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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11527

Ms BIRD (3:38 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How has last week’s Australian Council of Local Government meeting been received by local governments? Has there been any criticism of the council and its outcomes?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —Indeed, last week’s Australian Council of Local Government meeting has been well received by local government, including by ALGA, Council of Capital City Lord Mayors, Local Government Managers Association and local mayors around the nation, who came to Canberra for what was an extremely successful dawn of a new partnership between the Commonwealth and local government. Regional mayors welcomed the event. Sandra McCarthy, the Kiama mayor, told the Illawarra Mercury:

For the first time I feel we are a genuine part of the overall demographic of government in Australia and it’s long overdue.

The opposition did what it usually does: it came out and welcomed the event and the funding, and then it went to work undermining it; then it went to work walking both sides of the street.

Perhaps the best example of that was the member for Cook, one of their shadow ministers for local government—they have two—saying that the community of Wollongong, because they are under administration, should not have received any local government funding. He argued that the ratepayers of Wollongong should be punished for the actions of some rogue councillors from Wollongong. The good people of Wollongong did not react kindly to that. The paper ran an article headed ‘Shadow minister for silly statements’ and the subheading said:

 Scott Morrison says he’s appalled at a $2.15 million grant for Wollongong council. (Yeah, we’ve never heard of him either)

But it was not just the full page splash—there was more. The Illawarra Mercury had a bit to say about it in their editorial on behalf of the people of Illawarra. They said:

The corrupt actions of one of our developers and some councillors were enough to bring a slur on the … good name of Wollongong—we didn’t need a numskull .. MP to compound the situation …

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat while the House comes to order.

Mr ALBANESE —Some objections to the administration of the Wollongong council have been raised in interjections from those opposite. It pays to have a sense of history and a bit of memory going back more than a day; more than 24 hours. The night before the Australian Council of Local Government meeting, we had the National Local Government Awards, at which were presented awards to local government for best practice during the last year.

Mr Hockey —The DAs of Wollongong?

Mr ALBANESE —In fact, DAs at Wollongong were rewarded—by the previous government. The then Minister for Local Government, Jim Lloyd, issued a press release on 23 July 2007. The award from the Howard government for asset management for foreshore development went to Wollongong council. So it pays to have a bit of memory. But the member for Cook did not remember that and nor did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when they opposed the good people of Wollongong receiving any funding for local capital works.

It gets even worse, because you do not have to go back a year; you can go back a month. There is another council in New South Wales that is under administration: the Port Macquarie Shire Council. We know about Port Macquarie because there has been a bit of focus on it. We had a by-election just a month ago which returned an outstanding representative in Rob Oakeshott to this parliament. They did not object to Port Macquarie council getting funding of over a million dollars as part of the $300 million Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. I wonder why? I wonder why they are having a go at Wollongong even though last year it was the award-winning council from throughout the nation but for Port Macquarie they are hands off? How inconsistent are they? I thought back. I visited the electorate of Lyne during that by-election and I remember that the mayor who was dismissed for corruption, Rob Drew, was the National Party candidate just one month ago.

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There has never been any allegation at all—

The SPEAKER —If he does not have a point of order, the Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.

Mr Hockey —I do, Mr Speaker. The minister should withdraw, move a substantive motion or have the guts to go outside and say that.

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will bring—

Mr Price interjecting

The SPEAKER —I will name the Chief Government Whip and wish him a happy birthday! The minister has the call and he will conclude his answer.

Mr ALBANESE —The fact is that Port Macquarie council was dismissed and is in administration. Because of its maladministration it was dismissed. The opposition are very sensitive about these issues. They are very quick to go out there and say that the people of Wollongong should not receive any funding on that basis, which is what the member did.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If the minister has a point to make in the defamatory manner he has just displayed, it can only be done by way of substantive motion and he should properly withdraw.

The SPEAKER —Order! On the point of order, the person that I understand was mentioned in the response is not a member of this place and therefore is not protected by the measures that have been raised by others.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, on a point of order, I heard what you said to the member for Mackellar, but under standing order 91:

A Member’s conduct shall be considered disorderly if the Member has …

(b) used objectionable words …

To accuse someone of corruption when there is no substantive case against them is surely objectionable to the Speaker and I would ask you to ask the minister to withdraw it.

The SPEAKER —The case being put to me by the member for Sturt does not apply in this case.

Mr Pyne —But you can decide anything objectionable.

The SPEAKER —And I will, based on the precedents, but this is going beyond the precedents. I will simply say that there are other mechanisms.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I—

The SPEAKER —No, the member for Sturt will resume his seat. I am going to give the call to the member for Berowra.

Mr Ruddock —Are you calling for further questions, Mr Speaker? I have one to the Treasurer.

The SPEAKER —I believe the minister has concluded his answer. I will now give the member for Berowra the call, so the microphone can be put on and his words will be recorded.