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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9623


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (13:48): I rise today to put on the record some detail around the motion which very happily, with thanks to the crossbenchers and the Greens for their support, passed the Senate very convincingly with a vote of 37 to 28 with regard to the imposition of the Australian Taxation Office building on a site on the Central Coast that does not meet with community expectations.

I would like to put on the record some of the details of the motion that passed the Senate yesterday. This is to contrast with some of the fibs or mistruths that have been put on the record with regard to this matter. Clearly the importance of jobs on the Central Coast is cited in the motion as is the vital role that governments can play in delivering those opportunities, stimulating the local economy, stimulating quality infrastructure that benefits workers, business and the broader community. Labor absolutely commits to that. In fact, in the last term of the Labor government we invested $55 million in health infrastructure alone—before we even get to education or major road infrastructure. That $55 million created a cancer centre for the community; a $7 million GP super clinic which the community has access to and which is a great piece of infrastructure; and the Woy Woy rehabilitation centre at $20 million. That $55 million was invested in creating authentic infrastructure that remains with the community and is of service to the community. Labor understands the power of government to invest in the regions and certainly, on the Central Coast, Labor delivered.

What we have with this government is what they call their Central Coast growth plan, which is their entire commitment to the Central Coast and which had more money spent on advertising than on delivery. $21 million was the sum total of a commitment of the Abbott government to the Central Coast in the lead-up to the last election. What we are debating here is a proposal by this government to give $70 million in rent to a private developer from Canberra, who will then own an ugly building on the waterfront, for Gosford. It does not make sense. It is the wrong investment of a large amount of money that needs to go into the community in a way that will create infrastructure that will stay with the community.

I want to put on the record that the tenderer who was closest to receiving the acknowledgement of this government was our local council, in partnership with a private local developer, who would have created a site for the ATO right next to Gosford Council, in an appropriate part of the town, well acknowledged by the local community, and the community would have had the benefit of that infrastructure remaining in the community. And when the tax office decided to move its people out of town, we would have had a place in which to put new jobs and that building would have belonged to the community. Instead, this government has done a dodgy deal in the darkness with the state government and a private developer who does not even come from the Central Coast.

The community's opposition is articulated in the second point of the notice of motion, and the federal government's decision to do this deal is cited in the third point of the motion. The fourth point of the motion is about the lack of clarity around the cost of this land and goes to the fact that the community cannot understand how this process could be done in Gosford with no transparency at all, with the state government allowing this deal with the federal government to occur behind the scenes. If we contrast that with Wyong, we see that the land there was sold off by the New South Wales Department of Education but it happened in an open and transparent way at a public auction. That is not what has happened for the people of Gosford. What is even worse is a school was removed from this site and commitments were made to the community about this being a wonderful site where renewal of the town would happen and where a community precinct for the performing arts would be delivered as part of that.

The community is constantly articulating serious concerns around the whole tender process. Applicants have indicated that some of them received some of the information and others did not receive information. This is another item of concern. The lack of transparency is alarming—and it continues here in the parliament. Last Thursday, Senator Ryan came in and said that there were no documents of communication between the federal and state government on this. By Monday, he had to come in and correct the record and actually articulate that there are in fact some documents showing some contact between the federal government and the state government. This is an indication of an attempt by this government—and they do it in so many areas—to hide the truth from the people of the Central Coast.

So let us get some facts on the table. Six hundred jobs for Gosford: what a great thing! Wouldn't it be fantastic if they were jobs for locals! But what we are talking about here is 600 transfers coming to Gosford. Yes, it will generate some economic activity in the town, if it puts jobs in a building that allows proper growth for Gosford. But let's be clear: we are talking about 600 transfers, not 600 jobs for locals on the Central Coast. The community's outrage resulted in nearly 1,000 people came out on the Saturday morning of the long weekend to register their protest at this imposition on the coast. That morning, the community made it very clear that this government should halt the process that they are going through and let the community have a say, see what is going on and compare and contrast whether or not we are getting a good deal.

I say again that $70 million is to be paid to a private developer for this four-storey, brown brick building, which is locked up, and people transferring from Canberra into the jobs will use a swipe card to go into that building. It is not accessible to the community and there are very few local jobs. So $70 million is going to that developer for 10 years—guaranteed income—when the whole commitment from the federal government to the Central Coast is only $21 million. That is not a good deal for the coast, and that is why the community is up in arms about it.

Yesterday we passed the motion calling on the government to abandon its decision to locate the building on the Gosford waterfront and for a new location in Gosford to be determined—one that is chosen transparently; one where the community's concerns have been taken into regard—and certainly not on the site that it has undertaken to proceed with at the moment. I have asked for an immediate halt to all proceedings with regard to the proposed Gosford Australian Taxation Office development on the Old Gosford Public School site, so that this government does not push through and sign documentation in the period between the rising of parliament and next February when we get back. We need to see what is going on. This government needs to pull back from the edge.

We have a new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull—the new salesman for the same product—but what we are seeing here is a man who is doing a lot of talking to but is not listening to the people of Gosford, who have a lot to say about this matter and should be heard. Indeed, in my multiple requests to meet with the Prime Minister, I have been fobbed off to a staffer in the other place. That is not a respectful way to communicate on an issue of such importance to the people of the Central Coast.

The motion called on the federal government to consult with the community in their planning for any infrastructure investment on the Central Coast. In addition, they should apply procurement principles that advantage local developers and builders to build that project in a spot that would provide for genuine local job opportunities. It is about making sure that we stimulate the creation of local jobs for the local community—not 600 transfers from Canberra. The motion also called on the government to honour its commitment to provide $10 million to match equal funds from the local council and the New South Wales State Government to advance a centre for performing arts—about which the community has some considerable expectation—on the very site that they are imposing this ugly four-storey brown brick ATO building. We need an iconic, integrated revitalisation of that site, the Old Gosford Public School site.

I think it is very clear that this government is not listening. I have received a letter from Senator Mathias Cormann indicating that, on behalf of the Assistant Treasurer, he will endeavour to respond as soon as possible to the Senate order and provide receipt of advice from relevant agencies with regard to communication between the federal government and the state government. I hope that that might happen in a timely way—certainly in the next couple of days—so that the community can start to see some of what is going on, instead of this continued obfuscation.

Finally, I would refer senators to an editorial in The Canberra Times of 29 September that calls out this government very much, and I encourage people to have a look at that article about the way in which the government has failed to be transparent about the fact that it is transferring 600 jobs to Gosford, not creating 600 jobs. (Time expired)