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Order In The House -

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'Welcome to Order In The House - Parliament.' a review of the week in Federal Ranger, he's Napoleon solo, He's on his own, he's the Lone up there, Robinson Crusoe, Dr Zachary Smith of the Milky Way... out on the outer edges a character Prime Minister is impersonating Nineteen Eighty-Four. out of George Orwell's

the elusive cost benefit analysis Has the minister now uncovered waste of spending... which justified this are embarrassed, Now I know that members opposite against jobs, assistance for local schools... embarrassed that they voted against on its books laws like this. No advanced society should have

the government in this bill. And so I will be supporting spending against the government's stimulus 'The opposition came out swinging interest rates.' saying it would force up of the Opposition. there any questions? The Leader Questions without notice. Are

Thank you, Mr Speaker. to the Minister for Finance. My question is addressed comment by the Prime Minister I refer the minister to the following in November 2007 spending on interest rates about the impact of government then saying, and I quote the Prime Minister "I will not place in jeopardy struggling with mortgages." households already what spending restraint I ask the minister,

to take pressure off interest rates? is the government currently showing and Deregulation. The Minister for Finance

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. a savings strategy The government has put in place that the budget which is designed to ensure gets back to surplus by 2015-16 in revenue that has arrived in the wake of the massive loss crisis and the global recession. as a result of the global financial that is approximately $210 billion. Mr Speaker, as you would recall, But the government did put in place in the last budget a number of savings initiatives over the medium term, which were all designed to, amongst other reasons, improve the fiscal situation for,

having the fiscal position the purpose of avoiding on interest rates. put upward pressure of these initiatives Unfortunately some the opposition in the Senate. have been blocked by I find it rather extraordinary would stand up here that the Leader of the Opposition the government's fiscal strategy and ask for details of what to ensure that we have savings on interest rates is and put downward pressure to achieving these ambitions when one of the major obstacles is in fact the opposition itself. private health insurance rebate, With respect to the reform of health initiatives for example, and other the total spend on these areas that are designed to reduce the fiscal position, in order to improve that is blocking these savings. it is the opposition, in the Senate, clear about this - Let us be absolutely opposite been embraced, had the strategy advocated by those in the depths of recession we would right now be going through the roof. and with unemployment opposite that the Australian economy, Mr Speaker, can I say to those however, is not out of the woods yet. at the job ads data If you look carefully released in the ANZ series today, there which is worthy of examination, there is another important figure down 48.1% over the year. and that is that job ads are still

at the recent data on trade, Furthermore, look you will see that our export earnings in the June quarter, fell by almost $11 billion the largest fall on record, the unwinding of the commodity boom. and this has been a consequence of by 9.4% over the past year, Also, company profits fell the largest fall since 1961. at the national accounts, So, if you look carefully look across the other indicators, if you look at trade data, if you largely but not exclusively there are strengths - has been doing in response to what the government but also weaknesses, by way of stimulus -

in global economic activity which are reflecting the downturn for some time. which has been underway we may be out of the woods already, For those opposite who believe to the unemployment data I draw their attention the United States overnight which has come out of in the US is now 9.7%, which says that unemployment in Canada 8.7%. These are very large numbers indeed. the absolute importance This underlines a strategy of ensuring that we prosecute underneath the economic recovery. which does not pull the rug from The Member for North Sydney. Thank God for Kevin. to the Minister for Finance. Mr Speaker, my question is the statement by the Prime Minister I refer the Minister for Finance to Breakfast in Perth at the Lord Mayor's Business

on 21 January this year, the Prime Minister, where he said and I quote the task of monetary policy. "Fiscal policy should not complicate the Reserve Bank easier, not harder. It should make the job of is committed That is why the government to strengthening the budget position of public spending." as well as improving the quality the Reserve Bank has indicated I ask the minister, given that monetary policy that it will unwind its stimulatory and given the Prime Minister insists stimulus in full, on spending the government's spending and interest rate policies will the minister now confirm that against each other? are actually working and Deregulation. The Minister for Finance Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. confirm the assertion To begin with, I cannot for North Sydney's question. that concluded the Member In fact, the circumstances are such the stimulus to remain in place. that it is very important for Had that stimulus not been there, the June quarter account figures would have been negative. that have just been released The Treasury advice is that,

not been in place, had the government stimulus have gone backwards by -0.3% then the Australian economy would in the preceding quarter. for North Sydney's question The implication in the Member is at odds with what in fact the Reserve Bank governor has said. The Reserve Bank governor has simply said that, because the current interest rate settings are at "emergency levels", it is reasonable to anticipate that at some point in the future that would cease to be the case. He is spicing up the Reserve Bank governor's comments in ways that are not meant to intend and therefore the whole imperative in his question is completely wrong. The government does have a strong fiscal position, which is designed to get the budget back into surplus, which is built around savings in order to ensure that the government take strong action to get value for money from the taxpayers' dollar that is spent on behalf of the Australian people. He was asked yesterday, Mr Speaker, he was asked to identify any credible source that supported his policy of withdrawing stimulus. He was incapable of naming one credible supporter - one credible supporter of his policy of withdrawing stimulus. He's on his own - he's the Lone Ranger, Napoleon Solo, Robinson Crusoe and Dr Zachary Smith up there out on the outer edges of the Milky Way,

lost in space, out there on his own. Ground control to Major Tom - you are out there on your own whizzing around the Milky Way, absolutely isolated. Ground control to Major Tom - do not destroy Australian businesses. My question is to the Minister for Finance. I refer the minister to yesterday's survey by Dun and Bradstreet on geographic risk indicators on financial stress, which found that a third of Australia's suburbs are designated high-risk.

Can the minister explain how the government's reckless spending, putting upward pressure on interest rates, will impact on those suburbs and especially on the young home buyers living in them? The Minister for Finance and Deregulation. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. In the 2004 election campaign, the former prime minister promised to keep interest rates at record lows. Of course, what eventuated thereafter was 10 interest rate increases in a row. So when this government took office, Mr Speaker, we had a pattern of rising interest rates

which continued for the first few months of that term in office. We now have the Reserve Bank rate at 3%, of course, the rate was 6.75% when the government took office. This government absolutely rejects the suggestion - the ludicrous proposition - that our fiscal settings are putting upward pressure on interest rates. That suggestion from the opposition has attracted derision from a wide range of respected economic commentators. We have got circumstances in the global economy that the opposition simply refuses to acknowledge. In fact, we had the bizarre proposition today from the Member for Sturt, pronouncing that it is all over. The global financial crisis, the recession, the difficulties in the Australian economy - it's all over. It was all in your imagination. It is all finished! What are we worrying about? The truth is we have a major economic challenge still underway in this country. As far as the government is concerned over the past six months, it is true to say, yes, so far so good. The stimulus strategy has been working, and working well. But there are many challenges in front of us, and it would be absolutely retrograde of the government to withdraw that stimulus. In fact, I note today that an organisation

that is usually supportive of the opposition on many matters - ACCI - came out and said precisely that. You cannot even get ACCI to support your position. The organisation that has a long history of being very close to the Liberal Party, the Employers' Organisation, they point out that peremptory withdrawal of the stimulus would threaten the recovery, would threaten the Australian economy, would threaten jobs and would threaten businesses. The Prime Minister is currently claiming credit for the strong performance of the Australian economy relative to other developed economies. He points to the good figures on business and consumer confidence. We of course are delighted that the Australian economy is performing well, but we are appalled, as are most Australians, at the graceless and ungenerous way in which the Prime Minister constitutes himself as a latter-day Winston Smith. Yes, the Prime Minister is impersonating a character out of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In that book, in the Ministry for Truth, which of course was responsible for telling lies on behalf of the government, There was something called a memory hole, into which inconvenient facts and matters of history

were dropped by Mr Smith, who is now reincarnated as the Prime Minister, thereupon to be destroyed - rewriting history, in other words. That is exactly what we are seeing at the moment. The fact of the matter is that we have done better in this downturn

than other comparable developed economies because of the strong state of our economy and our public finances that were set up by the coalition. The true reasons for our superior performance have very little to do with the stimulus spending from the Rudd government. In fact, it is quite clear that we entered this crisis with the strongest financial system in the developed world, and that is almost entirely due to the prudential

and regulatory framework put in place by the coalition. There was no banking crisis in Australia. There was no subprime crisis in Australia.

Whereas other countries entered into this downturn with massive public borrowings, we entered it with zero net public debt and $45 billion of cash in the bank - one of the strongest balance sheets in the world, thanks to a decade of budget surpluses, debt repayment and financial discipline presided over by the Member for Higgins as our Treasurer. We have an open and deregulated economy with a highly efficient export sector focused on our immense natural resources and our close economic relations with China and other fast-growing Asian economies. That was the result of a quarter-century of economic reform and restructuring under the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments.

Yes, unlike the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, we recognise that there were important reforms

undertaken by our predecessors. We recognise that both of the major parties have played a role in the strength of our economy today. But yet those of us who were unfortunate enough to have to listen to the Prime Minister's Winston Smith impersonation at the launch of Paul Kelly's book yesterday, nothing good was ever done by any party other than the Labor Party. Above all, Australia had a mature and flexible labour market. That flexibility in our labour market has been cited again and again as the reason for our strong economic growth with manageable inflation during the boom years and the reason we have come through this downturn with lower levels of unemployment so far than many had predicted. 'The Coalition refined its campaign against the stimulus program, focussing on the spending on new school buildings.' The Member for Fadden. My question for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations, Education and Social Inclusion, I refer the Minister to the Evesham State School in the Labour electorate of Flynn, which last week received a grant of $250,000 to build a new library for its one enrolled student.

Is this the Minister's idea of value for money? How did the School Census data support this decision? This is a program that rolls out correlated with school size

but as the guidelines have made clear throughout the life of the program, we work with education authorities, State and Territory governments, the Catholic Education authority

and the education authority for independent schools so that when we work with them, we can work with them so that we can respond to school needs. That has of course included money being moved

from schools that don't need that resource to other schools that has happened in circumstances where schools are going to be amalgamated and obviously we want any new facilities to be there at the school that is going to be ongoing. We continue to work with school authorities on these questions

and we will continue to do so.

But can I say to the Opposition members

who call out during this debate, that perhaps they might like to consider to themselves the centrepiece of this program is support for jobs and school infrastructure. Jobs today during the days of the global recession, jobs today supporting tradespeople jobs today supporting apprentices around the country,

whilst delivering the biggest school modernisation program the country has ever seen, more than 24,000 projects being delivered effectively over a two-year roll-out period.

Now, I know that members opposite are embarrassed, against jobs, embarrassed that they voted against assistance for local schools. I know that members opposite think that it's clever to come in here day after day... While the Deputy Prime Minister resumes her seat, the Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order. Mr Speaker, the Minister was asked about the Evesham State School and forgive me if I'm wrong but I don't think she's actually mentioned it yet. Member for Sturt, resume your seat. The Deputy Prime Minister. And I know that members opposite feel that it is clever to come in here day after day,

raising allegations about this program and talking it down. Most of the material they have raised in Question Time has turned out to be factually inaccurate. I refer the Minister to her answer yesterday in which she failed to address the case of the Evesham State School in the Labour electorate of Flynn, which last week received a grant for $250,000

to build a new library for its one enrolled student. SCATTERED LAUGHTER With the benefit of 24 hours' notice, has the Minister now uncovered the elusive Cost Benefit Analysis which justifies this wasteful spending or does she, like the Minister for Finance, stand proudly behind that decision? Order. The Leader of the House. Mr Speaker, the question is once again out of order because it contains argument. Order. Again, I will indicate to the Leader of the House that if there is argument in the question, it's at a minor end of the scale compared to the traditional allowances made by myself and my predecessors. I call the Deputy Prime Minister. SOME LAUGHTER Order! The Member for Sturt has asked this question. (LAUGHS) Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and I thank the shadow minister for his question. I enjoyed them yesterday, I'm going to enjoy them today, I can see as well, I'm still waiting for his much-promised ferocious attack but you know, we live in hope, we live in hope.

On the question of the Evesham State School, let me inform the member of this. He may not be aware of it but the Evesham State School at this stage is in community consultation about an amalgamation process. INTERJECTIONS That... Well... Members, Members... Order! I presume...

Order! Deputy Prime Minister resume her seat. Deputy Prime Minister. Order the Manager for Opposition Business having asked the question, I would have thought that members on my left were willing to listen to the answer. Deputy Prime Minister.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Of course, this consultation process has been in train for some time.

Now, the Liberal Party, I take from the guffawing, I take from the guffawing that the Liberal Party stands for the unilateral closure of schools without any consultation with anyone. INTERJECTIONS

Well, if that's the policy... Order! ..of the Liberal Party and the leader of the Opposition, I'll make sure that all 9,500 schools in this country know that.

But most responsible education authorities actually engage in consultation and work when they're coming up with new school structures. And of course, the Building The Education Revolution guidelines dealt with this process. We have had media reports,

we've had members of the Opposition on earlier parliamentary days race into this parliament and make claims

about Building The Education Revolution money going to closing schools. This matter was always dealt with by the Building The Education Revolution guidelines and what the guidelines have provided is crystal clear, which is, in circumstances where schools are amalgamating, the money goes to the continuing school side

in order to provide facilities for the students who go to that school. Now, that is obviously an appropriate process to go through when schools are amalgamating. Now, I take it from the guffawing that what the members opposite are saying

is one, there should be no consultation and two, there should be no benefits to schools that are amalgamating and are receiving students from other schools. Order! I refer the Minister the revelation in today's Victorian Herald Sun that the school stimulus fiasco will amount to as much as $37,500 per student

in some Victorian schools with fewer than ten students. Does the Minister maintain that the program is delivering value for money for Australian taxpayers?

The Deputy Prime Minister. Thanks you very much and I thank the Member for Mallee for his question and I'm aware of course that the Member for Mallee in his electorate knows how much his local schools have benefited from this program and the Member for Mallee of course when he's back in his electorate,

is very keen to be associated with the expenditure in those local schools and the benefits that the Building The Education Revolution program brings. But of course, when he comes to Canberra,

when he's out of Victoria, he needs to fall behind the Leader of the Opposition's opposition to supporting jobs today and to supporting expenditure on schools. I am of course aware of the article that the Member refers to. What the Member may know about the Building The Education Revolution program that he voted against, or maybe he doesn't, what he ought to know about the program is that it's correlated to school size. What he also ought to know about the program is that it is possible for schools

to put in projects which are under their allocation.

And on some of the divisions and ratios that appear in that Herald Sun article today, that's exactly what has happened. A school has put in for a project under its allocation and consequently, when you then divide that number by the number of students, you get the variations in ratios that are reported in that Herald Sun report. I refer the Minister to today's revelation that the Building The Education Revolution will spend $2.5 million demolishing four functioning classrooms at Abbotsford Primary to replace them with four classrooms in direct contravention of the wishes of the school community. Can the Minister explain to the House how any Cost Benefit Analysis could justify such waste and reckless spending?

The proposal about the development at the school was accepted by the school community on 25th May, that is, they endorsed the proposal that came from the New South Wales government

as the responsible education authority through... Order! ..through to the national government. So it was accepted by the school on 25th May.

In terms of the proposal itself, it is about demolishing a building that was... The Member for Sturt. Well, I'm talking about the school communities' attitude to the proposal on 25th May. Then just in terms of the description of the proposal, the proposal is about demolishing a building

from the 1950s which is

which is in poor condition, and giving a building in its place which of course would be a great improvement in terms of standards. I note that there was some reference in today's media reports about a covered outdoor learning area. That covered outdoor learning area is actually a program from the Building Better Schools program of the State government. It's not a Building The Education Revolution project.

The Building The Education Revolution project is constructing the new building to replace the 1950s building which is in a poor condition. Order. Now, I understand from media reports today, I believe in The Australian newspaper, that there is concern in the school community about this though the school community made a decision about it on 25th May.

In circumstances where there is concern in the school community, obviously, we are very keen to hear about their concerns. The best way and the way that has been used by other school communities to indicate concerns and to have them looked at, is by emailing our Building The Education Revolution coordinator.

I refer the Minister to her answer yesterday in which she indicated that Evesham State School the one-student school that received the $250,000 grant under the Primary Schools For The 21st Century program, was in discussions with a view to amalgamation with other schools. According to the press, this appears to be news to the acting principal who's also the sole teacher. At the time of answering this question yesterday, what discussions had the Prime Minister's department office or herself had with the one teacher, one student or one care giver of the student at Evesham State School? The Queensland department advises me that the sudden drop in enrolments was unpredicted and related to a set of personal circumstances

relating to families at that school. The Queensland department commenced formal consultation on the viability of the school. So those consultation arrangements are obviously in train. The Queensland department advises me that obviously they are concerned about these circumstances but they want to work through it with the community, particularly in circumstances where this drop in enrolments was not predicted. So those things are being managed by the Queensland department of education as is appropriate on behalf of the Queensland government if a similar circumstance arose in the Catholic sector,

it would be managed by the relevant Catholic education authority. If it arose in the independent sector, it would be managed by the independent education authority.

When we set up the Building The Education Revolution program, we were obviously aware that schools do close and schools do amalgamate. So the guidelines and arrangements for the Building The Education Revolution, can cater for such a circumstance, have catered for such a circumstance around the nation. I refer the Minister to an estimate from Abbey Group

of $2.9 million for work on six classrooms in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney as part of the Primary Schools For The 21st Century program and another estimate for work on six identical classrooms in Cecil Hills in Sydney for $2 million provided from the contractor for the south-western Sydney area.

How does the Minister explain an inflation factor of almost a million dollars between two schools building the same six classrooms

that are less than an hour's drive from each other? The Deputy Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Member for his question. As the Member may be aware, the Building The Education Revolution program or the 24,000 projects around the country, at around 9,500 schools

is there to support jobs today whilst building the school infrastructure we need for tomorrow. He's drawn to my attention in this parliament two quotes, he says he is familiar with two schools for identical projects. Obviously, with more than 24,000 projects authorised under this program,

I don't have with me sitting here in this parliament the project specifications and designs of more than 24,000 projects. However, what I can say to the Member, is if he believes that there is a problem with the provision of tenders and quotes in relation to any school, then obviously, we want to hear about that. If any schools has raised an issue with him,

then he can say to that school, either if he wishes to raise it directly with me,

I'm very happy for that to happen. If the school community wants to raise it, then the school community can raise it as I've said through our B R email address at my website.

I refer to the report in today's Adelaide Advertiser in relation to the $112,000 in architectural fees for the three campuses of the Kangaroo Island school.

Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that the work on the three so-called concept drawings, costing $112,000, were produced by an architect from Mount Gambier, 600km away, taking two days to complete, two of which were the same and a third design which already existed. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that this $112,000 for two days' work represents value for money? The Deputy Prime Minister. Uh, thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and I thank the Member for Mayo for his question and note that he represents an electorate in this parliament with 73 schools where there are 212 Building The Education Revolution projects... (MEMBERS INTERJECT) ..at more than the value of $117 million. So I do know... Order! ..that despite him voting against this program in this parliament, we are, of course, supporting jobs in his local community in South Australia while modernising the schools he purports to represent

in this parliament.

Mr Speaker, the Member raises with me as part of our program,

the three campuses of the Kangaroo Island Community Centre, the schools on Kangaroo Island, as I understand it, that's what he has raised with me, and...in raising that with me,

I'm sure he would understand that he's referring to three projects that are part of more than 24,000 projects... (MEMBERS LAUGH) Order! Order! ..and around 9,500 schools. Now, in relation to those three projects, it's a total of $1.7 million in value, there is a project at Kingscote for $2 million,

a project at Penneshaw, a well-known holiday destination in South Australia - I was there for school holidays myself once - $850,000... Order! ..and a project at Parndana for $850,000. Order! Order! Each of these is for a multi...

Each of these is for a multi-purpose hall and originally it was...indicated that a standard design template would be used. However, the local schools determined that they would prefer to use a non-standard design for their projects, and because they wanted to use a non-standard design, obviously architects were engaged to do the drawings. Now, I understand the force of the Member's question

to be that he believes the architects engaged from Mount Gambier, I think he said, have not charged appropriately for their work, he believes, obviously, they have charged more than the work is worth. If the Member believes that to be the case

and he wants the matter investigated, then, clearly, we are happy to investigate it. I would obviously want him to supply to me

the details he apparently has of the drawings, so should he want to forward the drawings to me,

so that I can see evidence of the claims he has made about the quality of the drawings and whether or not the drawings are original or are of some sort of standard nature, then I will obviously look at that and get back to him. And I refer to the Minister's answer yesterday

that the one-student Evesham State School is in, and I quote, "community consultation about an amalgamation." And I also refer to the Minister's answer today which identified the nearest other schools to the Evesham State School as between 72 and 124km distant. Can the Minister reconcile these two statements or does she agree that she has allocated $250,000 to build a library at a one-student school that, the House can only conclude on the basis of today's answer, faces the prospect of closure. If a school is facing closure or facing amalgamation... Order! ..then education authorities would work through that process in their standard practice and, obviously, money would not be allocated and spent on facilities... (MEMBERS INTERJECT) ..in school facilities

that are not going to be continuing as school facilities.

We've had examples of that in this house in the past,

those examples have been raised by the Opposition and I have explained it in the past. So if the Leader of the Opposition is somehow tossing and turning in his bed at night, concerned that $250,000 is about to be spent at the Evesham State School and then it's going to close, can I tell him he can go and have a good night's sleep -

that is not what is happening. And I further the Minister to reports in the press today that the grant of $250,000 to the one-student school at Evesham, under the Primary Schools For The 21st Century Program, will follow that child to another school, should Evesham State School be closed. Isn't it the case, as the Minister told the House yesterday, that grants were made to every school not on application

but as a universal, formula-based policy. In which case, when our fortunate one student goes to another school, will that school receive a second grant? Will the money be returned to the tax payer as a saving? Or will it simply be pocketed by the Queensland Government? Well, what the government will do, what the government will do is we will work with the Queensland education authorities

as this consultation process goes through. We will work with any suggestions about alternate uses of that money, and if an alternate use is identified, I will then come into the parliament and I will ask the Member for Wide Bay if we've identified a school that needs that money to walk up to the dispatch box and say I do not support that school getting that money. Will the Minister confirm, that at Berridale Public School, a new toilet block, including re-plumbing, excavation, double-brick, hot water and showers was completed early in 2009 where the cost per square metre was $2,640? Can she further confirm, in what is being described by the Department Of Education In New South Wales as "de-scoping", that Berridale Public School will receive a new library, described as "essentially a demountable" by the principal, Ian McCluggage, at approximately $5,660 per square metre. Can she explain the discrepancy? I will say to the Member for Sturt very directly, if he has a genuine concern about costs... (MEMBERS INTERJECT) Order! ..supplied to this local school, if he will supply me with the information he is referring to, then I will follow the matter up, I will report back to him and I will report back to the parliament. If the Member for Sturt has no genuine concern... The Member for Sturt! ..and simply wants to make cheap, political points about education in circumstances... (MEMBERS INTERJECT) ..whereas, as Shadow Minister, he has got no policies or plans for education in the Nation's future, then people will judge him on it. I refer the Minister to the decision of the Unley Council in Adelaide to sue Walford School in Hyde Park for their action in removing significant trees to make way for school buildings being built through the Primary Schools For The 21st Century Program.

Because the guidelines of the program allow the suspension of normal development requirements. Order! Order! Will the Federal Government consider indemnifying Walford School for any costs it may occur? Order! It amazes me, amazes me and concerns me that in the middle of a global recession, the biggest economic downturn in 75 years, where a global economic storm is hitting this country and costing Australian jobs, that the biggest thing, the biggest thing on the mind of the Federal Opposition

in the National Parliament in Question Time is a matter involving a planning dispute about a number of trees in a suburb in Unley. It says everything about being out of touch, out of ideas and out of any contact with reality. It is time for the Prime Minister to put education at the centrepiece of his government as he promised it before the election. It used to be the number one priority on the Prime Minister's website, it has now slipped off the website altogether. Education was supposed to be the hallmark of this government. The Minister is trying to handle workplace relations - not well, we can understand that. Employment - not well, we understand that. Social inclusion. But the most important portfolio she has from my point of view, as the Shadow Minister For Education, is education, and you need to start getting it right, Minister. There have been too many serial offences, failures by you, pushing problems off to other people, the Prime Minister has to step in, and at the next reshuffle, appoint a full-time Education Minister who doesn't spill the drinks. Hear, hear! There is one person, one person sitting on the Opposition benches, who has at least announced that because he voted against Building The Education Revolution, he will not associate himself with the projects in the electorate and that is the Shadow Treasurer. What I think we should be seeing in this debate, and I hope that the next speaker on behalf of the Liberal Party says this, or the National Party, that they are going to follow Joe Hockey's example. All they've ever done is voted against this program. All they've ever done is talked it down. Let's see whether they are hypocritical enough to keep associating themselves with this program in their electorates. 'Liberal Senator Judith Troeth crossed the floor, supporting a government bill which will stop asylum seekers being charged for their detention.' Over the last few years, I have played a small part in ameliorating and lessening some of the more punitive measures

that have been imposed upon asylum seekers, refugees and people who come to these shores. But I just want to put on record

that this particular measure

was introduced by a Labor government and perhaps it's poetic justice that it is being removed by a Labor government. I think there's no doubt that by 2005,

the recognition...and in subsequent years to this leading up to now,

that the recognition has grown in the community that people who come to our shores looking for assistance,

asylum and a desire to spend, to have a better life, should be treated a lot better than they are and to be imposing... To be imposing accommodation charges

on the way it has been done because this law has existed is simply not something that I can go along any further. We often hear of in this chamber about the...agonies or the worries of those Australians who are battling mortgage stress. They wonder how they're going to pay their mortgage, how they're going to exist in the Global Financial Crisis at present, if they have a mortgage to pay and if they lose their jobs. I can only ask the chamber to imagine how you would feel if you were a newly arrived person in Australia, in a detention centre, who was being charged every single night for your accommodation and board, and you have, quite literally, the clothes in which you stand up.

You go out from the detention centre or you receive a bill from the Department... a debt notification letter and an invoice from the department, and this is totally prior to any thought of the debt being waved. How would anybody feel if they were in that position and they received this notice? These are people who have spent a very short time in our country. They have probably very little knowledge of macroeconomics, they have left a life of perhaps torture and trauma behind them, they have been in a detention centre and we are asking them to pay a debt which sometimes amounts to $100,000, $200,000, $300,000. How would they possibly cope with that? Indeed, the Joint Standing Committee On Migration in its recent enquiry said that the detention charges policy is a barrier towards refugees fully integrating into the community and that these charges continue to put significant pressure, both emotionally and financially, on those people who already experienced so much trauma and uncertainty in their lives. They must, either for cultural, or as I said, for cultural reasons or simply the recognition that how will they repay this debt when they have nothing? They have no assets on which to base any sort of wealth accumulation and it must be a terrible, psychological shock to them to be even contemplating this. The comment has been made that the more we "soften", and that's other people's words, not mine, the more we soften our policies towards refugees, that we can expect a flood, a flood of refugees. Those words, like flood and panic and hundreds of thousands of people arriving on our shores is used only too often. Now, there's no doubt that the United Nation's High Commissioner For Refugees in his most recent report shows that the number of individual claims for asylum worldwide rose for the second year in a row by 28% to $839,000 but... Sorry, 839,000 people. But...developed countries like Australia do attract asylum seekers but the fact is that 80% of the world's refugees are hosted by developing countries - Pakistan, Syria, Iran and Jordan. Among the developed countries, the US receive 49,600 applications for asylum, France, 35,400,

Canada, 34,800, the UK, 30,500

and Italy, 30,000. Australia received, and this is taking together both boat people and plane arrivals, 4,500 asylum claims. That is 0.5% of the worldwide total and almost all of them did not arrive by boat.

So I challenge the theories of those who want to say

that this is opening the floodgates. To start with, that's an unpalatable concept to those who think about it, and secondly, it simply is not true. Now, we are are legislators here in a 21st-century Australia, an Australia which has grown enormously through migration, through the assimilation of people who were born in other countries, and I regularly attend citizenship ceremonies in my local municipalities where people are so happy, so happy to be here. At Stonington, which is a municipal area in central Melbourne, we have waved gladioli to show how happy we are that everyone has now received citizenship. Now, these punitive sort of charges and the putting up of these barriers should never be happening and I will be proud to be in a legislature

that legislates to take this law off the statute books. Senator Fielding said that little of the money is recovered. Now, I see that for a reason and it costs more to gather that money than it does to actually... what we're getting in the coffers. Well, let's just do away with it. The law doesn't help. Even if it is never collected, the fact is, it is still a blot on our statute book

and I, for one, will not accept that it should be in continuation. No advanced society should have on its books laws like this. And so... I will be supporting the government in this bill. 'The Senate Privileges Committee will investigate whether the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia is in contempt of Parliament.' Order. The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee has raised the matter of privilege under standing order 81. The matter is set out in a report by the committee to the senate which recommends that the matter be referred to the Privileges Committee.

The issue relates to the treatment of a witness before the committee in the course of its enquiry into access to justice. After she gave her evidence, the witness received a written warning of disciplinary action from her employer.

The committee pointed out to the employer that threatening a witness with action as a result of the witness's evidence constitutes interference with a witness and a possible contempt of the Senate.

The employer subsequently withdrew the warning, but in correspondence with the committee appeared to reserve the right to discipline its employees in respect of evidence given to a Senate committee. The witness resigned from her employment and there is the possibility that she suffered loss of employment as a result of her evidence to the committee. The Senate's privilege resolution No. 6, in paragraphs 10 and 11, declares that any interference with a witness,

and any imposition of a penalty on a witness in consequence of the witness's evidence, and any threat or attempt of such actions against a witness,

may constitute a contempt of the Senate. Such treatment of a witness may also be a criminal offence under section 12 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987. The Senate Privileges Committee has declared in its past reports that interference with and penalisation of witnesses are the most serious of all contempts, and the committee and the Senate have always regarded such actions as requiring rigorous investigation and firm remedial action. The committee has pointed out that actions which are otherwise lawful,

such as the dismissal of an employee,

may constitute contempts when taken against a witness in consequence of the witness's evidence. The matter raised by the committee

clearly meets the criteria I am required to consider. I therefore give precedence to a motion to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee. 'The Coalition, Greens and Independents

blocked the Government's move to cut private health insurance rebates for higher income earners. The senate vote could provide another double dissolution election trigger.' The fairer private health insurance incentives bill 2009 and the fairer private health insurance incentives Medicare levy surcharge bill 2009 insurance incentives Medicare levy surcharge fringe benefits bill 2009 will amend various acts to give effect to the recent budget measure

to introduce three new private health insurance incentives tiers.

The global financial crisis forced the government to make tough decisions about what is right for Australia in the longer term. The rebate as it stands is quite simply unsustainable, particularly in the context of a budget that has taken a $200 billion hit

as a result of the biggest global financial crisis in 75 years. Spending on the current rebate is growing quickly and is expected to double as a proportion of health expenditure over the next 40 years. The $1.9 billion saving to government expenditure over four years associated with these reforms will help to ensure that government support for private health insurance remains fair and sustainable. This is a hard decision and one that was not taken lightly. But it is the right decision

for Australia's long-term financial future. The government supports a mixed model of balanced private and public health services, but we have to strike the right balance. These reforms have been carefully crafted and well targeted so as to provide a fairer distribution of benefits, because the government does not believe that low-income earners should be subsidising private health insurance for higher income earners. At the same time, higher income earners will also face increased costs if they opt out of their health cover. So we are using what is characteristically called the carrot-and-stick approach. Today, senators have raised the potential and others in this debate on the impact of the public hospitals. Treasury has estimated that this measure will result in about 25,000 people being no longer covered by hospital-level private health insurance, of which about 8,000 people over two years might require admission. This must be considered in the context

that our public hospitals will have well over nine million admissions over this same two-year period.

Hospitals will not be overwhelmed.

This also needs to be considered in the light of the Rudd government's record investment under the new $64 billion COAG agreement, where hospitals will receive 50% extra funding over and above the old Australian healthcare agreements. This clearly demonstrates that the Rudd government is investing in the private health sector. The Greens will be supporting the private health insurance rebate means testing approach, but we don't support the increase in the surcharge. Unfortunately, the government has...

..these bills have been cognated debate, so we are unable to vote separately on both the rebate as opposed to the surcharge. I am putting on record here that we believe that the bills should have been separated

so that we could in fact have voted separately on these two bills, because the government's trying to have a bet both ways. They are trying to means test the rebate to bring a bit more equity in there, but at the same time they are saying to industry, "Don't worry, we're going to encourage more people in by increasing the surcharge." We do not believe that that is an appropriate approach. They're trying to have, as I said, a bet both ways and we don't believe it's appropriate. We believe the government need to be taking a much more fundamental approach to our healthcare system. They are tinkering around the edges with some of these things and not making the fundamental changes that we need.

They are not addressing the overall negative impact that the private health insurance rebate has on our healthcare system and the fact that that money would be better injected directly into our health system rather than filtering it through private health insurance companies and distorting the way it can influence good health outcomes. The government has claimed that even with the increases, more than 99% of people will continue to stay in the private health system. Hmm. These numbers look more like they've been taken from the back of a cereal box rather than from proper, rigorous analysis. They are based on the false assumption that private health insurance is relatively inelastic and, therefore, the price of health insurance is not likely to drive consumer behaviour. Perhaps for the Prime Minister and the Treasurer several hundred dollars might seem like small change. After all, they have excessive superannuation entitlements that will see them walk away from parliament with massive pension payments, guaranteed for the rest of their lives. But for most Australians they are not as fortunate. Several hundred dollars more each year is a large amount of money. It is enough to be the difference between continuing with private health insurance or letting a policy lapse. Either way, it's a lose-lose situation for everybody. It's bad for those people who will decide to stay in the private system and will need to find the extra money to cover their rising expenses. It's even worse in the case where people are forced to give up their private health insurance and place even greater strain on our overburdened public hospitals. Under Treasury estimates, the provisions of this bill would mean that means testing the rebate will impact on around 2.3 million Australians that currently hold private health insurance with incomes above $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples. The AHI estimates that these Australians will see their cost of health insurance increase by between 14.3 and 67.7%. Those with private hospital insurance and incomes below the rebate reduction thresholds will be faced with increased premiums

as a result of the members who cancel their private health insurance plans. This presets a real risk of adding further pressure to an already struggling public health system and I don't believe there has been any specific modelling done on that. One of the questions I will ask the government, should this go into committee, is what modelling has been done in terms of people downgrading their private health cover so they are not caught by the surcharge changes. It has been estimated by Catholic Health Australia that means testing and a tiered approach to the 30% rebate will result in an additional 36,000 people joining public hospital waiting queues. While I applaud the work of those in the public health sector and praise our public hospitals for the tremendous work that they do on a daily basis, there is no denying that our public health system is struggling. Waiting lists are already considerable at public hospitals around the country. Non-emergency operations

are repeatedly cancelled at the last minute or postponed often only to be postponed again and then once again. Put simply, our public health system cannot afford more patients than it already cares for. No, Madam Acting Deputy President, the Coalition has made a very constructive proposal on how we could actually achieve the same fiscal outcome for the budget, in fact a better fiscal outcome for the budget,

in a better way for the health system. The Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, proposed that we should, instead of pursuing this broken promise of the Rudd Labor government we should increase the excise on tobacco by 12.5 per cent. Now again, what did we get from the government? A political exercise. They tried to go out there and talk it down and selectively leak some Treasury advice. But of course, thank God for the opportunity of Senate estimate thank God that we were able to ask some questions of Treasury. Because we know that, unlike what the Rudd Labor government tried to make people believe, an increase by 12.5% of the excise in tobacco will raise $2.2 billion, which would more than offset the cost of not going ahead with the means testing of the private health insurance rebate, which of course would cost... would save about $1.9 billion. $2.2 billion in Additional revenue versus $1.9 billion in a budget cut means that the budget will be $300 million better off. People will be better off because of reduced levels of smoking. The health system will be better off and there will be less pressure on public hospitals instead of more. But, instead of embracing the very constructive proposal that the opposition has put forward, of course all we have had from the government is sneering. Now, this is part of an overall agenda. We discussed earlier today the changes to the extended Medicare safety net, another part of the ongoing crusade

against people who access healthcare services through the private system. Before the election we were promised that it wouldn't happen Before the election we were promised that Labor now was committed to both a strong public system and a strong private system. That they were now committed to ensuring that we have got the right balance in our health system. Instead, what we have had is broken promise after broken promise. This is bad public policy. Quite frankly, Acting Deputy President, the opposition has no credibility and they are just scaremongering again. It is disappointing to see the opposition, quite frankly, A) they don't understand the debate or B) they are simply scaremongering because they do understand the debate and have no argument to put. Anyone who experiences an increase in the private health insurance cost due to a reduction or removal of the rebate will be on a higher income, on a higher income and will have received tax cuts through the budget that in most cases more than offset this increase in costs. But, of course, it is what you would expect from the opposition, Acting Deputy President. Nothing more than hot air. No debate but scaremongering tactics thrown in. Closed Captions by CSI