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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5406

Senator EGGLESTON (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Sherry. Given that recent reports illustrate that dishonest insulation installers are exploiting the government’s $4 billion home insulation subsidy scheme, and inflating the cost of work funded by Australian taxpayers, how can the minister justify this wasteful abuse of taxpayer funds in relation to administration of its $4 billion home insulation subsidy scheme?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —The home insulation scheme—I accept the figure that the senator has given of approximately $4 billion is correct—is an important part of the government’s overall stimulus package. As I have told the Senate on many occasions, the stimulus package has been very necessary, given the disastrous financial and economic circumstances that the world faced last year. It is getting better this year, in many countries, but there is still a long way to go, there are still a lot of economic difficulties. We make no apologies for our stimulus package, and that was an important element of it. The stimulus package, part of which you referred to, has cushioned the Australian economy during the very difficult financial and economic times.

Senator Fifield —The cushioning effect of pink batts?

Senator SHERRY —Of course the issue is about insulation, but that is part of the stimulus package. I want to directly respond to the senator’s perfectly reasonable question. He has asked about this element of the stimulus package. I am outlining why it was so necessary that the Rudd Labor government acted decisively to deliver this and other stimulus to underpin our economy, to cushion our economy from the worst impacts of the worst of the world recession, a recession we have not seen the size of since the 1920s Great Depression. As I said, we make no apologies for the stimulus package. It has been divided into three essential elements: short, medium and longer term. An important part of the short-term stimulus package has been the one-off payments to those taxpayers who qualified. But the insulation scheme has also been particularly important— (Time expired)

Senator EGGLESTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. With the Auditor-General already conducting an inquiry into Building the Education Revolution schools stimulus debacle, will a review of the administration of the $4 billion home insulation subsidy scheme also be required?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —Of course there will be an audit and compliance process, Senator. Surely you have been in the Senate long enough, and been to enough estimates committees—as I have—to know that there will be a strong audit and compliance oversight of this particular project. I look forward to sitting in estimates in November, when I have no doubt you and others will ask lots and lots of questions about this particular issue. What I would argue is that, fundamentally, the Labor government has acted decisively in the face of the worst economic and financial crisis the world has ever seen. What I do know is that this particular program, and other elements of our stimulus program, have prevented 200,000 people becoming unemployed in this country. What I do know is that you opposed this economic stimulus. You would have seen another 200,000 people go onto the jobs scrapheap in this country by opposing this— (Time expired)

Senator EGGLESTON —Mr President, I ask an additional supplementary question. Given the recent revelations that materials used to make the insulation products are now being imported from overseas and over $1 billion has been directly spent on imported Chinese pink batts, could the minister please explain how shovelling Australian taxpayers’ money offshore is stimulating the Australian economy?

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) —As I understand it, the overwhelming majority of batts and insulation that is being installed is made in Australia. Frankly, I am disappointed with your reference to China. I would have thought better of the senator, frankly. He has focused on imports from China when we know that, to the extent that imports are occurring, they are coming from other countries as well. We are not just dealing with Chinese insulation.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Name those other countries.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Interjections are disorderly. Senator Sherry, continue.

Senator SHERRY —Name those other countries? Fletcher Insulation is importing product from their Ohio based partner Owens Corning, which is in the United States for those who wanted to know. What we have from the Liberal opposition is a very unhealthy focus on China. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.