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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 2263

Member for Dobell

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:29): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Senator Kim Carr. On the eve of the 2010 federal election, Minister Albanese and Craig Thomson MP promised:

The Gillard Labor government will provide $2.7 million to build a new Youth Skills and Employment Centre … operated by Central Coast Group Training and owned by Wyong Shire Council.

Isn't it a fact that on 20 July last year Mr Thomson wrote to Minister Garrett making unsubstantiated allegations about the interaction between CCGT and DEEWR? Did the member for Dobell recently request ministers or their officers that DEEWR change their program guidelines and allow an extension of time to allow Wyong Shire Council to prepare its own application for the centre without CCGT?

Senator Ludwig: Mr President, on a point of order: we are happy to debate the issue. It is more of a question to you, Mr President, in relation to notice of motion No. 706 by Senator Fierravanti-Wells on the Notice Paper. This question seems to ask a question which is reflected in notice of motion No. 706. If I am wrong about that then I will take that back, but it does seem out of order on the basis that we are now asking a question in relation to notice of motion No. 706.

The PRESIDENT: I intend to allow the question, provided it does not transgress into areas that it should not. I will listen very closely to what transpires.

Senator KIM CARR (VictoriaMinister for Human Services) (14:31): I thank you, Mr President. I indicate that the answer I give has to be relevant to the question and the question, it would appear to me, seems to be covered by notice of motion No. 706. But I will try to be helpful to the senator and I do appreciate the fact that she has given us notice of her intention to ask this question. I can advise her that the funding for the Wyong youth skills and employment centre was announced in July 2010. Yes, it was an election commitment worth $2.7 million and the commitment was for a joint project between the Wyong Shire Council and Central Coast Group Training. This commitment was reflected in the project guidelines.

The centre is part of the Community Infrastructure Grants' Youth Commitment program. Those grants go to examples of the way in which the government is seeking to provide support to young people to make the most of opportunities that exist, particularly enhancing their opportunities for training, employment and engagement in the com­munity. In 2010 the government launched the National Strategy for Young Australians, which aimed to empower young people to develop their abilities. This is an undertaking consistent with that commitment. As part of the commitment, $10 million was awarded in five arts, business and community centres for young Australians. This is one of those.

As to your specific suggestion of a change in program guidelines, senior officers of the department of schools are continuing to liaise and negotiate with both of the Wyong parties to attempt to fulfil the original election commitment. Senior DEEWR officers met with applicants individually and together on 9 February.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Mr President, I have a point of order on the issue of relevance. As the minister said, I did give him notice of the question.

Senator Conroy: On the Notice Paper.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: No, I actually wrote to the minister this morning, Senator Conroy.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Fierravanti-Wells! All you need to do is speak to the point of order and address the chair.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Indeed, Mr President, I was very specific in the email that I sent to Minister Carr. I referred in that email to the allegations contained in a letter from Craig Thomson to Minister Garrett dated 20 July. I specifically directed him to what was going to be in my question today and I would have thought that, under those circumstances where you do give such specific notice of a question, the issue of direct relevance becomes more important. I invite you, Mr President, to ask the minister to answer my question and be directly relevant, otherwise what is he hiding?

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on a point of order: the assertion made by the senator is that, because she writes to the minister telling him the question, he has to give her the answer that she wants. This is a nonsense. Senator Carr has been very relevant, directly trying to deal with the issues raised by the senator, directly relevant to the issues that are already on the Notice Paper. Given the question has been allowed, Senator Carr has been enormously helpful on an issue that has been covered up hill and down dale in this parliament and at estimates for a long time. The bottom line is: just because the senator writes advising of the question does not mean the minister is required to give the answer that she wants.

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order. Minister, you have five seconds remaining if you wish to continue your answer.

Senator KIM CARR: I advise the Senate that the council recently took a decision to withdraw from the process. However, that decision is subject to— (Time expired)

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:35): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Isn't it the case that the member for Dobell has been pursuing a personal and political vendetta against the CCGT's involvement in the centre as payback for CCGT rebuffing his attempt to extract favours by asking them to give his ex-wife a job and political payback for CCGT's general manager criticising the government's failure to deliver on its promised Warnervale GP superclinic?

The PRESIDENT: Again, the minister need only answer that part which comes within the portfolio.

Senator KIM CARR (VictoriaMinister for Human Services) (14:36): Senator, Fierravanti-Wells, you have asked for a response that requires an opinion to be expressed by me, which is clearly outside the standing orders. What I can say is this: this opposition have pursued a vendetta against the member for Dobell, as we saw just this week in respect of his application for sick leave, where they sought to reject the opinion of a medical practitioner.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. There is no part of what Senator Carr has just said that is remotely relevant to the question. He may have 36 seconds to go, but you may not allow a minister to engage in gratuitous abuse of the opposition that has no bearing on the question whatsoever in any part of his answer.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Wait a minute, Senator Evans. You will get the call, but I need silence behind you. Minister.

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on the point of order: given the question was allowed, it was a complete slur on a member of parliament in the other House. It was a complete slur designed to denigrate; and, therefore, the answer has been directly relevant as it deals with that slurring of a member. I am not sure that the question should have been allowed; but, if it is, the answer is directly relevant.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Minister, you have 36 seconds remaining.

Senator KIM CARR: The only vendetta that is being pursued here is by the opposition against the member for Dobell. In rejecting the advice of a medical practitioner, unprecedented action has been taken by those opposite. It is unprecedented action to reject the opinion of a medical professional in regard to a sick leave application and medical certificate. If you want to talk about vendettas—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr, you need to come to the question.

Senator KIM CARR: I have not finished. This is exactly the sort of thing we can expect from a scurrilous opposition whose views on Work Choices are that they want to apply the same rules to every worker in this country. (Time expired)

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (14:38): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer the minister to Mr Thomson's press release of 9 March 2012—of which I also gave him notice—claiming to support a joint application by CCGT and Wyong council for the centre whilst at the same time working behind the scenes to scuttle CCGT's involvement in this project. Far from being a good local member, as the Prime Minister keeps telling us, isn't the member for Dobell being totally deceptive and holding unemployed young people on the Central Coast hostage to his personal and political vendettas?

The PRESIDENT: That is seeking an opinion straight out, which I cannot allow.

Senator Bob Brown: Mr President, I ask that you also look at the question and, under standing orders, the requirement that there not be a reflection on a member of this place or the other place.

The PRESIDENT: That question was simply seeking an opinion. I cannot entertain the question.