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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1171

Senator ROBERTS (Queensland) (13:40): As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to speak in favour of this bill. However, I want to mention some extra initiatives that we can also adopt.

Accountability has long been established as a fundamental part of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party—accountability to the people. Senator Hanson has discussed this for 20 years, and we endorse her stance wholeheartedly. In my first media conference after being named a successful candidate for the Senate, I raised three issues when I was asked what my priorities were. The first word I uttered was 'accountability'—to restore accountability. After nine years of dealing with politicians in this chamber and also in the House of Representatives, I recognised that there was very, very little accountability in Australia's federal parliament. The second issue was cost of living. Accountability comes in there, as well. The third aspect was security—economic security and personal security and safety. Accountability comes in there. So accountability is more than just pollies' perks, or putting a lid on them. But that is a good place to start.

Before I entered parliament, I can recall that Ms Bronwyn Bishop was held accountable for her waste of money with the helicopter rides. There was a big kerfuffle from the Labor Party about that—and rightly so. But then when the government raised the fact that Mr Tony Burke's expenditures were so high, as Senator Hanson has just discussed, everyone went silent. And that is not good enough because accountability is fundamental in our parliamentary representative system of governance. We are representing the people; we are governing on their behalf.

When I went on my listening trip through South-West Queensland just last month, people were disgusted—with not only the behaviour in the chambers but also the lack of accountability. People in Far North Queensland, when I went up there the previous month, were disgusted. We are just not getting to the points; we are not addressing people's needs. And there is something else about this, too: it is destroying parliament's credibility. It is destroying the credibility of every single member in Australia's parliament.

One way we can bring accountability is to track public spending by having the money actually tracked. One thing we know is that when government expenditure is tracked, especially spending by any political office, then people think twice before splashing the public cash around. And when we say 'track', we mean in real time—a web-based format that makes it easy for the public to search and view. That will terrify some members of parliament, but we welcome it.

Last month, in Bundaberg, I foreshadowed legislation coming from Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party with regard to a transparency portal. It is an inexpensive web-based computer program that displays all government expenditure on the internet in real time for public view. The moment a cent is spent, up it goes on the transparency portal for scrutiny by 10 million Australian adults and adolescents, because we know that they are the best at catching us out. This system has been proven to pay for itself many times over with the expenditure that is involved in the application implementation saved through higher accountability in very, very quick time. Once it is recovered, from there on we are making savings. The portal is used successfully throughout the United States and Europe. Now, it is our turn in Australia.

I was briefed on the portal's potential by Tim Andrews, executive director of the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance. He researched the concept further when he visited Washington DC in December last year. I also picked up word of that when I went to meet some of the Trump administration's transition team. We are delighted to learn now that senators such as Senator Bernardi have advocated for this system for quite some time. It is a proven system.

Pollies' perks, though, are just the tip of the iceberg of government wastage and a lack of accountability. Pollies' trips to the Gold Coast or enjoying black-tie parties on the taxpayers' purse are the types of things that the Labor and Liberal duopoly like to protect, so we do not expect much change to emanate from the old majors any time soon. Sadly, politicians' largesse is a drop in the ocean when compared to the amount government departments waste either consciously for window-dressing or through lack of accountability. The real benefit of an online portal is that the whole of government expenditure will be open to scrutiny, not just the offices of politicians.

Mr Andrews informed me that in the US the portal was used, and this is just one of many examples, to uncover the fact that in one state—I think it was Texas, but I am not sure—government printer cartridges were being double ordered, and a thrifty member of the public saved the government, just on that item alone, $500,000 a year. Within months of the portal being implemented overseas, most government departments immediately reduced expenditure significantly, as they realised they were being watched by millions of people. Ten million auditors in this country would be watching over our shoulders.

Last December I put the portal proposal to a community meeting in Coen, North Queensland, and received emphatic support. In Cape York, for example, the locals are wondering why millions—make that hundreds of millions—of taxpayer dollars are being spent on road funding when it is a well-known fact that similar roads cost a lot less to build, and there were some gross abuses of that process that they showed me. Locals have told me they expect a higher level of accountability from the government, and this portal is just one answer to the questions they have about the expenditure of their tax dollars.

But there is a second aspect to raising accountability, and that is the aspect of character—ethical issues. As a parliament, we need to lead by example. That is why the senators in Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party always fly economy class. It is a matter of example.

But we also need to go further, thirdly, in looking at accountability in all aspects. We need to come back to compliance with our Constitution. We need to remember that our Constitution involves competitive federalism. Contrary to the centralisation of funds and contrary to the centralisation of power in Canberra, our Constitution devolves power to the states, and we need to get back to that. Send many of the functions, such as the environment department, the health department and the education department, back to the states. That would save hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, it would save tens of billions of dollars. It would also give closer scrutiny to expenditure.

At the state level, we have seen the amalgamation of councils in Queensland, which has been counterproductive and inefficient. New South Wales still have not learnt from that, and now they are going through the same, with the people protesting but the state government still doing it. I have seen examples. I have been told by good councillors that we need to go back from the regional councils, the amalgamated councils, to shire and local councils, and here is where it really matters. When a councillor is walking around his or her district, they can see things. When the employees of the council are walking around, they can see things. Accountability is not just about a system. It is also about information and being close to the people using the system and using the information. Instead of someone calling up and dealing with a bureaucrat who then allocates resources from one side of the region to do something in another side of the region, they just get it done right there in the shire. Senator Hanson knows exactly what I am talking about, because that is the foundation of Senator Hanson's political skill and instinct. She has done that at the local level and done it highly successfully.

Regulations in fact distort. They put protection around public scrutiny. The other thing that happens with regulations is that, when people find a way around one regulation, we then patch it with another way. I have seen that so many times in my first three months in parliament—patches upon patches upon patches, each adding to the cost and, quite frankly, often destroying accountability. Regulations kill accountability, and they centralise.

But another thing is that, at the moment, our revenue in the form of taxation is separated from our spending. We have massive arguments in this house and in the other house about that waste. We need to have comprehensive tax reform to bring in a more efficient and effective tax system. That is a must, and it must be tied to spending.

As I said, accountability is a matter of character. We can put forward a solution immediately to increase the accountability of all spending at the federal level with a transparency portal. I want to finish with this summary: Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party is in favour of close scrutiny of every dollar that is spent by politicians and by public servants. Why? Because, like public servants, politicians serve the people. We are simply guardians of the taxpayers' money.