I both know we do not want this to be a public issue. We do not want the issues confronting our Special Forces soldiers aired as part of the public debate." If Senator Johnston had done so, I would have welcomed him to my office with open arms,

got straight on to the phone with the Chief of the Defence Force, and said, "Angus, this must be fixed and fixed now, this is unacceptable." But Senator Johnston chose not to do that. Senator Johnston chose to walk into Senate Estimates, make a star of himself for five minutes and grab himself a headline or two. So let's go back to what took place here. Senator Johnson goes into Senate estimates and for the first time,

both myself, Chief of Army, Chief of the Defence Force, all distressed, learn for the first time that the payroll system is deducting from the pay

of Special Forces soldiers, large amounts of money in some cases. Money they believed, rightfully, they deserved. So what did I do, Mr Speaker? That day, I called the Chief of the Defence Force, or the Chief of Army, to be honest I'm not sure which now, and said, "We stop this recovery action now and immediately, you guys fix this thing...

MEMBER INTERJECT SPEAKER: Member for Patterson. ..whatever it takes." Now, Mr Speaker, the recovery action is still in place to this day, although it is not really necessary - or the stop on the recovery action, is still in place - although it is not absolutely necessary, Mr Speaker, because from 18 February the Chief of Army's directive

has completely waived, or extinguished those debts. No special forces... MEMBER INTERJECT SPEAKER: Member for Patterson. ..soldier in this country has a debt against his name

because of the way in which Defence implemented the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal's decision. End of story, Mr Speaker, end of story. That is not to say there isn't some work to do. There is some work to do.

In particular, making sure that they requalify for those allowances, which now of course will be part of their more general remuneration.

'The Prime Minister delivered his first report on closing the Indigenous life expectancy gap. He set a new goal to wipe-out the eye disease Trachoma.' Mr Speaker, we stand at an extraordinary moment in the history of Indigenous affairs - a time of despair, but also a time of hope, a time of great challenge, and equally a time of great opportunity. Let us, always, start with hope. We are so fortunate, as Australians, to have among us the oldest continuing cultures in human history, cultures that link our nation with deepest antiquity. But my reasons for hope extend far beyond the depth and breadth of Indigenous creativity and culture. Across the country, Indigenous communities are now trying new approaches to deal with old problems. There are Indigenous Australians making great strides in education and in the workforce. The successes of ordinary people, sometimes against extraordinary odds - the stories that we don't often hear about. Consider the fact that Australia today now has 129 Indigenous doctors and 129 medical students, or consider the success of the best Indigenous organisations. The Chairman of the Productivity Commission, as a judge on last year's Indigenous Governance Awards, found that the best Indigenous organisations and I quote him, the Chairman of the Productivity Commission saying, "These Indigenous organisations outclass most mainstream organisations and enterprises in Australia." Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the despair that exists in too many Indigenous communities.

The chaos, the violence and abuse that blight so many lives.

The absence of law enforcement, of housing that is fit to live in and of basic services that the rest of the nation takes for granted are classical areas of challenge. It is indeed an obscenity that in a prosperous nation such as ours Indigenous males die, on average, at the age of 59 ? 18 years earlier than non-Indigenous males and Indigenous females live only until 65 on average, compared to 82 for non-Indigenous females. And, while the mortality rate of Indigenous Australian babies is declining, it remains at more than 12 for every 1,000 live births ? a rate nearly three times that which exists for non-Indigenous infants. Today I am pleased to announce that the Commonwealth will invest $58.3 million over four years in order to fight chronic eye diseases such as trachoma. Our objective must be clear - to eliminate trachoma among Indigenous Australians within a finite time frame. Trachoma currently affects approximately 20,000 Indigenous children. 20,000 Indigenous children. This should not be the case. The investment we announce today will also target chronic middle ear infections and the attendant risk of hearing loss which regrettably remains a real problem in remote Aboriginal communities. This investment will expand services to combat trachoma, train health workers for hearing screening, and provide extra ear and eye surgery, especially in remote and rural areas. This funding comes on top of the $1.57 billion that the Commonwealth, state and territory governments have committed over the next four years to improve Indigenous health outcomes. Mr Speaker, 0.75 Australia's more than 500,000 Indigenous people live in urban and regional areas. Their needs are also central to our health agenda. Too many Indigenous people across Australia die well before their time because of treatable chronic diseases. Illnesses such as rheumatic heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer account for about 0.66 of premature deaths

among Indigenous Australians. Our strategy focuses on these and similar diseases. And it does so largely through the mainstream health system, because that is where 70% of Indigenous people are treated. Change is coming to Indigenous Australia, and change is coming from Indigenous Australia.

The task ahead is difficult. Let us be clear about that. The transformation of communities and of lives will take many years, and there will be many bumps and setbacks on the road. But the alternative is to do nothing. We are determined to have a go. As a nation, we will fail future generations if we do not demand and deliver real improvements to the health,

education, jobs and overall living standards of Indigenous Australians. All sides of politics must be committed to an Australia where opportunity is available to all and denied to nobody, where an Indigenous child can aspire to any job, any profession,

any calling that they want, where Indigenous life expectancy is the same

as the life expectancy of the rest of the community, where an Indigenous child is encouraged and supported, as all children should be, through their educational years, where those children have the hope of a bright future, food on the table and can live in a home that is safe and secure and, most critically of all, where Indigenous children have a childhood that is the birthright of every child, free from neglect and safe from abuse. As the men and women charged with making the decisions on behalf of all Australians here in our national parliament, this is surely not asking too much. As Leader of the Opposition, I reaffirm the coalition's commitment to delivering a new future to Indigenous Australians, with hope and opportunity for all. We make it plain that we will do everything we can to support

the government in delivering on their commitments to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy, improving educational attainment, employment and life in remote communities especially. But as Leader of the Opposition,

I will not fail to hold the government to account where the pace is slowed, or commitments are not met. And in that context, Mr Speaker, I must note the memorandum of understanding that was signed between the Howard government and the Northern Territory government in September 2007 to provide $647 million

to build 750 new houses in 16 communities and improve living conditions in town camps

as part of the, then titled,

Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program. We are advised that since then not one house under that program has been built in a remote community in the Northern Territory. And that is a great shame. That is a great example of the point I just made. You have good intentions,

real resources, substantial resources committed to a program

to a worthy objective, but nothing has happened. Now, ending Indigenous disadvantage must be a constant call on every minister and in every portfolio. It must permeate every office of the bureaucracy and be a continuing theme, an emphasis, a mainstay, indeed, of public policy development. The house listened in silence when the member of McEwen, Fran Bailey, returned from her devastated electorate. The Member for McEwen. ALL: Hear, hear. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.