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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 391

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (6.22 p.m.) —I also wish to speak on Senator Tambling's motion. Picking up on the points made by Senator Lees, we have seen an enormous waste of time this afternoon. We expect that from the opposition, but this has to take the Logie—the big one. We are talking about a report that was tabled some three weeks ago. Senator Tambling is calling on immediate action to respond to that report. Fourteen days, 20 days or whatever is not a long time, particularly when we are talking about issues such as this. Senator Tambling could very easily have given a much more considered response. He could have spent more time considering it. Had he done that he would not have made those basic mistakes that Senator Lees talked about.

  This is very much a fraudulent, knee-jerk response to this Industry Commission report—a report that does deserve much more consideration. This response is from an opposition which less than a year ago was going to the electorate with a policy on housing. It was a policy that, despite the crocodile tears here this evening, promised the Australian electorate a huge cutback in the area of public housing. The policy promised $450 million under the Fightback cutback proposal.

  What sort of moral authority do members of the opposition think they have to cry crocodile tears within 12 months in such a snap response to a very detailed report? What we are seeing again, and what we have seen consistently since the last election, is an opposition which has not been prepared to do the hard work—before or since the election. The opposition consists of a bunch of amateurs. No matter how many of them are on the front bench, it will not raise the quality of the output. Within two weeks of the report coming down they are claiming instant responses and moral authority, when they wanted to cut away per capita housing through the Commonwealth-states agreement. What do they think a cut of $450 million would have done to the people of the Northern Territory or Werriwa, or to people on low incomes?

  No-one expects consistency from Senator Tambling, nor from the rest of the opposition. We on this side of parliament do not mind that, because the more that happens, the more likely we are to keep winning elections. We thank the opposition for the last five elections. What really stinks of hypocrisy is that those opposite, time and time again—particularly in this place—are screaming, wailing and crowing about states' rights. When we look at and analyse this report, what we see as the most basic, fundamental structure that the Industry Commission tries to tackle and analyse is state-federal responsibilities; their clarity and transparency, and the need for more transparency.

  What do those opposite want us to do? They want us to come up with a response instantaneously, without consultation with state authorities. We have responded. Those ministers cited by Senator Tambling in his motion did respond, but they have responded in a more concrete way. That is unlike the simplistic approach to life and politics taken by Senator Tambling—particularly his approach to policies.

  The minister responsible for this area has already moved quickly to establish processes for consultation with the state ministers. Arrangements with the states are in place already. Particularly under Senator Tambling's creed of politics there cannot be a unilateral decision to dump the states without consultation. The minister has organised consultations with state ministers. Bilateral discussions between the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Human Services (Mr Howe) and his state counterparts will be held in mid-February. Housing ministers are to meet in late February to discuss the Industry Commission report.

  There is a lot I could say but I will not, given the time of day and the need to proceed to other business, but Senator Tambling has moved his motion without moral authority. He is critical of the federal government's response and, more particularly, he is critical of our record.

  There is one thing that the Industry Commission did do. This point was endorsed by Senator Lees but, unfortunately, in Senator Tambling's rush to read this report he must have missed the vital paragraph. I do not know why the opposition keeps some of those opposite on the front bench. In terms of talent they are not producing much.

  The opposition talks about rent assistance. Once again we think back to 12 months ago, when it was the opposition leader—the departing leader, Dr Hewson—who talked of people renting houses as being second-class citizens. That was the policy the opposition went to the last elections with. The opposition today is crying about those who may have to rent houses.

  The government has a record that, in bald terms, is reflected in the fact that we have increased total expenditure during our term of government from $500 million to over $1 billion in 1992-93. We have put in place agreements with the states to continue funding. It is a policy which, between March 1983 and September 1993, increased in real terms by 139 per cent assistance for eligible families with three or more children—from $10 a week to $42.60. We have committed funds, put in resources and worked with the states. We have had the reviews and we read the results. More importantly, we produce the funds to accommodate the need, unlike the policy of those opposite which, at the last election, was very clear: do away with federal government support for public housing.

  The Industry Commission's report, to the extent that it endorses anything, endorses the need for a mix of housing; a mix in terms of publicly owned housing and rental assistance. What the opposition's policy was then, and I do not know what it is now—we would all be surprised to hear what it is now—was to wipe the slate of one particular and important part of housing assistance; that is, public housing finance—$450 million less. That is the type of policy the opposition put up at the last election.

  We have to go by that because there has not been a change, despite the endeavours of the opposition leader in this place to develop a policy think tank. There has not been a substantial addressing of these issues. The opposition criticises us for not giving sufficient import to these issues. It is not just the arrangements with the states that are important; but the fundamental issues that the commission raises, such as the transparency of funding arrangements and the greater clarity, objectives and responsibilities of both Commonwealth and state governments.

Senator Tambling —What did the Auditor-General say about you?

Senator BOLKUS —The Auditor-General is not the electorate. What the electorate said about us last year was quite different from what it said about the opposition. The opposition has candidates running around this country. I was in Werriwa just a week before the election. I did not see a ghetto; I saw a lot of concerned people. The end result in Werriwa was one of the lowest swings away from a government. Everyone in the electorate knows that last year was not a good year for us in terms of some of the issues we had to confront, but it was not a good year for Dr Hewson either. That is the bottom line for all members of the opposition sitting on the front bench, because Dr Hewson's time is limited and the time of those sitting on the front bench is limited. It is limited because the opposition cannot grasp the issues.

  The Industry Commission made assessments and put up proposals to look at the clear and full cost benefits of various tenures, the best levels and mix of assistance measures, and so on. What is important is that we have processes in place that have been agreed to with the states. These are the sorts of processes and issues that the opposition is not addressing.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8.00 p.m.