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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Page: 92

Senator HUMPHRIES (11:16 PM) —Like Senator Lundy tonight, I want to make some comments about Canberra, but not perhaps in such positive and effusive terms as Senator Lundy used. Rather I want to reflect on the toll which the Rudd Labor government has taken on this beautiful city in the course of the year in which it has been in office. Canberra is very obviously, to anyone who visits and looks at it, a carefully planned city. It is a city in which the design and the layout of its buildings and the approach to its future and its planning has been very much a matter of careful and considered human endeavour and input. So it is of great concern that much of what has happened to Canberra in the last 12 months appears to be the product of a lack of planning. Ad hoc decisions have been taken without proper regard to their consequences and there is a sense that Canberra is being at best, neglected, at worst, targeted by decisions of government, which undermine many of the key elements of its planning and which affect its ability to project onto the Australian community—and to the rest of the world for that matter—a positive sense of Australian endeavour, achievement and accomplishment, by looking at the things that occur and exist here in this city.

Very clearly as part of that process we have seen the imposition of an enhanced efficiency dividend, so-called, on our national capital and it particularly affects institutions which help to furnish that sense of projecting what Australia is all about. I am referring here especially to the national institutions. Bodies such as the National Library, the National Museum, the Questacon facility, the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial and so on have had to cope with very severe cuts to the size of their programs. Each of these institutions has been forced to reduce the level of their engagement with the Australian public in order to be able to cope with those cuts.

We learnt just the other day, for example, that Questacon, which quite evidently is a facility designed to provide children especially with an introduction to science, has had to cancel its birthday program operations and its overnight stays for children. In the school holiday period, the programs would be very popular at the institution and they are going out the door, and another opportunity for children to interact with this important institution disappears.

During the life of the previous government we were lambasted for supposedly neglecting the National Botanic Gardens. Labor promised to spend $1.5 million on enhancing the gardens and particularly providing it with a more secure water supply. In the year since that promise was made we have not seen the $1.5 million dollars that was promised to the gardens and, in fact, the efficiency dividend imposed on the gardens will see an effective cut of $2.6 million to its budget over the next four years.

That is hardly what we were told we should expect from a Labor government. It is hardly consistent with the measure or the image that the Labor Party continually projects of itself as the friend of Canberra and the party most likely to protect and enhance the national capital. I think Canberrans should ask themselves if they got what they voted for if they believed that Labor was going to deliver better things for the national capital.

Obviously in case of the Botanic Gardens a cut of that depth has the potential to see the planting program cut back, the maintenance and watering of important parts of the gardens compromised, the collecting and propagation of seeds put at risk and the public access programs reduced. Any one of these outcomes would be a very bad result for this important national institution.

We have seen cuts of $759,000 to the budget of the Australian War Memorial. After the enormous investment made by the Howard government in building up and extending that important national institution that is a matter of enormous regret. Hand in hand with that we have seen the closure of the Canberra office of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme, apparently with no consultation on that question with the 6,000 veterans affected, a fact confirmed by the ACT branch of the Returned and Services League.

We have seen important facilities around the national capital closed or severely reduced in operation because of the serious cuts which have been imposed on the National Capital Authority. Blundell’s Cottage, tours of Anzac Parade’s major monuments and memorials, the operating hours of the Carillon have all been severely cut back and compromised because of this government’s decisions.

I could talk at length about the way in which schools in the ACT have fared very badly under this government. Schools were promised to share in the benefits of the education revolution. One of the features of that was that there should be trade training centres established in ACT schools as their share of the program being rolled out across Australia. In fact, to date no ACT school has received any funding under that program. The promised Computers in Schools program for the ACT has, of course, like any other part of Australia, been affected by the very substantial on-costs which will undoubtedly lead to either many fewer schools being benefited and many fewer students having those computers on their desks or, alternatively, there being an on-cost to the ACT taxpayer to deliver this promise made by the Rudd Labor government.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has received a very serious cut. Of course, the ABS is principally based in Canberra. The $22 million cut in its operations will have a very serious impact over the next few years not only on the effectiveness of the ABS to deliver important things to the Australian community in general but also on the employment base and the vitality of the ACT community, where those cuts will principally fall. We are expecting a loss of some 180 jobs in the ABS over the next few years. That cannot be good as Australia grapples with major national and international challenges, particularly the global financial crisis.

 The performance of the Rudd Labor government in this respect needs to be contrasted with what happened in the preceding decade or so under the former government. Again, Labor was very fond of telling the Australian community, particularly the Canberra community, about how badly the ACT was faring under a federal Liberal government. But, of course, looking back over those years, one sees an enormous list of benefits conferred on this community because of the investments made by the former government. I will mention just a few: the National Museum of Australia, the Old Parliament House Gardens upgrade, the building of Commonwealth Place and Reconciliation Place, the International Flag Display, RG Menzies Walk, the National Emergency Services Memorial, Magna Carta Place, the Australian of the Year Walk, the Women’s Suffrage Commemorative Fountain and, tomorrow, the opening of a new home for that very important institution, the National Portrait Gallery, which was very much prosecuted as an investment in Canberra by Senator Rod Kemp and then by Senator George Brandis as successive ministers for the arts.

That is the legacy of the Liberals in Canberra. That is what people can look at and see was done by the federal Liberal government for and in this national capital. When one compares that record with what has happened in the first 12 months alone of the Rudd Labor government, one has to wonder where the myth that Canberra is better off under Labor governments than Liberal ones comes from. It is certainly not evident in the examples which I have put before the Senate tonight. I say to citizens of this city to think carefully about the record of the governments which have been ensconced in this city over the last decade or so. Ask yourselves just what Canberra has got out of each party that has formed government in this city and where this city will go with the kind of ad hoc cuts and lack of planning which we have seen demonstrated so amply in the last 12 months. (Time expired)