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Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Page: 3458

Senator WATT (Queensland) (15:01): I thank Minister Cormann for providing that statement to the Senate. I seek leave to take note of the minister's statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Leave is granted for three minutes.

Senator WATT: That's all I need. As I was saying, I thank Minister Cormann for the statement that he just made there, but unfortunately, again, we've seen in that statement from Minister Cormann three hallmarks of this government from him and from the Prime Minister: misrepresentations of their previous statements, getting basic figures wrong and being loose with the truth.

I will just remind people what this concerns. Yesterday I asked Minister Cormann a number of questions about the pathetic efforts of this government in relation to bushfire recovery. In answer to the questions that I asked, the minister claimed:

About $1.4 billion worth of funding out of $2 billion—

in the National Bushfire Recovery Fund—

is already hitting the ground in communities

I wasn't surprised that the minister made that comment, because this is one of the misrepresentations that this government is consistently making in relation to bushfire recovery. The truth is that the Prime Minister announced a $2 billion Bushfire Recovery Fund in January this year. The government's own figures, which were tabled about a week or so ago, indicate that only $529 million of that $2 billion fund has been spent. The government then tries to include another $470 million or so that it will be spending in the future on things like debris removal and tries to say that it has therefore spent a billion dollars from the $2 billion fund, even though it has actually spent only $529 on its own figures. Then, to be a little bit more cheeky, it throws in another $400 million of grants and loans that have been made to bushfire victims, as occurs after every single disaster that this country faces. That extra $400 million has nothing whatsoever to do with the $2 billion Bushfire Recovery Fund, which, as I say, on the government's own figures, has spent only $529 million.

So I was a little disappointed when I got Senator Cormann's letter today, where he says that what he said yesterday was that about $1.4 billion worth of bushfire response and recovery funding is already hitting the ground. If that were what he had said yesterday, there wouldn't have been a need for me to write to him. But the truth is that that is not what he said yesterday. What he said yesterday in answer to the question I asked was that $1.4 billion of funding out of the $2 billion fund is being spent. That is simply not true and I think it would have been preferable for him to be honest in his answer in the letter that he provided to the Senate today and to admit that he got it wrong. It is very disappointing that we see this minister misrepresent his previous statements. It is yet another example of him and this government getting their figures wrong—anyone remember the $60 billion JobKeeper bungle? I think I remember that one! This minister does have a problem with numbers—he didn't get them from Peter Dutton, either! Again, they are being loose with the truth.