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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8624

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (15:24): In responding to the question asked by Senator McAllister of the defence minister, Senator Payne, I must put on my hat from previous days as chief executive officer of the bushfires board of Western Australia because I do have a level of familiarity with surfactants or suppressants. In fact, what Ms Alison Clifton said in Senate estimates was correct: it is not possible to remove the elements of that suppressant without disrupting the base at RAAF Williamtown. The reason simply is that most of that material would be either adjacent to or, indeed, possibly under the main runways or some of the buildings. The minister's response was that the residual contamination or contaminant does not break down. That is correct; it does not. It remains in an inert fashion when it is dry. It is only when it is rehydrated that the issue becomes a problem. The minister eloquently responded in her comment that the run-off of water from the base is under management. That is when the suppressant can be contained and removed. It is the case that, whilst that particular product is there, stable, not breaking down and dry, it is not at risk.

I now go with a great degree of pleasure to the commentary of Senator Dastyari in his questions of Minister Birmingham. It reminded me of his incompetence when he was the secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party and he spent all of the resources of the Labor Party in New South Wales at that time to keep Mr Craig Thomson in parliament in the other place, spending the funds on his legal costs to the extent, if I recall—and Senator Bernardi will correct me if I am wrong—that he actually had to borrow from another union to pay the wages and salaries of those in his own office.

Where Senator Dastyari went wrong—even in his quote of The Australian newspaper—was making comments like 'the childcare alliance, if it became compulsory' or 'if parties were forced to change to charge by the hour'. Senator Birmingham made it very clear in this place that there is absolutely no compulsion on anybody to move towards compulsory charging by the hour. Whoever it was that Senator Dastyari quoted, assuring us that it would be the end of the world as we know it and it would be an inevitable increase in costs, must surely be from the same school of economics as Senator Dastyari himself. The minister said there is no compulsion at all for the providers of childcare services to change. But how flexible it will be—in fact, how nimble it will be—for those providers in different areas. I speak particularly of rural areas of Australia, in which you know I have a very keen interest. That is the opportunity to offer a service for four to six hours a day rather than someone being charged for eight to 10 hours a day. Let us just imagine how improved a service that will be to families.

Senator Birmingham was kind enough to tell us about the $40 billion being spent in the sector and an additional $3.5 billion to make the whole system more affordable, to use his words, more flexible and simpler—to move from three different systems down to one simplified childcare subsidy.

In the few minutes left to me I cannot avoid the opportunity to respond to Senator Carr's question of Senator Birmingham. It is absolutely wonderful that in doing so he pointed out the absolute failure of the VET FEE-HELP system as it was introduced by the Labor government. I was actually chair of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee at the time. Deputy President, I think you may have been chair of the legislation committee. I vividly recall warning the then Labor government of all of the problems that Senator Birmingham is now being forced to solve. Senator Carr's question was, 'Well, you've been in for two years; why haven't you solved them?' How many years did it take the Howard-Costello government to solve the problems of Hawke and Keating? Now he is asking if in only two years we have solved the problems of the then Labor government. Senator Birmingham answered why the ACCC is involved. I thank Senator Carr for the opportunity.