Monday, 31 October 2011
Royal Life Saving Society of Australia
Tonight I will take a few minutes to comment on the very good work done by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia, RLSSA, in raising awareness and educating Australians to prevent drowning related deaths in Australia. The Royal Life Saving Society of South Australia is based in Cowandilla in my electorate of Hindmarsh and is run by Bob McKenzie, the President, and Eileen, the CE. They do a magnificent job in informing the community, the electorate and all of South Australia on water safety and water awareness.
In the recently released Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2011 it was revealed that 315 people drowned in Australia in the last 12 months. While the statistics in the report have been impacted by the significant and dreadful flash flooding events in Queensland's Lockyer Valley and the widespread flooding across other areas of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, the report also highlighted that men are now 3½ times more likely to drown than women, with men aged between 18 and 34 years of age of particular concern.
While progress has been made in areas including backyard pool drowning and family water safety education, the report highlights a significant increase in the number of people in the 55-plus category that are drowning, having increased from 82 deaths in 2008 to 117 deaths in 2011. As a member with over 30 per cent of the constituency in my electorate over 55 years of age, I strongly endorse the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia's efforts to reduce drowning incidents in this and other critical demographics. In addition to extant education campaigns to increase home pool safety and of course the Bronze Medallion water safety program, the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia also offer the Grey Medallion. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia's Grey Medallion is a water safety and lifesaving skills program for older Australians and encourages a healthy, independent and active lifestyle. It endeavours to teach participants of this particular program a range of personal survival techniques, provide them with skills to deal with an emergency situation and develop confidence and competence to enjoy aquatic exercise and other water based activities safely.
I strongly believe that the unceasing efforts of the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia to educate Australians, prevent drowning related incidents and promote water safety are commendable, but this latest report provides a reminder to us all that there is still more work to be done, especially to reduce the number of people aged 55 and over drowning, the number of young men aged 18 to 34 drowning and the number of people drowning in inland waterways.
Another initiative of the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia, Swim and Survive, is also worthy of mention. Swim and Survive is a national swimming and water safety initiative of the Royal Life Saving Society that seeks to increase swimming and water safety skills of Australian children in order to prevent drowning and increase participation in safe aquatic activity. Swim and Survive is organised into three programs aimed at educating children from six months to 14 years old, and each program containing separate skill strands that ensure a balanced, comprehensive, instructional approach to children's aquatic education.
Living in Australia, we all enjoy a wide variety of aquatic locations and activities for social reasons and to improve our health and fitness. The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia is working to ensure that the future of our country and our most treasured asset, our children, develop the skills to keep safe in these locations and when performing aquatic activities.
Individuals, the community and all levels of government need to focus on reducing these terrible tragedies which then impact so many people's lives. I urge all members to support the efforts of the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia within their electorates in order to assist the society's CEOs with their commitment to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in drowning related deaths by the year 2020. I would like to reiterate that the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia is performing critical work in the field of public water safety for Australians of all ages in all areas and again I urge all members from all parties to support them. (Time expired)
Thousands of shire residents in my electorate are employed by Qantas and thousands more have their jobs on the line, both in the disputes that came to a head last weekend and how Qantas responds to the commercial challenges ahead. It is important we do not give our community a false sense of security about these issues; rather, we must deal candidly and honestly about what is ahead.
I welcome the fact that Qantas planes will be soon back in the air. However, I am disappointed the government failed to act by refusing the powers they had inserted into the Fair Work Act for this purpose and were unprepared, despite warnings from Qantas that grounding the fleet was a possibility. Had Qantas not implemented their decision to ground the fleet on Saturday, this dispute would be continuing. The government would still be sitting on their hands, the airline would still be bleeding $15 million per week and the economy $100 million per week.
Now that this matter has been brought to a head by Qantas, it must be addressed. Any resolution requires certainty about the future role, structure and business model for Qantas, which is at the core of these disputes. This requires confronting some unpleasant realities about the changes Qantas now seek to make to their business in order to secure their commercial viability for the future and the jobs this will sustain.
I do not welcome these changes. Nor do I believe that Qantas welcome these changes, anymore than they welcomed the difficult decision they had to make last Saturday to ground their fleet. It simply underscores the deep challenges the airline faces and what is at stake if they fail to act.
Qantas international does not compete on a level playing field, yet its revenue is critical for the airline's success. International customers account for 21 per cent of passengers but 50 per cent of passenger revenue. It faces increased competition that has seen market share decline from 35 to 19 per cent in the past 10 years. The successful launch of Jetstar, with its low-cost model, has enabled the group to reclaim eight per cent of this share.
Qantas have overcome serious challenges in recent years: an appreciating dollar, rising fuel costs, the GFC and global events such as SARS and volcanic ash, just to name a few. Yet the business is not getting any easier. A report by Credit Suisse in July noted that 'the main long-term determinant of survival is based on having the lowest cost base'. Qantas's cost base is 20 per cent higher than key competitors, with airlines such as Emirates holding an even greater cost advantage. An analysis of the value of the Qantas group showed the main line had a negative equity of half a billion dollars. This is not sustainable. The key factors identified were the impact of industrial disputes and the market's faith in the ability of the management to deliver on a plan to address the losses of the business.
The changes put forward by Qantas are geared toward making the company's international operations profitable. We may not like them, we may not agree with them, but they must be evaluated against viable alternatives. When Labor began the process of privatising Qantas in 1992, the decision was made for Qantas to compete as a commercial enterprise, not a government airline, subject to the Qantas Sale Act. I note the minister confirmed today Qantas had not breached these conditions in any of their proposals to date.
If the government's wish is to run the airline and second-guess the management, they should buy it back. I am not in favour of such a move, either by design or default. Such default was on show with the collapse of Ansett and across the Tasman when Air New Zealand was bailed out by their government. The devastation of the Ansett collapse is still being felt by my constituents to this day, more than 10 years later. No-one wants to see this repeated—employees, management or the general public.
This imposes a heavy burden on the Qantas board and management to get it right. Acknowledging the challenges Qantas face in reducing their cost base does not provide a blank cheque to marginalise and undermine the brand values of safety, service and reliability that have made the airline great. This is the balance Qantas must get right and will be evaluated against by their shareholders and their customers. If they fail, so will Qantas.
Qantas hold no special guarantee of survival in a highly dynamic and fiercely competitive environment. They have done this for 90 years. Qantas now contributes more than $31.3 billion to our national economy, including $5.5 billion in national exports, employing almost 33,000 people. For the shire's sake and Australia's sake, they must do this and more for another 90 years. This will be achieved by management and staff responding cooperatively and creatively to the challenges that Qantas face, consistent with the company's longstanding reputation and brand as the spirit of Australia and, indeed, the shire.
I rise today in the chamber to talk about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Poverty in the developing world goes far beyond income. It means having to walk more than a mile every day simply to collect water and firewood; it means suffering diseases that were eradicated from rich countries decades ago. Every year 11 million children die, most of whom are under five years of age. More than six million people die from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia. The Millennium Development Goals provide concrete numerical benchmarks for tackling extreme poverty. The MDGs also provide a framework for the entire international community to work together towards a common end—making sure that human development reaches everyone, everywhere. If these goals are achieved, world poverty will be cut in half, tens of millions of lives will be saved and billions more people will have the opportunity to benefit from the global economy.
According to Food4Africa, more than 1.2 billion people, one in every five on earth, survive on less than $1 a day; the top one per cent of the world's richest people earn as much as the poorest 57 per cent; of the approximately six billion people in the world, at least 1.2 billion do not have access to safe drinking water; more than 2.4 billion people do not have proper sanitation facilities; more than 2.2 million people die each year from diseases caused by polluted water and filthy sanitation conditions; and two-thirds of the world's 876 million illiterates are women. For women, poverty has a devastating effect. The United Nations Development Group reports that more than 40 per cent of women in Africa do not have access to basic education. If a girl is educated for six years or more, as an adult her prenatal care, postnatal care and childbirth survival rates will dramatically and consistently improve. Educated mothers immunise their children 50 per cent more often than mothers who are not educated.
Recently, a contingent of constituents in my great electorate of Bass travelled to Canberra to speak to elected representatives about the importance of the Millennium Development Goals and overseas aid. Water and sanitation were the main concerns highlighted in these discussions. I am proud that there are young people in my electorate who are so passionate about the welfare of others. There is also a keen branch in my electorate from RESULTS International who often write and talk to me about the Millennium Development Goals, microfinance and poverty. Many in the group are fifth-year medical students and very active in the community. I urge and encourage them to keep up their good work.
Earlier this year the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, visited my electorate to talk about the report into aid effectiveness. This was a very worthwhile visit and many constituents in my electorate were keen to find out where and how our aid money is being spent and learn about what benefits are coming from it. The eight Millennium Development Goals, which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV-AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015, form a blueprint agreed to by all the world's countries and all the world's leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest.
While the share of poor people is declining, the absolute number of poor in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing. Rapid reductions in poverty are not necessarily addressing gender equality and environmental sustainability. Lack of progress in reducing HIV is curtailing improvements in both maternal and child mortality. The expansion of health and education services is not being matched by quality. The UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, has said:
Eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main challenges of our time, and is a major concern of the international community. Ending this scourge will require the combined efforts of all, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, in the context of a stronger and more effective global partnership for development.
Indeed, we have much to do. There is no doubt that overseas aid plays a major role in alleviating global poverty. I place on record my support for the MDGs. (Time expired)
Recently the government announced the creation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, but there is a certain inconsistency in the successive announcements as to what it is actually going to do. On 10 July we were told that it would:
… invest $10 billion in businesses seeking funds to get innovative clean energy proposals and technologies off the ground.
On 18 August, in a media release from the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, we were told it would:
… drive innovation through commercial investments in clean energy through loans, loan guarantees and equity investments.
Then, on 12 October, in a media release from the Treasurer, we were told it would:
… overcome capital market barriers that hinder the financing, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies.
This lack of clarity as to what the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation is going to do should set alarm bells ringing, and so should the dismal record of these kinds of government directed funds investing in politically favoured areas of industry.
Indeed, when President Obama comes to Australia next month, the Prime Minister and her ministers might like to ask him about Solyndra, a US company which received a US$535 million loan guarantee in 2009 to finance a new photovoltaic solar panel manufacturing facility. When President Obama spoke at the plant in May 2009, he said it would create 1,000 jobs. Vice President Joe Biden said:
These are the jobs that are going to define the 21st Century and the jobs that are going to allow America to compete and to lead like we did in the 20th Century.
How did the story turn out? I am sorry to say that about six months after these soaring speeches, Solyndra postponed its expansion and US taxpayers ended up on the hook to the tune of US$390.5 million—75 per cent of the loan guarantee. The 1,000 workers never got hired and the company has filed for bankruptcy. This is an object lesson in the perils of politically directed investment. There are some serious warning signals in the materials this government has put out. We were told in the 12 October press release that it is not the intention to directly compete with the private sector; rather to 'act as a catalyst to private investment which is currently not available'. There may well be a very good reason why private investment is currently not available, because private investors have looked at the investments on offer and realised there is a very serious risk of losing their money. Unfortunately, this government does not seem at all troubled by the prospect of losing taxpayers' money if it can get a political win.
There are some very disturbing reminders here of the same sad story of the National Broadband Network, which you would recollect was announced without all of the details having been sorted out. What they then needed to do was to hire private-sector consultants to develop an implementation plan. It turns out that, with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, this government are up to the same thing, because if you look at the press release of 12 October you learn that one of the things that they are presently working on is an implementation plan. The reality is that this government seem to think that it is not real money anyway. They have a fabulous accounting trick to keep the $10 billion off the budget bottom line. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Wong put out a media release in which she quoted the words of one Department of Finance and Deregulation official at Senate estimates who said:
To the extent to which the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is undertaking investments, and that is the government's policy, then the majority of its activities will not impact on the budget bottom line.
By 'budget bottom line' he meant the underlying cash balance—the headline number normally quoted. For example, when he promises a $3.5 billion surplus next year, the Treasurer is referring to the underlying cash balance.
There are two possible explanations for what is going on here. One is that this accounting treatment is well justified, because the $10 billion to be spent on the corporation is investment money designed to secure a financial return, which is the relevant accounting test. Of course, another explanation—and I would suggest this is the better one—is that the government was forced to agree to this by the Greens. It does not have the money to spend, it has bodgied up the accounting treatment so as to hide the true impact of this on the budget bottom line and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation shows every sign of being a substantial waste of taxpayers' money. Because the government knows that, it is desperate to try to keep the true impact off the budget. All Australian taxpayers should be very concerned. (Time expired)
I take this opportunity to speak about the continuous stream of reports about the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. This matter was the subject of a private member's motion introduced into the House by the member for Hughes on 19 September this year and, I believe, unanimously agreed to by the House on 13 October. At the time, I was unable to speak in the debate, but I take this opportunity to comment on the issue.
I understand that since around 600 AD the Muslim faith has gradually become dominant in Egypt and today Coptic Christians represent about 10 per cent of the population. Of course, even those figures may be questionable as it is claimed that some people will not declare their faith for fear of persecution. Some have even referred to the change as a form of ethnic cleansing and an act of apartheid. Whilst it was hoped that the overthrow of the Mubarak regime would bring an end to the violence, that clearly has not been the case. Whether Egyptian governments are simply unable to bring an end to the violence or are unwilling to do so is not clear. What is clear is that reports of violence, atrocities, discrimination and murder are becoming all too frequent.
On 1 January this year, a car bomb exploded in front of a Coptic orthodox church in Alexandria, killing 21 people and injuring dozens more. The explosion occurred a few minutes after midnight as the church's congregation were leaving a New Year's church service. In March, a church in Sole was set on fire by a group of Muslim males reportedly upset that a Muslim woman had become romantically involved with a Christian man. As a result, many Copts left the village in fear. Little more than one month later, in April, sectarian violence flared in a town 260 kilometres south of Cairo in response to the death of two Muslims. It was reported that an elderly Coptic lady was thrown off her second-floor balcony and many others were hospitalised. Shops, businesses and livestock known to be owned by Copts were targeted and pillaged. There were further violent clashes in May in Giza that left 15 dead, both Copts and Muslims, and many more injured. The local church was set on fire. Not long after, Copts in Maspero, a suburb of Cairo, were attacked during protests and one person died.
Religious intolerance is not acceptable in Australia and nor should it be when it occurs in other countries, particularly when it results in people being discriminated, persecuted and violated. Many people feel as strongly about their religion as they do about their nationality. I know that many Australians of Christian faith are extremely upset by the reports coming out of Egypt about the plight of Coptic Christians there, as is Australia's Coptic Christian community. If we believe that fairness, tolerance and equality are inherent values of Australian culture, then we should uphold those values not only here in Australia but in our participation and stance on international affairs.
For that reason, on 6 July this year I wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, drawing his attention to concerns that had been raised with me about events relating to Coptic Christians in Egypt. The minister, to his credit and to that of the Australian government, had been closely monitoring the situation in Egypt and had been forthright in expressing the Australian government's concerns for Egypt's Coptic Christian community, both publicly and in diplomatic exchanges. Amongst the numerous actions taken by the government, Foreign Minister Rudd had raised the issue with the Egyptian government in his visits to Egypt in December 2010 and February 2011. Both Foreign Minister Rudd and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had also met with Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Church Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, here in Australia, in February this year to discuss the issue. Importantly, the immigration minister has advised that individual assessments of visa applications made on humanitarian grounds by Coptic Christians will be made on a case-by-case basis.
However, it is of concern that reports of persecution of Coptic Christians continue to emerge from Egypt. On Friday, 4 November—that is, this Friday coming—a special prayer service will be held at the St Mary and Anba Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church in the electorate of the member for Hindmarsh. I hope to join the member for Hindmarsh at that service.
I take this opportunity to commend the member for Hughes for the motion that was supported by this House on 13 October. I reiterate two parts of that motion which I certainly endorse. The motion stated:
That this House:
… … …
(2) condemns the recent attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt;
(3) expresses its sympathy for Coptic Christians who have been victims of recent attacks in Egypt …
I take this opportunity to endorse those remarks.
It is with much concern that I rise to speak tonight on issues that continue to plague my electorate and continue to be the hallmark of this government's incompetence and waste. Firstly, the Home Insulation Program administered by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency since 2008 has been, and still is, an absolutely appalling project that not only wasted $3.9 billion but also cost Australian lives. The frustration and anger that many constituents in suburbs like Windsor and Newmarket are feeling is absolutely unbelievable. Unfortunately, the fact that the Labor government devised such a poor program was very predictable.
One of my constituents, Mr Mark Squires, had his home insulation installed in 2008 when the program started. The Australian people have discovered since that the program was really out there to help unlicensed shonky dealers, with much of the so-called economic stimulus going offshore to foreign producers of pink batts. After the Labor government finally admitted the failures of the scheme, the Labor government terminated it prematurely on 19 February 2010. It has been more than a year and a half since the government began the Home Insulation Safety Program, and the incompetence of the scheme continues. Mr Squires has had four insulation inspection appointments with the department scheduled since February 2010. These appointments have not even been cancelled in advance; the inspectors just do not even bother to turn up. As Mr Squires has said, this is an absolute joke. The projected end of the home insulation remediation program is, according to the government, supposed to be at the end of 2011. The next appointment for Mr Squires is scheduled for 17 December 2011. I look forward to hearing from the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency about whether inspectors will finally make it to this constituent's home.
On top of this I have had residents from Stafford, who in 2009 contacted the environment minister, citing safety concerns regarding home insulation. To this date, despite one insulation inspection in 2010, no-one from the department has even bothered to remove the foil insulation, and on 2 September this year an inspection was planned for 8 am, but—have a guess—nobody turned up or attempted to schedule another appointment.
Secondly, the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator has recently announced that more than 80,000 solar rooftop devices may have been installed to a substandard and defective level. Just as with the Home Insulation Program, shonky operators are flooding the market, and it is even believed that some who were registered foil installers may be finding a new avenue for their business. Reputable companies from the sector warned the government at Senate estimates last year about the potential for substandard products and installation. I would really like an explanation from the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency regarding the administration of this program. Why were appropriate safeguards not implemented, given that it has cost constituents in my electorate thousands of dollars?
One such constituent is Karen Davis. She genuinely wanted to do her bit to help the environment. She placed an order for 21 solar panels and a five-kilowatt inverter in February 2011 with a company called Cleaner Energy. After that, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. It took Cleaner Energy until June to install the solar panels after promising to do so for months. Ms Davis arrived home one day to find that the contractors had placed them on the wrong side of the roof. A couple of weeks after that, the 5-kilowatt inverter fell off. Then—this is the best part—she received her electricity bill, to discover that it had increased by $1,000 over her previous account because the solar panels had not been connected to the grid. As Ms Davis said, 'It is now almost November and I have a solar system worth over $20,000 sitting on my roof as a white elephant.'
I have written to the Minster for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency requesting information on what the government is going to do to rectify the mistakes in designing and administering this program, and I look forward to his response. These problems were clearly identifiable before the programs began. So long as we have a Labor government running this country, I expect to see many more of these sorts of disasters. In 2007, the Labor government inherited a $20 billion surplus with zero net debt. As a consequence of their incompetence, the Commonwealth government's net debt will now be more than $100 billion, and as a result of their incompetence they ran two programs—the Home Insulation Program and the solar rebate scheme—
I am sorry, Mr Speaker, I got a bit excited by the member's presentation there.
On 17 October I represented the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, at the opening of the Melbourne Brain Centre, a new research facility that will provide hope for millions of Australians and people around the world who live with a neurological disorder. I was able to open this new facility, located at Melbourne university's Parkville campus, with the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu. The facility completes three facilities which make up the Melbourne Brain Centre. The Austin Hospital and the Centre for Translational Neuroscience at Royal Melbourne Hospital are the other two facilities that make up the centre.
The Melbourne Brain Centre is the biggest brain research centre in the southern hemisphere. The centre brings together 700 staff to support research into the causes, prevention and treatment of neurological disorders in state-of-the-art laboratories. The vital work done in these facilities will shed new light on common degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. This centre was made possible because of the Gillard government's $5 billion Health and Hospitals Fund, the Victorian government and generous donations by philanthropists, particularly from the Potter family and the Myer family.
This investment is a testament to the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Gillard government. Our overall investment in health in Australia is the largest our nation has seen since Medicare. For the first time, neuroscientists and neurologists from across Melbourne and around Australia will be able to join forces to improve diagnosis and treatment for people with brain disorders. As Australia's population ages, the need to combat these terrible diseases will become more and more pressing. Already the burden of brain and mind disease currently accounts for 25 per cent of the disability adjusted life years for Australians. For this reason, neurological disorders are a growing priority for Australian government-funded medical research, with almost $400 million allocated by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The brain centre will achieve this goal, translating more rapid advances in knowledge into better patient care and better health outcomes. The Australian government contributed two tranches of approximately $38 million towards the centres at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Parkville and at Austin Health. The state government contributed $56 million, the Potter family $15 million and the Myer family, ably represented by Rupert Myer, a further $8 million. The centre is named after Rupert's late father, Ken Myer, who always had an interest in biological science issues.
I am very pleased to say, as I did when I was opening the centre, that the massive investment by state and federal governments, together with this generosity through private philanthropy, keeps that edge in Victoria in medical research which so distinguishes our city. I am very proud of the fact that there are so many places in Melbourne that distinguish themselves not only throughout all of Australia but throughout all of the world. It is one of the leading cities for medical research, and I think this national brain centre is going to make a very valuable contribution towards that. As the Minister for Health and Ageing has said, we are committed to ensuring that Australia's medical and health research institutes and our best and brightest researchers have sufficient support and financial assistance to continue to work at the forefront of their fields.
I commend the federal government, the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Victorian Liberal state government. Mr Baillieu was very generous in his commendation of former Premier Brumby, for whom this was a particular issue. All state governments, including both the previous Labor Brumby and Bracks governments, have had a very strong concentration on Melbourne continuing to maintain this excellence in medical research. The opening of the Melbourne Brain Centre at the University of Melbourne in Parkville will help keep that cutting edge that Melbourne has in medical research.
I rise this evening to talk about my efforts to engage the community and its stakeholders on the importance of our local environment. Earlier this month I launched Hasluck's 'green map', which outlines the ecological corridors, regional parks, Bush Forever sites and wetlands that exist within Hasluck. The A3 poster was mailed out to every home in the electorate, which means over 53,000 homes received the map, and it lists the various friends of the environment groups that are already in existence.
If people wish to become active in their local area to protect the environment, they can use the details provided to contact their council and become more involved. Hasluck's green map is also linked to a Facebook page, which gives residents an opportunity to learn more about the local environment and find more ways to get involved in their local area. It is also a resource for local environmental groups to advertise their upcoming environmental initiatives and events.
I was fortunate enough to welcome the shadow minister for the environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, to Hasluck to assist with the launch, which took place at Men of the Trees in Hazelmere. Men of the Trees is a unique Western Australian organisation that was founded in 1979 and has since planted over 11 million seedlings to prevent the spread of deserts, erosion and salinity. The shadow minister used the launch to commit half a million seedlings to the Men of the Trees should the coalition win the next election.
I was motivated to create a green map of my electorate for several reasons. Principally, every person I met expressed some concern for their local environment and how it is treated: the trees that are cut down or the pollution that finds its way into our rivers. I invited some of these people who are actively involved in their local ecosystems to travel with me and Greg Hunt on a bus tour of the green map. We attended several key locations in my electorate that are each examples of how direct action benefits the environment.
The first stop was Lesmurdie Senior High School to meet the principal, Keith Svendsen, and tour the school's environmental initiatives such as freshwater collection tanks and the bushland it wishes to protect at the school. The bus then stopped at All Earth Group in Maddington, a company that recycles building waste, takes out the metal, rubble and tyres, sells this material on and creates soils and road base for commercial and private use. So impressive was the set-up at All Earth Group that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott MP, came out to visit himself when he was in Perth for CHOGM.
After that stop we met with the Friends of Brixton Street Wetlands and SERCUL. The Brixton Street Wetlands are one of Western Australia's most important ecological sites. The final stop for the bus was the Lower Helena Association. This group has been working with the local developers to ensure that the natural environment is not only protected during development but has thrived under the care of this group.
Since Hasluck's green map found its way into people's letterboxes on the weekend, I have received numerous phone calls from people asking how they can get involved in their local environment or how to go about setting up their own friends of the environment group. I welcome these efforts and the wider attempts to improve the environment in Hasluck by actually getting out there and making a difference instead of just talking about it. 'Facta, non verba' is the Latin phrase for 'Deeds, not words', and it is one that guides me in my role as a parliamentarian.
The coalition and I will always support people in their efforts to get involved and physically make a difference to their environment. This sort of direct action must be supported. Organisations involved in the creation of Hasluck's green map include Perth Region NRM, the Perth Biodiversity Project, Friends of the Environment, the South East Regional Centre for Urban Landcare, the Nature Reserves Preservation Group, the Shire of Kalamunda, the City of Gosnells and the City of Swan. For more information on all of these great organisations I encourage people to visit http://www.facebook.com/hasluck.greenmap.
I would like to thank all of those organisations for contributing to the production of Hasluck's green map. This initiative will produce real and lasting results for the environment in my electorate. I salute all of those who have been involved in this initiative for their constant efforts to protect what is ours for the future. I encourage people to think and act locally for tomorrow so that they leave their children and future generations of those who live within Hasluck an environment that can be enjoyed and wetlands. Mr Speaker, I know we do not use props, but I just want to show the chamber that the green map of Hasluck does in fact show those very key areas that are important within the environment.
Working towards the introduction of Labor's National Disability Insurance Scheme is one of the most important things that I will do as a member of parliament. In the short time available to me tonight I want to share the stories of two residents in my electorate who have experienced disability at different stages of their lives. Both are men with fierce intellects and a fierce desire for independence. Both have a powerful determination to look after their families in whatever way they can. But their words speak with far more eloquence than mine can, so allow me to share them.
Adam Cope is 38 and has lived with disability all his life. His parents, Les and Peta, are strong people, compassionate and devoted to their family. Here is what Adam says:
With an NDIS I could be far more independent and secure. What the name implies is insurance, but the 'I' means much more than that. For me the 'I' means independence, integration and involvement.
Living each day is full of stress for my parents and myself. Not knowing if tomorrow my mum and dad would still be here to continue to support me is the worst feeling. The fact that this will at sometime occur is really driving me fearful with worry and anger.
The current system provides minimum support and relies on parents, family and charity models to enable me to have a life. The NDIS would give me a means to have hope and be supported to do what I want to do. It would also let mum and dad off the hook and they could then have a life. After 38 years I think they deserve it.
Adam goes on to say that the areas he needs support with include 'communication, dressing, toileting and all aspects of daily living'. He says:
I cannot go anywhere without someone to assist me. My interests include writing and creating art. At the moment mum and dad support me to do this and their skills in these areas need to be transferred to others before they leave this world. The NDIS would enable my personal plan, to live with support in my own place, to become reality. Paying for support people and assisting me to live where I want to and with whom I want to.
For years people with disabilities have been placed into the too hard basket. Locked out of life's joys and treated as oddities by society and government. For too long we had to take it and just be happy that we get anything at all. Society now has a chance to make amends and get behind the NDIS.
Nick Wurf lives in a suburb of my electorate called The Basin. Nick is 42 and has worked since he was 16. He is married with two daughters and has a granddaughter on the way. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That occurred around 10 years ago. He has suffered its effects all his adult life, and he now faces multiple sclerosis. Nick says:
This resulted in a need to stop work some 12 months ago and the introduction of a wheelchair and many other aids to my life.
My query to anyone who will listen is why is my wife's life being stripped of the things we have strived for over the last 10 years? This is a woman who gets up at 6 am to get my day started, works 8 to 9 hours a day in an office. She then comes home to take over from my daughters in caring for me and complete the normal chores that most partners would usually share.
She pours her below average wage into my medications, incontinence aids and specialized equipment to make my life easier. She pays our mortgage and household expenses. Add my $254 a month pension and there is little if anything left for basics, let alone for her, the one doing all the work.
When I'm gone and all our resources have been depleted, where does she find herself? Without our home, most likely, perhaps after some years on a carers pension having had to give up her job to care for me? No assets to assist her in that time of grief.
… … …
I accept my lot in life, I don't however accept the inequities that are being forced on my wife and children. The only thing they did wrong was support me, care for me and love me. I haven't just lost the lotto game of health, my family have had to pay for the ticket.
Nick, needless to say, is a very keen supporter of the NDIS and has made that very clear to me on the occasions when I have spoken to him. As a member of this place I am committed to ensuring that those who are affected by disability can achieve all that they can aspire to and that they and their carers are supported to enable this.
These are just two stories. When it comes to the NDIS there are tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of stories precisely like these. For me the NDIS is about much more than support; it is about giving independence to the articulate, passionate and determined men, women and children who face disability each day together with their carers, their families and their friends. I commend Nick and Adam particularly for providing me and this House with their words this evening.
I would like to raise the issue of three Building the Education Revolution projects in my electorate of Canning. These are at the Ocean Road Primary School in Dawesville, Glencoe Primary School in Halls Head and Falcon Primary School in Wannanup. Before I proceed I would like to say as a member of this parliament that infrastructure into the schools as part of the stimulus package was something that I think was quite admirable. It has been popularly received, and the schools are very happy with the results. Unlike the eastern seaboard, where there were many cost blow-outs and rorts, Western Australia has managed the BER quite well and the schools are very happy with the outcomes.
But these three schools have approached me in one way or another or I have found information about them because, having commenced these projects two years ago, these schools are still left in limbo. Ocean Road Primary School is still surrounded by builders' fences. The early learning child centre playground has not started. There are still piles of sand and construction rubbish around the school. Landscaping has not been started. Staff, students and parents are astonished by the delays. No-one has got any answers, and the principal, Mr Dean Finlay, is quite frustrated about being unable to get this project completed in this school and have the children shift into these facilities.
At Glencoe Primary School their new covered assembly area with a music and art block was due to be completed in November 2010. The early learning centre was to be finished by 27 October 2010. Neither building is completely finished, the landscaping has not been started and the sand and rubble still surround these classrooms. A new playground was built for the pre-primary students that they thoroughly enjoyed for a brief moment before a shade cover was built on top and then deemed to be unsafe because of pegs et cetera that were sticking out. The playground was immediately fenced off until the builders could return to make it safe for the children's use. Four months later the kids are still walking past their brand-new playground and still cannot use it. They can look but not touch.
At Falcon Primary School they moved into the new BER building in September, but there are still holes in the walls. There are electrical sockets hanging from the ceiling. There are no concrete pathways through the building site to their classroom yet. This is a huge danger to the students, the staff and the parents. Building fences are still up around the school and these obstacles are unattractive. It is incredible that between the builder, the architect and the education department no-one can finish these buildings or tell the principals what is actually going on. Not only are the parents disappointed at the current state of their children's schools but the kids are being denied the classrooms and facilities that were promised months ago.
I have written to the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, the Hon. Peter Garrett, to find out when these schools can expect the upgrades to be completed, why they are taking so long to be completed and who is responsible for the delays. I have also asked the minister to provide us with the final costs and why there is a blow-out in the costs. I have had indications from Byford Primary School in my electorate that there were delays because they found a well underneath one of the construction areas, and it had to be delayed because there were consultants and others brought in.
The concept of the BER in providing educational facilities to students in schools is admirable but, dare I say it, this is the same minister who was responsible for issues that surrounded the pink batts, which we know resulted in fires and four deaths. This is the minister who is administering the BER projects around this country. Trying to get answers from this minister and his department is unbelievable. This is the same minister from whom I cannot get a response about a chaplain in a school where there have been deaths of two children. We need the minister to come up with a chaplain for this school because they have begged him to do so.
I have written the minister a letter and asked for the responses. I have also asked the minister to not only respond to me but respond to the principals, the parents and the students of the schools. They can then use the facilities, which the taxpayers' money was designed for, to benefit the populations of these schools. As a result, I am going to pursue this issue unless I can get a decent answer.
One of the proudest bases of the Labor government is a $1.2 billion investment in the third track project in the Hunter Valley, which will expand rail capacity in the Hunter Valley Coal Chain, which will allow coal to get to the port of Newcastle more quickly and more efficiently. Amongst other things it will reduce the conflict between passenger rail and coal rail traffic. It is a wonderful thing for the valley, it has huge economic and employment prospects and it is something we all support. I certainly appreciate the investment by this government. Of course, with progress and additional movement always come problems. Along the coal chain I have a number of people who have been adversely affected by that project, and I have raised these issues with the minister and indeed with the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
Tonight I want to focus on the people who live in the Telarah and Rutherford areas in my electorate and, more specifically, those who live in Elizabeth Street, Telarah. These are people who have lived beside a railway track for many, many years and in some cases for decades. It is a rail track that only carried a small amount of traffic, partly coal, but mainly passenger rail traffic. Today, of course, as the port expands and coal production increases more and more coal trains are using the track. People who live in Telarah and Rutherford are experiencing more trains, more noise, more vibration and more dust.
Because they do not live in an area where the third track is being laid—in other words, because the expansion of the track is not occurring in their specific area—they are not considered by the ARTC to be people affected by the expansion of the rail line and therefore by the project. In other words, if you live up the track where the expansion is taking place then you might be compensated in some way, but if you live further down the track where the rail is not being expanded then you are not compensated. That seems fair enough on face value but, of course, even though the rail track is not being expanded in Rutherford and Telarah, there are a lot more trains going past as a result of the expansion further up the line. Therefore, people in that part of the world are being adversely affected.
I have written to the ARTC and to the minister and I am not satisfied with the responses I have received. They quote the relevant legislation and the constraints they face such as the environmental approvals. They say that they have done things further up the track but, as they are not developing in Telarah and Rutherford, they do not have any legal obligation. As they are a wholly owned government entity, I think there is an obligation.
If people in Rutherford and Telarah, who live right beside the track, are experiencing more movement, more noise, more vibration and more dust, they deserve consideration as well. I do not think it is good enough for the ARTC to say that because they are not developing in that area they do not have a responsibility. As I said, for a wholly government owned entity, there is a responsibility. The ARTC has a moral obligation to act as an equivalent of a model litigant and an obligation to take care of those people who are obviously adversely affected by this project.
The people in Telarah are not asking for much. They just want a few noise barriers built along the track. Some of these people are living, almost, right on top of the rail line. It is a much busier rail line than it once was. Some will say that the people chose to build or buy right alongside a rail line, which is true, but the rail line they built or bought beside was one which was much less busy than the one they now live beside.
The extra load is being driven by the coalmining industry. The coalmining industry and the ARTC are profiting from this. I think it would be more than appropriate for the ARTC to find a way, even though it is not legally obligated, to spend a bit of money and invest in noise amelioration in the Rutherford and Telarah areas to give those residents a bit of relief.
I would like to congratulate and wish all the very best to Scott Sanbrook, the new Chief Executive Officer of Wagga Wagga's Murrumbidgee Turf Club. I also congratulate Tim Clark, who was raised in Young and started his riding career at Leeton, who will ride Older Than Time, No. 24, the bottom weight, in the Melbourne Cup tomorrow. Hopefully, that might well become Gai Waterhouse's first Melbourne Cup winner. How appropriate it would be for the horse to be ridden by a Riverina jockey!
I rise this morning to speak on a very important issue in my electorate. On 12 October 2011 Minister Roxon issued a media statement, which I am sure she was hoping was going to go unnoticed. The reason is that it was another Labor broken election promise.
As we already know, the Gillard Labor government broke its biggest election promise with the carbon tax when it was introduced and passed through the House of Representatives, despite the Prime Minister saying five days before the election:
There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.
We all know that this government has an integrity issue, which was further demonstrated by Minister Roxon dumping the promised GP superclinic for Darwin's northern suburbs. While it is no secret that I did not support the proposed GP superclinic, I believe the $5 million should be used to expand and improve current health services for Darwin and Palmerston residents.
This is the sentiment that the Northern Territory parliament shares with me. How do I know this? Well, it passed a motion that the $5 million not be used for a GP superclinic but rather be used to improve medical services, including getting more doctors in the Territory. I call on the Henderson Labor government to stand up to the Gillard Labor government with me and demand that the promised $5 million be quarantined for use in the Territory for new programs that will expand and improve health services for the people of Solomon. Shadow minister Peter Dutton and I recently met with a number of organisations that also support the $5 million being quarantined for use in the Territory, further noting that it must be used for new programs.
It is interesting that Minister Roxon had known since July that there were no applications for the GP superclinic in Darwin's northern suburbs, but waited until carbon tax day, or as some might call it 'Australia's betrayal day', to make the announcement. It is the Gillard Labor government's responsibility to deliver on these promises. I remind both Minister Roxon and Territory Labor members that this commitment is a Labor election promise and it is up to Labor to deliver on its promise. The Prime Minister said that she will honour all Labor election promises. With that said, the Gillard Labor government must honour the $5 million commitment made by Minister Roxon and the former Labor member for Solomon.
I did not support the proposed GP superclinic. I support investment in existing services to improve and expand them. Let us remember that I am a member of the opposition and it is my job to hold the Gillard Labor government to account. That is exactly what I am going to do, and that is what my electorate expects of me. They want me to demand that Minister Roxon honour her commitment of $5 million so it can be used to develop, expand and improve existing medical services for Darwin and Palmerston residents.
I have asked for a meeting with the minister to discuss funding options, and to date there has been no response from her office, which is very disappointing. What medically deprived areas need is more doctors, not just buildings. New buildings are great but if they are not well staffed what is the point? Too many of our GP superclinics have been a terrible disappointment when it comes to actually getting more health services into local areas.
Last Tuesday, 24 October, I held a pioneering expo in Windale. The community information and assistance expo was a huge success. The purpose of this expo was to provide people in an area with a high level of unemployment and a high number of people on some sort of Centrelink payment with opportunities to learn about jobs, to link to communities, to obtain their birth certificates and to deal with issues such as fines they may have incurred. This expo attracted more than 50 different groups: employers, government agencies and training and community services providers. It was a really positive day, and I would like to thank the many people involved, because it is a very important issue.
The expo addressed local employment needs in the Windale-Gateshead area and provided on-the-ground local support for people to engage in education, training and employment. It brought job opportunities and government services directly to the community so that local people could access a broad range of support and employment services within their community—remembering that this is a very disadvantaged community. So it was about taking those services to the people in that community and helping them link up with those services. People could also access important information about Medicare, Centrelink and tax matters. The presence of the Windale Men's Shed was noted, and they provided assistance to people. We had Jeff Fenech and New South Wales Swifts Susan Pratley and Kristy Durheim on hand to help out and speak to people.
I would like to acknowledge that the state member for Charlestown, who is of the opposite political persuasion to me, supported the event. I would like to thank everyone who was involved, including my staff; Centrelink; the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations; the Department of Premier and Cabinet; the Department of Education and Communities; the Lake Macquarie City Council; Career Links; and the WICA group, which is a community organisation within the Windale community, who drove the activities of the day. I would also like to thank the Newcastle Skate manager, JobQuest and Keep Australia Working, just to name a few of the organisations that were involved. I thank everybody, because the result of the day was that people from a very disadvantaged community were able to connect with the services that they will need to find employment. (Time expired)
Reform of the disability sector is something that I have been passionate about for a long time. Growing up alongside a friend who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy I saw first-hand the failings of the disability sector and the urgent need for practical action to improve this—the urgent need for a system that is less bureaucratic, recognises need and empowers individuals.
So when I heard about Justin Jackson, a 19-year-old university student from my electorate who suffers from cerebral palsy, I was able to empathise with the difficult situation he and his family found themselves in, trying to access the essential care that Justin needs. Justin is an industrious legal studies student who, like any young person, has goals and plans for his life. In order for Justin to maintain independence in his declining condition, he needs a specialised wheelchair to accommodate his spine and to take the strain off his body. Justin's condition does not allow him to easily participate in family activities, and it is nearly impossible for him to walk even a short distance on crutches. A specialised wheelchair is essential. Yet, after months of inquiries with the state department, Justin was told that there was no assistance available to him for the type of wheelchair he desperately needs. At 19 years of age, Justin falls through the cracks of a disability system that is overly bureaucratic and does not recognise need. He is not eligible for the support that an 18-year-old would be eligible for, and his condition is not considered to be severe enough to warrant the support that someone older might be eligible for. The longer Justin struggles without a wheelchair, the faster his health declines and the less independence he has. Like many in my electorate, Justin's family are just not in a position to be able to fund a custom designed wheelchair suitable for his needs.
After months of uncertainty, and out of desperation and frustration with a broken system, Justin's mother approached me for help. The good news is that, after three hours and a series of phone calls, some very generous individuals in our local community dug deep to bridge the gap left by the government in this area, and they raised the money needed to give Justin his wheelchair. This was a fantastic example of the community coming together to support those in need. Those suffering disabilities are made to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops, and often, after that long, drawn-out process of jumping through those hoops, many are still not able to get the help that they so desperately need, leaving families and individuals feeling desperate and without hope for the future.
Unfortunately, Justin's story is not uncommon. That is why the coalition support, in principle, a national disability insurance scheme—a system that would empower individuals with the choices that they rightly deserve, a system that would offer a hand-up rather than a handout. The coalition welcome discussion and action on the disability sector. I do not want to see others like Justin have to struggle to get the care that they so rightly deserve.
I am very glad that everyone managed to get here despite the debacle presented to us. Recently in my electorate we have had local council elections, and I want to thank everybody who had the courage to stand for election. We in this place know the pressure that that brings. I want to thank all those who have retired, commiserate with those who did not get elected and congratulate all those who were successful.
In Latrobe, on the eastern end of my province, Mayor Michael Gaffney has been returned, along with Dayna Dennison, Peter Freshney, John Perkins, Rick Rockliff and Garry Sims, and I congratulate them. With regard to the Devonport City Council, I thank Lynn Laycock for the excellent work she has done as mayor and congratulate Steve Martin as the new mayor. I also congratulate Grant Goodwin, Alison Jarman, Lynn Laycock, Annette Rockliff, Warren Squibb and Bill Wilson on being elected. With regard to the Central Coast Council, which is my municipality, I congratulate Jan Bond on being reelected unopposed and Cheryl Fuller on being elected deputy mayor. I also congratulate John Bloomfield, Lionel Bonde, my staffer Shane Broad, Kath Downie and Rowen Tongs.
With regard to Burnie, I thank Alvwyn Boyd for the tremendous job he did as mayor and Steve Kons for his success in being elected as mayor. I also congratulate Jim Altimira, Ron Blake, Alvwyn Boyd and Steve Green on being elected. With regard to Waratah-Wynyard, I congratulate Robbie Walsh on being reelected unopposed and also Gary Bramich, Kevin Deakin, Alwyn Friedersdorff, David Moore and St John Smith on being elected. In Circular Head, I congratulate Daryl Quilliam on being reelected unopposed and also John Oldaker, Ashley Popowski , Trevor Spinks and Jan Bishop. With regard to the West Coast Council, I congratulate Darryl Gerrity on being reelected as mayor. I also congratulate Samantha Eley, Al Medwin and Lyn O'Grady on being elected. As for beautiful King Island, I thank Charles Arnold for his excellent job as mayor and congratulate Greg Barratt on being successfully elected as the new mayor. I also congratulate Charles Arnold, Greg Barratt, Royce Conley and Sally Haneveer. Finally, but not least, with regard to the Kentish municipality, I congratulate Don Thwaites on being reelected as mayor, as well as Peter Campbell, Cait Clarke, Penny Lane and Annie Willock.
My congratulations go to everyone. Again, I thank everyone who stood and I thank those who have served in the past and have retired. I congratulate those who have been elected for the first time, including Shane Broad from my office. I know he will do a fantastic job in my constituency—and he had better fix the footpaths in my local village if he wants to keep his job. Congratulations to everyone and commiserations to those who missed out.
On 20 September, Bundaberg lost one of its finest of those who call Bundaberg home. John Joseph Byrne died at the age of 82, and he was a true pillar of the local community. Amongst the groups and clubs he served were the Brothers Sports Club, the Mater Hospital Advisory Board, Bundaberg Rugby League, the Catholic Cemetery Trust, Mercy Health and Aged Care Central Queensland, Bundaberg Rotary, and a number of school parents and friends committees.
With strong Irish roots, John Byrne loved a Saturday flutter on the horses and networked with his tipster friends, but his greatest love was football. As an early mentor of the Brothers Sports Club, he became its president and, fittingly, a life member. He also became a life member of Bundaberg Rugby League shortly before his death. In 2003 he was named Bundaberg's Australia Day Citizen of the Year, and the following year he was awarded an OAM. On top of all his community work, John Byrne was also well known for his long-time association with the town's last independent department store, Buss and Turner, of which he was the manager until his retirement in 1993.
The remarkable thing about John was that he never sought thanks or special recognition for his contributions, and perhaps that is what stood him apart from many others. Despite his obvious dedication to the community, John's love of family trumped it all. His son Peter, now CEO of the Bundaberg Regional Council, recalled a father who was always there for the nearest and dearest of his flock. He said:
But as busy as he was in life, his family always came first. Nothing compromised that.
John has lived a good life based on a strong Catholic faith … He's been a leader, mentor and friend to many.
The esteem in which John was held—not just by his family but by the wider community as well—was evident when a crowd of more than 650 people, including the Bishop of Rockhampton, Brian Heenan, the Catholic Diocese Vicar General, Father John Grace, and five priests, attended his funeral on 26 September. It was a very moving celebration of a life well lived in faith and commitment—a tribute to one of those people who can truly be called a man for all seasons.
It was my privilege to see John the day before he died, a time that I will cherish. John leaves behind his wife of 60 years, Josie, six children—two pre-deceased him—eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Vale John Byrne.
I would like to draw the attention of the chamber to the death of Keith Holman MBE. Keith passed away on 11 October at the age of 86 after a long battle with illness. Keith was one of nature's true gentlemen and an absolute champion.
Keith—or 'Yappy', as he was often affectionately referred to due to his somewhat chatty nature—was an honorary life patron of the Western Suburbs District Junior Rugby League. It is in that capacity that I got to know him and his story very well. Despite his small frame by rugby league standards, Keith was one of the league's titans. He was, in fact, the only man in history to have played rugby league and refereed at international levels as well as coached a Sydney first-grade team.
In 1948 Keith Holman joined the Western Suburbs Magpies and began a wonderful career that saw him play over 200 first-grade matches for the club as well as 33 games for New South Wales and 32 test matches on behalf of Australia. Keith Holman was an all-time great half-back. He played his last game in 1961—the grand final between Western Suburbs and St George—probably at the age of 36. I say probably because Keith was an orphan and his age was never certain.
After his playing career ended Keith served as a referee. He had the honour of controlling one of the most famous grand finals, the 1971 match between South Sydney and St George, which obviously stays in our living memory because Souths won 16-10.
In 1977 Keith was made a member of the Order of the British Empire for his services to rugby league. I understand Keith was the only rugby league player to have a junior club named after him, the Holman Club in Enfield. In 2003 he was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame and in 2007 he was named one of Australia's all-time greats in the game's finest 100 players.
I would like to convey my deep sympathies and condolences to his wife, Hazel, and their family. Keith's commitment and friendship to our rugby league community will forever be appreciated and remembered. Not only was he an icon of rugby league, Keith was also a role model to both young and old alike. Keith Holman—rest in peace.
Unlike the Prime Minister I am not afraid to wear out my shoe leather talking to my constituents in Higgins. In fact, only the other Sunday I was doorknocking my local constituents and they raised with me the issues that concerned them. Two of the big issues in Higgins right now are the cost of living and the provision of and access to quality health care. The Gillard-Brown government is going to make it even more difficult for families in the electorate of Higgins on both fronts, as it plans to slug individuals and families even more for their private health insurance. Currently, around 77 per cent of all people in the electorate of Higgins pay for private health insurance. The position that the government has outlined is maintained in its planned legislation to be brought forward and was restated by the Minister for Health and Ageing over the weekend. But it was not always so. Before the last election the government said it would not touch private health insurance. But we know that this government says one thing and does another. The government claims that the reasons for this decision are economic and that it stands to save $2.8 billion over the forward estimates. However, independent modelling shows that not to be the case and that the net loss to the government could be in the order of $1 billion.
Deloitte, one of the largest and most respected audit firms in the world, investigated the impact of this government's proposed means-testing. The main findings to come out of that report were that 1.6 million consumers would drop private hospital cover and a further 4.3 million would downgrade their cover. A further 2.8 million would drop their ancillary cover—for instance, dental—and, as a consequence, private health insurance premiums would rise by 10 per cent more than would otherwise be expected, making it less affordable for those people retaining private cover.
This would result in public hospitals having to treat significantly higher numbers of patients—some 845,000 additional patients—as people withdraw from private cover. The impact on private health and public health will be significant. It shatters the claims of the health minister and Treasury that only approximately 27,000 people will drop their private health insurance cover. The minister's claim that 0.26 per cent of people who have private health insurance will drop their cover is not credible, considering that, according to Treasury's own figures, 1,603,972 of the 2,240,842—or 71.5 per cent—individuals who have private health insurance earn under $75,000 and about 79.4 per cent of those listed as a member of a couple who have private health insurance earn under $150,000. That means that, on average, 75 per cent of those who have private health insurance stand to lose their health insurance rebate. Even common sense tells us that these government figures are simply absurd. It is most definitely a case of Gillard economics and Gillard figures. It simply does not stand up. This measure will impact on families in the electorate of Higgins, and I will stand up for them.
Today I rise to voice my concern on behalf of local residents about a proposed change to bus routes in Glenelg by the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Under the proposal, which I became aware of in late September, all public buses will be rerouted away from Moseley Street and Jetty Road and, instead, will go down Gordon and Partridge streets.
In recent weeks I have been contacted by many concerned residents from the local area who have raised these issues with me, and I hope today I can give a voice to some of those people. I have been advised that the rationale for this is to help reduce congestion but, having received many letters, emails and telephone calls and having had people come into my office, I believe this plan could bring more problems than it solves.
Firstly, rerouting buses away from Jetty Road will reduce access to essential shops and services, especially for older people who rely on the bus to deliver them directly to Centrelink, the banks, pharmacies and doctors. As we know, one of the biggest challenges facing older people today is social isolation. Accessible transport plays an enormous role in encouraging social connectivity and healthy ageing.
The Glenelg library and community centre is located almost immediately on the current route and I am concerned that rerouting the buses could reduce access for some older people. I would like to think that Glenelg is and will remain equally accessible and enjoyable for all sectors of the community, regardless of their age.
Secondly, I am concerned about the potential economic impact of this proposal on local traders. Glenelg and Jetty Road can ill afford any more moves which makes it harder for people to access the main street. It has been a tough winter for many of those traders, who struggled through a mild summer beforehand.
Many passengers already travel directly through to Westfield Marion, where it is easy to get off and straight into the shopping centre, and changing the bus routes could see more go the same way. This would be a further blow to the local economy that we can ill afford, and I note that the Jetty Road Mainstreet Board have also expressed a preference for the status quo.
Further, there is a lack of suitable alternative locations for layovers so that bus drivers can take a break. Currently, bus drivers have access to toilet facilities, cafes and restaurants and space to park their vehicles. The proposed new layovers have none of these facilities, impacting on the Glenelg Bowling Club's own parking areas and that will lead to more congestion. There are also safety issues to be considered for drivers working late at night, stopping in areas which are perhaps less well lit than the current areas.
And fourthly, should the proposal proceed there will be increase in congestion, noise pollution and inconvenience, which will affect local residents, schools, including St Peter's Woodlands, and businesses. After becoming aware of this issue, I immediately wrote to the state minister, the Hon. Patrick Conlon, asking that the proposal not be implemented until proper consultation had taken place—that was on 27 September 2011. In my letter, I outlined these concerns on behalf of residents and urged them not to implement the proposal unless the community supported the plan. The support is clearly not there. Over the last few weeks I have spoken to a great many people and received a great deal of correspondence, with not one person or resident supporting the plan.
The local council, the City of Holdfast Bay, and the mayor are to be commended on their decision to listen to the concerns of residents and for having resolved on 11 October 2011 not to support the proposal. I therefore urge the transport department to reconsider their proposal in the light of overwhelming opposition from local residents and the local council and to scrap the proposal to change the bus routes. We need to make sure we get the balance right for all parties involved and listen to residents and the local council. I look forward to the minister's response.
I want to use this opportunity to focus on some of the positive things happening in the electorate of Forde. We have some great community groups and wonderful students in our schools. The Beenleigh Theatre Group was established in 1978 by a small group who were passionate about performing and participating in live theatre. Many of the original members are still active in the ensemble today. They provide great entertainment for all ages and the audience is always guaranteed an enjoyable evening. I would like to congratulate them on their latest production, the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. On their opening night, 21 October, they performed to a packed house. I had the privilege of going to the pre-opening night presentation. It was a fantastic night. I got to speak to a few of the cast and everybody had a great time. I am really pleased to see this great community group going from strength to strength each year.
It is coming to that time of the year when our grade 12 students are completing their secondary education and are looking to going on to university or TAFE college. Some students I have been speaking to are going on a world trip, having a year off before they go to university—a gap year. I want to pass on my congratulations to them for their 12 or maybe more years of hard work at school to get to this point. Also, I congratulate their parents and teachers for supporting the students. As a parent with a grade 12 student, I know that a lot of work has gone in over the years in transporting the kids to sport and extracurricular activities, cajoling them to complete assignments and to study for their exams. I am sure many parents will be pleased to see that time coming to an end.
On the weekend I had the opportunity to attend the sixth annual Woodland's billycart derby. This time, given the development of the estate, they had a new course. It was great fun for all concerned. Unfortunately, there were a few crashes in the new chicane they put together. My congratulations go to all the winners and to the community. It was beautiful weather and a joy get out, and to meet and greet people in the local community. Everybody had a fun time and we are looking forward to next year.
Today I rise to wish my local Hindu community a happy Diwali—a festival observed by over one billion people around the world including around 7,000 Hindus in my electorate mainly of Indian, Sri Lankan and Bengali backgrounds. Diwali literally means 'row of lights' and is often known as the festival of lights. It is celebrated on the new moon day of the Hindu month of Kartik.
Diwali celebrations, dating back many thousands of years, depict the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and light over darkness. During the festival of Diwali, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Kali and Goddess Lakshmi are worshiped by devotees. Homes in Parramatta are decorated with lanterns, traditional motif, bells, flowers and wall hangings. Homes are filled with traditional Indian sweets which are given as gifts to visitors. It is a fine time to doorknock. I would like to thank many members of the Hindu community, including Councillor Prabir Maitra, Meena Wahil, Harry Walia, Councillor Vasee Rajadurai, Dr Ashit Maitra and Dr Manomohan for helping me acknowledge the Hindu community in my electorate at this very special time.
This year Deepavali coincides with Paramasala, which is the biggest subcontinent festival in Australia. The festival started yesterday and it brings together people from all over the country and the world in a diverse program, including music, dance, theatre, film and visual art from all around the world. Best of all, it is held right near my home in Parramatta. The festival kicks off with the Diwali fair, which transforms Parramatta Stadium into a sight to see with thousands of coloured lights, dozens of delicious foods and exotic handcraft stalls, music and community entertainment. It continues through a multitude of events day and night for a full week. I was very disappointed to see that we were sitting this week, in fact, because it is one of my favourite festivals of the year.
The Hindu community in Parramatta is a vibrant one and with celebrations like Diwali they add energy and life to Parramatta and deepen the rich cultural fabric of our society. It is a humbling experience to be associated with a festival that goes back over 5,000 years and it is a privilege to have such a proactive community within my electorate and I appreciate their invitation to share this very significant event in the year with them. They have a very positive impact on Parramatta and make it a much richer place to live.
Debate resumed on the motion by Mr Champion:
That this House notes that:
(1) the industrial system under the Fair Work Act 2009 is working well with low unemployment and low levels of industrial disputation;
(2) under the Fair Work Act 2009, 10,800 agreements have been made covering almost 1.5 million employees;
(3) since the introduction of the Fair Work Act 2009, the number of days lost to industrial action has continued its historical downwards trend; and
(4) the Fair Work Act 2009 is meeting its objective to balance the needs of employees and employers without taking away basic rights and guaranteed minimum standards.
I do not claim any prescience in this matter. I do not think anybody could, frankly. Nobody could have foreseen before this motion was moved the events that happened over the weekend. The original reason I moved this motion was to simply point out that the most important thing to a person is their job and the most important thing to workers is how they are treated and the conditions under which they are employed. The Fair Work Act has kept employment low—
Yes, unemployment. I am glad to be corrected. It has kept unemployment low, increased participation and protected wages and conditions, particularly if you look in comparison to the United States of America or the United Kingdom, both of which have freer markets than ourselves and higher unemployment rates. I think we have put the lie that lower wages lower your unemployment rate to bed for all time. Obviously there are more complicated things that go on in the economy.
We know what happened prior to this. The member for Mayo knows exactly what happened under the Work Choices act that he was one of the architects of. We know that wages were cut. We know that penalty rates were cut and people were dismissed unfairly. We know that AWAs were used to undermine other agreements. And we know that the Australian people were greatly aggrieved by that act. We know that they did not like it, no matter how much the member for Mayo tries to say otherwise. Actually, I am never sure whether he is running away from it or running to it these days. It is a bit hard to establish. One minute he says, 'Oh, no.' But then he says things that seem to point you in one direction. But that is a debate within his own party, no doubt. He and Peter Reith are out there waging a policy war, and who are we to stop them?
We know that Fair Work Australia has also done a number of agreements, such as with Australia Post and Woolworths. In fact, there have been 10,800 agreements covering 1.5 million employees. All of these agreements have been done without fanfare or incidents. They have been completed by good faith negotiation and registered with Fair Work Australia. So we know that there is a great degree of cooperation out there in the workforce. We know that there are large numbers of companies, employees and unions all getting together, negotiating in good faith, coming to an agreed set of wages and conditions and then getting on with the business of making money and, for the workers, getting on with the business of doing their work.
Tragically, in the last couple of days I think we have seen a situation where a company has taken a very extreme path and we have seen our Flying Kangaroo turned into an angry leprechaun—an angry, nasty leprechaun—that wants to inconvenience the Australian public. Our national carrier has embarked on an orchestrated and premeditated assault on consumers; not on workers but on consumers. The flying public and the public interest have been completely disregarded, I think, in this whole process. It is one thing not to have good faith negotiations with your workers, but to inconvenience people who have paid for a ticket and expect to get home or to their holidays or place of business is pretty surprising. It is unusual that the national carrier would inconvenience people in such a regard.
It is worth establishing the facts of this dispute. It is about two things: wages and job security. Looking at what the unions have done, the TWU want a pay rise, and for people who work outside handling heavy bags I think that is quite reasonable. I think it is reasonable for baggage handlers to have a pay rise. I think it is pretty reasonable for them to expect that they should have some job security over the life of the agreement. They have had eight hours of protected industrial action. The pilots have worn red ties—oh my God!—and they have made some announcements over the PA, which we have all heard. The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association suspended their industrial action on 20 October.
But look at the press release they put out. They suspended it. And that is an act of good faith, is it not?
Mr Briggs interjecting—
It is an act of good faith not to suspend your industrial action. This is not the unions behaving unreasonably. They have taken protective action under the act and it has been pretty moderate. They have not brought the place to a standstill. All they are trying to do is get a pay rise and protect their jobs, and it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
At the Qantas annual general meeting the boss got a 71 per cent pay rise. I noticed on Fran Kelly's program this morning he was arguing that there was a 30 per cent drop last year—but it is swings and roundabouts for some, I guess. So they found time to talk about that but they did not find the slightest amount of time to talk about the extreme path they were about to go down. They had a premeditated assault on the Australian public: 'Shall we tell the shareholders about that … maybe not.' Bizarrely, they then took some weird endorsement of the AGM for their action. I do not know quite how, and he did not tell anybody.
You have to have more front than a butcher shop, I think, to take a 71 per cent pay rise and then turn around and embark on such extreme action. It is a disappointing thing to see. We all know that people have been inconvenienced. We all know people who have been stuck in Melbourne—admittedly they might get stuck there for the races, so that might not be so bad. But if you were going to go to the Melbourne Cup you would have been pretty disappointed. There were people stuck in Perth, LA and Thailand and all sorts of places all around the world. There was no warning for the 68,000 people of what they were about to do. The fact that the government was given very little warning was confirmed by Alan Joyce on ABC radio this morning when he admitted that there had been some misreporting. I wonder whose fault that was—was it the reporters or was it perhaps the people who were briefing the reporters? I suspect that misreporting was not a mistake, as it were. Industrial relations extremism from our national carrier is disappointing. They are supposed to give 72-hours notice of a lockout. That is the requirement on an employer just as it is a requirement—
Yet it is different when we see a lockout by an employer pulled on very quickly with no notice, which did not disadvantage the workers nearly as much as it disadvantaged the Australian people and consumers. It has damaged the tourism industry. It has damaged our faith in air travel. It has damaged consumer's personal interests and we have this bizarre vision of people literally being pulled off planes. They were on the plane and they had to get off because of this extreme action that was taken. There was alternative action that could have been taken by Qantas and they should have—
Mr Briggs interjecting—
No, all roads lead to Fair Work Australia. These are the things that Fair Work Australia could have done. They could have continued to negotiate in good faith. They could have sought their own orders to terminate action under section 423. They could have made their own application under section 424. They could have sought arbitration by consent or they could have called in a third party. At the very least they could have embarked on a bit of sabre rattling. You would think they might have given a bit of warning.
They did not do any of these things. They did not negotiate in good faith. They have acted contrary to the national interest and they have declared war on the Australian public. It beggars belief that the top end of town, the corporate class in this country, think that they can take massive pay rises and then lecture Australian workers about a wage rise or job security. It is absolutely extraordinary that that might occur. Corporate Australia is badly out of touch with the community and its expectations in this regard.
I want to follow on from the comments by the member for Wakefield because the events of the weekend were simply extraordinary. We had one of Australia's biggest companies use the flying public mums and dads as pawns in a game of industrial relations hardball. They had, as the member for Wakefield rightly pointed out, a number of avenues under the Fair Work Act by which they could have dealt with this situation. They were outlined a few moments ago and I will pick up the member for Wakefield's term of 'sabre rattling'. Even flagging that a move could be undertaken, for example, to suspend or terminate a bargaining period would be interpreted as a serious gesture that would have brought the negotiations into sharp relief, changed the nature of those negotiations and potentially averted the situation that we had on the weekend.
I imagine that if Qantas went to suspend or terminate the bargaining period they would have been required to outline in clear factual terms in front of Fair Work Australia why that course of action was necessary. My suspicion is that they know they would have been unable to justify or obtain orders for that bargaining period that allowed for industrial action to take place to be suspended. Why? It is because, as has already been pointed out and from what I am led to believe, not one minute of flying time was affected as a result of industrial action. The action that pilots had undertaken was in effect to create public awareness either through the heinous crime of wearing a red tie that had a union logo on it or, for example, by announcements in the plane indicating what was going on. That is what the pilots did. What did Qantas do? Qantas undertook action that affected 68,000 people, the flying public, across the globe. Their plans were disrupted because of what Qantas did. Taking protected action not only has to comply with the law, the Fair Work Act, but also has to be mindful of the wishes of employees of affected organisations: they have to vote in favour of action. You cannot simply go out and take industrial action. Union members and employees have to support that action.
To give you an example of how extreme Qantas has become, under the act, obviously the employer has to be given notice of action, but before anything takes place the employees themselves have to take some sort of action within 30 days—and this is a provision that has existed for some time—to ensure that that protected industrial action can occur at some point. But, for unions and employees, the preference will be to negotiate. A Qantas pilot notified Qantas through their union, the AIPA, that they would take token industrial action of two minutes to ensure that they complied with the law. The pilot undertook, with that fair warning, protected industrial action in a two-minute stop-work meeting. Qantas's reaction was to cancel the flight that that pilot was going to do, stranding the pilot and his family in China. They were stranded as a result of an advised two-minute stoppage by that pilot to ensure there was compliance with the law. This is the type of behaviour that senior management in Qantas are sanctioning.
It is disingenuous for Qantas to say, for example, as they did on the weekend, that they had to undertake this action and it was not premeditated, when it is clear that it was. Thousands of hotel rooms had been booked around the world from Thursday to ensure that this action could be undertaken. The couriers who delivered lockout notices to pilots were booked last week. On Saturday night, Qantas senior executive Lyell Strambi admitted in front of Fair Work Australia that operations preparation had begun on this 10 days prior, while Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan sent an email regarding the action to all Jetstar staff on Saturday evening that was mistakenly dated Wednesday. This is the type of action that Qantas have undertaken. I would be interested to know if Qantas have abused their air operator's certificate by compromising the safety of the flying public by using this industrial tactic.
As I said earlier, to take industrial action under the act, you are required to give an employer 72 hours notice. Employers themselves pressed for this to give themselves certainty and to be able to make contingency plans in case their operations are affected. But employer initiated action like this does not require any notice. Imagine if the tables were turned and unions had taken this action on the spot. We would have all sorts of claims, as the member for Wakefield rightly pointed out, from those opposite that wildcat action had been undertaken. It is simply incredible that this type of situation could occur. The weekend's events set a terrible precedent, where employers sidestep justifying their moves—bear in mind that, as I indicated earlier, they could have moved to suspend or terminate the bargaining period and would have had to put argument and evidence forward to justify that—and instead move straight to lockout. Imagine if this occurred in another sector of the economy, like the banking system. Imagine if the banking sector took similar action, shutting down branches across the country as part of the lockout. It would be unexplainable and certainly unacceptable for them to do so, and they would have to be stopped in their tracks.
The Fair Work Act, which is the legislation we are referring to here, will come under review next year. Certainly, from my perspective, one area that does require review is the ability of employers to undertake this sort of wildcat action, affecting the public in the way that Qantas have, and the requirement that they too observe a minimum mandatory notice period—that is, where the employer gives notice, within the time frame of 72 hours, that they will effect a lockout. It is unacceptable that 68,000 people—mums and dads—have their lives turned upside down because the CEO and the Chairman of Qantas—the latter-day Don McGauchie, the latter-day Corrigan—want to effect a workplace relations agenda regardless of the impact on the public. Simply put, there needs to be even-handedness on both sides to ensure that the public is not affected.
I know those opposite have been calling for intervention and I love to hear that because I am certain that they have got this nostalgic, warm, fuzzy feeling in their balaclavas that they are getting a chance yet again to intervene in industrial disputes. Their intervention comes with alsatians. If it does not come with alsatians then it comes in the form of WorkChoices. Whenever they talk about intervention, the public should know they have not learned a thing. When they move to involve themselves in any industrial dispute around the country they ensure that the government will pick sides—that is what they are calling for in intervention. It is extraordinary. They say WorkChoices is dead, buried and cremated but certainly somewhere within that body the heart is well and truly beating for WorkChoices and we will see it yet again over the course of this debate and beyond. They do not have a policy but they have an intention and that intention is to bring back the son of WorkChoices in some way, shape or form.
If we are to have a system where we have economic growth at the level it has been that is the envy of the advanced world, with 700,000 jobs created in a period—
A part of this motion I do agree with and that is that the Fair Work Act is operating as the Labor Party intended it to operate. On the weekend we saw no greater proof of its operation than the thousands and thousands of Australians stranded at airports because of an ongoing dispute—a dispute which has reached this point purely because the Labor Party changed the law. This is why we are in the position we are in. We are in this dispute because the Labor Party changed the law and allowed matters to be bargained which were outside of the employment relationship. That is what this is all about.
The member for Chifley, and the mover of the motion the member for Wakefield—the member for the SDA union and the member for the communications union—said this has been extremist action by Qantas, that Qantas has taken on these poor union officials who are just operating in good faith. They did not want any of this; they did not want any of this industrial disharmony; they cannot believe it is happening—except that earlier this year Wayne Forno, who is the New South Wales TWU secretary, said:
Meanwhile our members at Qantas are in for their biggest fight ever for their EA ... Our members have the power to make Qantas grind to a halt ...
He said that on 14 July, three months before. What they have engaged in since that time is strike after strike. They call a strike, make the airline withdraw services and at the end say, 'Oh, we will call off the strike'—like Qantas can just automatically put the planes back in the air. This is an action where unions have forced Qantas to this point. Steve Purvinas, the Federal Secretary of the ALAEA, the engineers union, said just two weeks ago he would not book with Qantas between now and Christmas. Is that acting in good faith, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper? I ask you: is it acting in good faith to say to consumers, 'Go and screw the company'?
No. This is too important a motion to speak to, to put on the record why the Labor Party is utterly to blame for the position we are in today with this industrial dispute. They changed the law and their only response is to try to conjure up a scare campaign. As Barry O'Farrell said a couple of weeks ago quite clearly—
Mr Champion interjecting—
this is the McCarthyism of the new parliament—that you cannot talk about the failure of these people to manage this issue. Because they are wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade union, they cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to this dispute. They all represent collectively the different unions that are at the table. And we know that one of the major protagonists in all this is not driven by getting his workers better rates of pay, because he agrees with the offer. Tony Sheldon has said that he agrees with the offer that Qantas have made.
Mr Champion interjecting—
What he wants to do is manage the company. He also wants to manage the Labor Party. He is running for the presidency of the Labor Party—what a surprise!
Mr Champion interjecting—
Order! The member for Wakefield will remain entirely silent!
Mr Champion interjecting—
Order! The honourable member for Wakefield will not defy the chair. He will remain silent for the rest of the contribution made by the honourable member for Mayo.
I can put it no better than how the government is to blame for this than Professor Judith Sloan, who wrote this morning—
Opposition members interjecting—
Oh, they all are. Of course, they are now attacking economists. I recently heard you were not allowed to attack economists. Here we go: the Labor Party just want that on the record. All four of them across the way have just attacked Professor Judith Sloan. She put it very clearly, very simply this morning when she said this in the article in the Australian:
While there are differences in the three separate negotiations—with the long-haul pilots, the licensed engineers and the ground staff—there is one core stumbling block. This related to the right of the company to manage its operations, including using contractors and labour hire employees, changing work practices and separating the working conditions of staff across the various parts of the company. Negotiating the wages and conditions of staff is one thing; restricting the ability of the company to remain competitive is another thing altogether.
She sums it up this way, perfectly:
The key issue is that under the act—
under their Fair Work Act, which they are celebrating here this morning; celebrating this dispute, as intended—
there is essentially no prohibited content in agreements. And because of this, protected industrial action is available for the pursuit of virtually any matter.
That is what we are seeing here. We are seeing the unions empowered and on a frolic, trying to tear down an icon of our country. Tony Sheldon talks about job security for Australians. I tell you what: keep going the way you are going, Mr Sheldon, and you will send this airline offshore, because you will destroy it as they destroyed Ansett before. These people are completely biased when it comes to these matters. They see it from one side and one side only. We have seen that in the last 24 hours. We have seen attack after attack. The member for Throsby was on Twitter on Saturday night after Alan Joyce. The member for Chifley was out there—
An honourable member interjecting—
I am sure I missed the member for Wakefield's contribution. They are all out there personally attacking Alan Joyce and personally attacking Qantas. They will not see the wood for the trees on this issue. They cannot. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade union movement in this country. You cannot expect them to say anything else.
The Leader of the Opposition is dead right when he says that the government should have acted sooner. He is absolutely right, so much so that Professor Andrew Stewart, hardly a friend of this side of the parliament—he helped write the Fair Work Act—said in the Sydney Morning Herald two weeks ago:
It has got to get to a point where it's something more than the ordinary type of industrial action—
that has to happen. He told them this was coming. He told them that this was going to happen, that it had to happen, because Qantas were bleeding. They have bled $68 million in this industrial dispute—and the unions were out there telling people, 'Don't book with Qantas before Christmas.' Apparently, this is all the fault of Qantas management. It is all the fault of Qantas. It has nothing to do with the unions at all; they were all acting in good faith. What a load of bollocks! This act is as the government intended it to operate. They wrote this act for this sort of dispute to occur. There is nothing surer. As Peter Costello, very rightfully, put it yesterday on TV: 'This is a dispute about who manages the company. It is not about conditions, not about pay; this is a dispute about the unions wanting to manage this company.'
We are here not to make decisions on who is right and who is wrong in industrial disputes, because, inevitably, people on both sides do things in industrial disputes which none of us will agree with. Disputes are nasty and they cause a lot of damage. We are not here to make those judgments, even though those on the other side continue to do so. And you just heard, again, the rant from the member for Chifley about the waterfront—the waterfront where, the unions told us, you could not get from 16 to 30 crane lifts per hour at the time. We now average 32. What a surprise! It actually worked.
Those people opposite are obsessed, they are wholly owned subsidiaries of the trade union movement and they cannot see this issue. They automatically take sides. Our job here is to write law so we do not have these sorts of disputes, so we do not encourage one side or the other to take the action that we have seen the unions pursue in the last few months, draining the blood from Qantas, so much so that we saw the absolutely extraordinary intervention this morning by John Borghetti, a competitor of Qantas. He is quoted in the Australianas saying:
But I think, generally speaking, given the perception of Australia overseas at the moment, this would certainly be damaging to Brand Australia …
This dispute is very complex. Even the competitors are saying that this matter has to be sorted out. The Prime Minister knew this was coming. She should have acted when she had the opportunity to act. Make no mistake: the government wrote the law to allow this scenario to occur. Every single one of you is responsible for the 68,000 people who were stuck at airports over the weekend. Every single one of you is responsible for what is going on–the industrial chaos which is now affecting our mining companies, wharves and Qantas. They are trying to kill Qantas, by allowing this outrageous and ongoing campaign and by extending the matters that can be included in disputation. The unions are acting out of control and are being supported by their sponsors in the parliament. They should be ashamed of themselves. This act is a disgrace. It must change. Unless we change it, the economy will suffer. Shame on you.
May I say at the outset that, firstly, I am amazed at the tenacity of the member for Wakefield in not pulling his motion that he proposed for debate today on the Fair Work Act. In the circumstances of the preceding 48 hours, one would have expected the member for Wakefield to generally follow in the footsteps of his party and run away from tough issues, because we well know that members of the Labor Party, made up from the union movement, today run away from major issues because they can and because they have no solid investment in the problem at hand. This private member's motion asks, amongst other things, that we note that the industrial system under the Fair Work Act 2009 is working well, with low unemployment and low levels of industrial disputation. What monumental words.
The reason we have low unemployment is that we have a couple of states in this nation, regardless of union activity, that are still forging ahead, that are supplying world markets and doing it well and that are employing everyone who has a head, two arms and two legs. Certainly, we have low unemployment, but we do not have low unemployment as a result of the Fair Work Act 2009. Nothing could be more certain.
In relation to low levels of industrial disputation, dear oh dear, doesn't the member for Wakefield now regret this motion? The last 48 hours have seen action, unprecedented in this country, taken by Qantas that has resulted in 70,000 passengers being affected, 600 flights cancelled and seven grounded aircraft. We have had rolling strikes by unions whose members have chosen to send the 'Flying Kangaroo' to the ground permanently, if not offshore. There is no way that all the talk, all the bluster or all the protestations can deny the fact that this is the aspiration of the union—quite simply to make sure that the Flying Kangaroo is brought to its knees and certainly sent offshore.
Mr Champion interjecting—
For anyone ex-union in the government today to propose that this has not been their intent from the very first day of industrial action is hypocrisy indeed. So I suggest to the member for Wakefield that he is the bravest of men in this place today, because he is following a dream.
No. Only foolish members of the government would take questions in this situation. Over these last 48 hours we have seen a situation bringing pain to the travelling public, that you are presumably interested in—not just Australians but visitors to Australia and moving from Australia around the world. They are being held to ransom by the most dishonourable group one could ever imagine, because their intention is false; their protestations are false and their representation here, I would suggest, is false on the basis of being interested in the best interests of Australians. The Fair Work Act 2009 has created an opportunity for the travelling public to be inconvenienced in a manner that they have never, ever been inconvenienced in before. The last time we saw this sort of action it caused the end of an airline. As the member for Mayo pointed out moments ago, the intention of the union from the outset was to destroy Qantas.
Mr Champion interjecting—
I am all right, Mr Deputy Speaker, they can mouth on as much as they like with their hypocrisy. It will not get through to the minds and hearts of the Australian people, because they speak with forked tongues. They purport to represent Australians and their best interests but they represent a group of Australians—unionised Australia.
Mr Champion interjecting—
Unionised Australia will at every turn choose to bring the employer down because this is a battle that was born some hundreds of years ago and they have never matured to the point where they are over it. They still believe that they are fighting to get the small children out of the depths of the coal mines, and because there are no small children in the depths of the coal mines today they have to pick on someone else. Who suffers? The travellers of this world have suffered in the last 48 hours, needlessly, because of the games that they play. They do not have the intestinal fortitude, the wherewithal or the motivation to invest their money like the shareholders of this company do in service industries that provide and make assets and life better for Australians. They do not endeavour to keep their unions down so they can be on top dictating, looking from on high; they absolutely represent the worst aspects of a small group of the Australian population and they ought to be damned for it.
I have no fear of going out into my electorate and facing unionists, because in the main, in my vast Durack electorate, unionists these days are members of unions because they have been forced into it. It is not a voluntary situation, because the industrial laws today still demand on building sites in Western Australia that they be members. We still have the jackboot attitudes of union leaders in Western Australia demanding that unionists are such and have a job or they leave the site. They still use their jackboot tactics and disrupt concrete pours. I wonder if you guys know about concrete pours. What do you know about hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of concrete, and reinforcement estimations—
Government members interjecting—
that are destroyed because of unions calling for strikes on building sites? It would be hypocritical for any one of you sitting opposite to declare that you were interested in the progress of Australia. That would be a rare event. I would like to hear you loudly declare that you are interested in the activities of Australians today.
Mr Stephen Jones interjecting—
There is silence. There is silence in that regard—
Opposition members interjecting—
from the three members opposite because they cannot genuinely, hand on heart—
say that they are interested in Australians. They are interested in tearing down big business because there are no small children in the coalmines to save anymore. If they had any gumption, motivation or intestinal fortitude, they would be out investing their own money in free-market enterprises, not trying to kill the services.
Government members interjecting—
So there we have three of those who represent hypocrisy in this nation.
I remind the chamber in these closing moments of reports over the last 48 hours that Qantas had extensively briefed Prime Minister Gillard and the government, including Minister Albanese, over an extended period. That included a visit by Alan Joyce to Anthony Albanese's office on 21 October. The first action that Julia Gillard could have taken would have been to invoke the powers of section 431 of her Fair Work Act—her act. This would have meant that, rather than waiting for Fair Work Australia, the dispute would have been terminated immediately—
Of course, we expect only the truth, don't we, Mr Deputy Speaker? We expect only the truth! Instead, people were sitting at airport terminals around the world—because this government was sitting on its hands. There are powers under the act that Prime Minister Gillard could have used to avert this crisis, but she chose not to. She chose not to because until she is forced into a corner she does not exhibit leadership. Until such time as she has no way out, she is totally boxed in, she will not make decisions, certainly not rational ones. All we had, in fact, was the member for Maribyrnong fronting up at Fair Work Australia to intervene—on behalf of the people of Australia or on behalf of the union movement, I wonder? Or was it simply part of his tilt at leadership of this government of rabble? These laws are Prime Minister Gillard's laws. She wrote them and she would have known what to do and how to do it— (Time expired)
It is a great pleasure to speak on this motion, and I thank the member for Wakefield for bringing it before the House, because industrial relations has been a central issue of federal politics since the very Federation of this great nation. It has been a debate fought out at just about every election and it has been a central debate, certainly for those on this side of the House, because we understand that it represents the bringing together of those core economic and industrial rights issues that go to the heart of what drives the people who elect us to represent them in this place.
It is a central issue when you think of the architecture of our industrial relations system, and the national wage case—that yearly coming together of members of the Fair Work tribunal, where they consider the movements in prices and the need for workers' wages to keep pace with the costs of living. That represents a shift in wages, take-home income, for about a quarter of Australians—and, if you think about it, Mr Deputy Speaker, it has a bigger impact on their lives. I know that is of little interest to the member for Durack, but it has a bigger impact on the take-home pay of the sorts of workers that I know the member for Wakefield used to represent: low-paid workers. It has a bigger impact on their working lives than the annual cycle of budgets and tax cuts will ever have on them because of the take-home pay increases that are made possible by those decisions.
You will not hear those opposite talk about that, because those workers are invisible to them. Similarly, they have little interest in the award provisions that were protected by the Fair Work Act—after their 11 years of assault on them—like penalty rates, overtime and others that ordinary Australian workers rely on to make ends meet. They talk a lot about the cost of living over on that side of the chamber because that is what their focus groups are telling them. What they do not understand is that these provisions that are contained in the industrial instruments are how ordinary Australians make ends meet. These are provisions that are protected by those on this side of the chamber, but those that are of absolutely no concern to those on that side.
I was amused to follow the easily amazed member for Durack who gave a speech which would have made any class warrior on any side of politics proud in the 10 minutes that he stood here before us. The member for Durack would probably be unaware of this, but I note that he is wearing a red tie today. He is probably unaware that one of those unionists that he was disparaging—the pilots—if they wore that red tie to work a few weeks ago, they would have been stood down. That is the sort of industrial action we are talking about that these tyrants of the union movement were engaged in—wearing a red tie to work to show their solidarity. If he wore that red tie—if he were a pilot—he would have been stood down. The member for Durack might have done himself the favour of actually informing himself before engaging in this debate.
Those opposite obviously have as many positions on the IR debate as it is possible to have. You have got those who are the wolf in sheep's clothing—that is, the Leader of the Opposition. This is the man who ran around the country between 1996 and 2000 encouraging employers in the coal industry to lockout their workers and then encouraging the industrial tribunals to do absolutely nothing about it who is today egging on the Prime Minister to intervene to terminate the bargaining period and to arbitrate on this dispute. He has had a Damascus like conversion over the last decade. Then you have the wolves in wolves' clothing and that is the member for Mayo over here. I am pleased that he is at least honest—and he has been consistently honest in this debate—and I must say that I disagree with the member for Durack on many things but he is consistently honest in this debate too. They have no time for industrial laws, except those that go to the hearts of worker's rights. We have the wolf in wolf's' clothing over here and the wolf in sheep's clothing represented by the Leader of the Opposition. The real test of a successful industrial relations system is the jobs that it creates—over 750,000 jobs created—the rights that it protects. We make no bones about the fact that we protect take-home income, penalty rates and overtime and that protracted disputes like Qantas can be resolved, as they will be over the next 21 days. (Time expired)
(I am sure that the member for Wakefield had honourable intentions when he drafted this motion and perhaps has become a victim of bad timing. However, this reflects the core problem of the industrial relations legislation that he is lauding. It has not brought industrial peace; it has only brought uncertainty.
The consistent theme that I hear from businesses across my electorate of Bennelong is the need to operate in an environment of certainty. The Fair Work Act in tandem with this inept government's woeful management of the economy, has clearly not provided any such certainty in business conditions. Kept afloat by the mining boom, the gap between the two speeds in our economy grows wider every day and increasingly a higher price is paid by small businesses and, subsequently, the workers supposedly cared for by the member for Wakefield's former paymasters at the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.
Last week I visited the Epping Floral Centre in Bennelong. The lady at the counter spoke of her need to work 80 hours a week without breaks, without sick leave, annual leave or overtime entitlements. Before the SDA put on their orange polo shirts and set up a picket line outside this business, the lady I spoke to is the owner of the business and she needs to work those hours under those conditions just to keep the doors open. She commented that ideally she would employ a staff member to ease her load, which would also contribute back to the economy and to our local community; however, she could not justify this financial commitment in such a restrictive workplace relations environment and with the looming threat of the carbon tax.
Several months ago I addressed a local business forum and was asked a question about Work Choices and penalty rates. I stated our party's policy mantra that Work Choices is dead, buried and cremated, and I repeated some of the stories that had been told to me by local business owners about their genuine experiences of running an enterprise in the current environment. One story, replayed over and over, was that small retail businesses like cafes and hairdressers could no longer afford to open on weekends because the costs associated with penalty rates had become prohibitive. As a result, business owners are angry as they cannot afford to open their doors, workers are angry as they have been priced out of a job and customers are angry as their favourite shop has closed. The economy suffers.
Without detailing any alternative policy, I conclude by saying there must be a better way. The result was a conga line of government MPs misrepresenting my comments as a call for the reintroduction of Work Choices and the abolition of penalty rates. This story is representative of the desperate levels this government will stoop to in order to rekindle the fear that was so successfully installed in the community in 2007.
I am sure that at the next election the streets of Bennelong will be crowded with orange polo shirts fresh from another strike action with Customs staff, weathermen or whatever occupation is their target that particular week, telling all who will listen that the sky will fall in. However, these local business examples represent a far more serious story that was repeated in actions this weekend. Qantas, just like the small business owners, were forced into such desperation by the regulatory environment they operate under and by the militant nature of the unions—supposedly employed to safeguard the rights of their workers. The only way they could ensure the future viability of their business was to shut the doors. Surely, there must be a better way and, surely, this motion should not be supported.
I wish to commend the member for Wakefield for propitiously bringing this motion forward. If there is to be a fair go at work there must be a decent and comprehensive safety net. I spent 20 years as an employer and employed dozens and dozens of people in that time. I was a senior partner of a Brisbane CBD law firm and I can tell you the best way to redistribute wealth in this country is to employ someone. I found that simplicity, fairness and equity were crucial when sitting across the table negotiating arrangements with employees.
The Fair Work system gives Australians an efficient, fair and balanced national system with a stable regulatory framework. It provides workplaces the opportunity to enhance productivity in a real way to become more competitive and at the same time it allows fairness and balance. Despite the opposition scare campaign, the majority of employees and employers are using the Fair Work system to work out their differences in a mature and proactive way. In the year to June 2011, there were 22 fewer disputes than in the previous year. Since the Fair Work Act took effect, on average 3.6 days were lost per thousand workers per quarter compared to 13.5 days per quarter during the Howard coalition government. The Fair Work Act restored unfair dismissal protection to millions of Australian workers who were denied the basic entitlement under Work Choices.
I make no apologies for supporting security from the fear of unfair dismissal to about 2.8 million Australians and their families. Individual statutory contracts were a vehicle by which wages and conditions were diminished in this country. Under Work Choices 64 per cent of AWAs cut annual leave loading and 63 per cent cut penalty rates, to the shame of those opposite.
Mr Briggs interjecting—
The Leader of the Opposition is under pressure from the member for Mayo and all the modest members opposite to reinstate Work-Choices-like legislation. I am struck by the tone and language of the Leader of the Opposition in his press conferences recently, because the devotee, the disciple of John Howard, lives and breathes not just in the member for Mayo but in the Leader of the Opposition. It is in their DNA, their blood, their sinew and their fibre.
They believe in Work Choices and they will bring it back. No longer is the Leader of the Opposition the workers' mate, the battlers' friend. He is out there supplying succour and assistance and words of comfort to the management of Qantas. This is the management that had this in place—and this is the evidence—for days before their annual general meeting. They gave a 71 per cent rise to senior management and are at the same time trying to lock out workers and stop Australian commuters from getting across the country. This is not just. This is the fault of the Qantas board. It is an irritant to international travellers and it is causing domestic disruption to the Australian economy.
If a union did this those opposite would be bleating. There would be hellfire and brimstone threatened by those opposite. But, guess what? It is the management of Qantas. The opposition side with big business always. That is in their real fibre; it is what they really believe. They come in here with their concern about living conditions and workers wages and this sort of stuff, but it is simply nonsense. They do not believe it. You see the class warfare from those opposite: the member for Durack and the member for Mayo. They really show what they truly believe. I hope everyone listens to this—the workers, the working families across the country, the pensioners and the people who are doing it tough. When they listen to the words of the member for Mayo and the member for Durack they really get what these guys are really about. If this mob were ever on this side of the chamber again they would bring back Work Choices. They would not call it Work Choices. The member for Mayo's private member's motion has Work Choices in it. His private member's bill has Work Choices in it. He is an architect, an author, of Work Choices. That is what this side really believes in. They talk about freedom, flexibility and productivity. That is simply a code word. We know what it is about; it is about driving down wages and increasing profits for big business. They are not interested in a cooperative and collective approach in workplace enterprise bargaining. Here they are—the Leader of the Opposition, the market's friend, urging draconian work. (Time expired)
There is so much good material, where do you start? At the end of the day an IR framework is designed to give people job security and to give them jobs. No amount of attempting to blame the Qantas management for an issue that the unions created in the first place by creating uncertainty is going to change that.
The Fair Work Act is another example of Labor's approach to an industrial relations reform that again centres around emboldening the union movement. There are plenty of examples over the years of where the union movement's own agenda has cost workers their jobs. Again, it is an example that is going to be a detriment in the long term to the employees.
This motion is just farcical. This weekend we have seen the Qantas dispute where the government's mismanagement has forced Qantas to take these drastic actions.
This is not the first industrial action that has tested Labor's industrial relations dispute resolution process. At the end of the day the quality of this process is based upon how it handles the disputes, not when things are going well.
So then we have BHP's coalmine dispute, there is Customs, there is police, there is transport. The list goes on. Qantas is being held to ransom by the unions. On Saturday night, we saw the end result of that with Qantas grounding their flights. Passengers were stranded in airports all over the country as well as internationally. Included in the list of stranded people were dignitaries, journalists and staff who attended CHOGM. It is not a good look for promoting our industrial relations process in action. What an embarrassment for this government. It just adds to the long litany of government mismanagement on BER, border protection, live cattle industry—
Government members interjecting—
It is all a bit late for that. How many other businesses have been affected by this industrial action not to mention investor confidence and productivity? This whole fiasco must surely taint travellers' perceptions of visiting Australia. The tourism industry has already reported a five to 10 per cent drop in the number of bookings for the Christmas period and rolling strike actions are not going to win over any ambivalent tourists.
Customers who have been lost, who have decided not to come Down Under for a holiday, will mean tourist operators will need to win them back. The managing director of Webjet indicated in an interview with Business Spectator that if the strikes continued, they could have a knock-on effect impacting the whole Australian tourism industry. There are the related industries that go with that. Due to these threats or strikes that have occurred and are being scheduled to occur over the coming months, we are only going to see a decline in people wishing to travel to this country.
It is not QANTAS that are changing the goalposts. They have not implemented any changes to the legal framework for industrial relations introduced by the fair work system. The dispute resolution umpire has done little to credibly assist in bringing this dispute to an end. If anything, they could be accused of undermining the rights and conditions that have been collectively bargained. As the member for Mayo pointed out, the dollar figure for pays is not an issue, it is about allowing the management of the company do what it needs to manage the business in the model—
Mr Champion interjecting—
Well, job security is about changing the requirements and framework of what needs to be done in the jobs to reflect the new technology that has come in with new planes. They are happy to cost Qantas $15 million a week or $70 million over the process—
Debate resumed on motion by Ms J Bishop:
That this House:
(1) condemns the:
(a) Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel; and
(b) targeting of Max Brenner chocolate cafes as part of this campaign;
(2) rejects this tactic as counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of Palestinians;
(3) reiterates Australia's support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders; and
(4) urges the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian people to resume direct negotiations.
I rise to move this motion condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that continues to be waged against the state of Israel and its people, and reiterating our support for the two-state solution and for the resumption of direct negotiations by the leaders of the Israeli and the Palestinian people for a lasting peace.
The provocative, counterproductive and highly discriminatory actions of this BDS campaign come at a time of increased uncertainty and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, as the hopes and aspirations of restless populations have cast aside old regimes. Israel is confronted with a new strategic environment more hostile to its interests and the security of its people than perhaps at any other time in recent history. At a moment when the community of nations should be offering their hands in support, Israel faces renewed pressure on the international stage.
The coalition has never supported and will not support any attempt in the United Nations, other fora or elsewhere that results in Israel's international isolation and that is the purpose of this BDS campaign. We wholeheartedly reject the attempt by members of the Socialist Alliance, the Australian Greens and the 21 trade union movement members and affiliates who seek to hold Israel, its people and its business community hostage to their ideologies and prejudices. This intolerance has found expression in recent times through the BDS campaign initiated in 2005, which now has targeted action against the Israeli owned Max Brenner company, which operates chocolate cafes in Australia. The worst of the clashes took place on 1 July 2011 at a Max Brenner store in Melbourne. Protesters forcibly prevented customers from entering the store. Three police officers were hurt during the incident and 19 protesters were arrested. Charges laid included assaulting police, riotous behaviour, besetting premises and trespass.
Other businesses targeted by protesters as having an Israeli connection include Sara Lee, Revlon, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. Their crimes, according to the BDS campaign, include having a company chairman who has supported Israeli causes or having received recognition by the Israeli government—in the case of Sara Lee over 13 years ago—for supporting trade and investment opportunities with Israel.
Even The Body Shop, an outlet well known for its strong commitment to social and environmental justice issues, has been targeted for its 'deep and extensive involvement in business relations with Israel'. One has to question the sanity of a campaign that seeks to boycott The Body Shop, a company that has been involved with Amnesty International from 1988 when it launched its first human rights campaign. It has worked closely with Amnesty since then helping to raise awareness and funds through its stores. In 1991 Gordon Roddick, co-founder of the Body Shop, helped establish the Big Issue, a magazine which has supported thousands of homeless people throughout the world to achieve a measure of financial support. The Body Shop is currently leading a campaign to stop sex trafficking of children and young people in partnership with Child Wise, Australia's leading international child protection charity.
The actions of the BDS campaign protesters have not only hurt this business and its consumers but also the individuals and non-government organisations that depend on its support for their welfare and community outreach. Despite the positive contribution that these stores and their staff have made to the wider community, protesters were not deterred from targeting the chain during a rally in Perth last month.
It is with much regret that I note that support for this BDS campaign against Israel has also been taken up by the Australian trade union movement. According to the instruction manual for supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, 21 Australian trade unions or affiliates are committed to a full or partial boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. These are the same trade unions that play a leading role in the Australian Labor Party, including the preselection of its political representatives. About 32 of the current Labor caucus are former union officials and every member of the Labor caucus is a union member. I look forward to their support of this motion and their rejection of this BDS campaign that has been supported by their union bosses. Having witnessed the foreign minister's brutal dumping as Prime Minister orchestrated by the former union bosses and faceless men of the Labor caucus, the Australian public can be in no doubt as to the power these unions yield over our democratic process.
A recent posting to the BDS website dated 11 September 2011 reveals the strong support from Australia's trade union movement to this campaign against Israel. The posting describes a motion of support for the BDS campaign passed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council executive, expressing concern at the involvement of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in investigating the recent protests against the Max Brenner store in Melbourne. According to this union motion, this was an aggressive smokescreen to stifle legitimate industrial and political activity by unions. It made no attempt to balance its view by recognising the concern of the Victorian government and others that these protests verged on secondary boycotts aimed at causing substantial loss or damage to a business in contravention of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. With this in mind, it was essential that investigation by the ACCC was carried out. The Victorian Trades Hall Council also criticised police for their tactics in responding to protests.
The intolerance displayed by protesters during these incidents has also found expression in the upper reaches of Australia's tertiary education system. The BDS campaign has spread to the issue of academic freedom, a cornerstone of higher education in this country. It has been revealed recently that Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, called on his colleagues at the University of Sydney to withdraw from an upcoming gathering of visiting Israeli scientific researchers. It transpires that Associate Professor Lynch was asked to boycott this scientific meeting by the same supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that led protests against Max Brenner chocolate cafes. The Israel Research Forum—to be held today—involves important academic discussion in fields such as neuroscience, tissue regeneration, obesity, diabetes, water, food and agriculture, energy, information technology and the pedagogy of teaching a second language. The prospect of further discovery in any of these areas promises not only to enrich our own lives but also the lives of others in less fortunate societies around the world.
In an interview with the Australian newspaper, Dr Lynch warned that Sydney University:
... risks sustaining reputational damage if the forum goes ahead.
Sadly, for Dr Lynch, the only reputation that has been damaged by this fiasco has been his own. The very freedoms that allow Dr Lynch to express his beliefs and to associate with supporters of this BDS campaign are the very same freedoms that he now seeks to deny to others—others, it should be pointed out, who wish for nothing more than to engage in intellectual debate with respected international colleagues.
Professor Graeber, a participant in the forum, has rightly pointed out what should have been apparent to Dr Lynch and the supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign:
Academics must not be held hostage by ideologies.
The principles guiding academic freedom are restated in the Magna Charta Universitatum signed in 1998 at the University of Bologna. It celebrates the deepest values of the university tradition. This charter has been taken up by the universities of Sydney and Melbourne as well as other Group of Eight research institutions. It declares:
3.Freedom in research and training is the fundamental principle of university life ... Rejecting intolerance and always open to dialogue, a university is an ideal meeting-ground ...
4.A university is the trustee of the European humanist tradition; its constant care is to attain universal knowledge; to fulfil its vocation it transcends geographical and political frontiers ...
In signing the document in 2010, the University of Melbourne noted that:
The document declares a commitment to the fundamental principles of university tradition, including moral and intellectual independence, the inseparability for teaching and research and the task of spreading knowledge to society throughout the world.
In calling on the University of Sydney to cancel the upcoming Israeli Research Forum, Dr Lynch broke with these deepest values of university traditions, allowing his political beliefs to overrule his obligations as a scholar and a teacher. Those associated with the BDS campaign that spoke to Dr Lynch to get him to cancel this forum stand condemned. The shadow minister for education and I have expressed our deepest concerns about the actions of Associate Professor Lynch and his supporters to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney. We also voiced out strong support for the leadership displayed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor John Hearn, who rejected these calls for a boycott of this forum and defended the importance of academic freedom.
Our opposition to Dr Lynch's actions, as well as the targeting of Max Brenner's chocolate cafes—as promoted by the BDS campaign—is shared by Mr Izzat Abdulhadi, head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia. Mr Abdulhadi has made the acute observation that a BDS campaign is:
... sensitive to the Jewish people (because) in 1937 their businesses in Europe were boycotted.
The coalition is firmly of the view that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is counterproductive to the promotion of the rights and interests of the Palestinian people. I believe that this Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions regime against Israel will only serve to inflame tensions on all sides, harming the chances of a peaceful resolution to the long-running conflict in the Middle East. There is enough emotion on both sides to damage the fragile path to peace without being recklessly stoked by these protesters and their supporters.
In introducing this motion, the coalition also desires to reiterate Australia's strong support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders. We urge leaders of both sides to resume direct negotiations. There can be no illusion. If peace is to succeed, hard decisions must be made. This includes difficult sacrifices by both sides. It is important that the pressing matter of Palestinian statehood is progressed in the spirit of open, constructive and, most importantly, cooperative dialogue. Unilateral efforts on behalf of one side will only build greater levels of distrust. There is no easy solution to this issue—only shared ones.
We call on the government to make plain its position in relation to the vote at the United Nations on the question of Palestinian statehood. There is some confusion, given the reports that the foreign minister has advised the Prime Minister to abstain on a vote, and reports that the Prime Minister intends to oppose. For the interests of Australia's reputation and for our long-held foreign policy positions, the government must clarify this position immediately.
At the United Nations Australia has long fought to end the institutional discrimination against the state of Israel, as evidenced by our response to the 2001 Durban antiracism conference. When in government the coalition was consistent in opposing one-sided United Nations resolutions against Israel, choosing not to sacrifice long-held foreign policy values in pursuit of temporary gain. At the same time, we played an important role in supporting the Palestinian people. The Howard government contributed much-needed financial assistance to aid development in areas such as agriculture, provided vital shelter for refugees and advanced the reconstruction of health and education services. This assistance, which has been continued by the Rudd and now Gillard governments, aimed to support the Middle East peace process through reducing the vulnerability of the Palestinian people to poverty and conflict.
The actions of the Howard government were based on an awareness that, while Australia will not play a major part in the peace process in terms of direct involvement, we can play a positive and constructive role in support of the conditions which are required for peace to take hold. The coalition is of the view that both parties share responsibility for rebuilding the mutual confidence on which any resumption of negotiations has to be based. Unilateral action will not, in my view, progress the current process.
This motion specifically condemns the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and we look forward to unanimous support from the members of this House. This motion also condemns the targeting of Max Brenner chocolate cafes as part of the campaign and other stores which I indicated have been targets of this campaign. We look forward to the unanimous support of this House in that regard.
This motion also rejects the BDS campaign as counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of Palestinians. Not only is it harmful to the interests of the Israeli people and the state of Israel; we believe it is counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of the Palestinians. This motion also reiterates Australia's support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders. I look forward to the unanimous support of the members of this House on that issue.
Finally, this motion seeks to urge the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to resume direct negotiations. We believe that is the only way that a lasting peace can be achieved. I commend this motion to the House.
I want to congratulate the member for Curtin and opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs for moving this resolution. Over the last few months I have been travelling around Australia from South Melbourne in my electorate to Newtown in Sydney and to Southbank in Brisbane, where prominent leaders of politics and the media in Australia have been having a hot chocolate at Max Brenner's to show the opposition of mainstream Australia to this boycott campaign that the member for Curtin has raised in this resolution. Every Max Brenner shop I have gone to—including in Brisbane with the estimable member for Blair, who is sitting here with me—has been packed full with couples and friends. None were there for political reasons; they were enjoying each other's company and some hot chocolate.
Max Brenner is actually an Australian company that employs hundreds of employees and is going about its lawful business. The boycott protests are very movingly described by a young Australian woman in South Melbourne as 'more than simply a boycott'. They are loud, aggressive and angry, and they amount to intimidation. Seldom have I seen such a reaction from the overwhelming mainstream of Australian political and public life. I think that is because, as the member for Blair knows, deeply etched in Australia's memory are those black-and-white films of the Nazi boycott of Jewish commerce in 1930s Germany. That is why an average Australian, such as sports broadcaster Ben Fordham—and I would urge every Australian to listen to his interview with Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon about her support for the boycott campaign—gets stuck into militants who chant outside Max Brenner's chocolate shops, 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.'
That is why the Deputy Prime Minister joined the member for Blair and me; the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence; Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerard Henderson; and union leader Paul Howes—unions were decried by the member for Curtin; it is the only part of her speech that I disagree with. Indigenous leader Warren Mundine was also there. All of them were there to show that decent, middle-of-the-road Australians are opposed to these discriminatory boycott activities of this particularly militant group. There is no mention of Darfur in any of their activities, where many more people have been killed, or the 300,000 people in the gulag, North Korea, or the tens of thousands of people caught up in the tragic situation in Tibet where nine young religious people have immolated themselves in the last month.
As Austen Tayshus said on Q&Ato Senator Rhiannon, 'Thousands of people have been shot in Syria over the last few months. Why aren't you leading a boycott there?'
The boycott was founded by the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti in 2003, specifically to oppose the moderate two-state solution that all mainstream political parties in Australia support. He said:
Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial …
This discriminatory boycott came to prominence during last year's New South Wales election, when Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne introduced a one-sided motion calling on Marrickville council to boycott all Israeli made goods. Senator Lee Rhiannon is of course a member of the New South Wales wing of the Greens political party and was a key supporter of this campaign. She wanted to extend the boycott even further, beyond the New South Wales election.
Senator Rhiannon recently told a 'Politics in the Pub' meeting in Sydney that she wanted to extend the boycott to the federal parliament. It was irrational for a local council to pass motions on foreign policy and to support a boycott. It is absurd and illogical to pass one only against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is ironic, as the member for Curtin pointed out, with Dr Lynch, at the Sydney University Peace Institute, and with the Greens political party and some of the more militant activists who support this activity, that they are protesting against the only country in the Middle East that protects the rights of gays. There is the rule of law there where women have complete equality and where there are minorities. There are nearly 20 Arab members of the Israeli Knesset at the Israeli parliament. You do not see minorities represented like that in other countries in the Middle East. It is plainly ludicrous.
Recently experts from around the world agreed that Israel is a laboratory for eco-innovation and can serve as a platform for other countries looking to harness sustainable technology. In five weeks time, Professor Daniel Shechtman, from the Israel Institute of Technology, will receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Of the nine Nobel Prize winners this year, five are Jewish. With respect to winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 42 per cent were Jewish; Nobel Prize in Medicine, 27 per cent were Jewish; and Nobel Prize in Physics, 25 per cent were Jewish.
As Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem pointed out in a wonderful speech last week:
So where are all those on the fringe left; where are the academics, where are those members from the New South Wales Greens Party who think that boycotting the country of ground-breaking innovations, life-saving medications and grand contributions to man-kind will change the world for the better?
Perhaps these hate-mongers are too busy picking out bits of their computer hardware, invented and manufactured in Israel. Perhaps it is more time consuming than they first thought, removing all the drugs from their medicine cabinets that were created and developed in Israel.
As we saw in Brisbane and in Melbourne a few weeks ago, some of the protestors outside Max Brenner are anything but peaceful. Their chant "from the river to the sea," as I pointed out, is the Hamas extremist cry for a one state, an Islamist state, between the Jordon River and the Mediterranean. They are not peaceful protesters calling for a Palestinian state next to Israel; they have a discriminatory attitude which should not be tolerated. They seek to boycott businesses such as Revlon and Westfield—I have their booklet here—simply because the chair of Revlon is Jewish and because Frank Lowy is Jewish. They advocate a boycott of the Beersheba dance company and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. What would you rather see—the Beersheba dance company and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra or a protest by some of these crazy groups outside Max Brenner shops?
They seek to boycott the Max Brenner shops because they claim those shops are owned by the Strauss Group. In fact, any company search here will show that Max Brenner is an independent Australian company. The Strauss Group happens to own another chocolate company in Israel called Elite, which puts chocolate products into reserve packs for soldiers. That is the extent of the connection between the protests here and what really happens over there. At the time the Marrickville motion was passed, Prime Minister Julia Gillard described it as 'stupid and repugnant' and said that:
Israel is a democracy with whom we have a long-standing relationship … anyone who stands in the way of that is doing the wrong thing.
Other government ministers have lambasted the Greens and Fiona Byrne for their boycott campaign.
I call on Senator Brown not to back his rogue senator, Lee Rhiannon, in her plan to extend the boycott beyond the activities taking place outside the Max Brenner shops. Senator Brown has reprimanded Senator Rhiannon in the past for her support of the boycott campaign and has stated that the Greens support a two-state solution. This boycott campaign does nothing to promote such a two-state solution. In fact it hinders the process by promoting hate. Both the Liberal and Labor parties support a just two-state solution to the Middle East peace process and we have done so from the beginning. The original resolution which Australia voted for in 1948 was for an Arab Palestinian state next to an Israeli Jewish state.
As the member for Curtin pointed out, the Palestinian representative in Australia, Abdulhadi—the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia—to his great credit rejected the violent element in the boycott campaign. I think it is very interesting that an actual representative of the Palestinians understands the hurt and fear that emanates from such a boycott of commerce and the historical resonance that it has—he appears to understand this much better than some of the extreme Left people who are involved in that campaign. Mr Abdulhadi is a person whom I have debated before and he is an example of the fact that there are many Palestinians who want a peaceful and just solution to the Middle East situation. He is, as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev, the kind of person 'we can do business with'.
This campaign is seen by some as coupled with the unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood. Both of them undermine negotiations which would actually advance the two-state solution in the Middle East. It is very interesting that the unilateral bid for Palestinian statehood has not gone very far internationally. It seems that the international community is tiring of one-sided solutions or one-sided advocacy in this area. It is most interesting that, given the make-up of the United Nations, it seems there are not nine votes at the Security Council for this unilateral announcement of a Palestinian state. I think what that is showing is that the international community—certainly mainstream countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany and most other European countries—more and more favours a negotiated arrangement between the two parties. My feeling is that the bid by the Palestinians to go to the Security Council will not progress and that they will then take their bid to the General Assembly. Of course, with the automatic majority of the organised Islamic countries and the Arab League, this will probably pass. But I think many countries like Australia will have a chance to stand up and say that this is not the way to approach peace in the Middle East. Unless there is a determination by the international community to involve direct negotiations between the parties, this is not a resolution that Australia should support. That view has been very clearly put by the Prime Minister. In many countries around the world—for example, the US congress—there has been great concern that, while there are things on the table for direct discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians, this bid would be tried to be pushed through the United Nations.
In a book that Condoleezza Rice has just published she recounts the fact that she was present with former President Bush, former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Mr Abbas when Mr Olmert offered an extensive compromise which would have seen 95 per cent of the West Bank become a Palestinian state and territorial exchanges to compensate for suburbs around Jerusalem that would remain part of an Israeli state—the existing state of Israel being given to the Palestinians to compensate them for those four or five per cent of territories around Jerusalem. That is a practical way of this issue being advanced. It is a great shame that Mr Abbas did not take up that opportunity when it was offered to him. I commend both Mr Olmert and Condoleezza Rice for pointing out that that was offered. I have previously tabled in the parliament the map that he offered, and it is available to anyone who wants to follow this debate. It is extensive; it is fair; it is comprehensive; and it in fact gives the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 per cent of the territory of the current West Bank.
My program for a peaceful resolution between the two parties is for Mr Abbas to get in his car in Ramallah and drive to Mr Netanyahu's office, put the Olmert plan on the desk and say, 'Let's do it.' That would have a lot more support amongst the Israeli people and would have much more support from the international community than this attempt to force through a one-sided resolution at the Security Council or the general assembly with their automatic majority. Go to an election, Mr Abbas, and get a mandate again. You have not been elected since 2006, even by any standard of international political legitimacy. Put the plan back on the table, negotiate directly and let us finally achieve peace for the two parties in the Middle East.
I rise to speak on this motion and join with my colleagues on both sides of the chamber to advocate very strongly that we condemn this boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign that has been so insidiously waged here in this country. The BDS is designed to economically destroy any business that has a connection with the democratic state of Israel and forbids any trade with businesses or organisations that trade with Israel. At its very heart the campaign is aimed at the delegitimisation of the state of Israel.
Having failed to destroy the state of Israel through war and terror, those who are committed to her destruction now use weapons of a different kind. At the second conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism last year in Ottawa, the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, said:
… when Israel … is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonisation, double standards, delegitimisation, the three Ds, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.
The BDS campaign has seen businesses in my home town of Melbourne subject to hateful protest, where patrons are prevented from entry or exit from a business, where they are subject to verbal abuse and intimidation and where violence has occurred. In the case of one such business, the chocolate shop Max Brenner, this has occurred on more than one occasion. What is the offence? Why are they subject to this BDS campaign? It is because, according to these protestors, it is 100 per cent owned by an Israeli company which, according to protestors, is too pro-Israel. These protestors claim that they are part of a peace movement, that they are pro-Palestinian, but they are anything but. They are anti-Israel and, dare I say it, many of them are anti-Semitic.
The BDS, when applied, would mean quite the reverse for these Palestinian groups. It would mean that support for charity groups like Shevet Achim, which sends Palestinian babies with congenital heart defects to surgery at acute centres in Israel, would be completely caught up in this BDS campaign, as would the AFL Peace Team, which matches Israelis and Palestinians together in the AFL International Cup. These would be banned. These are groups that are intended to bridge the gap, but instead this BDS widens it.
Singling out private businesses in response to foreign policy is not only incredibly offensive but also extremely counterproductive and wrong. Secondary boycotts are contrary to freedom of association. I think it is incumbent upon us to look at this movement, not only from a global perspective, but also from how it sprung up here in Australia. At its heart it has been, as my colleague on the other side of the chamber has said, most notoriously advocated for through the Marrickville Council. It has also been advocated for through prominent members of the Greens and through a number of people within the union movement as well.
This motion today is a real test of the Greens. It is a test of Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne. He needs to declare where he stands on this issue and where the Greens stand on this issue. The BDS is a truly insidious campaign. It is also time that the Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, rejects this violent and ignorant campaign to delegitimise Israel and instead declare Israel's right to exist in peace. Senator Brown needs to condemn this campaign, which is supported by his new Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, just as leaders of the union movement should also condemn this campaign, and not only condemn it but have nothing to do with it.
Israel, as we know, is a lone beacon of democracy in the Middle East. We hope that she will not be a lone beacon for much longer but we must be mindful that in the tumult of the Middle East anything is possible. The unity between Hamas and Fatah is something that we should be deeply concerned about. Hamas is a group that represents the antithesis of democracy and peace and is very much behind this worldwide campaign to delegitimise the State of Israel. It celebrates the terrorist Osama Bin Laden as a holy martyr and it actively opposes Israel's right to exist and is committed to her destruction. In its very charter it has at its centre the fact that it wants to destroy the State of Israel and is committed to killing Jews wherever it finds them.
I visited Israel with the Australia Israel Leadership Forum last year with a number of people from both sides of this chamber, a number of people from business and also the media. We went to Ramallah to meet with a number of Palestinians. What was incredibly interesting in the conversation we had with them was that they openly declared that they were swapping some of their former heroes, like Che Guevara, and were instead wrapping up their campaign and associating it with human rights leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We know, though, that this association is completely false. There is no human rights element in this delegitimisation of Israel or in this BDS campaign, and such an association is repugnant to any right-thinking person.
Australia and Israel have so much in common. We share a great democratic tradition, and it is vital that we support these democratic traditions and support freedom in the Middle East, whether for Arabs, Jews or Christians. I think it is very important as well that we stand together to condemn this BDS campaign, which would do so much to cause harm to unity in the Middle East and to the advent of peace and a peaceful two-state solution.
On Sunday, 4 September this year, I stood shoulder to shoulder with other Liberal MPs—including federal MPs Senator Mitch Fifield, Senator Scott Ryan and Josh Frydenberg, along with state MPs David Southwick and Elizabeth Miller—as well as the Australian Liberal Students Federation and the Young Liberals in condemning this campaign. I know that there are others across the chamber, such as the member for Melbourne Ports, who have also been very vocal in condemning this insidious campaign. We stood together on the steps of the State Library of Victoria to speak out about the violence and hate that have been preached in the name of peace. We joined together for a cup of hot chocolate at the Max Brenner chocolate shop, which has been the target of so many of these protests.
I would like to conclude today by echoing the words of the Prime Minister of Israel, who said earlier to the United States congress:
We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism.
We should also, in this chamber today, stand together to condemn this boycott, because this boycott is not for peace. This boycott is for hate, and this boycott is insidious and wrong in the way that it will harm the interests not only of Israelis but also of Palestinians and all those who support a peaceful two-state solution.
We have seen enormous change in the Middle East: uprisings and aspirations for freedom, liberty and democracy in places like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. There has been silence from so many people who were advocating the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in relation to the aspirations of people from the Middle East in Arab countries seeking the kind of liberty that we enjoy in this country. This campaign, initiated back in July 2005 by many Palestinian organisations, had a number of stated goals, but one of them was, of course, the end of what they say is Israel's occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands. This is simply nonsense. What is happening here is some far-left groups selectively picking on a democratic country in the Middle East—namely Israel—for their own political agenda.
Israel, like Australia and a lot of other countries in the West, is not perfect. No nation in the world is perfect when it comes to the way it runs its economy or in terms of justice, equity and fairness. But Israel, for all its failings, faults and foibles, has been a great and consistent friend of Australia in the Middle East and in the Western world, standing up against the tyranny of communism and against dictatorship. So many people who have been advocating the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign have been silent when authoritarian, fascist and communist regimes in Asia and Africa—terrible regimes like that of North Korea, for example—have been perpetrating terrible iniquities upon their people. They have been silent because they have been selective. There is also a certain selectivity of economic consequence. For example, many Palestinian people work with and for Israeli businesses. There is significant trade, commerce and intercourse between the West Bank and the state of Israel, but I do not see the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement picketing Israeli businesses in Israel or in the West Bank, guarding the portal saying, 'Don't go across there; don't work for Israeli businesses.'
There is a real sense of hypocrisy here in relation to this particular campaign. The Australian government has been absolutely consistent in being committed to peace and security in the Middle East and in supporting progress. We have been vigorous in supporting humanitarian efforts and in institution-building assistance. Since 2007 this federal Labor government has provided nearly $170 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority and refugees. In fact, we are the 10th-largest donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the area. We have a good and consistent record, and I concede that on both sides of politics there has been bipartisan support for the state of Israel. Australians are friends of Israel, and after World War II we took about 35,000 people from a Jewish background who were fleeing Europe and the terrible holocaust of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany.
I recently read a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a wonderful, great German theologian who, two days after Hitler came to power, was on national radio denouncing the Nazi regime and Hitler. But they cut him off while he was speaking. He was like the spiritual person or mentor to the Valkyrie attempt to get rid of Hitler. As I was reading the book I was struck by the correlation, if I can put it that way, between what happened to the Jewish people in Germany and what seems to be advocated here. No-one says that you cannot engage in lawful protest and no-one says that you cannot go about saying that you disagree with the political stance of a business, an individual or an institution. But you cannot go around preventing people from going about their lawful business or preventing people from being patrons of a store such as Max Brenner. To engage in the kind of thuggery we saw in Melbourne, where 19 people were arrested and three police officers were injured, is a disgrace. In fact the BDS campaigners deserve all the criticism that was levelled at them in relation to that particular event.
The member for Melbourne Ports asked me, along with the Deputy Prime Minister and the member for Oxley, to come to Max Brenner in Brisbane. I was very happy to stand with him—and I have to say that the hot chocolate was pretty good that night. I was there in Brisbane on 28 August—
It was a very big crowd indeed; I agree, and I commend the member for Melbourne Ports for his advocacy on this issue. Also present at the chocolate shop was the Ipswich mayor, Paul Pisasale. Paul is very good when it comes to being in the media—I accept that—but Paul also has had a very strong hand and consistent position on this issue. The Chamber of Commerce and the Ipswich City Council have also had a lot of dealings with businesses in Israel and have been very strong advocates, as have the member for Oxley and I, because we believe that Israel is a good friend of Australia and that Australia is a good friend of Israel.
It is not just the selectivity of these campaigners and their far left Green agenda they seem to be pushing; they seem to be protesting against businesses like Revlon and Westfield for tangential reasons. I was happy to be at what I would describe as the counter protest. It was a lawful, peaceful protest, drinking chocolate, and I know a number of members of both sides of the House were at various locations in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I note that there has been criticism of what has gone on. In October 2011, Izzat Abdulhadi, Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia said that he is against the full-scale BDS campaign. In particular, he expressed his frustration, if not anger, at the violent protest at the Max Brenner stores in Australia. He said:
BDS is a non-violent process and I don't think it is the right of anybody to use BDS as a violent action or to prevent people from buying from any place.
While I do not agree with the BDS, I certainly agree with the sentiment. People should not have the right to engage in violent activity.
In the 21st century there is no place for targeting businesses in this country that have a tangential impact with what I would call 'Jewishness' in the Australian economy or in Australia's community life. This challenges our ethics, values and morals in this country, and what we think about democracy and liberty. I know a number of Labor politicians, Labor union leaders and Labor identities have been involved in standing against the BDS campaign: Warren Mundine, a former president of the Australian Labor Party; and Paul Howes, the general secretary of the Australian Workers Union. We also saw the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd involved. I applaud them for standing up for liberty, democracy and the right of a business to go about its lawful activities.
I do not really believe, at its heart, this BDS campaign is about economic pressure because of the inconsistencies I have raised. I think it is about, as someone said previously, demonising and vilifying Israel. I agree with the member for Higgins about the anti-Semitic aspects of some of these campaigns; I am worried about that too. I note Senator Bob Brown has distanced himself somewhat. But this stance is still being advocated by the New South Wales Greens. It was only fairly recently the Marrickville Council in Sydney overturned its sanctions against Israel. What does a council have to do with it? It should be engaged in roads, rats and rubbish, in my view. That would make a lot more sense to the people who live in that particular region than sanctions becoming a political stance. I think it is important that we say this. The union leader Paul Howes summed it up brilliantly and succinctly when he said:
are trying to equate the campaign against apartheid in South Africa with a campaign against a Jewish chocolate shop, they've got rocks in their head.
I think he is absolutely correct. I would call on the Greens leader Bob Brown to distance himself from the BDS campaign in a strong way and sanction Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, who previously backed this particular campaign. I think we need to take a stand. I applaud the member for Curtin but I disagree with her comments on the trade union movement. (Time expired)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion to condemn the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. I do so firstly as the member for an electorate which has a large and vibrant Jewish community, particularly but not exclusively in the suburb of St Ives. Indeed, the seat of Bradfield has the second largest Jewish community in New South Wales, second only to the seat of Wentworth. We are also fortunate to have, within the boundaries of the electorate, a Max Brenner store. One of the absurdities which this motion correctly identifies is the truly ludicrous idea of targeting a chocolate cafe as part of some purportedly high-minded campaign.
The most important reason for which I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion is that I do so as a citizen and as a parliamentarian in a democracy which upholds key values of tolerance, of human rights and of the rule of law. On all of these grounds, I unreservedly condemn the so-called campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions directed against Israel and against businesses with Israeli ownership or an Israeli connection. To see how absurd, how offensive and how Orwellian this campaign is let me quote from the media release issued by Marrickville Council, about which we have heard a little already, in January this year:
Marrickville Council has adopted a resolution that will preclude the purchase of goods or services provided by those organisations or companies that do business in, or with, Israel.
The Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (GBDS) campaign is a world-wide movement that seeks to end human rights violations.
Marrickville Council Mayor Fiona Byrne said ...
'The support for the GBDS recognises the role of Council in promoting universal respect for human rights and the protection of democratic principles with a view to ending human rights injustices and violations' ...
As previous speakers have noted, this resolution appears to overlook the core roles of council of collecting rubbish and efficiently processing development applications. Anybody who knows anything about Marrickville Council could have a lengthy discussion on that topic but that is not the topic for discussion today. Let us examine some of the absurd, illogical contradictions in the statement by Marrickville council.
I remind the House that Israel is a functioning and highly successful multiparty democracy. If the BDS proponents are serious about their stated principles, why are they not targeting Iran or Syria or any one of a range of unsavoury regimes which intimidate, repress and murder their own people? How do we make the leap in logic from Marrickville council apparently supporting universal respect for human rights to the council supporting a campaign which targets one set of alleged human rights violations in one particular country—quite without proof, it must be added. What about such basic human rights as the freedom of association and the freedom to carry on one's work and business without thugs using violence to prevent you from doing so, which of course has been the unfortunate experience of those Max Brenner stores which have been targeted. I need hardly remind the House that 19 protesters were arrested and three policemen were injured earlier this year when a rally outside a Max Brenner store in Melbourne turned violent.
As other speakers have correctly noted, it is extremely troubling that we are seeing in Australia the same kind of anti-Semitic targeting of Jewish businesses that was a technique of the Nazi regime. The risk of anti-Semitism is something against which we must always be on guard. It is troubling that, as the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies has noted, the Occupy Wall Street movement has also included some troubling suggestions of anti-Semitism, and it is deeply troubling that a municipal council would associate itself with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised that there was involvement by the Greens in this unsavoury episode. This appalling action was championed by Fiona Byrne, Mayor of Marrickville and of course a Greens candidate for the New South Wales state election in March 2011.
The issue here is not the need for a two-state solution. The coalition strongly supports the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders. The issue here is appropriate and civilised conduct, and this conduct fails to meet the standards. (Time expired)
More than 10 per cent of my constituents are of Muslim faith and about six per cent are of Middle East background. In a letter to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat wrote:
This commitment was never reciprocated by Israel, which has not recognised the state of Palestine or accepted resolutions 242 and 338, which require Israel to withdraw from the 1967-occupied territories. The Palestinians are annoyed that two decades of face-to-face talks between Israel and the PLO have not delivered Palestinian national aspirations but have prolonged and deepened the Israeli occupation while making Palestinian institutions weaker. The failure of the United States to mediate a peace agreement has led the Palestinian leadership to conclude that, although it has done everything that was asked of it, from recognising Israel, maintaining security and institution building to continuing peace talks, the West has not delivered its end of the bargain. Some people have denigrated the Palestinian application to the United Nations as a unilateral move for statehood or a move to delegitimise Israel. Neither is true. It is not even the preferred course of action of the Palestinian leaders. The credibility of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is based on a promise to bring change through peace negotiations. The failure of the peace process to deliver anything for the Palestinians has led Mr Abbas to try the UN strategy. He has said repeatedly that the United Nations bid is a measure of last resort and he prefers direct bilateral negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinians under military occupation want freedom and human rights. With the peace process at a dead end, many Palestinians have concluded that perhaps there are no peaceful options remaining. The leadership's UN bid was partly in response to this popular pressure. The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that, until Israel and the United States can pursue the peace process more seriously, the option of a two-state solution must be preserved despite the fact that this option is disappearing under the never-ending expansion of Israeli settlements, checkpoints, restrictions on movement and confiscation of land. The head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia and New Zealand, Mr Izzat Abdul Hadi, has emphasised the need for a two-state solution.
In 2005, on the first anniversary of the ruling by the International Court of Justice that the Israeli concrete wall is illegal and should be removed, frustrated Palestinian NGOs and trade unions called for a boycott, divestment and sanctions—BDS—targeted at Israel with the stated goals that:
These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: 1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Boycotts have a long tradition over the centuries. The BDS movement has caught on around the world. I note Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a prominent supporter.
The reality of the BDS movement in Australia is that it has been captured by political parties whose main agenda is not the welfare of the Palestinians under occupation or for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. The Palestinian Authority has distanced itself from the civilian BDS movement except for advocating a limited boycott against companies actually operating in illegal settlements. It does not support general boycotts against Israel, because boycotts are incompatible with negotiating a two-state solution.
When the issue of Palestinian statehood rose again recently, the feedback to my office from the Arab community and all its supporters was limited but consistent: they want Australia to recognise the state of Palestine as part of the two-state solution to the conflict and they oppose the use of violence by those who have taken over the BDS movement. A boycott must be voluntary and peaceful; otherwise it is not a boycott but merely coercion. (Time expired)
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
It may suit the committee for any proposed amendments to be moved and for the question on each amendment or group of amendments to be deferred until the conclusion of debate on all amendments. This would allow any interested member to speak to any amendments that had been moved. After the committee has debated any amendments moved now and also this evening, questions on the amendments or group of amendments proposed by members will be adjourned to a future day.
by leave—I move government amendments (1) to (10):
(1) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 7), omit "first diagnosed", substitute "sustained".
(2) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 10), at the end of paragraph 7(8)(c), add "and".
(3) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (after line 10), after paragraph 7(8)(c), insert:
(d) in the case of a cancer of a kind covered by item 8 of the following table—satisfies the conditions (if any) prescribed for such a cancer;
(4) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 11), omit "is taken to have been the dominant cause of", substitute "is, for the purposes of this Act, taken to have contributed, to a significant degree, to".
(5) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (lines 17 and 18), omit "several periods", substitute "2 or more periods".
(6) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 19), omit "period.", substitute "period; and".
(7) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (after line 19), at the end of subsection 7(9), add:
(c) an employee is taken to have been employed as a firefighter only if he or she was (disregarding the effect of any declarations under subsection 5(15)) employed as a firefighter by the Commonwealth, a Commonwealth authority or a licensed corporation.
(8) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3, after subsection 7(9), insert:
(10) Subsection (8) does not limit, and is not limited by, subsections (1) and (2).
(9) Schedule 1, page 3, at the end of the Schedule, add (after item 1):
2 Review of amendment
(1) The Minister must cause an independent review of the operation of the amendment made by item 1 to be undertaken and completed by 31 December 2013.
(2) The person who undertakes the review must give the Minister a written report of the review.
(3) The report must be published on the Department's website.
(10) Schedule 1, page 3, at the end of the Schedule, add (after proposed item 2):
The amendment made by item 1 applies in relation to a disease that an employee sustains on or after 4 July 2011.
It is great privilege to speak to this bill and move these important amendments on behalf of the government. This is a significant moment for the professional firefighting community in their quest for presumptive legislation as today this parliament moves to deliver the legislative framework necessary to protect Australian firefighters from the health hazards posed to them by the very profession they serve with such courage and professionalism.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans. I also commend the bipartisan support of the member for Melbourne and the Member for McMillan and the work of Senator Gavin Marshall, who chaired the Senate inquiry. I thank them for their contribution to this very important issue.
The government supports the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 and will table several technical amendments to ensure that it operates in a fair and sustainable way and that it is consistent with the requirements under the rest of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. Every day firefighters risk their health and safety to protect the lives and property of other people. Their contribution to the community cannot be underestimated. The government therefore supports the removal of any unnecessary barriers to firefighters having their workers compensation claims recognised. The amendments that the government will move today have been the subject of consultation with the ACT government, who is a major employer of firefighters covered by this bill, as well as the United Firefighters Union.
Item 1 will replace the term 'first diagnosed' with 'sustained', which is the terminology already used throughout the act and which determines how the date of an injury is to be determined. The government will also move an amendment to allow additional conditions to be attached to cancers which might be added over time by way of regulation. Subject to passage of the bill, the government intends to prescribe primary site lung cancer. This is consistent with the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee's recommendation and North American firefighters' legislation. However, also in line with North American firefighters' legislation, the addition of primary site lung cancer will be limited to nonsmokers. The proposed amendment will allow that condition to be included, which the government intends to develop in consultation with experts and key stakeholders.
Item 4 proposes to replace the phrase 'dominant cause' in the current bill with 'significant degree', which is the terminology currently used throughout the act. The government will also move an amendment to replace the term 'several periods' with the phrase 'more than one period'. This will avoid the risk of not covering firefighters who have accrued two rather than several periods of employment.
Item 7 proposes an amendment that would further define 'firefighter'. The amendment would limit the provisions of the bill to a firefighter employed by the Commonwealth, a Commonwealth authority or a corporation licensed under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. The effect of this amendment would generally be to limit the bill to career firefighters who are mainly involved in fighting structural fires. This reflects the current state of scientific knowledge about the links between cancer and firefighting work.
Proposed item 8 clarifies that the bill does not limit an employee's right to have their claim assessed under other provisions of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. The government will also move an amendment to require an independent review of the bill to be conducted by 31 December 2013. This is consistent with best practice regulation and will require that a written report be provided to the minister and published on the departmental website. Finally, item 10 will set an operative date for the legislation, with the new provisions applying to diseases 'sustained' on or after 4 July 2011, the date the bill was introduced into the House.
In moving these amendments, I would like to pay tribute to the late senior firefighter Robert Reed, his widow Janet Reed and their children Sarah and Corey Reed. Robert passed away in October 2009 as a result of kidney cancer. I also want to acknowledge those firefighters who bravely shared their experiences with cancer, knowing they would not benefit from this legislation. They are: station officers Dean Symanns and Phillip Wigg; leading firefighters Scott Morrison, Mick Busst, Philip Brown, Ross Lindley and his wife Karen Lindley; senior station officer Paul Henderson; and commanders Frank Besanko and Guy McCrorie. I also want to acknowledge International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger, international expert and senior firefighter Alex Forrest and distinguished fire chief Ken Block. I also acknowledge pioneers such as retired superintendent John Berry, who had the foresight to commission a report into cancer related illness in firefighters in 1991. I want to thank the National Committee of Management of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, who made available the expertise of various Australian firefighters who assisted the Senate inquiry. I also give a warm acknowledgement and thankyou to Peter Marshall and his team for their tireless efforts. I commend the work of all those involved and welcome these amendments. (Time expired)
The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 is seeking to introduce retrospective compensation for firefighters who are diagnosed with certain types of cancer, after qualifying periods of services.
Firefighters are an important part of our community and we all support and appreciate the wonderful work they do promoting fire safety and protecting people from fires. In any survey of ordinary everyday Australians as to the most trusted professions, firefighters always rate at or near the top, as should be the case. All Australians acknowledge, rely upon, respect and trust firefighters and the brave and remarkable work they do for our communities.
The coalition supports this bill, but it is important to note that it is for a very specific group of firefighters who are exposed to a specific number of fires with specific hazardous chemicals that can cause cancers. This bill will bring about change for around 2,800 firefighters, the majority of whom are employed by the Australian Capital Territory government. These firefighters are a very specific group who represent approximately eight per cent of the Australian firefighting labour force. The remaining firefighters are covered by the relevant state or territory workers compensation legislation.
The introduction of this presumptive legislation is to ensure the class of employees, namely firefighters, if employed for specific lengths of time can deem certain cancers contracted by them to be work related unless the contrary is established. For firefighters who develop the specified cancers as a result of their work, the cancer will be deemed to be work related and therefore compensation will be available.
The qualifying periods of employment highlight the length of time for which one must come into contact with these types of fires to qualify and indicates that most firefighters would never be exposed to the same levels that the qualifying firefighters will have been. The cancers and associated qualifying periods of employment as set out in the bill are: primary site brain cancer—five years; primary site bladder cancer—15 years; primary site kidney cancer—15 years; primary non-Hodgkin lymphoma—15 years; primary leukaemia—five years; primary site breast cancer—10 years; and, primary site testicular cancer—10 years. The amendment put forward will remove the onus of proof required for certain cancers. Instead of the employee having to demonstrate the illness is work related before they are compensated, it will be up to the employer to produce evidence that the cancer is not work related.
Whilst the coalition supports this bill, it is important to ensure that this legislation does not set a precedent for compensation claims by other industries or other firefighters who are not exposed to the same level of hazardous chemicals that can cause these harmful and deadly illnesses. Whilst firefighters do have access to workers compensation it has proven difficult to pursue some claims because of the unique nature of their workplace.
The coalition appreciates and understands these concerns and it is therefore supportive of this legislation. I know how many people in the Riverina have contacted me in relation to supporting this particular legislation, these particular amendments, to ensure that it is supported, and that it does go through, to support those firefighters in the dangerous work they do now and into the future so that they have peace of mind.
It is also important to remember that there are other channels for compensation for other firefighters and other workers in different industries who develop illnesses or are injured in the workplace. We do not need to introduce, nor should we introduce, legislation that is specific for each possible scenario when these measures are already provided for by states and territories.
As foreshadowed when this bill, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011, was in the main chamber when we last sat, the federal and ACT governments had raised a number of concerns about the operation of the bill. There was then to be a period of discussion during which we would consider how to deal with those concerns. A fortnight later, I am very pleased to be in a position where there are a set of amendments proposed by the government and supported by the Greens, and there is an amendment that I have moved that I understand will be supported by the government. The member for Calwell outlined the amendments well and went through the purpose of those amendments, so I do not intend to add to that. Those amendments will clarify issues around prospectivity, clarify to whom the bill applies and clarify the date from which the bill operates.
There is one matter, though, that I do wish to note briefly. In the course of the discussions, the ACT government raised the point that it wanted to make it clear that this bill and these amendments would apply to employed firefighters and not to volunteers, because there are a number of volunteers who are employed in the ACT government. Accordingly, that is reflected in these amendments. My position is that I hope that, if it is the case that, at some later stage, volunteer firefighters consider they can mount a similar, science based case to be included in this, then they are in a position to do that. Maybe the review of the legislation that is to be conducted, to be concluded by 31 December 2013, would be an appropriate opportunity to do that. It should be said that, when the bill was first introduced, it proceeded on the basis that we were talking about, where it applied to a very small group of employed firefighters, but that should not preclude those who feel they are in a position to make a similar, science based case coming back with that at some later stage. But they will not be included in this amendment, as I think everyone understands.
The amendment that has been circulated in my name, amendment (1), gives effect, broadly—with one exception—to one of the recommendations of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill. The report of the committee noted that the number of cancers to be covered by the bill was substantially less than what is covered in other jurisdictions and, in particular, in Canadian jurisdictions. The Senate inquiry recommended that, were the bill to proceed, Australian firefighters should have the same—no less but certainly at least as much—cover as is given to firefighters in other jurisdictions. The science has advanced, and all of the cancers that I propose be included, as per my amendment, are supported by the science, according to the Senate committee inquiry and as reflected by the legislation in other jurisdictions.
The one exception I mentioned is lung cancer. Lung cancer will not be covered by this bill, and the primary reason for that is that there is not yet in Australian law an adequate definition of 'nonsmoker'. The Senate committee recommended that the reversal of onus and the presumption that this bill would enact only apply to nonsmokers who get lung cancer, but there is as yet no suitable definition of 'nonsmoker' in Australian law. As the member for Calwell indicated, that is something that the government will enact by regulation when there is a suitable definition of 'nonsmoker'. All interested parties will have the opportunity to contribute to the framing of that definition because it may have broader implications.
I would like to conclude by commending the approach taken by the government and the opposition in this matter. Minister Evans's office in particular has devoted a good deal of time to making sure that we come up with a solution that addresses the legitimate concerns of employers but also provides the support that firefighters in other jurisdictions are entitled to, in line with the Senate committee recommendations, which ought to be put in place. I commend the opposition for their stance on this. I think it would be a fitting end to this year to pass, with the support of everyone in the parliament, a bill that will give greater protection to those who protect us.
First let me say that I recognise that the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 covers a very small group of people, comparatively speaking, in the ACT. I also recognise that, where it applies to certain diseases, it will have time limits imposed on each of those diseases. I also recognise that it may not be quite as generous as the Canadian model. I also recognise that there will be ongoing studies before a definition of 'lung cancer' will fit comfortably within this legislation. I join with the Greens and government members in saying, however, that the general thrust of this legislation is very important.
I want to reiterate some of the points we have made leading up to these amendments. We do not always readily appreciate that firefighters carry out a number of duties. It is not just firefighting in the conventional sense of the word. In Queensland, for example, they have primary responsibility for fast-running river rescues. They put out grass fires, go into burning buildings, clean up toxic chemicals and confine fuel leaks. As we have seen with the legislation for people who worked at Maralinga during the atomic tests and legislation we are now considering for the people who worked on desealing-resealing the F111s, there are a lot of hazards that go beyond simple fires.
Although this applies to a fairly small group of people—initially in the ACT because others are covered by state legislation—if we get this right it will become benchmark legislation. No doubt others will look to this legislation—perhaps the states will review their legislation against ours and perhaps volunteer firefighters, who this is not proposed to cover at this stage, will also start to look to it. We need to recognise the sort of work that firefighters do. It does not just stop with racing into a building, although that is where firefighters are most vulnerable.
It is also good to reiterate the point about their clothing. Their clothing needs to breathe because of the intense heat that the firefighters sometimes face but because it breathes they are exposed to benzene, styrene, chloroform and formaldehyde. The prospect of firefighters attracting certain forms of cancer is higher. According to Alex Forrest, who is the Canadian trustee of the International Association of Fire Fighters, studies have shown that firefighters have two to four times the level of some cancers compared with the general population. As the member for Melbourne said, the Senate committee 'is confident that a link between firefighting and an increased incidence of certain cancers has been demonstrated beyond doubt'. That brings us to this legislation that will apply largely in the ACT.
We need to recognise that there are a lot of Australians who have fought brain cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukaemia. They are all deadly cancers that generally put a shudder through us. Firefighters meet those in their normal daily work. It is challenging. Having fought in other fields for people exposed to chemicals I support these amendments. I think they will go a long way to getting justice for a very important part of our community.
I rise in support of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 and the provisions the bill makes to ensure that the men and women of Australia's fire and emergency services are buffered to some degree against the financial and personal hardships that can result from working in the extreme and dangerous conditions they face on our behalf. By amending the bill, the government will remove the legislative barriers that currently obstruct access to workers compensation arrangements for approximately 2,800 firefighters, predominantly in the ACT, and will align the Commonwealth legislation with standards afforded to firefighters across Australian states and territories, standards which are provided as a right in countries with similar fire incidence profiles, like the United States and Canada.
When we think about the victims of fire, our thoughts turn to those who tragically lose their lives as a consequence of smoke inhalation or heat exposure. We do not think as often about the firefighters themselves, who can be affected by cancer decades after being exposed to the toxic carcinogens released through fire. The government understands that Australian firefighters have a higher rate of cancer than the general population, a finding that can only be attributed to the exposure of firefighters to carcinogens found in both structural and environmental fires. I was surprised to learn that even in bushfires, firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins in the smoke. A 2008 study by Cornell University found that thermal decomposition of products such as wire coatings, rubber and vinyl tubing, in addition to chemicals generally released from brush forest and tyre blazes, significantly heightens the risk of breast cancer.
With the passage of this legislation, the government is ensuring that firefighters at risk of cancer will have ready access to workers compensation. This is really the least that can be done in terms of providing essential support at a time of significant distress to people who have given so much to our protection. As we look ahead, the climate science indicates a likely increase in the number and intensity of bushfires. That only reinforces the value of the government's work in better planning and coordination when it comes to fire avoidance and firefighting and the value of adequate protection, facilities and equipment for our firefighters.
In my own electorate of Fremantle, the federal government recently committed $1.5 million in partnership with the City of Cockburn to build a $3.7 million emergency services headquarters that will house both the Cockburn and South Coogee volunteer bushfire services. This is an incredibly welcome investment, especially in the context of the metropolitan bushfires that took more than 70 homes during Perth's last summer. My uncle and aunt's home was one of these.
Earlier this year the government established the Public Safety Mobile Broadband Steering Committee to investigate calls from the Fire and Emergency Service industry for a mobile broadband communications system. Such a system would allow for live streaming video from fire locations, tracking of biodata and live monitoring of the location of fire and emergency services vehicles and personnel. The most effective measure in ensuring the safety of firefighters, however, is to reduce the number of fires that require their involvement. The government is making a contribution in this area through a series of fire hazard reduction programs and, in the longer term, through the implementation of the clean energy future package. These reforms will work to slow the effects of climate change and greatly reduce the environmental factors fuelling an increase in fires through higher average global temperatures and prolonged drought.
In conclusion, the fair protection for firefighters bill is an eminently sensible piece of legislation that will ensure that the men and women of the fire and emergency services will be looked after and have access to workers compensation arrangements in the event that they are affected by cancer. What is more, through industry consultation, the government is working hard to make sure that firefighters have access to the services and equipment they need, and that we make a coordinated effort to reduced fires across Australia by tackling the causes, both natural and human, through legislation and education.
If a soldier experiences injury or post-traumatic stress after returning home from combat, there are support services and there is a financial safety net. If a police man or woman is injured or develops health issues in the course of their duties, there are provisions that will ensure that they get the help they need. With this bill we are ensuring that if firefighters develop health problems as a result of their work protecting lives and property in extremely hazardous circumstances, there is adequate and appropriate access to the financial support they will need. It is the very least we can do, it is timely and it is overdue. For all these reasons, I wholeheartedly support this bill. I commend the member for Melbourne, Mr Bandt, for bringing this legislation to parliament, and the government and the opposition for supporting it.
I rise today to speak on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection For Firefighters) Bill. Before I discuss the legislation. I would like to start by pointing out the remarkable service that career firefighters and volunteer firefighters provide to all of us in the community. Their work is truly remarkable. In some cases they risk their own lives in the pursuit of saving the lives of others. Their courage and bravery in defending property and person cannot be underestimated and their dedication can never be questioned. It is important to understand and remember that point. This debate is not about being pro-firefighter or anti-firefighter; it is about the specific legislation that has been brought before the House and its implications.
I would like to highlight today three concerns I have with the legislation that is before the House. Most significantly, this bill seeks to break the causal link between the workplace and an illness that is acquired in the workplace. Instead it deems that if certain cancers are acquired by a professional firefighter and that firefighter has been a firefighter for a period of time, as prescribed in the schedule, then they are deemed to have acquired the specific cancer as a result of their professional duties—that is, that it is work related. I am concerned by this, because I believe a causal link is important. Under existing laws, it is something that all other professions are subject to. If the science is as strong as stated in the information that has been brought forward, it would not be difficult for the science to be proved under the existing legislation. This change in the onus of proof is a real shift in the foundations on which our legal system is predicated. I think it is concerning.
The second issue that I would like to raise today in relation to this legislation relates to the fact that this legislation covers professional firefighters only, not voluntary firefighters. Up until now, up until before the member for Melbourne spoke, it was said that this is critical because it is a significantly small, narrow and targeted piece of legislation—it was only for professional fire fighters. Yet the member for Melbourne himself said that it is something that could be expanded to voluntary firefighters and to anybody else who could demonstrate the science. Voluntary firefighters should not be in any worse position than professional firefighters. I find it curious that this has been brought forward for professional firefighters only. One can only question what the motivation might be behind that. I do not make any statements regarding that, but I do find it most curious indeed.
The third issue that I would like to raise in relation to this legislation is the precedent that it sets. It is very clear that there are very many professions that put themselves in danger for the rest of the community—emergency service workers, policemen and policewomen, ambulance workers and many others—the list goes on and on. This legislation will be used as a precedent to expand out to other professions. That should concern a number of us who perhaps are considering only the stories that they have heard in relation to professional firefighters. I must say, the stories are very moving. They touch my heart as I am sure they did the heart of the member for Melbourne and others who support this legislation. But it is my very strong and considered view that presumptive legislation is not the answer to this problem. Today I place on record my personal opposition to this legislation.
In accordance with the determination of the selection committee, the time for consideration of the bill has expired. The questions on the amendments moved by the member for Calwell and the member for Melbourne are adjourned until a later hour.
Sitting suspended from 13:34 to 16 : 00
I present the explanatory memorandum for this bill and move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
24 March 2011 marked an important day for Australia's vocational education and training, VET, sector. This was the day the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 was passed by this parliament and one of the most significant reforms to the VET sector in years became a reality.
That act clearly demonstrated this government's commitment to improving the quality and consistency of training in the VET sector, both at home and internationally. The act established the National VET Regulator and the Australian Skills Quality Authority, ASQA, commenced operations on 1 July 2011. I acknowledge that this key reform could not have been achieved without the considerable support and cooperation over a long period between the Commonwealth and most states and territories, as well as stakeholders across the sector.
But I have to say, ASQA does not have an easy job ahead of it and there are many significant challenges in the sector that ASQA needs to work through. Since 1 July, ASQA has had responsibility for all registered training organisations, RTOs, in New South Wales, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. It also assumed responsibility for RTOs in Victoria and Western Australia that also operate in referring states and territories, or offer services to international students. This accounts for around 2,000 RTOs and this figure is expected to double over the coming year as Queensland, South Australian and Tasmanian governments enact their legislation referring powers to the Commonwealth.
On commencement, ASQA took over a high volume of work with some 642 outstanding applications being transferred from state and territory regulators. ASQA has begun its operations with a robust, but risk based, approach to regulation. With its new suite of regulatory tools to address non-compliance issues, it is steadily working through its significant workload to ensure that training providers either improve or exit the system.
When the National VET Regulator legislation was before the Senate on 23 March 2011, Senator Evans acknowledged that while the government received very strong support from all the major stakeholders, they raised some legitimate concerns. There were also some issues raised in the reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations inquiry into the bill and in the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. Some of these concerns were able to be addressed at the time through amendment of the explanatory memorandum. Others could not be addressed due to the legislative process of states referring their powers. Senator Evans did, however, ask the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to hold a consultation process with stakeholders to consider these concerns and to allow amending legislation to be introduced as early as possible to address them, without disrupting the referral process.
The department has undertaken an extended consultation process with stakeholders, including state and territory government officials. This consultation included two face-to-face meetings; one in Canberra on 20 and 21 April and a second one in Sydney on 9 and 10 August. At the April consultations those sections of the act which had been identified as needing reworking were discussed in some detail. The second consultations in August involved consideration of an exposure draft of the amending bill, on a confidential basis, to explain in detail the changes that are being proposed in response to concerns and suggestions of the stakeholders.
These consultation processes also provided an opportunity to reflect on the advice provided by the two Senate Standing Committees: the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee. I thank these committees for their work and considerations on this important government reform. I am happy to say that through this extensive consultative process, stakeholders have generally expressed their agreement to the measure in the amending bill that I am introducing today. This is an excellent outcome for all concerned—but most importantly, it is further confirmation of the widespread support for the reforms we are making to the VET sector and the commitment of all to ensuring that Australia has a strong VET sector known for its high quality.
Before moving on to explain the detail of the measures in the bill I am introducing today, I would like to again encourage the Victorian and Western Australian governments to join the national regulatory system for the VET sector. Although I know they have some concerns about states' rights issues, I am also confident that they are keen to see improvements in the quality of the VET sector. The National VET Regulator Act provides ASQA with a more robust set of powers than is currently available to state regulators. Feedback from stakeholders is that they welcome the concept of a truly national and consistently applied regulatory system. I trust that we can continue to work cooperatively toward that end.
I will now address the specific measures in the bill.
Throughout the consultations, and in submissions to the Senate standing committee inquiry, stakeholders expressed the view that an objects clause would contextualise the act and give the sector an indication of its purpose. I am pleased to say that following constructive discussions with stakeholders and states and territories, the government has built a consensus around negotiated objects, and these will be reflected in a new section 2A objects clause in the National VET Regulator Act. The objects would be as follows:
The objects clause will also include two notes defining the standards based quality framework and also that the objects are subject to the constitutional basis of the act.
The government, and stakeholders, consider these objects focus appropriately on the goals for a national regulatory and quality framework that is essential for retaining Australia's reputation, that is essential for the protection of students and that is essential for businesses operating across state borders.
State/ t erritory l aws
This bill also amends section 9 of the act, which deals with the registered training organisations being immune from certain state and territory laws. The amendment clarifies that the intent of the main act is that it applies in the same way in referring and non-referring states in relation to the act's interaction with their state laws.
The bill also introduces a new subsection at 9(3) which provides a new mechanism to allow for laws in non-referring states to be specifically excluded with the agreement of the ministerial council. Commonwealth representatives have negotiated tirelessly and constructively with our state counterparts to draft a provision which all governments are comfortable with.
Amending accredited courses
The amending bill clarifies the circumstances when the national VET regulator can amend a VET accredited course without an application being made by the course owner. This amendment to subsection 51(2)(a) narrows the power currently provided in the National VET Regulator Act. Concern that the existing power was too broad was raised by both the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and stakeholders. The proposed amendment restricts the circumstances when the regulator can amend accredited courses to situations where the amendment:
This power is important to ensure that the robustness of the VET quality framework can be maintained and that courses can be updated in response to changing circumstances or requests from industry.
The National VET Regulator Act provides for a civil penalty where a person purports to hold a VET qualification or statement of attainment that has been cancelled. The act also requires a person to be notified of a cancellation and given a reasonable opportunity to return the cancelled qualification.
Both Senate standing committees raised concerns about this process and were concerned to ensure that a person is aware of, or could reasonably be expected to be aware of, the cancellation of the qualification or statement of attainment before being liable for a civil penalty. The amending bill therefore includes provisions to ensure this is clarified.
Minor changes are also proposed to sections 58, 59 and 60 to clarify details around the period within which a cancelled qualification must be returned, taking into account the method of notification and whether the person affected seeks a review of the decision to cancel the qualification.
The power to cancel a qualification is an important regulatory tool to allow the regulator to ensure the quality of VET in Australia. It helps to ensure that there are not uncertified people purporting to be properly trained and thereby bringing discredit to their industry. The amendments in the bill ensure that the process in respect of informing a person of a cancelled qualification is as fair and transparent as possible.
Use of force
The Scrutiny of Bills Committee, and some stakeholders, raised some concerns about the use of force provisions in the National VET Regulator Act. The act specifies that an authorised officer may use force against a 'thing'—for example, to move or open a filing cabinet—when executing a warrant. The government is proposing to amend section 70 of the act to include limits on the use of force. Under the proposed amendments, the person in charge of the 'thing' in question must be given a reasonable opportunity to move or open it themselves, prior to any force being used. The amending bill also clarifies that the section does not authorise use of force against people.
These amendments are consistent with the recommendation of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee in that they reflect the approach taken in other Commonwealth acts such as subsection 3U(d) of the Crimes Act 1914. In his speech to the Senate on 23 March, Senator Evans indicated that the relevant provisions in the act would also be amended to include the recording by video of situations where force is used in executing a warrant. This option was also raised by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. However, on further investigation by the department, it was found that the use of video recording in such circumstances is not mandated by any other piece of Commonwealth legislation. Given this, the government did not feel it appropriate to place this requirement on the national VET regulator at this time. This, of course, does not prohibit authorised officers under the act from using video recording equipment if the regulator believes it is appropriate in certain cases.
The Scrutiny of Bills Committee also raised concerns around the wide discretion that the regulator had to appoint authorised officers and that authorised officers be appropriately qualified and trained. The proposed amendment seeks to amend the act to enable the minister to make a determination about required experience, training and qualifications (if any) for authorised officers appointed by the regulator under section 89 of the act.
Sharing information with the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency
In order to ensure a consistent approach to tertiary education regulation, particularly as greater numbers of providers operate in both the higher education and VET sectors, an amendment is proposed to facilitate information sharing with the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, the higher education regulator. Not only will this facilitate information sharing; it will also help to reduce the regulatory burden on dual-sector providers.
Stakeholders also suggested that, for ease of reading, some headings should be changed to better reflect what particular sections deal with. The government is always happy to work with the sector to ensure the act is user friendly and clear for RTOs, trainers and students. We are therefore seeking minor amendments to the headings of sections 107, 108, 109 and 110. This amending bill reflects the government's continued commitment to working with governments and stakeholders to continually improve the quality and consistency of training across the VET sector. A strong, nationally consistent regulatory framework is a key step in achieving this. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise today to speak on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. Remarkably, this bill seeks to amend legislation that was before this House only a few months ago. At the time it was acknowledged that changes would be required to the legislation. However, amendments could not be made at the time as a result of the referral arrangements of the states.
One of the lessons we have learnt from this bill is that, when text referrals are made from states referring their powers to the federal government, committees should have an opportunity to examine the text prior to any state government passing the legislation. We would not then find ourselves in the rather odd situation where, when the minister spoke to the original bill, he foreshadowed—of course correctly and appropriately—the amendments that would need to be made, but of course New South Wales had already referred its powers to the Commonwealth. Therefore, at the time of this parliament creating the national VET regulator, we were not able to do it in one simple session and in one piece of legislation. We have had to return again to make the amendments that we see today. It is clumsy and it is messy.
The Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee recommended that in future, when we are dealing with these COAG processes, we approach it a little differently. The original legislation saw the establishment of the national VET regulator, which is the Australian Skills Quality Authority, ASQA. This came about after agreement between the states and territories to introduce a national system of VET regulation, instead of each state's training authority assuming responsibility in that state.
The coalition supports the concept of national regulation of the VET sector, primarily because of the need for consistency and quality across the board. There are approximately 4,900 registered training organisations, or RTOs, operating in Australia, with many of these organisations operating in more than one jurisdiction. We believe that a VET qualification should be afforded the same regard as a university qualification and, for this to occur, we need to be certain that we have a regulatory framework in place that will ensure quality.
Approximately 30,000 international students undertake VET qualifications in Australia each year. Education is our fourth largest export and we need to be certain that we promote a quality product. Certainly a national regulator will assist in this. However, we were critical of the establishing legislation, and for good reason. Regrettably, this is not truly a national system. It is not even close to being a national system. Western Australia and Victoria, two of our biggest training states, have not signed up to the national regulator. Ultimately, the system in place is therefore not national and WA and Victoria are maintaining their separate regulatory systems. This will result in parallel systems operating in both those states, with RTOs that operate across borders having to comply with both systems. Those states have agreed to enacting mirror legislation. However, ongoing concerns—particularly surrounding a guarantee that state owned facilities, such as TAFEs, would be audited by state regulatory bodies—are in fact further confusing and creating anxiety about the amount of duplicating auditing activity.
In addition, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland are yet to actually pass legislation through their parliaments. As it currently stands, according to the RTO count on the training.gov.au website as at October 2011, of the 4,909 current RTOs, 2,032 are registered with ASQA, the new VET regulator; 1,514 are registered in Queensland; 314 in South Australia; 109 in Tasmania; 556 in Victoria; and 386 in Western Australia. When the Queensland, South Australian and Tasmanian governments refer their VET regulation powers to the Commonwealth, another 1,937 RTOs will be registered by ASQA, so ultimately—at least in the short term—multiple registration arrangements will persist.
I return briefly to the topic of international education. This government aspires to have a national system of VET regulation yet has so little faith in the capacity of this regulator to deliver a quality product that it excludes VET and even non-university higher education providers from its proposed visa and work permissions reforms as a result of the recent Knight review. I have to question what message this sends to potential international students about the quality of the education they can expect here in this country, and I ask the ministers responsible to demonstrate the faith that they should have in our VET sector and the training that is delivered by it.
Notwithstanding the fact that there have been poor providers, providers who have had poor-quality products and instances where we have had to take corrective action against our institutions, generally we have a very strong, very positive and very good VET sector in this country if we want to attract international students—and that is exactly what we should be doing. It is a complete win-win for the Australian taxpayer. The facility is able to charge the international students and there is no call on either the state or the Commonwealth dollar for entitlements funding to do that, so it is a good thing to do. It is being done all over the world, and we have to be rather careful that we do not miss the boat and find that the international student market that we might target—South-East Asia, in particular—has been catered for by other countries as far away as those in Europe and North America.
One reason for these amendments is inadequate stakeholder consultation on the part of the government in the first instance. Fortunately, a Senate committee inquiry allowed stakeholders a forum to voice their concerns. The amendments in the bill seek to remedy the key issues highlighted in the inquiry and the minister has, I believe, gone through those amendments in detail and explained very well what they are. The key amendments see the introduction of an objects clause to provide for consistency, ensuring that VET is regulated against a standards-based quality framework and has an underpinning regulatory framework while protecting students by ensuring the quality of courses.
This was a major criticism by stakeholders of the original legislation, and, whilst a common inclusion in legislation was actually omitted from this legislation by the government, there has also been the clarification of when a training provider registered with the Australian Skills Quality Authority is immune from or subject to state or territory laws. This was also a major concern identified by the Victorian and Western Australian governments, as they realised that the act overrode the law in non-referring states which were actually meant to be excluded. The proposed section 9 now itemises the circumstances when an RTO is immune from state and territory laws, regardless of whether it is operating in a referring or a non-referring state. Conversely, proposed sections 9(2) and 9(3) itemise the circumstances when an RTO will be subject to state and territory laws.
In the original legislation, ASQA had authority to amend VET courses of their own initiative. The amendments in this bill seek to clarify in which instances amendments to courses may be made. Items 15 to 16 propose amendments to section 70 which provide more specific information about when an authorised officer can use force against a thing, mainly when the person in charge of the thing has been given the first opportunity to open, move or otherwise deal with this thing or when it is not possible to give that person the opportunity to do so. This section now clarifies that this does not authorise the use of force against a person.
Additional amendments seek to allow the minister to determine appropriate qualifications for authorised officers. Under this clause, the chief commissioner must be satisfied that someone holds the requisite power and qualifications in order to take up the position. Item 34 proposes to insert new section 191(a), which will enable the legislative instruments provided in the act to refer to documents that are not legislative instruments but which are integral to the VET sector, such as trainee packages and their guidelines.
While the coalition is supportive of these amendments, there is one other concern that I would like to address. The Australian Skills Quality Authority is set to operate on a cost recovery basis. A number of registered training organisations have contacted me, anxious that the new fee structure may impact on the financial viability of their businesses. Given that the intention of the national VET regulator was to reduce complexity and ensure a level playing field, I do find this somewhat ironic. We have to be so careful that when we introduce another layer of bureaucracy and administration, another framework and a new authority—particularly one that does not actually take the place of existing bodies in all states—we do not burden the people in the field in the sector with over-regulation. I do fear that this is happening.
The Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth just mentioned that ASQA would face some challenges, and that is absolutely right because, in order for every single RTO—and that includes private and public—to be audited, to be given some sort of rating and to have the ability to demonstrate to students that it has passed a certain test, that is an enormous amount of work starting from scratch. I question whether the resources that are given to this body are sufficient, because if they are not then we will just get a messy approach. We will get websites; we will get phones that are not answered by real people; and we will get a sector that is frustrated because it cannot get the answers that it needs. I have already had the members of the sector talking to me about the way that the VET regulator is making edicts or pronouncements or talking about the policies and the steps it will take via website only and is not actually engaging in a 'human face' way with the bodies that it seeks to audit. I understand that it is early days, and I understand that you cannot necessarily blame the organisation if it is under-resourced, but I would ask the government to be careful that we do not talk up the task and fail to provide the dollars to do the job, because that would not be a good thing.
I know that people have felt that there have been students that have been burned by small, relatively new RTOs and training providers, but there are some extremely good small RTOs; they usually do a specific task in a specific area that they have specific expertise in. If they face the same costs—which will be recovered by the VET regulator—as, for example, a large regional institute with several campuses then they are going to find that they cannot afford to operate on their own, and again that is not a good thing. So, if we approach this with 'one size fits all', again we will find that we are punishing smaller private providers, and that is not, I believe, the approach that the government wants to take.
So overall I think that, while the intent behind a national regulator can be truly beneficial for the VET sector, we have fallen well short of the intended goal. It is not a national system by a long shot. However, this amending bill provides for a framework for a better system of regulation. I do acknowledge the support of the stakeholders that were finally consulted. I thank the Main Committee.
It is with pleasure that I rise to speak on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. Vocational and skills training represents a very important part of Australia's education system. As everyone in this place knows, and anyone in Canberra knows, if you try to get an emergency plumber on the weekend here in Canberra, it is a very difficult task, because there is currently a massive skills shortage for tradespeople in Canberra and right across Australia. It is also, as I have mentioned in this place before, a very expensive task in terms of the costs, because we have so few plumbers and they can charge.
This skills shortage is having a massive inflationary effect on our economy, particularly in Canberra, and it is also a major barrier to improving our productivity. The government understands this, which is why we are investing a great deal of energy and considerable funding in improving access to education, particularly vocational and trades education. This is a government that understands the transformative power of a quality education. It understands that, by educating and training a person, you not only generate macro-economic benefits for Australia but also have a massive positive effect on the person who has actually received the education. Jobs and trades represent a significant and important part of our identity, and all the research shows that the better educated a person is, the happier they are and the healthier they are. Having a skill represents being able to make choices rather than having choices thrust upon you. This was a lesson I learnt in my own life from my family. My great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother all lived lives not of their choosing because they did not get the opportunities they wanted because they lacked an education. They did not get a chance to lift themselves out of their relative poverty and to live a comfortable retirement. In fact, my grandmother lived only to the age of 54, due to poor health and having to do three jobs just to keep seven kids fed and watered. That is why I am such an advocate of education—because it is only through education that the poverty cycle can be broken, it is only through education that kids can choose their own paths and it is only through education that you can really make anything possible.
So I am proud to be part of a government that is investing so much in education—in infrastructure, trades, apprentices, vocational and tertiary education—and research. I am particularly pleased with the large investment in skills training. The $3 billion we have provided for the Building Australia's Future Workforce program will provide some 130,000 new training places for apprentices. We are also funding mentoring programs to make sure apprentices stay in their trades. As it stands, less than 50 per cent of apprentices complete their first year, so this program is vital to skilling the country.
It is also worth noting that few women engage in trades. In fact, I believe that in the manual trades women make up only two per cent of apprentices. It is a point that was underscored for me just recently when I went to a women in construction event here in Canberra, where I met a number of fantastic women who are out there doing amazing work in trades. One of them, who actually won an award, did a science degree and then moved into a trade because she decided that that was where she wanted to go in terms of her future. She is an impressive young woman. She is a great asset to Canberra, to trades and to women in trades.
We are also providing tax-free payments to apprentices to support some 200,000 apprentices, some 4,000 of whom are in my own community here in Canberra. However, while these programs represent a significant leap forward, all of them are predicated on the ability of Australia and its training providers to offer a high-quality education system. If we fail to protect and assure the quality and integrity of our system, we risk our ability to train young Australians in the skills they need for the future.
Further, we also place at risk one of Australia's largest export industries: who could forget the revelations a few years ago now that were aired on the ABC about young international students who paid large sums of money to come to Australia to learn a skill only to find their experience was not what was promised? I remember well the stories of catering colleges that lacked kitchens and of pilot training schools that would not let students fly a plane. While I have no doubt that those operators are outriders, that they are unique in the system and do not represent the vast bulk of training providers, the damage they do to our economy and our international reputation is enormous. Their behaviour affects not only the quality of education received by the students but also the reputation of any qualification offered by an Australian provider. This untenable situation was a direct result of the interplay between different federal education and immigration laws, and the different laws governing vocational education in the states. While these laws were designed to ensure that such situations did not occur, it is clear that they did not do their task.
That is why this government instigated the Baird review of education services for overseas students and the Bradley review of higher education. We closed immigration loopholes that promoted some truly abhorrent behaviour by providers. We made amendments to the ESOS Act and the Higher Education Support Act. We are also establishing the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator through the bill of that name—amendments to which we are discussing today—to close some of the gaps that exist between the state and federal regulatory environments. These amendments bring a national and unified approach to quality assurance in the vocational sector. While 20 years ago it may have been okay to have state based regulations to govern these sectors, this does not represent the current state of play. Today, vocational education, as I have said, is a multibillion-dollar national and international industry and as such requires a national approach.
We have a national economy, and I believe that we must as much as possible ensure that the regulatory environments align. Such alignment reduces compliance costs and means that we can focus on what really matters, not on red tape. The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator was agreed to by COAG in 2009 precisely for these reasons, and most states agreed that there was a great need for consistency in the regulation of the sector. This consistency will mean not only better protection for all students in Australia's VET sector but also a reduced regulatory burden for providers, as they will no longer have to comply with, potentially, nine different systems. This not only reduces the cost of their compliance but also means one set of laws and one regulator more capable of monitoring the industry and ensuring compliance. The amendments in this bill make further enhancements to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act to provide further clarity.
As a former student president of the oldest workers college in the world, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, I appreciate that this government continues to examine the laws governing quality assurance in education, particularly in vocational and trades education. Quality assurance is a task that is never quite finished and must always be examined, because the failure to regularly monitor and update assurance and regulatory processes has the potential to place the entire sector at risk.
By taking the actions we have, this government has made great leaps in making sure Australia's regulatory and quality assurance processes are up to the task. Today we make further amendments to these processes to make them even tighter and more effective. I encourage the government to continue to monitor the VET sector and to continue to make further improvements where required. These changes show that we are a responsive and responsible government that routinely monitors what is an evolving system and an evolving sector. Through this bill we will ensure that Australian students get exactly what they deserve: the opportunity to get high-quality education and highly valued training to make sure that they live a life of their choosing, not a life chosen for them by a lack of education or skills. I commend this bill to the chamber.
I rise to speak on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. The amendments in the bill will supplement legislation passed earlier this year to create the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator, which will be responsible for the registration and audit of registered training providers. The National VET Regulator was put in place to ensure national standards were being met and to ensure the quality of qualifications and skills issued by RTOs.
I support the concept of national regulation of the VET sector, primarily because of the need for consistency and quality across the states. There are approximately 4,500 registered training organisations operating in the VET market. Placing these RTOs under a national reporting and regulatory system will go some way towards ensuring that there is consistency within the VET sector. I note that the move towards the National VET Regulator has been supported by the coalition. However, many issues have been raised since the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee inquiry into these bills, and these concerns have been recorded within the coalition senators' dissenting report.
My main concern is that the system in place is not a national one with Western Australia and Victoria maintaining their separate regulatory systems. Additionally, Queensland's state system will continue to operate until such time as the Queensland parliament passes referring legislation. I understand that this is yet to happen. Consequently, parallel systems will operate in Western Australia and Victoria. So RTOs that operate across borders will have to comply with dual systems. This will potentially place additional costs on RTOs that offer courses across state borders. I refer to the coalition senators' dissenting report to highlight this issue:
… the evidence presented to the committee is that the NVR Bills have the potential to undermine national regulation. While Victoria and Western Australia have indicated they are prepared to introduce mirror legislation in their state parliaments to give effect to this aspiration, Western Australia have advised that it is unable to do so on the basis the NVR Bill as currently drafted …
The NVR has since been introduced even though the coalition strongly disagreed with the government pushing it through without all of the states willing to refer their powers. This is a concern for the coalition because what we have here is a national VET system that will maintain different qualifications between the states, with an overlapping bureaucracy. However, the amendment bill I speak about here today does show some improvements to the original bill's form and includes some of the recommendations set out by coalition senators in the dissenting report.
According to the explanatory memorandum, the amendments being debated here today will introduce an objects clause to the act in a new section 2A. The objects of the act would be: to provide for national consistency in the regulation of VET; to regulate VET using a standards based quality framework and, where appropriate, risk assessments; to protect and enhance VET quality, flexibility and innovation as well as Australia's domestic and international reputation for VET; to provide a regulatory framework to encourage a VET system that is appropriate to meet social and economic needs for a highly educated and skilled population; to protect students undertaking or proposing to undertake Australian VET by ensuring the provision of quality VET; and to facilitate people having access to accurate information relating to the quality of VET.
The bill also amends the act to allow for immunity from certain state and territory laws for those RTOs that operate within the Australian Skills Quality Authority. However, registered organisations will still be required to adhere to a variety of state and territory laws. The Australian Skills Quality Authority will also be allowed to amend VET accredited courses on its own initiative if it is considered reasonable in the circumstances. The bill will also clarify provisions that discuss cancelled qualifications, the imposition of a civil penalty and the discretion of the national VET regulator to appoint authorised officers.
One of the key amendments in the bill aims to protect and enhance Australia's domestic and international reputation for VET. For education institutions on the Gold Coast, this is a very important issue. The Gold Coast is a region with low higher education participation rates, as illustrated by the data from the 2006 census where only 18 per cent of the Gold Coast population aged 25 to 34 were degree qualified compared to the national average of 29 per cent. Considerable work needs to be done to increase participation rates at all levels and to ensure that our education sector remains viable and capable of producing a skilled workforce for the future.
The Gold Coast is already established as an education city, with four universities, over 160 RTOs and a wide range of public and independent schools. Today I would like to focus on the VET sector, highlighting how the Gold Coast is already well developed, with further opportunities for growth. As I have already stated, there are over 160 RTOs on the Gold Coast, both public and private. We have the Gold Coast Institute of TAFE, which is one of Australia's leading vocational education and training providers and makes a valuable contribution to the Gold Coast from both an educational and an economic perspective. There are six TAFE campuses on the Gold Coast, including the Coolangatta campus within my electorate of McPherson. I have had numerous discussions with TAFE regarding future developments on the Gold Coast and I look forward to a working closely with TAFE into the future.
We also have numerous private RTOs including EIM Training, which has a campus at Robina, also within the electorate of McPherson. EIM Training offers a broad range of courses, including in business and management, children's services, financial services, manufacturing, training, management and hospitality. I support training providers in the marketplace as they provide diversity and choice for our students. There is also an alternate model for trade training on the Gold Coast that is provided by the Australian Industry Trade College, which I am proud to have located within my electorate. The AITC was established in 2007 with the objective of giving students the opportunity to pursue a career in industry while completing the final years of their schooling. The unique learning structure at the AITC gives students the opportunity to commence a school-based apprenticeship in a trade of their choice and graduate with a Queensland certificate of education. Over 530 school-based apprenticeships have been achieved by the college in over 50 different trade qualifications, and around 95 per cent of students graduate with a Queensland certificate of education each year. These numbers are impressive when compared to the conventional schooling senior certificate rate of only 75 per cent.
Around 92 per cent of year 12 graduates from the AITC were employed as apprentices in 2010. At any one time there are around 300 students at the college working towards the same goal of an apprenticeship in their chosen trade. In order for the AITC to be able to offer such a unique opportunity for their students, they have formed relationships with local RTOs to facilitate the training plans for their students to get them through their school-based apprenticeship qualification. I would like to see more institutions offering flexible learning options, as the AITC are, to encourage a future skilled workforce. They do a wonderful job getting young people qualified and ready for work, and I commend them for their work.
By improving the existing VET sector through appropriate regulation and reporting and by adopting these amendments today, we are working to ensure those in the VET sector who pride themselves on their high-quality qualifications and reputation continue to prosper and grow. Meanwhile, those who have given the sector a bad reputation for poor quality will be prompted to make the necessary changes to their operations and training to ensure they keep up with the national standard. In closing, I reiterate that I support the concept of national regulation of the VET sector as consistency and that quality needs to be assured across the country.
Skills Australia has forecast that future economic demand will be driven by the services sector and that we will need an additional 2.4 million people within the workforce with qualifications at certificate III level or above by 2015. That is, an additional 2.4 million skilled Australians are needed by 2015. It will be an enormous effort. That is why over the course of this government's term we have dedicated so much effort and so many resources to the task of training those Australians. To meet the expected industry demand, it is thought by Skills Australia that that figure of 2.4 million will rise to 5.2 million by 2025.
This is an enormous challenge for government—a challenge that is being met by this government. We know that the very nature of work is changing due to the impact of rapid technological change. We are seeing high-skilled jobs grow at 2.5 times the rate of any other job. Never before has there been such an imperative for our nation to be investing in skilling its people. Economists confirm that investing in our skilled workforce is not only good for individual Australians but also critical for our continued economic success and our productivity growth. That is why education—and vocational education in particular—is a Labor priority. Equitable access to education and skills is at the heart of this priority. Better high school completion rates, more apprenticeship completions and more university graduations are critical for a future prosperous and equitable Australia.
The government is delivering on the education and skills needs of this country. The government's commitment to skills training was the centrepiece of this year's budget, in which we announced a $3 billion investment over the next 4½ years in skills and training to address the skills shortages being experienced by industry. Labor's budget investment placed industry at the centre of our efforts to target skills and training and to respond to the pressures of our patchwork economy. Our approach includes placing industry at the heart of the training effort to deliver skilled workers, reforming the Australian apprenticeship system, improving workforce participation and reforming the VET sector to meet the long-term needs of the economy. All of this is in line with the objectives of the bill we are debating in the chamber today, the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. The legislation before the House is yet another piece of Labor's program of reform of the apprenticeship system and vocational education and training. Labor is committed to a funding model that sees government and industry working in partnership to indentify and jointly fund training to meet critical skills shortages. We know that, as a direct result of the reforms introduced by the Labor government, there are now close to 100,000 additional students grasping the opportunity of a university education this year. That is 100,000 more students than there were in 2007.
In addition, this year there is a record half a million Commonwealth supported student places in Australian universities and in other higher education providers. The good news is that Australia's apprenticeship and traineeship numbers are also growing significantly, from 410,000 in September 2006 to over 459,000 in March 2011. This is the largest level that has ever been recorded. The economic dividend from this investment in our human capital is significant, but it is also making an enormous difference to the lives of individual Australians, by giving them an opportunity to play a part in the skilled workforce of the future.
Research by KPMG found that, in the period between 2010 and 2040, the government's reforms to higher education will deliver, on average, an additional $20 billion in GDP every year, and that an average of 80,000 additional jobs will be generated each year during the same period. That is why, quite simply, it is our No. 1 priority.
The bill before the House today sets out new arrangements to improve consistency of regulation in this important sector. The legislation supplements the decision by COAG, in December 2009, to create a new national system of regulation for the VET sector. Legislation to set up a National VET Regulator passed this parliament in August this year. It was one of the most significant reforms to the VET sector. It demonstrated this government's commitment to improving the quality and consistency of training in the VET sector. The establishment of a national regulatory body for the VET and higher education system was recommended by the Bradley review of higher education, which also recommended a review of the provision of education to international students.
The resulting Baird review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 also supported simplifying regulatory arrangements, including a single national regulatory body to assist with the monitoring of the quality of services provided to international students.
Problems with private colleges catering for international students had undermined the confidence in the VET sector and the quality of training being delivered. That is why implementing new, strengthened regulatory arrangements, including the proposed amendments to the ESOS Act, will help the sector regain confidence and recover from the failings of the previous state based regulators. The national regulator will be able to investigate breaches of the ESOS National Code and advise the secretary if they are not satisfied that the provider meets the fit and proper person test, resulting in automatic suspension in all states where the provider is registered with the national regulator.
The bill makes amendments to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011, to address some concerns expressed by stakeholders and the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee. Specifically, the amendments in the bill before the House today include introducing new objects into the act; more narrowly defining when the regulator may amend accreditation courses; clarifying that a person using a cancelled qualification will only commit an offence if they have knowledge of that cancellation; requiring an authorised officer executing a warrant to request the occupier to open or move a thing before making any decision to use force against it; and, finally, identifying the training and qualification requirements for authorised officers.
Regulation in the VET sector is currently fragmented between nine different regulators. It is expected that, with complex reform like this, significant efforts will be made to ensure consistency between these different systems, including nationally agreed standards and model clauses for state legislation. Despite these efforts, there are still considerable inconsistencies in the way regulation is carried out across the country by state regulators. The national VET regulator will have an enhanced suite of powers to that which is currently available to state regulators, allowing it to more effectively deal with poor quality providers and to safeguard the quality.
In conclusion, we know the skills challenge is great for this nation, which is why we have to start to address this great challenge today. It is a matter of record that since coming into office this Labor government has created almost three-quarters of a million jobs, working in partnership with business, with other levels of government and with unions. The challenge we face is how we manage our future growth to ensure that all Australians benefit. What marks out this government is that we are working to ensure that we provide opportunities for all Australians, regardless of their age, their background or their postcode. We are working to ensure that all Australians can maximise their potential so that they can share directly in our success and participate in our society. We will fulfil the Australian social contract by ensuring that the next multibillion-dollar wave of investment in our resources industry also brings a dividend for the many, not just for the few. It is a Labor priority, and the Labor way, to manage the great opportunities and the great challenges that we face over the coming decades and to ensure that we spread the benefits so that everybody gets an opportunity to enjoy the prosperity that this great country can provide. I commend the bill to the House.
This is a bill that I very much want to speak on because VET, vocational education and training, is very important to our nation. Previous governments have, regrettably, taken their eyes off the ball, and I have seen firsthand what that has done with respect to the development of skills in our workplaces, which is something that we need to stay focused on and not simply take for granted. The vocational education and training industry has certainly become highly competitive, and Australia is very well placed to do well in exporting our training to overseas students. That is why the whole notion of vocational education got onto the national agenda.
The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011 makes significant amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000, the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000. The amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 include making the national vocational education and training regulator, known as the Australian Skills Quality Authority, the single designated authority for VET institutions providing services to overseas students. The legislation sets up the new statutory authority, which will have powers and responsibilities to register and audit in order to monitor those training institutions providing vocational education and training to overseas students studying in Australia.
The concept of a single regulatory body clearly simplifies the regulatory arrangements to assist in monitoring the quality of services provided to international students. This will assist in providing confidence in Australia's VET system and in its service providers, which have come in for a lot of criticism over recent years. We have seen the damage that has occurred, quite frankly, as a result of nine different regulatory regimes pulling in different directions. As a consequence that damage has occurred with respect to not only student outcomes but also the overall reputation of Australia as a deliverer of vocational education and training. That is something that has to be seen as very much in the nation's interest—to have that level of coordination, not to pick and choose winners in the delivery of vocational education but to ensure that what vocational education we do sell is of sufficient and consistent quality. That is what this legislation is designed to do.
A single regulatory body will also allow for appropriate and timely intervention where there is poor-quality education and training of providers, particularly with respect to international students. That is important. In recent years we have seen a number of VET providers simply close their doors. Not only is that very bad for those students who have enrolled; it is extraordinarily bad for the reputation of this country when many of those students are foreign based and this is reported internationally. That reflects not only on the particular VET provider but on this country as a whole in delivering vocational education and training.
The amendments in this legislation also provide for the establishment of nationally agreed intensive English-learning courses for overseas students to ensure that there is national consistency of standards and protocols. This will assist in ensuring that international students studying at Australia's VET institutions receive the appropriate level of English language training, which is one area that has come in for some criticism over recent years.
It is highly significant for Australia to uphold high standards in the services provided to international students. International students as a group are highly significant to Australia's economy and, quite frankly, our global positioning in education and vocational training. The very perception of our image, in many instances, is reflected in the quality of education we give to overseas students. In the broad, economic figures suggest that, due to their volume, international students form a very high proportion of our export earnings. In 2010 there were 470,000 international students enrolled in education programs in Australia, which was an increase of over 16 per cent on the previous year. Of those 470,000 international students, close to 150,000 were enrolled in the vocational education and training sectors. International students in VET courses therefore comprise almost 30 per cent of international students studying in Australia. The proportion is high, considering the overall financial contribution of this group. According to the International Development Program, international students contribute a little over $5.5 billion to the Australian economy. That is significant.
International students also make a significant contribution to the Australian culture. I briefly indicated the image that is portrayed overseas when things go badly, but when things go well that is also reflected when people choose Australia as their appointed destination in which to study. That positive imagery of Australia is significant not only in attracting further students here but also in how Australia is perceived abroad.
Looking at both the universities and the VET institutions, Australia is one of the preferred providers of education. As a matter of fact, it is the third most popular English-speaking destination for overseas students. Asia is clearly one of our biggest markets, with almost 75 per cent of overseas students studying in Australia coming from the Asian region. We need to ensure that our educational institutions, including those providing vocational education and training, uphold the highest standards of quality, and the establishment of a single regulatory body will help achieve consistency across the board. It will be significant in being able to assess, monitor and apply those regulatory skills to ensure that there is that degree of consistency in those courses that are offered and are registered with the body.
This was recognised by the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory Reform of Vocational Education and Training when they set the objects of ASQA. It has been on the drawing board for some time. Those who are intimately involved in the VET sector have foreseen the need for having such a body. Regrettably, it has not met entirely with the support of each of the state and territory bodies to date. However, the amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 will deliver and foster a sharing of information between the established national VET regulator and those states for the purposes of deciding whether to approve an institution as a VET provider or not.
As I have just indicated, not all of the states have signed off on this. As I understand it, Victoria and Western Australia are still standing somewhat aside. There is no doubt that there has been a broad measure of in-principle agreement in the intergovernmental approach to regulatory reform at the VET level. At the Commonwealth level, there is considered to be a need to have a body which in principle has authority and can act in each of the states and territories to set these standards. When ASQA was established, it was on the basis, principally, of the referred powers—powers that were going to be referred constitutionally by the states and territories. But, regrettably, to date, as I understand it, only New South Wales has actually passed the necessary legislation. It is expected, however, that the remaining states that have agreed to refer their powers—namely, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania—will enact theirs by the end of the year. However, whilst the Victorian and Western Australian governments have not signed up and have indicated that they are not proposing to sign up to the same national VET regime, they have undertaken to enact legislation that will mirror what is being established, but to apply, hopefully, on the same terms and conditions within each of those states.
That is at least a step in the right direction. It is not quite what I think all those who participated in the original discussions were looking for, but it will help ensure that there are appropriate safeguards built in, in terms of applying national, consistent standards across the board. We would expect that between each of those organisations we will have consistency and a measure of dialogue, but I would hope that in due course both Western Australia and Victoria, after the operation of the national regulatory system, will see fit to subscribe to the operation of that body.
The bill will focus on strengthening our national regulatory and quality framework, which is essential for retaining Australia's reputation for being a high-quality vocational education and training provider both nationally and internationally. I have spoken on a number of occasions about my passion for vocational education, as both my sons are tradespeople. One is an electrician and the other a carpenter; as a consequence, they have extensively used the VET sector—principally New South Wales TAFE. Whilst universities are very, very important to us, an academic pursuit for everyone is simply not realistic. In fact, we do need tradesmen and we need those tradespeople to have their skills constantly upgraded. This means that the VET sector, as it applies throughout the country, stays equally important.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Miller TAFE. Oddly enough, it was the very TAFE that both my sons attended. It is in my electorate, and it was a good opportunity to go out and attend a number of the classes and workshops that were being conducted. I spoke to a number of the staff there as well as the students, who were undertaking vocational education in a range of different trades and other courses. Ms Rabia Lodhi, the college manager, and Phil Chadwick, one of the teachers from the electrical trades at Miller TAFE, together with Mr Chris Pittaway from NSW TAFE certainly showed me around all sections of the TAFE.
There were activities such as the stonemasonry course which, by the way, is the only stonemasonry that is being taught throughout NSW. It is good to see a number of people travelling from all over the place to Miller, in my electorate, to attend instruction on stonemasonry. There is also the electrical section, carpentry units and, importantly, the childcare vocational education facility. It is certainly one of the state-of-the-art childcare facilities which are delivering such an important course. Miller TAFE is certainly changing the lives of many in my local community. These are real pathways to employment, ensuring the development of skills for local employees and, significantly, playing a role in helping local industry attract the people they need to generate skilled employment for future. (Time expired)
It is with some pleasure today that I rise to speak on this particular amendment, which amends the National Vocational, Education and Training Regulator Act. This parliament put those through in 2011. Some detailed stakeholder consultation has followed, and feedback from a Senate inquiry into the legislation that the parliament passed.
I might start by recognising the Gordon Institute of TAFE, which is known as 'the Gordon' in the Geelong area. For many, many generations it has trained young tradespeople in the Geelong area and has done an absolutely fantastic job in educating the broader Geelong area. I particularly want to acknowledge the hard work of the CEO, Grant Sutherland, and the board, who have built a first class institution and provided many, many young people with the education they needed to pursue their chosen career in the trades. I think it is appropriate that I do take the opportunity to do that.
Today we are talking about some important amendments that this parliament needs to make to strengthen further Australia's vocational educational system. As I indicated earlier, on 24 March 2011, the Commonwealth passed some very important legislation in the VET sector. This was not only a historic day in reducing the regulatory burden but it also standardised a national system to provide a stronger vocational education system, one which students from Australia can understand. It also, importantly, ensured that we strengthen what is otherwise a very strong reputation overseas in providing a high-quality VET system for Australian students and also for international students.
Indeed, in Australia we are fortunate to have a strong system, but a system that was fundamentally in need of some key reform. That reform in 2011 established a regulator and put in place some fundamental building blocks to deal with the fragmented system that we had in Australia. We had, I think, nine different regulators in this space creating uncertainty. As part of the COAG reform agenda it was agreed that this was an area where the Commonwealth ought to take a stronger role and we put in place the necessary legislation back in March. Having said that, it has come to the parliament's and the government's attention that there is a need to pass some amendments to further strengthen the regulation we put in place.
The Australian Skills Quality Authority has the huge task of putting in place the necessary regulation. It is a task that I am sure that that body is well placed to do. We have many thousands of registered training organisations around this nation, which demonstrates the strength of this sector. When we did not have as strong a set of regulations nationally as we could have had, unfortunately that created some difficulties for us internationally, particularly in Victoria, where some instances have been highlighted over the last few years.
I congratulate the Hon. Chris Evans, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. This is a huge task that we need to undertake. We have been in detailed consultation with the sector in terms of forming not only the body and the legislation that was passed back in March but also the amendments that we are talking about today that further strengthen the regulation in this area. I congratulate the minister for working closely with the stakeholders and for working closely with the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee, which has made some useful observations and recommendations following its inquiry.
National regulation in this area does require cooperation and partnership with other regulators in this space. I am referring to the states and territories in this sense. All of the states and territories have been cooperating with the Commonwealth. I point out that I understand Victoria and WA, instead of relying upon national regulation, have indicated that they will be passing mirror regulation in this space. That will be helpful in creating a standard system across this nation in this space.
Through consultation and submissions that were received by the Senate committee inquiry and stakeholder views expressed, we have agreed to introduce a number of changes to further clarify the role of the national regulator. In particular we will insert a number of objects in the act to assist the sector and the regulatory body we have established. That is to provide national consistency in the regulation of VET, to regulate VET using a standards based quality framework, and then, when appropriate, put in place risk assessments to protect and enhance the quality, flexibility and innovation for which VET has a reputation both within Australia and internationally. As I said earlier, this particular area of the Australian economy is very important; indeed, we rely on many tens of thousands of people making their way to Australia to receive a quality education. I think it is important that we do put in place the necessary arrangements to strengthen our reputation internationally, even though we already do have a very good reputation.
Furthermore, I think it is very important to protect students proposing to undertake VET by making sure that quality services are provided within the system and to facilitate people's access to accurate information relating to the quality of VET. This government has put in place a number of arrangements and tools to enable people to assess the quality of the services they might access from state and territory governments and of course the Commonwealth. MyHospitals would be one of those types of tools and My School another. It is important that there are tools in place that enable consumers to make decisions based on the best information available, because we do want to have a quality system. We want consumers to be able to understand the system, to be able to assess the quality of those VET courses and to be able to understand what it is that they are accessing and, ultimately, buying. That is extremely important.
It is appropriate that we point out the quality work that was undertaken by the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee on this. It is not every day that a government MP praises the Senate, but I think the work that the committee put in certainly assisted the government to put in place the arrangements necessary to strengthen our VET system.
In my electorate of Corangamite and across the broader Geelong and south-west Victorian areas, we have a number of institutions that have contributed very strongly to the development of skills in this sector. Indeed, this government has a very proud track record of investing in vocational education and training skills. I wish to highlight Labor's Trade Training Centres in Schools program—and I am pleased to see the minister at the table now—which will help very much to provide opportunities for young people to access the VET system and will strengthen and provide employment opportunities in various sectors.
For a very long time, many people, particularly those on the conservative side of the political fence, viewed the VET system as a second-class system. That is not how the Gillard government view VET. As I have outlined, we are providing numerous opportunities for young people to enter VET. Australia has a very dramatic, emergent skills crisis, where we do not have enough adequately qualified people, particularly in the domestic trades area and in terms of supporting the mining boom that we are currently seeing. Investing in this area is extremely important and it is important that we have strong regulation over this sector. It is important because we are going to be putting more students through the system in the years to come, not less, and we need to ensure that there is a quality framework in place to ensure that young Australians have every opportunity to access a quality system—a system that is accountable and that is fundamentally transparent, not only in terms of training young Australians but also, importantly, for what has become a very substantial export market with the number of people travelling to Australia to access vocational style education.
Australia has a proud record in this area. I commend the minister responsible and I commend the education minister, the Hon. Peter Garrett, for his efforts in this space as well. This government will continue to support the VET sector. We recognise the important contribution that it makes to the Australian economy and to the lives of individuals, whether it be locally in my part of the world—the greater Geelong area—or, indeed, right throughout this nation. I certainly wish to indicate that the Victorian and Western Australian governments, if they are not prepared to operate within a national system, must as a minimum past mirror legislation in this space to ensure that we do have a national system as best as possible. I commend the bill to the House.
I want to thank members for their contribution to this debate on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. I particularly note the remarks made by my colleague the member for Corangamite.
In summary, the VET sector does play a critical role in building our nation and our society. The government recognises the challenge for the VET sector to be responsive to the needs for economic growth and increased productivity through skills, and also the need for a more mobile workforce ready to adapt to changing economic needs across state boundaries.
The National VET Regulator and the Australian Skills Quality Authority began operations on 1 July this year. The commencement of the authority is a great achievement and represents one of the most significant reforms of the VET sector in the past two decades. It has come about through the productive efforts of state and territory governments and the Australian government. Additionally, there has been real commitment from the VET sector for this reform.
The amending bill before the Main Committee addresses the concerns raised by stakeholders as well as the Senate Standing Committee for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee when the act was passed in March this year. There had been extensive consultations undertaken with stakeholders and they strongly support the amendments included in this bill—in particular, the objects clause. The objects clause was developed in consultation with stakeholders and confirms that a focus on quality is a joint key priority for the VET sector.
The bill is also amending section 9 of the act, clarifying the operation of the law in all states and territories and addressing concerns raised by Victoria and Western Australia that the national VET regulation legislation interferes with state relating to apprenticeships and the management of TAFE organisations. Now that these concerns have been addressed, the Australian government again encourages Victoria and Western Australia to reconsider their decision to join the national regulatory framework.
Finally, the amending bill reflects the government's continued commitment to working with governments and stakeholders to continually improve the quality and consistency of training across the VET sector. The fact is that a strong, nationally consistent regulatory framework is a key step in achieving this, and the amendments contained in this bill are welcome improvements. I commend the bill to the Main Committee.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.
Sitting suspended from 17:30 to 18:30
It gives me considerable pleasure to speak on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011. The starting point is that the House is united behind this quite extraordinary bill. It is extraordinary because it identifies a certain section of our society comprising professional firefighters and recognises that they expose themselves to a degree of danger and hazard which involves long-term risks to their health.
Numerous studies in the United States and Canada, and now in Australia, indicate that there is a correlation between service in the protection of our society against fire—in particular chemical fires and other major fires which cause hazard both in the firefighting process itself and in the long term—and the incidence of cancer. Firefighters as a group come in as a fit array of young people. Their general level of fitness is higher than that of the rest of the community, so in the ordinary course of events their natural disposition would be to have a lower rate of cancers in the long term. We see, however, that those leaving the profession have a higher risk of many cancers—including brain, bladder, kidney, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukaemia, breast and testicular cancers. This bill is born of these facts, and it has managed to win the support of those on all sides.
The bill reverses the onus of proof, and that is a significant threshold which should be viewed with caution because to change the onus of proof and to assume that a cancer is caused by a particular line of service is an enormous step. However, we have to consider the international evidence, in part related to the September 11 tragedy and the extraordinary rate of illness and significant disease which has been brought upon those firefighters over the past decade. This legislation has been brought about in part by the evidence from Canada and now the evidence from Australia. Against that background of considerable and significant evidence the coalition decided to allow this bill to pass and in effect to provide the support necessary for it to do so. I was part of the joint cabinet discussions, and I acknowledge that Senator Abetz was a particular champion of this legislation. Many others have been supportive of it. It recognises the role of firefighters in protecting our community, and it also recognises that there is significant evidence that they place themselves in harm's way.
So this bill wins our support. It is a particular step in relation to about 2,800 firefighters, the majority of them in the ACT. ACT firefighters represent about eight per cent of the total number of Australian firefighters. I have given an undertaking to the volunteer brigades in my own community at the CFA level to put the case that they also wish for consideration of the safety and long-term health of volunteer firefighters. They include people within the Peninsula group of the CFA, including Boneo, Dromana, Flinders, Main Ridge, Mt Martha, Rosebud, Rye and Sorrento; within the Western Port group of the CFA, including Balnarring, Baxter, Bittern and Crib Point; within the Hastings group, including Langwarrin, Moorooduc, Mornington, Red Hill, Shoreham, Somerville, Somers and Tyabb; within the Bass Coast group, including Bass, Corinella, Dalyston, French Island, Glen Alvie, Kernot, Kilcunda, Phillip Island and San Remo; within the Casey group, which includes Clyde, Pearcedale, Warneet-Blind Bight, Devon Meadows, Tooradin; and within the Cardinia group, which includes Bayles, Koo Wee Rup and Lang Lang. That is an additional step. We would need to look at the data. We need to approach this with an open mind. If the data stacks up, then their case becomes equally strong.
On this day, we have the evidence in relation to the safety of long-term professional firefighters and the correlation between their job and risks to their health. On that basis, I am delighted to support this legislation and I note that is now our duty to look at the long-term health of and risks for our volunteer firefighters.
I am very pleased this evening to stand in support of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011, along with the amendments that have been agreed to after fairly detailed and extensive consultation. I know very well that firefighters dedicate themselves to protecting our lives and our communities. They do extraordinary work in extraordinarily tough circumstances. So I am very pleased to be able to speak on this bill this evening, because it will go some way towards supporting our firefighters when they need it most—in times of illness.
I know that there has been ongoing consultation about the bill through the Senate's deliberations and the Senate committee inquiry, and I know that those processes have been informed by members of the UFU, by a range of firefighters and experts and by others who contributed to those very important and appropriate deliberations.
The work of both career and volunteer firefighters in my electorate of La Trobe is, I know, very much valued by our local community. I should note that I have heard from a number of my own constituents about their support for this bill, and I am sure that they will be glad to see the legislation passed, once it eventually makes its way through this place.
The Dandenong Ranges, which are within my electorate, are particularly exposed to the risk of bushfire, but I note that one of the federal government's most recent initiatives in protecting against the risk of bushfire is the contribution of over $800,000 towards building disaster resilience in the Dandenong Ranges. So the work that firefighters do is very well known to me. As it stands, the legislation before us will generally apply to career firefighters, since scientific knowledge has identified a generally higher incidence of cancers among those who attend structural fires. However, should new evidence emerge suggesting a comparable link between bushfire fighting and cancer, then I believe that that should, appropriately, be considered as part of any future review of the legislation. Career firefighters risk their health and safety each and every day in order to protect the community, and the government wants to ensure the removal of any unnecessary barriers that would prevent them from having their workers compensation claims recognised.
I particularly note that the government is moving an amendment to allow for further conditions that might be added over time, through regulation. For example, the government intends to prescribe the inclusion, in future regulation, of primary-site lung cancer, consistent with the recommendations of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee and consistent with comparable North American legislation. However, also in line with North American firefighter legislation, the addition of primary-site lung cancer will be given to nonsmokers. The condition would be included through a proposed amendment which the government intends to develop in close consultation with experts and key stakeholders. The amendments that have been made to the bill, I hope, give further clarity to the legislation in ways that the government hopes will ultimately be of benefit to firefighters.
It was initially unfortunate to read in our national press that, at first blush, members of the opposition, including a number of Victorian Liberal MPs, had expressed concerns about supporting the legislation. I gather, however, that those MPs have not prevailed. I particularly commend the member for McMillan for his personal and very steadfast support for this bill.
The government supports the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 and will table several technical amendments to ensure that it operates in a fair and sustainable way and that it is consistent with the requirements under the rest of the act. This government appreciates the endeavours that firefighters make, both career firefighters contemplated by this bill and the amendments to it and also the very many volunteer firefighters who put themselves at risk in fire prone areas of my electorate and in parts of the Australian community where there is considerable risk. The resulting risks to their health should be reflected upon and appropriately dealt with in legislation. It is particularly pertinent that we are doing it through this bill and the detailed amendments today.
I rise tonight to speak on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011, a bill the coalition will not be opposing. The reasons for the introduction of this bill have been outlined by previous speakers. In particular, it comes about because of the higher incidence of diseases which occur in our firefighters and they are: primary site brain cancer, primary site bladder cancer, primary site kidney cancer, primary non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, primary leukaemia, primary site breast cancer, primary site testicular cancer and some other forms of cancer, which are also included in this table.
From overseas studies and from studies here in Australia it is shown that our firefighters are incurring these types of cancers at a higher rate than the general populous. Given the fact of their general health and the tests they undertake to qualify as firefighters, it seems there is a link between the job they are undertaking and the diseases which sadly they are incurring.
The coalition is not opposing this bill but its support has come with—it is no secret—considerable discussion because it reverses the onus of proof. This is something which is quite unique and something which we on this side have had some very serious discussions about because reversing the onus of proof could lead to the start of a process for other sectors to go down this path. It was only sensible and rational and showed the ability of us on the coalition side to discuss these matters in full and to look at all the consequences. That is what indeed happened and in the end the coalition has decided not to oppose this bill.
I have been a volunteer firefighter and have seen first-hand what firefighters have to undertake when attending road accidents where there are chemical tankers which have overturned. I must confess I have not seen or had to attend fires where houses have been on fire but I have fought fires which have threatened houses. I take this opportunity to take my hat off to all those firefighters both urban and rural who put their lives and, in some cases—as the evidence from Canada and here indicates—their health at risk for the job that they do. It is a very difficult profession which requires extraordinary bravery. I think all of us in this place take our hats off to the courage of the men and women who undertake it. It is in large part for their heroics and bravery that the coalition had decided that we will not oppose this bill.
I also rise to support the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011 with some pleasure. There are people in our society, firefighters among them, who work very much at the front line when keeping us safe. Firefighters will go into a burning building to save property, and they go well and truly above the call of duty when lives are at stake. For most of us, it is just a job that is done. We see them in their red trucks and we know what wonderful work they do, but few of us really understand the risks that they take to life, limb and mental health when they do their job. Few of us know that they do not talk about what actually happens when they attend an accident where a semitrailer has run over a person or someone has been run over by a train. These are circumstances and events that stay in their minds for the rest of their lives.
Similarly, when firefighters move into a burning building, they are subjected to toxins that we now know beyond doubt lead to increases in cancers. The original bill referred to one cancer. Mr Bandt has moved an amendment to increase the number of cancers listed to include multiple myeloma, primary site lung cancer in nonsmokers, primary site prostate cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer and oesophageal cancer. The government is prepared to support that amendment in the interests of fairness for firefighters.
The science underpinning this legislation is pivotal to its justification. Given the quantity and quality of evidence collected around the world, there is no doubt that there is a link between firefighting and increased incidence of certain cancers. That has been demonstrated beyond doubt. I should say that we are talking about career firefighters. We are talking mainly about the men and women who go into burning buildings, because the science demonstrates that that is where the toxins are released. But, if at some time in the future there is scientific evidence to demonstrate bushfires also lead to increased risk of cancer, then the government will consider that as well.
Similar legislation has been in place overseas for nearly a decade, and in recent years it has in fact been strengthened as more evidence has been found to show that cancers result from exposure to the toxins in burning buildings. Studies conducted around the world, including in Australia, in the 1980s demonstrated that certain types of cancer are caused by the release of carcinogens, and these are the various substances that firefighters are exposed to in the course of their daily work.
On the matter of lung cancer, the government intends to prescribe it at a later date. The issue is in the definition of a nonsmoker. That definition will be developed by the government in consultation with experts and key stakeholders. So dealing with lung cancer will come at a slightly later date.
In many parts of Australia our firefighters wear the very best of equipment and the very best of clothing, but because of the kind of work they do it is important that the clothing they wear breathes. If it did not, firefighters would no doubt have very serious issues given their high heart rates in the circumstances of their work. Their clothing breathes, which means that even with the best of protective gear they are exposed to substances that are absorbed into their skin through the course of their work. When firefighters start in the job they are some of the fittest people in the country. The firefighting service is extremely difficult to get into and is very competitive, I am told. As I said, when they join the service they are among the fittest people in our community but, within five years of working under those conditions, they are almost twice as likely as the average person to contract leukaemia, and there are other forms of cancer where the risk is much, much higher than that. This bill recognises the realities of work as a fireman. It recognises that we support them not only in the work they do but in the lives that they live because of their work. I commend the bill to the House.
Given the fact that I have three metropolitan fire and rescue service stations in my electorate of Cowan, I am very pleased to join in this debate on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Fair Protection for Firefighters) Bill 2011. I have the greatest respect for the emergency services and the great job that they do for the community. I would like to speak about the work undertaken by the firefighters and the risks they take in order to protect our community. Not only do they have to face deadly fires and the dangerous outcomes that can result from damage to structures caused by fire, heat and water, but they are also responsible for facing chemicals and hazardous substances, the nature of which may not even be known at the time of combating the threat. Added to those overt dangers is the additional hazard of having to wear protective clothing and use breathing equipment for protracted periods as well as work with foams and suppressants necessary to combat the threats. Clearly it is a high-risk employment, and they are not circumstances that other vocations share.
I am very happy to add my voice to this debate and speak about the inclusion in the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 of seven specific cancers relating to firefighter employment with their specified qualifying periods. Those cancers are: primary site brain cancer; primary site bladder cancer; primary site kidney cancer; primary non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; primary leukaemia; primary site breast cancer and primary site testicular cancer. Through this legislation a firefighter, who has achieved the specified qualifying period and has been consequently diagnosed with a specified cancer, then has their employment taken as being a dominant cause of the contraction of the disease. To me it is not right that under these very special and unique employment circumstances a person should have to prove the length of service when so many relevant carcinogenic risks are involved.
I thank my constituents who have contacted me and raised this matter and thank some of them who made contact, although there were more. Thank you to Kelvin Lockwood, Dean Fanderlinden, Ronan Gilmore, Sarah King, Claire Gregory, Michelle Williams, Chris Arter, David Parody, Gillian O'Callaghan and Paul Woodward, who all sent emails to me. I also thank those who sent additional emails in the way of follow-up: Kevin Jolly, James Hunt, Michael Sciaresa, Jason Cuperus, Timothy Jones, Darren Guelfi, Jacqueline Hardingham and Peter Chappell. I personally know Tim Jones from church and also from Kingsway Christian College, where his son, Paul, just became dux for 2011, so I congratulate Paul, and also Tim for his information to me. It is certainly an outstanding family.
As I previously said, I have three fire and rescue service stations located in Cowan: Joondalup, Wangara and Malaga. Four shifts at each station provide 24-hour protection and support to the surrounding areas in the northern and north-eastern suburbs. I previously visited Wangara Station earlier this year and met C shift. I have great confidence in all of these stations and in the members on each of the shifts.
In the last few days I have received further emails regarding additional varieties of cancer that should also be included such as: multiple myeloma; primary site lung cancer in nonsmokers; and primary site prostate, ureter, colorectal and oesophageal cancers. I have not had the opportunity since joining the list of speakers for this debate this morning to ascertain any great detail on these additional cancer types. However, from a look at the Cancer Council of Australia's website, it would seem that more information is required before these forms of cancers could be added. I am not saying that they should not but, given that one in 10 men are diagnosed with colorectal cancer by age 85, the already high frequency does make me feel that a clearer medical link is required. Similarly, the frequency of prostate cancer in men is significant without any known cause. The vocational link is again not clear to me.
I believe that further consideration is warranted of these additional cancers and that in the future such considerations should involve the medical evidence, the causal links to the vocation and how firefighters can be better protected and looked after. It is my understanding that this bill has primary coverage for those employed in the ACT; however, it will be influential for other firefighters around the country. I think the focus on these matters should cause the Fire and Emergency Services Authority in WA to continue to vigorously explore the procedures, the equipment and the exposure to risk factors of all firefighters. The firefighters do a great job for our community, and FESA must examine the processes, procedures and exposures to risk in order to minimise the threat to those who help our community.
I close by again thanking the shift teams at Joondalup, Wangara and Malaga fire and rescue stations for the great job they do.
I feel very privileged to be speaking here in this place on this day to this bill and the amendment. It is very timely that we discuss these matters given that many of us are wearing a little grey ribbon to help signify that it is Brain Tumour Awareness Week internationally. It is very important to address the consequences of cancer in any person, and in particular in firefighters when we think about the lack of choice of workplace which firefighters have to attend to. You cannot choose the sort of fire that you are going into; if you are going into a fire, you are going in to find what is there. You are going to be breathing the air that is generated there, and the evidence is very clear that firefighters, essential workers in our community on whom we rely for our very lives, are going into toxic contexts. So it is important that this bill comes before the House to improve the outcomes and access to workers compensation for these vital people in our community.
I cannot say that I ever dreamed of being a fireman when I was young, but I certainly have watched my son have dreams of becoming a fireman. I have practised 'get down low and go, go, go' with the kids. We have probably all experienced the fireman's healthy and sustaining reach into our lives. Recently I was very privileged to spend three days on HMAS Stewart in the Red Sea, where I underwent a small example of firefighting onboard. The conditions of a trial run in which I was fully covered gave me a very short experience—and, hopefully, the only experience in my entire life—of having to be in a suit. But our firefighters find themselves in real-life crisis contexts.
It has been put on the record in this place today and through the work of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, which investigated this matter in its international context, that there is very significant, deliberate information which states that firefighting is one of the most studied occupations in the world, especially when it comes to cancer, and that many studies—in fact, dozens of major studies—have been made around the world over the last 20 years. They have absolutely confirmed that there is a definite connection between firefighting and elevated cancer risk. Given that reality, the amendments that were put forward to the bill by the member for Calwell and the member for Melbourne this morning are important legislative tools to ensure that we provide the best access to workers compensation for those critical workers in our community. The Senate committee inquiry into the bill recommended that the number of listed cancers be increased, and that seems absolutely appropriate. Now it will include multiple myeloma, primary-site lung cancer in nonsmokers, primary site prostate cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer and oesophageal cancer.
There is science underpinning this bill, but there is also good acknowledgement of the real-life risk that firefighters face, and I want particularly to mention Billy McLean, who is a larger-than-life character in our local community. He works at the Umina Fire Station in the seat of Robertson, which I am privileged to represent here. In addition to his courage and that of his colleagues in going and fighting the fires in our area, we often find that—although they are overrepresented in work related injuries and illnesses—our firefighters are among the most generous people in our community. When the floods took hold of Queensland, I was able to go to an event—they called it 'the 000 emergency fundraising event'. Billy McLean and many of the firefighters from the Central Coast were there doing their bit to help out other Australians. With the generosity that they showed and their bravery, they certainly deserve our recognition and accolades today. They also deserve our support through the very practical measures in both the bill and the amendments which are before the House for consideration on this day.
I will close with a happier thought. We are talking about men and women who give their lives to—and lose their lives way too early because of—the work they do. But I was pleased to spend Friday night with Reg Brown, aged 82, a former firefighter who received a McKell award for his services to the Labor Party. They are all good people there and I am sure our amendments will make a big difference to their life outcomes and to their families.
Debate resumed on motion by Mr Broadbent:
That this House notes the importance of the dairy industry to the health and well being of Australia.
Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal. We know in this House that all men and women are not created equal, at least not in the way that some would have us believe. Some are smarter than others, some have greater opportunity by birth, some make more money than others, some women make better cakes than others, some people are born gifted beyond comparison—and then some choose to be dairy farmers. You must have a special gift and a special way with the world to be a dairy farmer. Good dairy farmers grow great grass which makes healthy cows, quality milk and health products for a nation. These people are part scientist, part horticulturalist, part labourer, part shiftworker and part mechanic. They are schooled in hygiene, refrigeration, nutrition and animal husbandry. They are skilled in carpentry, fencing, drainage and road making. They are able to continue to work seven days a week, under any weather conditions, from daybreak to day's end and into the night during calving.
Who in their right mind would choose to be a dairy farmer? In my 50 years, I have spent no more than two days in dairy sheds. In those two days I learned that I was not to become a dairy farmer. But the business we were in grew out of dealing with the dairy farmers. They were the farmers in my community, along with potato growers, swede growers, pea growers and asparagus growers. The biggest area was dairying and, as a youth, most of the farms were about 40 acres. Off that 40 acres, they could educate their family and they could buy a new Holden every two years.
The world has, of course, changed. Since 1950, dairy farmers have had to face deregulation at a local, state and then federal level. That affected every farmer from North Queensland all the way to Tasmania. That deregulation was difficult and made great changes to the industry. In my time, I can remember—and there have been more—three major droughts: 1968, the 1980s and the last one, which lasted from 1997 to 2010 before it rained. They faced floods and they faced fires; I have mentioned the droughts. They faced high interest rates in the early nineties and low milk prices. Today they face rising costs for feed, power, fertiliser and every other area of their work. They are an amazing family.
I remember when one of the young people connected to a dairy farm had won a prize—I do not remember what the prize was. I said: 'We'll deliver it to the farm—it'll save them coming to the office. We'll get in the car and drive to the farm.' It was a cold, horrible, wet, rainy night. The last time I had seen the woman I found at the farm, she had been dressed immaculately for a night-time function. When I arrived at the dairy farm there were water and dirt everywhere. It was pouring with rain. She had gumboots on and three pairs of tracksuit pants with a pair of waterproof pants pulled over them, a great big jacket and a hat pulled down over her head. She did not want me arriving at that time to say hello and deliver the prize. I thought, 'This is dairying.'
I remember another time, in the middle of the drought, I received a call from the brother of a farmer—and I will name no names. The brother lived in the city, and he said, 'My brother's in trouble and he's not telling anybody.' I drove to the farm and the farmer hopped into my car. I said, 'Let's just dive round the farm and you can tell me the story of what's happening.' It was at the height of the drought, and the government had done good things such as sending the drought bus around, but some farmers still did not approach the drought bus. They would not let their guard down enough to say, 'I'm in trouble.' I thought that the only thing I could do for this dairy farmer would be to let him know that it was alright to go to the bus and that there was no crime in admitting that there was an issue there.
We drove around the farm. He showed me the farm and told me how proud he was and what they had done, but there was no water in the dams. He was carting in truckloads of water every day at huge expense just to keep the farm going. At the end of it we sat down and had a talk. I said: 'You're not on your own. I've spoken to a lot of your compatriots that are dairy farmers in this area and around all of my electorate. It's a good thing to go, because we are here to support you in this industry at this time.'
At that time my electorate was not getting the drought relief that many electorates in the rest of Australia were getting. I had to go to the Prime Minister and say that my farmers were at a disadvantage compared to other dairy farmers across Victoria, because they lived in a different shire. John Howard, as Prime Minister of the day, never, ever let me down. From his visit to my electorate, as only a prime minister could do in those circumstances, our farmers received drought relief and support. We turned the corner with government support equal to that for every other farmer suffering from drought at that time across Australia.
That farmer had a good story. He did go to the drought bus and things did turn around. Local members—I praise them all on both sides of the House and I have spoken about my respect for members before—sometimes can make a tiny difference that no one except the family in the situation they were in at the time will ever know anything about. Members do make a difference. I could go into all the statistics and bore you witless about how much better my dairy farmers are than those down in the districts near Geelong—but I will not. There are those who are still fighting the fight to supply fresh milk into Queensland and New South Wales against the onslaught of the big retailers, who want to sell milk at $1 a litre so that they can increase their market share eventually at the cost of the producer, the dairy farmer.
Do I have an answer for that today? I say to the member for Corangamite: no, I have not. I do not know how to address that issue, but I know in the long run it will go all the way back to the producer, the person who grows the grass that produces the cow that delivers the milk. And, remember, we export out of my area some 45 per cent of what we produce. That protein goes to countries that cannot produce that protein. We do things for poorer countries out of the wealth of what we are able to produce.
I take great pride in my dairy farmers throughout Gippsland. Whatever we as members of parliament can do to support them in their daily work, as experts in their field, as highly talented, creative farmers, we should do on every occasion. We should support them and tell them how much we appreciate them.
Today I rise to speak about the very important contribution that the dairy industry makes to the Victorian economy, and particularly about the contribution out of south-west Victoria. Whilst we have a number of friends in the gallery I will acknowledge the fantastic work that the firefighters union has done in representing the interests of many people in my electorate—the paid firefighters—particularly in terms of the exposure they receive through their duties as firefighters. As someone who has worked very closely with a number of Victorian fire agencies, particularly DSE and Parks Victoria, I know the fantastic contribution that the unions in that sector make. I would like to acknowledge Peter Marshall for his presence today and for the hard work he has put in around the halls of power in making sure that firefighters are looked after. Regarding the chemicals they are exposed to in the course of their duties, hopefully the amendments and the legislation we have been debating will be passed on Thursday, to provide them justice.
Today I take the opportunity to acknowledge the fantastic work of the dairy industry within south-west Victoria, which very substantially provides to the Australian dairy industry. We have somewhere in the vicinity of 22 per cent of the industry nationally in south-west Victoria. It equates to about 38 per cent of the Victorian dairy sector. I share the views that presented by the member for McMillan on the absolutely fantastic contribution that the dairy sector makes. Indeed, I would hazard a guess that, in the federal seat of Corangamite, the dairy industry would be the largest exporter. We have a number of very large exporters in the broader region, and dairy would certainly be right up there. Raw milk production within our part of the world is valued at about $2.4 billion according to the 2008-09 figures. Victoria produces about six billion litres of raw milk. Overall Victoria produces about 85 per cent of Australia's dairy products, largely between the three dairy districts of south-west Victoria, the Murray district and the Gippsland district. This equates to about $1.76 billion worth of exports to the Australian economy. Indeed, the largest single value commodity that is exported from the Port of Melbourne is dairy related. In 2006 there were some 13,232 people employed in the dairy sector and around 8,000 of those were employed in the dairy production sector, which is the manufacturing and value-add component within that.
Australia is a very substantial player in the world market. We equate to about 10 per cent of the international export market, with New Zealand, the European Union and the United States making up the balance of the large export markets. Australian farmers are probably the most innovative dairy farmers anywhere in the world. Australia was one of the very early movers in putting in place arrangements, particularly through the eighties and nineties, to ensure that deregulation took place, which has led to some substantial innovation taking place. But that is not to say that there are not very substantial challenges. Those challenges come from a world where there is not a level playing field. Australia has removed most of its barriers to trade, but many other countries—particularly the European Union and the United States—have put in place trade barriers, which of course disadvantages Australian dairy farmers in the production and selling of milk on the international market.
Dairy farmers in Australia, particularly in my part of Victoria, have been extremely innovative and have looked at the way in which they undertake their business and have put in place a raft of world-leading practices to ensure that they can compete against what is often a very unfair international marketplace, particularly in terms of world's best practice in dealing with things such as feed management, animal management and the use of water. The member for McMillan spoke about the consequences of drought and the difficulties that many dairy farmers have experienced over the last few years with drought. One can only imagine what will take place in the years and decades to come as a consequence of climate change leading to a drying eastern seaboard.
The member for McMillan very eloquently spoke about the type of work and the way work is organised within the dairy sector. It is true that the hours that they have to work are very unsociable, with very, very early mornings and, if they are milking a couple of times a day, late afternoons as well. Dairy farms have changed dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years. In many parts of Victoria where there have historically been dairy farms the farms are much bigger today than they were in the years and decades previously. Indeed, in south-west Victoria we are seeing a lot more neighbours buying out neighbours to ensure that their farms are economic in terms of scale, and I think we will continue to see a lot more of that in the years to come. As I said earlier, the Victorian dairy sector has contributed enormously to the wealth of this nation. Dairy farmers continue to strive to find best practice in the way they undertake their work. I have many thousands of dairy farmers in my part of the world and many thousands of workers that work in the process chain as well. Certainly, I recognise the very substantial contribution the dairy sector makes to south-west Victoria and more broadly to the Australian economy. Indeed, south-west Victorian dairy farms produce goods that are valued in excess of $2 billion. As you can see, it is a very substantial part of the local economy. I acknowledge the difficult times that dairy farmers have been through, particularly through the drought over the last few years, and look forward to working closely with them to ensure they remain competitive on the world stage. The Commonwealth government looks forward to doing everything it can to ensure that their businesses remain competitive.
It is with great joy that I rise this evening to support this motion moved by the member for McMillan. I must thank the member for McMillan because when he said he was going to move this motion he asked me whether I would be prepared to second it. It was with great delight that I said I would, and I congratulate him for moving this motion. There are 1,500 dairy farms in western Victoria. They currently produce around 2.1 billion litres of milk. That is nearly a quarter of Australia's milk production. The processing sector processes that milk into cheese, ice cream, drinking milk, milk powder et cetera for the domestic and international markets. In total, the farm and processing output plus the service provider industry value that hangs off it provide about 6,000 jobs and $4 billion to the economy of western Victoria. That is about one third of the region's economic activity.
I stand here tonight to say that the dairy industry is crucial, it is vital and it is terribly important to the economy of western Victoria. It has been interesting to note what the member for Corangamite has said because, sadly, one of the greatest threats to the industry is the level playing field. But it does not come from trade barriers. It comes from the carbon tax because, if you look at the way dairy has been treated in other countries' ETSs compared to how it is being treated here in Australia under the carbon tax, it is going to suffer and suffer significantly. Under the European ETS, all the major dairy manufacturers are exempt from paying the ETS because it is a trade exposed, emissions intensive industry. The reason given is that the Europeans are worried that jobs and industries will move offshore.
I appeal to the government, and it is not too late, to think seriously about the impact that the carbon tax will have on the dairy industry in Australia. You can still make amendments. As a matter of fact, I understand that in March there will be amendments made to the legislation. Think long and hard about the impact that it will have on the dairy industry. There are jobs at risk. Employment could be affected by your carbon tax. All you need to do is say, 'Okay, yes, dairy is trade exposed; yes, it is emissions intensive; yes, in the European Union it was looked after.' If we are to be fair dinkum and if we are to have the so-called level playing field, how dairy was treated in the European Union is how it should be treated here and our processors should be exempt.
I appeal to the government, once again—and I have done this on numerous occasions—to think long and hard about what impact the carbon tax will have on our dairy industry. It is all well and good to come in here and talk about the importance of the sector but we have to remember that it is a trade-exposed sector, and therefore any extra cost you put on it means that it is harder for them to be able to sell those commodities overseas. Ultimately, our dairy processors within Australia have to pass those costs back to the dairy farmer. They cannot increase their prices on the international market, they have to pass it back to the farmers.
The research shows that the carbon tax will cost dairy farmers—this is research which the government has seen—between $5,000 to $7,000 per farm. That is a hit which they cannot take at this stage and, as it has been pointed out to me, that is at a minimum. Larger dairy farmers will have larger costs than that $5,000 to $7,000. So I take this opportunity to applaud the 1,500 dairy farmers in western Victoria for the contribution they make to the local economy, to jobs and to providing ancillary jobs. But I also use this opportunity to say to those members opposite to think about the harm their carbon tax is going to do to this sector. It is not too late: act on dairy farmers' behalf and change your legislation.
This is a motion that is close to my heart. I grew up in a dairy industry area on the north coast of New South Wales. Overwhelmingly, the main industry in that area was dairy farming. In addition to that, my father-in-law was a dairy farmer. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt a couple of times simply because of the hardship involved in dairy farming. The times when he really struggled were not under a Labor government but under a Liberal-National Party government.
There have been many reforms over the years within the dairy industry. As I said, I came from the Mid North Coast of New South Wales and at that particular time there were two separate systems operating. There was the quota system and there were areas like the area I lived in that fell outside the quota system.
If you were in the quota system you are much better looked after financially than if you were in the non-quota area that I grew up in. I had many friends who lived on dairy farms and I watched them and their parents struggle through the years. Some of them managed to survive, but some of them actually had to leave their farms. I think this is indicative of what happened throughout Australia. Over the years, technology has changed and methods of farming have changed; the way people buy and use milk and the way it is supplied—the whole process from farm gate to the supermarket—has changed.
I hate to admit to this, but when I was a young girl we used to have the milkman delivering the milk and cream to our house in the billy can. The father of my best friend at the time used to drive the milk truck and he would go around collecting milk from all the farms in the area I lived in. If you compare that to what has happened today you can see that there has been such a phenomenal change within the industry. Because of that change, in many ways many dairy farmers have been marginalised. We are getting bigger concerns and fewer dairy farmers.
My father-in-law ran a little country farm and he was very embracing of new technologies. He introduced milking machines, which were very new in his area. He introduced technology into his farming that was very scientifically based. But, even doing those sorts of things, he was not able to succeed because there were so many other variables that impacted upon his small dairy farm. My husband and his siblings look back on that time as the best time of their lives. They talk about going to school on the milk truck and all those things that we as a nation have lost.
Today we are talking about dairy farming in a totally different way. We are looking to ensure that a little bit of our history manages to survive, and part of that history is that small dairy farm that is situated in the hills around the town that I lived in and along the river flats. As much as I hate to say it, that is nearly a thing of the past, as are so many things that have changed in our society. I support our dairy farmers, I support our farmers, I support the enormous contribution that they have made to our country and I support the role that they have played in our history. I think that the person I am today and the knowledge that I bring to this parliament have been influenced by the contribution made to our country by dairy farmers. (Time expired)
I strongly support the motion moved by the member for McMillan and I thank him for bringing it before the House. I am a dairy farmer and I know first hand that the dairy industry in Australia is our third largest rural industry. It is a major regional and urban employer of approximately 40,000 people, directly on dairy farms or in transport, milk processing, manufacturing or the marketing and distribution of high-quality products, as well as in research and development. We in our industry are continually improving herd management, productivity and efficiency and are producing from predominantly pasture-based farming what you might call free-range milk. Each farm has a documented on-farm safety program, HASP quality assurance auditing and full traceability.
The dairy industry was worth $3.4 billion in 2009-10, ranking third behind the beef and wheat industries. It is a leading rural industry in terms of value adding through downstream processing—something that is not well appreciated. It is often the industry that underpins many small communities and local economies. Dairy farmers contribute directly to local volunteer organisations, emergency services and sporting groups. It is often their tractors and farm implements that are used for community projects and fundraising efforts. In Western Australia we only have just over 160 dairy farmers left in the industry. We might need to talk to Coles and Woolies about that as well.
Dairy farmers around Australia have to compete in international markets with many countries that support domestic pricing through a combination of tariffs, subsidies, import restrictions, government purchasing and subsidised disposal of surpluses. Now we have another hand behind our backs because, as we heard earlier, we are going to be hit by a carbon tax. There is no way that someone in a domestic market like Western Australia can pass that cost on—you have to absorb it and wear it in your business. This is a real issue for dairy farmers right around this nation and particularly in domestic market states.
How many of us take for granted the quality of milk products in Australia? I would say just about everyone. Everybody assumes it is always going to be there and it is going to be best in the world, which is what we produce, but I do not know how many understand the nutritional value of dairy foods. It is a unique package of over 10 essential nutrients that are important for healthy blood, nervous and immune systems, eyesight, muscles and nerve function and for healthy skin, energy levels and growth and repair of all parts of our body. Dairy foods such as wonderful icy-cold milk, cheeses and yoghurt contain proteins, vitamins and minerals—magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and all sorts of wonderful calcium. We should all know that we need three serves of calcium every day as part of a balanced diet, to build and maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. This occurs where we lose calcium and other minerals, and the bones become fragile and tend to fracture easily. It affects one in two women and one in three men over 60 in Australia. Healthy Bones Week is in August each year. Over the years we have seen excellent marketing and information campaigns based around the simple message: are you getting enough? In previous years in my role in the industry in a voluntary sense at the royal show, I used to get a lot of feedback from the city based consumers when they would walk into the pavilion and I would ask, 'Have you had it today?' They would look at me with a very interesting look on their faces! What I was referring to of course was whether they had had their milk that day and their three serves. This was a voluntary marketing and promotional effort and I would wear a badge that said, 'G'day, I am a dairy farmer.' A number of city people would come up to me and say, 'You are not really a dairy farmer.' I would ask, 'What do you want to know?' Their response to what I had to tell them about life on a dairy farm was interesting. I was told, 'You do not look like a dairy farmer,' and I would ask, 'Well, what do we look like?'
I also want to mention the efforts of a wonderful group called the Milk Industry Liaison Committee. This is a group of women who have worked tirelessly in the dairy industry in WA in some extreme circumstances. It is an industry under pressure. It is an industry that struggles to drive commercial returns and attract the value into the supply chain that it really does deserve. It is producing a high-quality product every day of the year, day in and day out, no matter what the weather is. I say to every dairy farmer who is out there at the moment in my part of the world, 'Hey, we've mowed, raked and baled,' and I know that all my mates are out there doing exactly the same thing. They milk their cows morning and night and they are out there in the paddocks all day. They do it for no thanks and frequently very minor returns on their investment. They are very good at what they do. I have to say, once again, that we in this country take for granted the quality of food that is produced by our dairy farmers.
I rise to speak in support of the honourable member for McMillan's motion that reads:
That this House notes the importance of the dairy industry to the health and well being of Australia.
It is a simple statement but it is one that encapsulates correctly the sentiments about an industry that is of critical importance to our economy, particularly to our rural agricultural base. As we have heard, it is the third largest rural industry in Australia, employing over 40,000 people directly and indirectly.
It is also an industry that is steeped in history, in particular in my home area in the Northern Rivers and my home town of Lismore. Lismore is home to Norco Co-operative Ltd. That is a co-op that is 100 per cent farmer owned and has been in operation since 1895. Now in its 116th year, I am pleased to report that it is still going strong and has been able to rise to all the challenges that it has faced. In the co-op's own words, it says that it has been subject to challenges and a stimulating environment but it has had many successes. With other members' indulgence, I want to read into the public record in Hansard something from the 2010 Norco annual report out of its corporate profile. I read it and thought of different ways I could paraphrase it, but Norco says it so well that I just think it is important to have that on the record. It says:
Norco is a name that is synonymous with the manufacture of quality dairy and other food products such as milk, ice cream and stick lines at three factory locations under the Norco Foods business unit. Norco Foods also retails the range of Nimbin Natural cheese—
which I have in my fridge. I have a lot of Norco products in my fridge—
which is a successful and growing brand for the co-operative. Norco also has a Rural Retail business unit operating 24 rural stores in Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland. This business unit also operates a wholesale division at Darra in Brisbane servicing the needs of other rural businesses along the east coast of Australia.
I think Darra might be in Oxley, is it?
I had to think then! Growing up in Ipswich, I know Darra; I was just getting the honourable member for Oxley's attention!
Norco also operates an agribusiness division incorporating Goldmix Stockfeeds, Crest Seeds and Meaty Bites that manufacture quality stockfeed, birdseed products and pet food. With 260 active shareholders in 165 dairy farms Norco has a membership capital base of six million and an annual revenue of $351 million. The board has seven directors and the chairman of the board is Greg McNamara who does a brilliant job and has been the chair for quite a few years. He makes sure that that e cooperative stays in good health. I pay tribute, as well, to Brett Kelly, the CEO.
The 2009-10 financial year, which is the one reported on in the most recent annual report, has been, as Norco say, 'stimulating and challenging'. They have undergone the knock-on effects from the global financial crisis which continue to be felt both domestically and internationally. They also say that the focus for 2009-10 financial year was to reduce debt and expenses, and they have done that. They have increased their profitability and have a record improvement of 12.8 per cent over the 2008-09 financial year. That is a real credit to their operations.
The area in which I live was locked out of the Sydney milk market for a long time. I pay tribute to a Labor minister, Don Day, who is a local member and got us into the Sydney milk market. He was respected by everyone on all sides. He was a very good minister and was very able. It was his efforts that got us into that market, and it made a big difference to our area. (Time expired)
Debate resumed on motion by Ms Ley:
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) in the 2010 11 Budget, the Gillard Government has not considered the implications of removing Commonwealth funding for Occasional Care Child Care; and
(b) the consequence of ceasing this funding has caused Australian families real hardship as they struggle to find alternative sources of child care;
(2) acknowledges that:
(a) there are no other Commonwealth funded forms of child care to fill this void; and
(b) withdrawal of this funding has resulted in job losses in the industry; and
(3) calls on the Government to reinstate Commonwealth funding for Occasional Care Child Care.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion of the member for Farrer, who will be addressing the chamber in the near future. I speak in favour of this motion as child care provides an important service to our society. It allows children to interact with their peers and become more independent from a young age. It gives parents flexible options with regard to working and family arrangements. It is vital that child care is easily accessible and affordable.
However, child care is becoming more and more expensive for families with a myriad of changes implemented by state Labor governments putting increased pressure on both this sector and on the families it supports. In my home state of Queensland proposed changes to DECKAS, the Department of Education Community Kindergarten Assistance Scheme, found that the arrangements have caused the largest provider in the state, C&K, to advise their affiliates that they will need to increase their prices, with most now looking at charging $25 to $28 a day. This is a sharp increase in the current daily out-of-pocket expense and may well price many families out of early education altogether.
These increases are not restricted to Queensland alone, with changes to the staff-to-children ratio regulations, introduced by the New South Wales Labor government, in anticipation of proposed national reforms. This has resulted in some Sydneysiders paying up to $100 per day for child care. There have also been reports of families on waiting lists at centres for up to two years. One report states that 40 per cent of families believe that child care is so expensive that it is not worth them working, but only 12 per cent have said that they do not need it.
The industry is already struggling and it is clear that the government has not considered the full implications of this cut to occasional child care. The Gaythorne Community Kindergarten and Limited Hours Care has written to both Minister Kate Ellis and me regarding the effects that this cut will have on their centre. The centre is community based and is a not-for-profit organisation which over the years has adapted to the needs of families in the Gaythorne area and the surrounding suburbs by taking the initiative and providing an invaluable service. It was clear from the pages upon pages of support letters and endorsements that accompanied their submission to me that the Gaythorne Community Kindergarten and Limited Hours Care is not only needed but also highly valued by the local community. This was also clear earlier this year when I visited the centre with the Hon. Sussan Ley, our shadow minister and member for Farrer, who is getting out and around Australia and talking to the real people who will be affected by this government's proposal.
The implications of the budget cut to occasional-care child care would see the service lost to the families of Gaythorne. It would mean that children would lose the socialisation that is vital to their development and happiness. It would also see the seven staff the centre employs, and their families, face uncertainty about their future. It would also affect the children of families who are already on the long waiting list to attend the centre. In short, the impact of this budget cut, which has only come about due to this government's reckless financial mismanagement, means that Australian families and Australian children are being put at a disadvantage at a critical point in their lives. The minister's own website states:
The government has an ambitious agenda to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of child care because the research is clear that a child's experience in the early years sets the course for the rest of their life.
Given that these are the words on the minister's own website, I am confused as to how the minister believes that her actions in cutting funding for occasional-care child care match up with this stated aim. When stakeholders around the country are saying that this funding cut is detrimental to the industry and families, how is access and affordability being achieved?
This government has clearly failed the childcare industry. After the big promises of the 2007 federal election, we have heard little in terms of child care other than backflips, such as the scrapping of building 222 new childcare centres, and indeed threats, such as the freezing and eventual cut of the childcare rebate. The uproar with which this latter proposal was met saw the government backflip on this as well. We have seen reform in the industry in terms of staff ratios cause a huge amount of uncertainty for this sector, with most feedback stating that these changes will dramatically increase costs, again reducing accessibility to child care.
Before us today we have a motion which acknowledges the ill-thought-out process of cutting the occasional-care childcare funding. When it comes to child care, it seems that this government is struggling to get anything right. I urge every responsible member of parliament to support their communities and to support this motion.
I rise today to speak on the motion by the member for Farrer, not only as a member of parliament but also as a father of two children who are under four years of age. Child care and early education is something I am deeply concerned with, particularly given my two sons, Isaac and Noah, are accessing these forms of care.
In my electorate there are countless families in the same situation who are deeply conscious of all things to do with early childhood education and child care. This government has been putting in place some very substantial reforms to ensure that every child in Australia is provided with opportunities to develop the sorts of skills that will best suit their needs prior to going to primary school and to provide the opportunity for both parents to participate in the workplace. The reforms that the Gillard Labor government has been putting in place in this area will lead to confident, smart kids who will substantially contribute to the direction of this nation.
Of course, we do need to reflect on the sad history of the Liberal Party in this particular area, where for many years they believed that the role of Mum was to remain in the kitchen or looking after the kids. Labor has had a very proud history of putting in place reform that enables both men and women to participate in the economy and to participate in the workplace. We have put in place record investment—some $20 billion—in early childhood education and care, and we will be doing that over the next four years.
I think it is worth making the note that the work we will put in over the next four years more than doubles the effort of the Howard government in their last four years of office. We are putting a lot of additional money and attention into this area to ensure that all children have an opportunity. I think this particular motion is somewhat wayward in that it fails to recognise the very substantial contribution that the Commonwealth has been making and will continue to make under this government in this particular area. The previous funding arrangements that were put in place—some $273.7 million investment to support the introduction of the new National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care—I think were very substantial contributions that this parliament and this government have made.
I particularly want to take the opportunity to point out the consequences of the election of the Baillieu government at the last state election. That, of course, was the axing of the Take a Break childcare program in Victoria.
I thank the member for McMillan, but the reality is that we had been working with state and territory governments to put in place additional funding. This was an area that was and should be the responsibility of the Victorian government, and they have announced that they will be axing this program from 1 January next year. That will hurt an enormous number of facilities and entities within my electorate providing this program, particularly the Anglesea and District Community House, the Apollo Bay Children's Centre, the Deans Marsh Community Cottage, the Forrest Preschool, the Haddon and District Community House, the Inverlea Occasional Care, the Lorne Figtree Community House, the Meredith Community Centre, the Rokewood Occasional Care Facility, the Torquay Children's Services Hub and the Winchelsea Community House in Winchelsea.
These facilities and the services that have historically been delivered from these areas have made a very substantial contribution to those communities, and it is an absolute shame that the Baillieu government has axed this important funding. On the one hand, federal Labor—the Gillard government—is putting record investment into this space. On the other hand, the Baillieu government is taking money out of these services. Over the next four years the Commonwealth government will be providing some $9.2 billion and around $7.2 billion in the childcare rebate area. The Commonwealth government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, have directed a lot more funding into these areas and we have a very proud history of doing this. We want to give every young person under the age of four every opportunity in life and we are putting real money into this space to ensure that that can happen, but we are also doing it in a way that makes sense and that is based on the successful negotiations that we undertook, by and large, at the COAG early childhood roundtable.
This government is also putting in $399 million through child care benefit; $291 million though the childcare rebate, which pays for 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs for families; $21.3 million for childcare services and support; $16.95 million for children's and family centres; and $17.4 million in new early learning and care centres. We will continue to invest in this important policy area. We have put in a lot more money in the first four years of the Gillard government than the Howard government did in their last four years. We have a proud history in this space and we will continue to contribute in every way that we can to ensure that working families have every opportunity to educate and care for their children.
I am delighted to speak to the motion in my name. By way of background, in the 2010-11 budget, the Labor government removed federal funding for occasional care, and this shifted the entire cost of funding onto the states. Occasional care provides a flexible model of child care, providing places for children who may only need care on an ad hoc basis. In rural communities in particular, this care has proved to be invaluable to, for example, farming families during the harvest or the shearing season. What we have here is a government intent on shirking its responsibility. By contrast, the coalition have committed to restoring the $12.6 million that was ripped from the occasional care funding budget by the federal Labor government in the 2010 budget, because we accept that this, as with all child care, is a federal responsibility.
In Melbourne on 25 October, a week ago tomorrow, the Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare said:
The Australian government has never had a direct funding relationship with these services …
In the minister's department, I am sure some staff member is patting themselves on the back and calling that a rather clever piece of wording. But, actually, one might call it mischievous. Let us speak the truth: this is an appalling and self-serving misrepresentation of how funding for child care has historically worked in this country. The website of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, DEEWR, directly states:
The Australian Government provides financial support to approved Occasional Care services.
It just so happens that occasional child care in Victoria is called Take a Break, and it might be called something else in New South Wales, Queensland or WA, but it still amounts to the same thing: occasional care. This joint federal-state cooperative for occasional child care in Victoria has been run successfully, at a moderate cost to government, since 1988-89.
The central announcement in Minister Ellis's comments last week, another self-serving piece of tripe, was the supposed creation of more than 1½ thousand new occasional and in-home care places for Australian families. I would make two points. The minister says that the government does not fund these programs—it does not have 'a direct funding relationship'—then, in the same breath, she announces new funding for them. Notwithstanding that peculiar and embarrassing slip-up, of those, only 250 occasional care places and 140 in-home care places may go to Victoria, and I am advised that there is next to no chance of their going to regional Victoria, where Labor's abandonment of occasional care will be felt the most. There was another bewildering truism from the minister on 22 July this year, when she said:
Child care funding is a shared responsibility between the Australian, state and territory governments. Nothing has changed on that front.
I am sorry, Minister; it has. Two years ago, federal Labor decided it no longer wanted to share the responsibility of occasional care. The minister has continually noted since then that, while Victoria can no longer do so from next month, other states intend to cover the federal shortfall. One of these reasons is quite simple: it is that in Victoria there is the greatest percentage of children who access occasional care—at the last count, in 220 neighbourhood houses and community centres across the state. They are so concerned that even the minister's own side of politics cannot quite believe what they have done. When questioned in the Victorian parliament in June, Labor's shadow minister assisting the leader on children and young adults admitted that she believed the federal government should fund the program, when she said that she had actually lobbied her federal counterparts to reinstate their funding for Take a Break.
This week we have lodged a petition containing some 3,000 signatures calling for the government to immediately reinstate this $12 million in occasional care funding removed from the previous two federal budgets. This is a call to reinstate funding not just for Victoria, but for every state and territory in Australia. This is because the coalition knows, the Greens know—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 20 : 01 to 20 : 14
This week we have lodged a petition containing some 3,000 signatures calling for the government to immediately reinstate the $12 million in occasional care funding that was removed from the previous two federal budgets. This is not just a call to reinstate funding for Victoria but for every state and territory in Australia. This is because the coalition knows, the Greens know, parents know, DEEWR knows and, indeed, it seems that everyone knows apart from the childcare minister and the Labor government that the Australian government provides financial support to approved occasional care services.
These are parents who signed the petition: Sally is parent to four boys and is from Greensborough in Melbourne; Jarrod is a single dad, working odd jobs to make ends meet; and Jessica Burrows is a mum from Warrnambool. The list goes on and the names go on. There is the Rosanna Fire Station Community House, the Sale Neighbourhood House, Grovedale Community Centre in the city of Geelong and the Orwil Street Community House at Frankston—only this morning I heard news that this centre will now close next month.
There are others that have or who will be forced to shut their doors: two centres at Chelsea Heights in Melbourne, and another at Mallacoota in East Gippsland. I received a note from an early childhood specialist, Jane Duffy, who was so concerned about the likely closure of the nearby Uniting Church occasional care that she felt compelled to write:
The threat of closure could likely lead to increased circumstances of family breakdown as parents find themselves unable to access an affordable short-term, respite, support service that gives them a break from the demands of early years parenting.
There was another from a group of parents at Baranduda, neighbouring my own elector.ate. Leah Bowles writes:
We are deeply concerned at the threat of losing what has become a valuable and vital community program. It is the ONLY childcare offered in our community. Losing this service will be devastating to our community, our families and most importantly our children.
Last week the childcare minister—and I quoted from her remarks earlier where she did not seem to be quite sure whether this was or was not a responsibility of the federal government—did allocate a few occasional childcare places to a few areas of the country. They are way too little, too late and this is not working in the really brilliant way that occasional care does work. I will use the Victorian example, where you have a little bit of state money and a little bit of federal money—maybe only $7,000 per service. I have seen services in rural Victoria with $7,000 of federal and state money and a whole lot of community fundraising with lamingtons and cakes and drives for goodness knows what—parents working really hard but coming together as a committed family-parent community in the process. Maybe the council will chip in with the rent of a building for nothing and a few facilities and then you have a wonderful community asset. That is the strength and the secret of occasional child care.
What this minister has done is to pull one card out of the pack and the whole lot has come crashing down. The example of $7,000 is a good one because it is the same for many areas, and by taking just that little amount out the rest is just too much for all of the other funders to provide.
We in the coalition restate our commitment that as a government we will put back the occasional care funding that has been taken out by this minister. With a sleight of hand she tried last week to find additional places. They are funded through child care benefit, so they are not funded in the original way that Take A Break was funded for in Victoria. They are taken from a group of childcare places, which I think were sitting there as unused in-home care places because, coincidentally, we seem to be talking about exactly the same number. I was made aware of 1,500 in-home care places that were not being used and which were sitting on the books in the department. That is quite a different form of care; it is for disadvantaged children—children whose parents might be very ill or children who really require short-term, intensive live-in child care.
It looks to me as if the minister has raided that child care, has scratched up a few more places from somewhere else, allocated this paltry number—300, I think, in Victoria—and said that she has fixed the problem. She does need to make up her mind whether this is a federal responsibility and, if it is, to put back the fantastic system we had before which the coalition has committed to, which the state government in Victoria has committed to, which works really well and which provides a vital service for parents and families.
If there is one aspect of both the Rudd government and the Gillard government that I am particularly proud of it is the wonderful changes, reforms and contributions that the government that I have been part of has made to child care. They have revolutionised the way child care operates in this country. They have made it more affordable—they have put it within range of all families so that it is not just something for those who can afford it. It means that children from all backgrounds are now able to have the same opportunities. It is not a have and have-not approach to child care; it is a very inclusive approach. And I am very, very proud to be a member of the government that has brought this to fruition.
The Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare announced last week—and I heard the previous member denigrating the announcement that she made—that more than 1½ thousand new occasional and in-home care places would be provided in Australia for Australian families. The number of new allocations represents a rise in support for government funded occasional-care places of 35 per cent—that is quite significant—and a market increase of around 17 per cent across the home-care sector.
The government understands that centre based care may not be suitable for all Australian families. Not everybody wants their child to be cared for in a centre. We are about giving people choices; we are not about dictating the kind of care a person should have. By putting in place funding for services within the home, we are also giving people the choice that they need. Occasional-care services support Australian families by providing some flexibility. Parents have the opportunity to place their children in those centres or within in-home care.
The neighbourhood model occasional-care program was changed in the last budget but, at the same time, as I have just pointed out, we announced some additional places last week. But it is very important for this parliament to note: the Australian government has never had a direct funding relationship with services in receipt of funding under this program, as funding was provided directly to the states and territories. What the member is asking is something that is not the responsibility of the Australian government. Once that money was given directly to the state and territory governments to fund occasional care they then administered their own programs. I come from New South Wales, and for the last two years this program has been fully supported by the New South Wales state government. I think that the member has brought this motion to the House tonight to try and make political mileage out of an issue that really does affect some families. But there are still options out there: a number of long-day-care centres have taken up the occasional-care role.
The government is totally committed to ensuring that Australian children have the best start in life. It has underpinned, by a record investment of $20 billion, early child care education over the next four years. That represents more than a doubling of the investment made by the Howard government in their last four years of office. That speaks for itself. This government is committed to child care. This government is committed to ensuring that each and every child has the opportunity to have good quality care, and I think that the member should be honest with this parliament and portray the picture as it is. (Time expired)
I commend the motion put forward by the member for Farrer. It is an issue that I have spoken about several times on behalf of the people of Gippsland, who have raised very real concerns about the future of the Take a Break funding as it applies to neighbourhood houses in my own electorate. I would urge those opposite who say we are trying to score political points or grandstand on this issue to start listening to the people who are writing to us—and we are forwarding those representations on to the minister—to understand just how serious the situation is. If they are trying to understand why they are languishing with a primary vote in the opinion polls under 30 per cent, it could be because they have turned a deaf ear to the complaints of people in regional Australia. This very issue highlights the hypocrisy of this government. It claims to care about regional families and then cuts funding to a program that, in many cases, provides the only form of child care in small country towns in electorates such as mine of Gippsland.
This program that we are referring to in the motion used to be funded by the federal government in the order of 70 per cent with the state government of Victoria providing 30 per cent of the funding for the Take a Break program. It is a very aptly named program because it provides a little bit of respite, particularly for mums in regional communities. It is support for mums who may then have the opportunity to take on some part-time work or just simply do the grocery shopping or have a little bit of time to themselves while their children are in a good care environment.
The federal government's budget for this program was $12.6 million over four years. We are talking about a miserable $12.6 million over four years, and this program was doing enormous good throughout regional communities. It is a highly efficient program, and the member for Farrer referred to that. It really is a community asset right across Victoria. It really should not be this hard for us to provide occasional care in these communities.
I would like to refer to some comments made in relation to this issue by the Victorian Neighbourhood House Network and Angela Savage, the executive officer, who described the Take a Break program, or TAB, as follows:
TAB funding is critical to the continued provision of affordable occasional childcare for communities serviced by Neighbourhood Houses, particularly those in rural and regional areas. The cessation of TAB funding will have an impact on over 9,000 children and their families , many of whom already experience some form of disadvantage, causing a decrease in childcare services and/or an increase in childcare costs …
These impacts will be most acute where there are no other childcare services at all, and also in areas where there is no alternative occasional childcare service.
As I said, I have written to the minister in relation to this issue. I also tabled a petition with more than 1,000 signatures which were collected in Gippsland. It came from towns like Swifts Creek, a small town in my electorate, Paynesville, Heyfield, Gormandale and Mallacoota. These all have very well-run occasional care programs. The very real threat is that by the end of this year none of these programs will exist in my community.
I remind this government that it is not what you say but what you do that really matters. In this House in May this year the minister said:
The Australian government recognises that child care is an essential enabler of workforce participation, most particularly for Australian women.
At a time when employers are crying out for workers then it is essential that we are supporting parents who want to return to work to be able to participate confidently.
We had a program that worked and now this federal government and this minister are refusing to listen to the people of regional Victoria who just want the funding to be guaranteed for the future so that they have the security of being able to have a little bit of respite or to take on a bit of work to assist the family budget. This government really must follow up the type of rhetoric that the minister has espoused here in this chamber. She must follow up this hollow rhetoric with action. She should reinstate the funding and restore confidence in regional communities that someone in Canberra is actually listening to them.
The member for Farrer mentioned the number of letters she has received on this topic. I have one here from only a matter of days ago. It is an email that was sent to me on Friday by a lady named Traci from Heyfield. Traci describes herself as a 34-year-old mother with three children under five. I will just quote from her email. It says:
For the first time in a long time I have been able to have a couple of hours to myself once a week because of the take a break program. My youngest 18 months and my 3 year old have started going to the occasional program on Tuesdays. I cannot begin to explain what it feels like to have a couple of hours off to myself (with those couple of hours I do an exercise program run by the community resource centre then I go grocery shopping without screaming children, occasionally get my much needed hair done). This program is so important to our isolated community. My husband works away 2 weeks at a time so those couple of hours for me are so crucial for my independence and sanity. I believe a lot of other mums are in the same situation regarding children and the take a break program.
Traci goes on to say—and by the way this is the only service in the town of Heyfield:
… cutting this service will hurt us all, all us mums who are trying to find ourselves again, trying to get back on our feet. Whether it's an education course and exercise program for trying to get into shape or an hour to ourselves, mums with very young children need this program.
Please don't take the funding from this much needed service. It's an amazing centre with amazing staff that truly care …
Thank you for listening.
I simply ask the question: is anyone listening on the other side of the House?
The Victorian childcare sector, including 128 Neighbourhood houses, has been appalled by the political stand-off over the investment of less than $2 million into occasional child care in Victoria. When the federal government did not renew its $12 million national contribution to occasional child care, some states picked up the shortfall. However, the six-month-old coalition government in Victorian pulled out of its $700,000 contribution, promising to reinstate this funding only if the federal government followed suit. This unnecessary brinkmanship has had a profound effect on vulnerable families, with the cessation of the Take A Break program, the closure of occasional childcare places at some centres and the imminent closure of more in 2012. Some of these are in the electorate of Melbourne, with others in remote rural communities.
The state government has argued that childcare funding is not their responsibility. There would be some merit in this position were it not the case that funding for community based programs at Neighbourhood houses is the domain of state government. Occasional child care is provided by 128 Neighbourhood houses in Victoria and these providers have a reasonable expectation that their state government will fund them to provide programs which support and develop their communities. At this point, I would like to congratulate the Association of Neighbourhood houses and Learning Centres, in particular Angela Savage, for their tireless work on this issue on behalf of houses in their communities.
Last week, Minister Ellis announced a small increase in federal funding for occasional child care, demonstrating that the Commonwealth government does indeed have a role in funding occasional child care. However, while the 250 extra occasional childcare places announced for Victoria are welcome, they barely register for the centres wondering how to fund the places they had funding for until this year—places that would have accommodated around 10,000 children. One centre in my electorate of Melbourne, operating at a public housing estate with despairingly high unemployment figures, would alone require 30 of the new 250 places to support its occasional childcare program. Unless this centre and many like it receive funding, they will have to cut their service.
I hope that the minister is listening to this because circumstances particular to the electorate of Melbourne are being overlooked in the decisions being made by the federal government at the moment. My electorate of Melbourne has more public housing than any other electorate in the country. We are home to many people who have come here under various refugee and migration streams. They are usually not skilled migrants. There are more single mothers in Melbourne than in many other electorates in the country. We have these public housing tower blocks which house thousands of people in the middle of affluent suburbs. When you look at the suburb-by-suburb analysis, yes, the area looks wealthy. But we have pockets of thousands and thousands of people who are in distress and doing it tough. They are using the occasional child care at these Neighbourhood houses to help get themselves out of poverty and to help begin integrating into the Australian employment market. They go to many of the Neighbourhood houses which I visit. They are studying for their certificate II or III in child care, they are perhaps doing a catering course and they are perhaps learning English. The Take A Break program and occasional care funding has been absolutely essential in saving these people from becoming more and more isolated.
The effects on these people, which are not showing up in the government analysis of vulnerable areas, are going to be huge. We know that there is extensive research to support the need for funded occasional child care. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has demonstrated it, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has demonstrated it and the original Henry review demonstrated it. We know that Australia has, relative to OECD standards, low rates of employment of lone mothers and high rates of joblessness for mothers with dependent children. We know that one of the greatest barriers to workforce training and participation for vulnerable women is the scarcity of high-quality accessible and affordable child care.
It is exactly these people who are, in my experience in the electorate of Melbourne—and I think you will find it in many other places as well—being hardest hit by this dispute over a very small amount of money which would make an enormous difference to some of the most vulnerable people in this country. These are some of the people whom—and I know the government agrees—we want to encourage into employment participation. A needs analysis of demand for occasional child care can be difficult, given the vulnerability and often invisibility of potential users. It is difficult to assess how many occasional childcare places require funding, but it is many more than 250. We are with the federal government that occasional child care must be of a high standard and that standards of occasional child care should be set as part of the national quality framework. But, in the meantime, all of the research and all of the experience of providers confirms that federal funding for occasional child care is required and that community based providers such as neighbourhood houses and rural centres should be supported by state governments to ensure families can access affordable and high-quality occasional child care. The federal government should step up to the plate as well.
Debate resumed on the motion by Mr Laurie Ferguson:
That this House:
(1) notes the tenth anniversary of the Harkin-Engel Protocol signed in September 2001, designed to encourage voluntary standards for the certification of cocoa production that prohibits and eliminates engagement in the worst forms of child labour, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 which has been ratified by Australia; and
(2) calls upon the Australian Government to:
(a) be proactive in measures to counter people trafficking or slavery;
(b) actively engage in international fora to ensure greater priority for consideration of measures against child slavery and trafficking;
(c) work co-operatively to improve traceability of products through the monitoring of their derivation where practical with reference to people trafficking or slavery;
(d) co-operate closely with organisations and entities against people trafficking.
This motion essentially has two elements: recognition of the 10th anniversary of the Harkin-Engel protocol and a list of suggestions as to how this country can be more active on the broader question of slavery internationally. It calls for Australia to raise the issue in international fora, to be more effective on tracing products and to be mindful of these issues in regard to government purchasing policy. The main element is the legislation of the United States, and I also want to congratulate the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans group—it is often around this parliament, dealing with the question, more specifically, of sexual slavery—for raising this matter with me and the seconder.
Global sales of chocolate were in the order of $100 billion as of 2009. Predominantly, the production is in West Africa—more particularly, in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. There was a pledge by companies that they would adhere to ILO convention 182 on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. There was much fanfare and I certainly congratulate those people who tried to do something within the US Congress. However, a report by Tulane University has indicated that the large chocolate manufacturers have not really adhered to their commitments. The university noted that in a survey of the results of the protocol in the period of 12 months from 2007-08, for instance, there were 820,000 children working in cocoa related activities in Ivory Coast and just under a million in Ghana.
The industry is characterised by some endemic problems that are difficult to overcome. There is a lack of farmer power and impoverishment of farmers, and one of the realities in this issue in Africa is the fact that it is often the parents, the uncles and the other relatives who are employing these children under abominable conditions. There is also environmental deterioration and price instability caused by the power of the large companies. Internationally, 10 companies dominate half of the international cocoa bean and liquid chocolate industry. That means that there is an imbalance in regard to negotiations. Of course, in Ivory Coast over the last few years the internal struggle over the presidential elections has affected the ability to do anything about it.
I indicate that we are seeing some progress. Cadbury, in particular, has announced that its Dairy Milk chocolate will be sourced from Fairtrade cocoa, and other companies are starting to move in this direction. However, there is still a need for international campaigns around this issue, and World Vision, amongst others, has called for a guarantee to farmers of a fair price for their cocoa and the elimination of exploitable labour for cocoa production by 2018. There is a need for independent oversight of what actually occurs and a public standard certification process. One of the problems in the field is that there are a number of rival certification codes. Whilst there are claims that a larger amount of cocoa is under Fairtrade conditions, significant parts of that claim by the major corporations are not actually certified by any of the three main operations.
The Stop the Traffik coalition is a group of 100 member organisations in 50 countries, established in 2006, which has manifestly been very strong in regard to this matter. I recommend this motion to note the need for continued international activity, respect the efforts that have been made by a significant number of non-government organisations and make sure that there is activity in the marketplace in this country. In a broader sense there are also a number of requirements put to the Australian government in regard to it playing a more frontline position on the broader issue of child slavery.
I have great pleasure in seconding this motion, which notes that it is the 10th anniversary of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which aimed to help bring an end to the use of forced child labour in cocoa production. The protocol drew attention to the plight of trafficked children in the cocoa plantations of West Africa, notably in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana. West Africa produces some 70 per cent of the world's cocoa.
Australia, of course, is no stranger to the use of forced child labour in our developing regional economies. It is part of our history. I am not referring to the convict children, who were perhaps a special case, but in particular to enslaved Aboriginal children from the turn of the 19th century to the early 20th century when the Royal Commission on the Administration of Aborigines and the Condition of the Natives, an inquiry of the Western Australian parliament tabled in 1905, detailed the uses and abuses of children in some industry sectors. Evidence of one resident magistrate who appeared before Commissioner Roth at the royal commission said:
The child is bound and can be reached by law and punished, but the person to whom the child is bound is apparently responsible to nobody. Even the Chief Protector is obliged to admit the injustice of the system where, taking a concrete case, a child of tender years may be indentured to a mistress as a domestic up to 21 years of age, and receives neither education or payment in return for the services rendered.
Commissioner Roth also found that:
At Broome … quite half the children from ten years and upwards [were] indentured to the pearling industry and taken out in the boats.
Children were enslaved usually from the age of six into the remote pearling industry, prostitution, the pastoral industry and as domestics in early Australia. The 1904 royal commission did recommend that indentured children be sent to schools, when they were available, and that some should even be paid. But decades later British migrant children were forced to work in Australia for little education and no pay, usually on farms, as part of various post-war empire orphan resettlement programs. So, we are no strangers to the horrors of exploitation of children in our own great nation. We must therefore double our efforts to ensure that the lessons from our own history and the legacy of damage and suffering for those once forced to labour are not wasted when it comes to our commitment to international efforts to stop child labour abuse wherever it occurs.
There have been various estimates of the numbers of children exploited in the production of cocoa, a $100 billion industry. It is calculated that there are more than 100,000 children in the Cote D'Ivoire's cocoa industry alone who work under the worst forms of child labour and some 10,000 of them were trafficked as slaves. Ten years ago in 2001 in the United States, the world's biggest consumer of chocolate, two politicians, Tom Harkin a US senator from Iowa and US Congressman Eliot Engel from New York, developed a protocol, which set out a voluntary code with six actions, which was signed by representatives of the World Cocoa Foundation and the then Chocolate Manufacturers Association, a bevy of other large manufacturers and a representative of the Cote D'Ivoire. The protocol required acknowledgement of the child labour problems by cocoa producer nations, the formation of multi-sectoral advisory groups, joint statements witnessed by the ILO, a memorandum of cooperation and the establishment of a joint foundation.
The Harkin-Engel Protocol drew on the International Labour Organisation Convention No. 182 adopted in June 1999, which Australia has ratified, and which focuses on the elimination of all of the so-called worst forms of child labour. The ILO convention definition of 'the worst forms of child labour' include:
(a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
(b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
(c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
… … …
Ten years on it seems that the industry has failed to fully implement any of these six steps to eliminate the worst labour abuses in the cocoa industry. Not much has changed on the ground. Unfortunately the Harkin-Engel Protocol was always voluntary with no enforcement mechanisms, and agreement of an effective guarantee that could be used to assure customers that their cocoa was free of the worst forms of child abuse was never agreed. Independent oversight of standards was dismantled and the industry failed to establish a credible certification system in any form. So-called ethically certified chocolate, defined as product that has not used 'forced, child or trafficked labour', makes up only some five per cent of the global market today. According to the World Vision report called Our guilty pleasure: exploitation of child labourin thechocolate industry10 years on from the Harkin-Engel cocoa protocol, published in April 2011, has found that some well-known chocolate and cocoa product brands in Australia, like ALDI, Mars and Cadbury, acknowledge the problem of the use of child labour in the industry, and all of them claim to invest in local farmers in the industry. But, with the exception of Coca-Cola, none of these companies sell an entire product range in Australia that is from ethical sources. Obviously, the lower prices paid for non-conforming product means that there are many chocolate manufacturers who do not find it economical or convenient to identify or talk about their product labour sources and conditions.
Researchers have found that few cocoa farmers are aware of child-trafficking conventions and the fact that it is illegal to employ and abuse children in that way. Neither the West African governments nor the chocolate industry internationally have done much to inform farmers of the children's rights or domestic laws concerning forced and abusive child labour. The child trafficking that takes place in the cocoa plantations and factories is of children from Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and from within Ivory Coast. It is driven by poverty, little access to education, little official supervision and non-existent punishment for traffickers.
In the Netherlands, one of the global hubs in the world's cocoa supply chain and home to the world's largest chocolate factories, the Dutch government has now determined that it will have transitioned 50 per cent of its chocolate or cocoa consumption to ethically and sustainably sourced plantations by 2015, and all of it, 100 per cent, by 2025. That is commendable.
Australia is doing a great job supporting schools in the slums of Accra, in Ghana, and I have had the privilege of visiting some of these; little girls can now go to school because the Australian aid program has built them some toilets. We have to make sure that those little girls do not end up working in situations where they are not paid or where they are denied future education.
We need to acknowledge that in Australia there is trafficking of women for exploitation in the sex industry, and we know there have been some rescues of people found trafficked into or enslaved as immigrant labour in some of our restaurants. Australia has an old history of child exploitation. We need to make sure that in this new, modern era the Australian government is proactive about measures to counter people-trafficking or slavery wherever it is found. We have to actively engage in international fora to ensure greater priority for the consideration of measures against child slavery and trafficking. We must work cooperatively. Like the mover of this motion, the member for Werriwa, I commend the women from the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans group who brought this particular problem and the issue of this convention to my attention. I hope that, in the future, Australia is one of the global leaders in making sure that no child is abused or exploited and that every child has an opportunity to grow, to be educated and to work as an adult—but not be exploited as a child.
I congratulate the member for Werriwa on moving this motion, as I know he has been having a bit of a hard time in his electorate with the carbon tax and pokies debates. I welcome the opportunity that he has given me to contribute to his motion on the Harkin-Engel Protocol and the practice of forced child labour.
Chocolate is the final product in the manufacturing process that begins with cocoa beans, the seeds of a tree that only thrives within 10 degrees on either side of the equator. Some 70 to 75 per cent of the world's cocoa beans are grown on small farms in West Africa, including in Ivory Coast, which is the world's leading supplier of cocoa. However, the production of chocolate has a dark side.
In 2001, following various media stories of trafficked children and forced labour in cocoa production in West Africa, US Congressman Eliot Engel introduced a bill requiring the US Food and Drug Administration to develop 'slave-free' labelling requirements for all cocoa products. Although the bill passed the US House of Representatives, it never made it through the Senate, and a compromise known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol was reached that required chocolate companies to voluntarily certify that they had stopped the practice of child labour. But, 10 years on, the effectiveness of this protocol is questionable. The US Department of State recently estimated that more than 109,000 children in the Ivory Coast cocoa industry work under 'the worst forms of child labour' and that another 10,000 or more are victims of human trafficking and enslavement. This evidence demonstrates that the original intent of the protocol has not been achieved.
It is poverty that is the root cause of child labour, and it is the low cocoa prices received by farmers that causes this poverty and drives farmers to employ children as a means of survival. Although there has been a recent modest increase in cocoa prices, today the price of cocoa is only marginally higher than it was 25 years ago, despite increasing costs. Therefore, to tackle the problem of child labour in the chocolate supply chain it is necessary to tackle the reasons that cocoa prices received by farmers are depressed. As US congressman Wright Patman once famously noted:
The farmer must have competition in the marketplace. If he has to deal with giant monopolies either buying or selling, he perforce becomes an economic slave.
That appears to be the problem in the chocolate supply chain. A United Nations publication titled Cocoa Study: Industry Structures and Competition recently noted that the cocoa-chocolate supply chain is marked by significant concentration at various stages along the chain and the market has become increasingly concentrated over time following a series of mergers between large multinationals. For example, the three largest purchasers of cocoa produced by Cameroon are reported to control some 95 per cent of that country's production, and following a series of mergers and acquisitions in the chocolate industry five companies alone—Nestle, Ferrero, Mars, Kraft and Cadbury—have come to control more than half of the European market for consumer chocolate. This aggregate figure masks a high degree of concentration in specific national markets and for specific product categories.
The UN study further noted that, at origin, producers do not have bargaining power vis-a-vis a handful of large and major exporters, and that there seems to be a structural imbalance, upstream in the cocoa supply chain, between cocoa producers, with a structure of production characterised by the predominance of small-scale producers, and large buyers with monopsony power. Everywhere that we see excessive market concentration, it is the consumer that pays more and more while the producer receives less and less. Exactly the same applies to chocolate. The UN report concluded that legislation may well need to be considered by commodity-producing countries in designing competition laws and in developing rules to deal with abuse of market power in the cocoa sector.
In conclusion, the extreme poverty in East Africa means that simply boycotting all non-Fairtrade labelled products could have the opposite of the intended effect. If we are to tackle the problems identified by the Harkin-Engel Protocol where that protocol has failed, competition authorities worldwide need a greater understanding of the link between increased poverty, child labour and monopsony or buyer power arising from increased market concentration.
I first spoke on this issue of child exploitation in the production of cocoa and chocolate back on 20 October 2008. That was a debate on a motion moved by the member for Sturt, and on that occasion he spoke very strongly about the need to act now to stop the exploitation of children in West Africa, or the Ivory Coast. When I spoke on that occasion I highlighted the fact that West Africa supplies nearly 80 per cent of the world's cocoa. Large producers such as Cadbury, Nestle and Hershey buy cocoa from the Ivory Coast and then mix it with other cocoas. Thirty per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa are engaged in child labour, mostly in agricultural activities including cocoa farming. They are very disturbing figures.
Since I made that speech and since the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, all the available evidence suggests that child exploitation remains rife in cocoa plantations despite the protocol and the best actions of many countries. Over a 12-month period in 2007-08, 819,920 children were working on cocoa related activities on the Ivory Coast and 997,357 were doing so in Ghana. Fifteen per cent of the children surveyed reported being forced into working involuntarily over the 12-month period. Nearly 50 per cent of the children working on cocoa farms on the Ivory Coast and over 50 per cent in Ghana reported injuries from their work over the year. Thousands of children travel from really impoverished neighbourhoods and from impoverished countries to cocoa plantations on the Ivory Coast. Some of them are living in substandard conditions and receive little or no pay. This emphasises the need for this protocol and for the protocol to be made more effective.
The Harkin-Engel Protocol resulted from an agreement in 2001 on voluntary action by cocoa processors and the chocolate industry to collaborate on eliminating the worst forms of child labour from their supply chain. It has not happened. The protocol set out time-bound steps to be taken so that the world could enjoy chocolate with a clear conscience. Many of my friends and staff members really enjoy chocolate, but it is hard to do so when you know about the misery and suffering that is associated with its production. The voluntary nature of the protocol, plus the fact that there are no enforcement mechanisms, meant that this was never really going to work. As the industry worked together to establish and fund a new foundation to attack the worst forms of child labour, critics watched and could see that it was not going to work. Here we are 10 years later, and things have not changed very much.
I would like to emphasise to the parliament that three of the five leading chocolate companies in the Australian market have either launched or will be launching this year their No. 1 selling brand under an ethical certification for their cocoa sourcing. Cadbury, now owned by Kraft, is sourcing Fairtrade certified cocoa for their Dairy Milk chocolate range. I encourage all members to be very mindful when they are buying chocolate, to read the label and to encourage their constituents to purchase Fairtrade chocolate and to emphasise the importance of buying chocolate that is produced ethically. (Time expired)
This parliament strongly opposes the use of forced child labour or other forms of child exploitation. The Harkin-Engel Protocol has been an important stepping stone in bringing the matter into the public arena and encouraging chocolate companies to open their eyes to the practices in West Africa. This protocol is an international agreement aimed at ending child labour in the production of cocoa.
The protocol laid out a series of data-specific actions working to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. Key actions included the development of a public certification system for cocoa farming, a credible, mutually acceptable voluntary process which would give a public accounting of labour practices in this type of farming. It also gave a commitment to establish a joint international foundation to serve as a clearing house on best practices to eliminate child labour and drive remediation efforts on the ground.
Consumers now have the opportunity to play an active role in discouraging child labour practices by choosing not to purchase chocolate from companies which fail to certify their product free from the use of forced child labour. Public pressure resulted in the decision last year by Cadbury to use the Fairtrade logo on its Dairy Milk bars, which requires it to certify that the cocoa was sourced from farmers in Africa with ethical practices. Similarly, Arnott's announced in 2010 that the chocolate used to make Tim Tams would be sourced from farmers certified by the Fairtrade scheme. All too often we are flooded with foods we know to have been grown using cheap labour, with workers paid a mere fraction of our stringent minimum pay, and some foods which have been subjected to sprays and contaminants our farmers are not allowed to use and would not use. Our quarantine procedures are tight, but little more than a week ago I observed in New Zealand apples ready for shipment to Australia being washed in the same water which had been used on apples sprayed with streptomycin destined for other markets in other countries. If we are going to be fair dinkum about spurning chocolates for one reason or another, we should also be just as consistent about targeting apples, whether they be from China, New Zealand or wherever.
Order! It being 9 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 41. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed on a future day
This evening I would like to raise what I consider to be a national tragedy: the growing occurring number of children in our society who suffer from child abuse and child neglect. The figures are staggering. The most recent figure is that 286,000 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect occurred in 2009-10. That is up from 115,000 just a decade ago. Of those, there were 46,000 substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect. That is up from 27,000 substantiations in 2000. There are now over 37,000 children in Australia under child protection orders. Again, that is a figure that is almost double that of a decade ago.
These are absolutely astounding figures. But the figures do not tell the trauma and the agony which sits behind. Every single figure represents a child who has suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect. The number of children in care now threatens to overwhelm the state and territory child protection departments. Collectively, about $2 billion is being spent each year but, as we know from media comments across the country, child protection departments are struggling to get on top of the issue.
There are many organisations and individuals that work tirelessly to support children who have been subjected to abuse and neglect. I acknowledge the work that those organisations do. I also pay tribute to the child protection officers in each of the state and territory child protection departments. They have an incredibly difficult job, and I take my hat off to them for the work that they do.
I take the opportunity this evening to make particular mention of an organisation that has its national office in my electorate of Aston, in Melbourne. That organisation is called the Southern Cross Kids' Camps. It is a national charitable organisation based in Boronia. Southern Cross Kids' Camps was founded by a quite inspirational woman named Carolyn Boyd about 10 years ago. Its overall mission is to bring fun and laughter back into the lives of children who have suffered from abuse and neglect, to provide them with time to forget about their experiences and, as they say, to enjoy just being a child again, just like any other child. They do that by running a series of camps each year for about 240 children. The camps last for about a week, and they run eight camps nationally—four in Victoria and four elsewhere. The organisation is almost entirely a volunteer organisation. It has about 400 volunteers and just a couple of full-time staff, who coordinate the activities from the national office in Boronia, those two being Shelley Martin and Donna Eldridge. I had the pleasure of supporting this organisation in their One Voice—Walk Against Child Abuse fundraiser last Saturday, which was a six-kilometre walk around Lysterfield Lake in my electorate. People signed up to do that walk to raise funds for that organisation, and I did that with my seven-year-old daughter, Cassie. I understand also that the member for Holt has been a supporter of the Southern Cross Kids' Camps. I commend him for that and I know that the organisation appreciates his support.
Organisations like the Southern Cross Kids' Camps do incredible work for these children. They really do bring some joy into their lives and give them the support, encouragement and love which are often missing. But what they do not do—and it is not their mandate—is address some of the root causes of the problems. The question we should be asking is: what is causing these statistics to go up at such an alarming rate? As I said, child protection orders have almost doubled in a decade.
No-one can categorically prove what the root causes are. Certainly alcohol is a factor. Drugs are a factor. Unemployment is a factor. Poverty is a factor as well. But I was taken by a report, For kids' sake, by Professor Patrick Parkinson AM, who describes in quite a compelling manner the breakdown of families in Australia as being a considerable factor in the number of incidents of child ill-wellbeing, if you like, and he describes, in quite considerable detail, some of those things. He says:
While it would be simplistic to posit just one or two explanations—
for some of the things occurring which I have been talking about—
if there is one major demographic change in western societies that can be linked to a large range of adverse consequences for many children and young people, it is the growth in the numbers of children who experience life in a family other than living with their two biological parents, at some point before the age of 15. Family conflict and parental separation have a range of adverse impacts on children and young people.
Again, he does not say there is a direct causal link there, but he notes the correlation and notes that over the last 20 years there has been a marked breakdown in family relationships in Australia. Indeed, as you may be aware, about a third of marriages these days end in divorce. So I would certainly commend the report to members of the House. I think it is worth looking at. Professor Parkinson, who wrote the report, is one of Australia's most eminent authorities on child protection and family-law related matters. He is a professor at the University of Sydney.
So what is to be done to address some of these issues? I will not try tonight to prescribe a policy solution to address all the issues of child neglect which I talked about to begin with, but let me at least talk about some things which I think might assist young families to stay together in a more harmonious way. The starting point is to recognise that we do indeed have a problem. The high incidence of family breakdown is not merely a modern trend like any other modern trend but a serious issue that is within our control. We should concentrate on it and think about it as policymakers. I think we need to unashamedly declare that strong families raise strong children and build strong communities. There is undoubtedly love and care in all family types, but I certainly believe that children being raised by two loving parents is the ideal situation—and I say that having grown up in a single-parent situation at a time when there were few single parents around.
Next, I think our policy should be geared to supporting families as much as possible—particularly young families who are trying to find their feet. Professor Parkinson has some recommendations in this area which we should look at. He particularly recommends the Family Relationship Centres as being a good model for supporting families in a counselling based style and through the educative programs which the centres run. Indeed, I was delighted to open one in my electorate quite recently. But it is broader than this, I believe. I think we should be supporting more strongly the key community institutions that bring people together and provide support and a network, particularly for young families. In this regard, kinders are particularly important. That is why I have been such a passionate defender of three-year-old kinders in Victoria. The child-care centres are important. The churches are, I think, very important in our community in this regard and we should respect those churches as much as possible, even if you are not necessarily a Christian or have faith in another denomination. The mothers' and fathers' groups are also important in this area as indeed the large sporting clubs increasingly are. In my electorate the large football clubs play a very vital role in terms of linking up younger families with older people, again providing a network of support for those people. So I think we can do more in terms of supporting community institutions that bring people together.
Finally, on an individual basis sometimes we need to take the pressure off ourselves and realise there is no such thing as a perfect family. If from an individual perspective we do some of those things we have outlined from a policy perspective then we can strengthen families in Australia. (Time expired)
One of the most intractable issues of public safety that governments seek to redress is the seemingly endless carnage on Australia's roads, an annual disaster that sees a national average of around 1,400 fatalities each year. Furthermore, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that for each death another 20 people suffer serious injury that frequently imposes long-term social and economic burdens on the individuals and families involved.
Government road safety initiatives have seen a significant improvement in these figures—down from a peak of 3,798 road fatalities in 1970 to the current average that is, however, still somewhat more than a third of that dreadful statistic. Put in other terms, the number of road accident fatalities per capita has fallen from a peak of 30.4 per 100,000 people in 1970 to 6.9 per 100,000 in 2009, largely as a result of government measures such as the introduction of compulsory seatbelts, installation of speed cameras and red-light cameras, improved roads and vehicles and the strengthening and enforcement of laws governing road use, including random breath testing, as well as an increasing public awareness of road safety.
One of the chief culprits of road fatalities has been the four-wheel-drive vehicle. In 2002 an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report titled Four wheel drive crashes highlighted that collisions involving four-wheel-drives are nine times more likely to kill other road users than to kill the driver of the four-wheel-drive, and the number of fatal crashes in four-wheel-drives jumped 85 per cent between 1990 and 1998 compared with an overall reduction of 25 per cent in fatal crashes on the roads for the same period. By 1998 12 per cent of fatal crashes on Australia's roads involved four-wheel-drives. This compared with five per cent eight years earlier.
Paradoxically four-wheel-drives enjoyed favourable tax status for decades with five per cent tariffs compared with 15 per cent tariffs on other cars. We had a tax regime that encouraged the purchase of four-wheel-drives and sales consequently soared. In 1995 the customs duty tariff on passenger cars was 27.5 per cent, but for four-wheel-drives it was 7.5 per cent. Over the years both have come down and as of 1 January 2010 both are now taxed at five per cent.
The reason the difference existed was that two decades ago four-wheel-drives were tools of the trade. Now many are not. They are simply passenger cars. For those who take their vehicles off the road it is the capacity for these all-terrain vehicles to explore off the beaten track that makes them attractive. Large four-wheel-drives have considerable towing capacity, which is useful for those with caravans and boats. According to car makers, however, only a fraction of four-wheel-drives actually make it off the road. Despite this, vehicles named Discovery and Explorer offer the possibility of fulfilling the dream of a great trip or adventure. For many it remains only a dream.
For others the attraction is their tough appearance. They are generally large vehicles and occupants sit higher, providing great road visibility and a perception of safety. But this perception is often false. In four-wheel-drive crashes involving multiple vehicles, occupants of four-wheel-drives accounted for 18 per cent of fatalities compared with 64 per cent for car occupants. Four-wheel-drive owners argue that they are safer in a four-wheel-drive than in a car. Yet the number of fatal four-wheel-drive crashes increased by 85 per cent between 1990 and 1998. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau attributed the rise to an increase in four-wheel-drive activity rather than to any increase in vehicle safety. The bureau also indicated that cars and light trucks recorded slightly lower fatal crash involvement than four-wheel-drives. While owners defend their right to choice, the increase in urban four-wheel drives has met with criticism. Some people deride them as 'Toorak tractors' or 'urban assault vehicles' and claim that their proliferation in urban areas is a safety threat. Critics say that their size and bullbars pose a threat to other road users and pedestrians and that high fuel consumption is an environmental cost.
Four-wheel drives have also been widely criticised for inferior handling and relative lack of manoeuvrability. A study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre in April 2007 found that four-wheel drives were especially vulnerable to rollovers because of their high centre of gravity, and crash test results indicated that they struck with about four times the force of a car. An Australian Transport Safety Bureau report shows that collisions involving four-wheel drives were nine times more likely to kill other road users than to kill the four-wheel driver. Of the 13 children involved in driveway related fatalities in Victoria since 2000, 10 were killed by a four-wheel drive or truck. Kidsafe Australia President Dr Mark Stokes said that driveway fatalities were easy to prevent and that the one way of doing this was to abandon the four-wheel drive as the family car. Other statistics indicate that, as the mortality and morbidity arising from cardiovascular disease, cancers and other illnesses decline with improvements in medical science, deaths and morbidity resulting from motor vehicle accidents will, as a proportion, slowly increase unless further effective steps are taken to improve road safety.
Most of the road safety measures introduced over the last few decades have been largely passive in that they do not actively affect the mechanical operation of the vehicle but rely mainly on modifying the behaviours of the drivers, who are vulnerable to the normal human frailties and errors of judgment. Fortunately, however, recent advances in electronics, computers, sensors and actuators have made practical and affordable a major improvement in the safety of motor vehicles, and there now exists a substantial list of proven technologies that either have been shown to reduce road fatalities or have the potential to do so. Those that are currently available in some models include antilock brake systems that improve steerability and hasten deceleration during hard braking; an electronic stability control that detects and prevents skids; and a traction control system that prevents drivers losing control when manoeuvring.
Other active systems—those meant to prevent crashes—include but are not limited to forward collision warning systems that detect a potential collision and sound an alarm; automatic braking that senses a potential collision and applies the brakes without driver input; traffic sign recognition that sounds an alert as a driver enters an area where traffic rules or speeds have changed; lane departure detectors that sound an alarm when a vehicle strays from its lane; lane departure prevention devices that stop a car from changing lanes when the device detects a hazard coming from behind in the next lane; and back-over detection that warns a driver of an unseen obstruction or person when the vehicle is backing up and sounds an alarm or applies the brakes if necessary. The frequency of the regular, distressing reports of children being run over by reversing vehicles could be greatly reduced by the compulsory installation of this single device.
Demonstrating the effectiveness of these devices, in 2006 the United States Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluded that electronic stability control reduces the likelihood of all fatal crashes by 43 per cent, fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56 per cent and fatal single rollovers by 77 to 80 per cent, a huge improvement. Ahead of the Europeans in responding to these convincing figures and other strong evidence from 2004 that was ignored by the Howard government, the Australian Labor government announced on 23 June 2009 that electronic stability control would be compulsory for all new passenger vehicles sold in Australia from November 2011 and for all new vehicles sold from November 2013. As a result of this single measure, fatalities from road crashes can be expected to be reduced by almost half over the next 15 to 20 years, roughly the replacement time for the national vehicle fleet. This rational and humane policy of our government will eventually result in almost 700 fewer people being killed on Australian roads each year. In fact, the road toll could be halved. Of all the achievements of the Labor government, I would say that the introduction of electronic stability control in motor vehicles and its impact on the road will be seen as one of the most beneficial. Affordable and practical technology now exists that makes possible a great reduction in the road toll. Yet, with the exception of electronic stability control, none of the recent advances in active safety systems have been required to be fitted to new vehicles. In my view, this situation needs to change rapidly. Considering the benefits, many of these life-saving devices should be fitted to all new vehicles now.
I rise to speak about a serious issue with education, training and the development of a skilled workforce in the mining and resources sector. I note recent comments from the Premier of Queensland to the effect that Western Australia and Queensland will be fierce competitors for skilled labour to meet the demands of the mining boom. I also note that the Queensland Premier quotes a figure of some 38,000 new jobs that will be created in the mining and resources sector in Queensland by 2015 and that an agreement has been reached between the Queensland state government and the resources sector to seek out new workers from coastal areas with high unemployment.
There is no question that significant employment opportunities will exist in the mining and resources sector over the coming years for a very broad range of classifications, from drillers, labourers, machine operators, catering and domestic workers through to shift supervisors, geologists and engineers. Mining companies are currently recruiting staff with experience in the sector but are also taking on workers who will be new to mining and resources.
On the Gold Coast we have an available workforce ready and willing to work in the mines, so this is a region where the mining sector needs to be proactively seeking to recruit. This is an opportunity that will benefit both the mining companies and the Gold Coast population. The mining companies are looking for workers and on the Gold Coast we have the workers willing and available to start work now.
As I am sure many people are already aware, the Gold Coast is Australia's sixth largest city. South-East Queensland has experienced significant growth over recent years and this is predicted to continue, with the population on the Gold Coast likely to reach close to 750,000 in the next 15 years. For many years the Gold Coast economy has been dependent on tourism and construction. When those sectors were performing well the Gold Coast prospered. But during downturns the Gold Coast has suffered more than other parts of Australia. The development of other industry sectors has been slow but consistent and today the Gold Coast has a strong light-manufacturing sector with capacity for further growth and, importantly, we have a sound and extensive education sector. I will speak more about education shortly.
The Gold Coast has historically had unemployment rates of about one per cent to 1½ per cent above the national average. I believe that this has been for two reasons. Firstly, we are an economy based largely on tourism and construction, where a certain amount of work is either seasonal or project based. Secondly, people are attracted to the Gold Coast often for lifestyle reasons and the skills and experience that they present with do not always align with the work that is available. Consequently, those people have difficulty in securing employment.
Recently, a mining and gas jobs expo was held on the Gold Coast. It attracted around 10,000 people, the vast majority of whom were job seekers. The people I spoke to had a range of qualifications and work experience, including relevant trade certificates. All were united in their eagerness to find work and all wanted to work in the mining and resources sector. It is clear that the Gold Coast has an existing workforce ready and able to work in the mines or the gas fields, so the issue for us is to put in place appropriate measures to ensure that we are in the best possible position to be part of, and to support growth in, the sector.
Today I specifically want to speak about two issues. First is the establishment of a fly in, fly out terminal at the Gold Coast Airport. FIFO is critical to the maintenance of a viable mining and resources sector as it goes through a period of unprecedented growth. Whilst I understand that there are significant social issues associated with FIFO workers and their families, the mining and resources sector will need to source labour from a range of different areas in order to meet the growing workforce need. As such, I believe a proactive approach to FIFO must be taken. Clearly, support for the families of the FIFO worker is essential, and I believe that the Gold Coast is well placed to offer that necessary support. Specifically, we have world-class education facilities, with four universities, over 160 RTOs and a wide range of public and independent schools. Medical facilities on the southern Gold Coast, close to the airport, include public and private hospitals and medical centres, as well as medical practitioners, specialists, dentists and allied health professionals. We also have numerous sporting clubs and community groups that would be able to support the families of the FIFO workers.
Importantly for the industry and in support of a FIFO operation, the Gold Coast is, on average, 2½ hours journey time from mining and gas work sites and has existing transport infrastructure in place. I understand that the second terminal at the Gold Coast Airport has sufficient capacity and is considered to be an excellent location for a FIFO facility. I have made a submission to the House Standing Committee on Regional Australia's inquiry into the use of fly-in fly-out work practices in regional Australia and I am aware that a number of other interested parties have also made submissions on behalf of the Gold Coast. In my submission I outlined, as I have done today, the benefits to the Gold Coast community of the establishment of a FIFO facility as well as the support the community could offer FIFO workers and their families. I am hopeful that the committee will visit the Gold Coast as part of its inquiry so that it can be informed of the benefits of locating a FIFO facility on the Gold Coast for the community, workers and their families and also the mining and gas companies.
I turn now to education and the opportunities that we have on the Gold Coast to support the mining and resources sector. I will start with the universities. As I said earlier, we have four university campuses on the Gold Coast: Griffith, Bond, Southern Cross and Central Queensland. Our universities are world-class and already offer a selection of courses that are relevant to the mining and resources sector. However, targeted courses in engineering for the mining and resources sector could and should be developed and offered. In particular, emphasis in the engineering courses should be given to project management, procurement, engineering and resources management, oil and gas engineering and sustainable mining practices. Engineers skilled in these areas are in short supply in the mining and gas sector, and I understand from a number of employers that this expertise would be advantageous and well regarded by the industry.
Consideration should also be given to the development of a master's program in the relevant subject areas as well as targeted short course delivery to suit a FIFO workforce. At the trade level, it is widely accepted that there is a general shortage of tradespersons, and that is an issue that is relevant Australia-wide. There are reduced take-up rates for apprenticeships and, coupled with a low completion rate, this has led to a shortage of qualified tradespersons across a range of trades. The mining and resources sector needs to take a proactive approach to this skills shortage and consider taking on more apprentices in the future, and those apprentices should be taken on in a range of different skills bases.
There is a model for trade training on the Gold Coast that could readily be adapted to the needs of the mining and gas industries and operate on a fly-in fly-out basis. I refer here to the model implemented at the Australian Industry Trade College. The AITC curriculum is delivered in a rotating four-week pattern, where students attend college for a four-week period to study senior Queensland Studies Authority, QSA, subjects. This is followed by a four-week period as a full-time school based apprentice. This pattern continues for the last two years of school, at the end of which the student graduates with a nationally recognised qualification—the Queensland Certificate of Education. It is worth noting that the graduation levels from the Australian Industry Trade College are significantly higher than those for apprentices in other sectors going through other methods of training, so the model certainly has a lot to offer the industries. The model would also, clearly, be appropriate to the mining and gas sector operating fly-in fly-out work practices.
I believe that the Gold Coast is well placed to develop as an education hub for the delivery of world-class engineering programs at the trade, graduate and master's levels, with emphasis on the mining and resources sector, and I am confident that we will become the international centre of excellence for mining and engineering education. In concluding tonight, I call on the government to support the development of a fly-in fly-out facility on the Gold Coast and to support the growth of the Gold Coast as an international centre of excellence for mining and engineering education.
This is probably not going to seem remarkable to a number of my colleagues in here who share the position of having been elected to this parliament for the first time. As new members we all bring a new degree of energy to our respective seats—I am not going to talk the other side up too much because obviously we have a job to do in a few years time!—and we do think very much about what we can do in the time that we have to improve the lives of our local communities. Certainly, as a new MP and having grown up in the area I have the privilege and great honour to represent I have seen things improve over time, but we all share ambitions to improve the lives of the people that we represent, our neighbours and friends. We just want to see good things done in the electorates that, again, we have the honour of serving and speaking up for.
In my electorate of Chifley, in Western Sydney, infrastructure is a big concern, particularly infrastructure that allows for the provision of quality health care and, through a range of different things, improving services. But it is also about making available infrastructure that allows us to make a real difference in the healthcare options that people have. I am really conscious of it, being in an area of Western Sydney where people are not flush with funds and where transport, which many of us take for granted, is sometimes not easy. The public transport options are limited and, in the suburbs that fall within Chifley, rates of drivers licence possession are amongst the lowest in Sydney, so getting around is a real issue. If we can provide health care that is easy to access and easy to get to, that makes a real difference.
Last year, I was really pleased to have in the Chifley electorate Parliamentary Secretary Butler, as he was then, visiting the Mount Druitt Hospital. The hospital forms part of the UWS campus and, along with Blacktown Hospital, is located in the biggest local government area of New South Wales, Blacktown, a huge area that is growing all the time and that has definite need. A few weeks ago, on 19 October, it was fantastic to have the Prime Minister out to open the nearly $21 million University of Western Sydney clinical school. It sits in Greenway, but its benefits will spread across a range of Western Sydney electorates. I recognise that a number of my colleagues were present, including the member for Parramatta, the member for Fowler and the Minister for Health and Ageing, who has been a very strong advocate for this facility. The facility has a special purpose: through the school, about 100 local doctors will be trained. The beauty of this is that, by training up doctors in the area they come from, we will have a greater ability to retain doctors in Western Sydney. I know from representations I have made to the minister that we have a number of areas that are classed as 'districts of workplace shortage', where it is simply impossible to get local doctors in. In fact, we require overseas trained, appropriately qualified GPs to come in because we cannot get people there. The eastern part of Sydney tends to act as a magnet for people with medical expertise, which means it is really hard, particularly in high population growth areas, to get GPs. This school will fill a special need and will also ensure, for example, that third-year students are provided with full-time attachments to hospitals. That will be another huge boost to the hospital system but will also provide those students with an excellent opportunity to learn and to build their skills, and to form a greater attachment to the region they have come from. Hopefully we will retain those critical skills in our region.
There has been a range of big investments in health care in the Blacktown-Mount Druitt area. I mentioned earlier that last year, when he was parliamentary secretary, Mark Butler visited Mount Druitt Hospital. He announced a $4 million investment in equipment there, including for the provision of subacute beds and paramedic equipment, but also to replace an old, four-slice CT scanner with a 64-slice one.
This is great news for a hospital that occupies a special place in the Mount Druitt area—so much so that its role is recognised. It is one of the hospitals that scores exceptionally well when it comes to the feedback from people who have been through the hospital for treatment. In fact, close to 90 per cent of overnight patients rated their care at Mount Druitt Hospital as good, very good or excellent. That hospital, which was—and this is probably noteworthy, given recent events—opened by the Queen, has been providing quality health care, as rated by the people who need to go there. It is really a jewel in the crown of Western Sydney health care—particularly in an area where people, as I said earlier, are not necessarily flush with funds and find it difficult to get access to transport. They have, right in their neighbourhood, a hospital that, when they need it, should they need it, gives them really good health care, and they rate it as such.
As I suspect you have gathered in the short time I have been speaking, getting access to affordable, accessible health care is an absolute priority for me. It is a passion that I bring to this place. But it would not necessarily match the passion and commitment that a number of people bring to the table in Western Sydney—people like Associate Professor Peter Zelas; people like the GM of the hospital, Dominic Dawson; people like Dr Graham Reece—or match those of the range of medical practitioners and doctors and nurses who dedicate themselves to bettering the lives of people in our area or help ease the burden that people suffer when their health is not as good as they would like it to be.
But, much as the hospital itself is doing very well and is well received, nobody would want to be complacent. Again, some do it tough, and I would never want to see a situation where they sacrificed health care because they did not have the money or the access. We certainly do have things we can do to help people and take the hospital to greater levels of performance in being able to provide something of incredible value locally.
One of the things I feel strongly about—and it is something that my predecessor, Roger Price, felt strongly about, as does a colleague in the local area, the state member for Mount Druitt, the Hon. Richard Amery—is the need to get a licence for a magnetic resonance imaging machine to be situated in Mount Druitt Hospital. Blacktown Hospital has an MRI already. In fact, its imaging department is seen as the most efficient in the system, particularly in Western Sydney. The MRI machine itself does not exist; we do not have a licence that will allow for a machine to be situated in Mount Druitt Hospital. As much as there has been an improvement via the provision of a new CT scanner, MRIs—and I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, have pushed for this in your local area—are one of the most efficient pieces of equipment for helping diagnosis and treatment. We need this licence.
I have written to the Minister for Health and Ageing on this. I have also met with her about it. A few months ago I kicked off a petition to demonstrate the huge community demand that exists to see an MRI machine situated in the suburbs where, as I said, people do not necessarily have money or transport options. I do not want them sacrificing or foregoing treatment or being able to access this type of equipment because they think they do not have the money or the ability to travel long distances to get the help they need. Next week I will be undertaking a range of mobile offices across the electorate of Chifley where I will have that petition present. I will be calling on people to throw their support behind this campaign, so that we can indicate to the minister for health that there is huge demand in our area for this machine and to ensure that a hospital that is doing great things can do even greater things into the future, and people can continue to get the quality health care that they so richly deserve.
I did not support the mining tax at the election, I do not support the mining tax now and I will be voting against the mining tax when it comes before this parliament. I have consistently stated that I do not support a Commonwealth mining tax. I believe that Australia's natural resources are owned by the states and not the Commonwealth. As such, I believe that the current royalty regime is the appropriate tax for natural resources. A Commonwealth mining tax is yet another attempt by the Commonwealth government to erode state rights and state royalties. A Commonwealth government mining tax will be yet another impost on the state of Western Australia. It is part of the triple assault on WA by the federal government: mining tax, carbon tax and the unfair rate of return of GST revenue.
As well as my opposition to the mining tax generally, I have issues with the negotiation, design and application of this particular mining tax, referred to as the minerals resource rent tax: firstly, it will harm Australia's miners by damaging their international competitiveness; secondly, the mining tax was the result of secret negotiations between the Prime Minister and the three biggest multinational, multiproject mining companies; and, finally, it will deliver advantages to the three big miners who negotiated the tax, while delivering competitive disadvantages to smaller emerging miners, who were excluded from negotiations.
The mining tax as we know it must be scrapped. The current mining tax was designed behind closed doors with the big three mining heavyweights: BHP, Rio and Xstrata. These three companies are multinationals, with numerous projects that post tens of billions of dollars profit each year. Excluded from these negotiations were the 320 smaller mining companies, who compete in the same global market as the big three. Also excluded were the state and territory governments, including the governments of Western Australia and Queensland, where most of the mining industry operates. The secrecy that surrounded the negotiations has also extended to the assumptions, modelling and figures used by the government to underpin its forward estimates. Compare this to the Western Australian government, for example, which publicly provides assumptions underpinning royalties forward estimates in its budget. I implore the government to listen to the industry, listen to the people and scrap this tax. However, if the government refuses to scrap the tax, it must at least make changes to ensure that it is fairer for the mining companies excluded from negotiations.
I have opposed this mining tax passionately, because my electorate of O'Connor is the home of many mining companies and many of those companies' employees. These companies employ, train and upskill many of my constituents. Further, these mining companies, more than any other industry, continually make valuable voluntary contributions to the community through the provision of infrastructure, through the funding of charitable projects and through sponsorship. For example, a natural resource company operating in the port of Esperance recently constructed the town's first overpass—a major infrastructure project that will continue to provide benefits to the town for many years to come. More than $4 million was spent on local goods, services and contractors during the construction of the bridge.
However, you do not need to live in an electorate such as O'Connor to oppose the mining tax or to be outraged by the grossly unfair the way this tax was negotiated and finalised. In fact, most Australians would feel very uncomfortable with the way this tax is set to unfairly advantage the three biggest and most profitable mining companies at the expense of the rest of the mining industry. Shame on the Labor government, the government that holds out the values of fairness and equity, for devising and imposing a tax that advantages the three richest, largest and most powerful mining companies at the expense of smaller mining companies in Australia. Shame on the Prime Minister for trading off the interests of the unrepresented mining industry to help seal her own leadership deal. This tax should be scrapped. If the federal government insists on a mining tax, it should start fresh negotiations in good faith for a fairer mining tax. It is my position that if the legislation is passed, and I truly hope it is not, then at least it must be fair.
Unlike the government, I have spent considerable time consulting industry on these issues. Industry has serious concerns about the inequitable application of the mining tax to the companies that were not privy to the secret negotiations. Modelling and studies conducted by the industry and academic institutions have indicated that the application of this tax will lead to the emerging and smaller miners paying the mining tax earlier and at a higher rate than the big three miners who negotiated the tax. This competitive disadvantage was confirmed in a study conducted by a professor of economics at the University of Western Australia. Following a question during question time on the UWA study, the Treasurer offered me briefings by Treasury officials on this report. In these briefings officials from Treasury confirmed that the modelling figures and conclusions of the study were correct and that emerging miners will pay a higher rate of mining tax than the three big established miners.
We must ensure that smaller miners, perhaps with single projects, do not have cost disadvantages with the bigger miners with multiple projects; after all, they are all selling their product in the same global market. At the very least, we need to ensure this tax is fair. After lengthy consultation with industry, there are at least two ways we can make the tax fairer for industry members excluded from negotiations. Firstly, the miners that were completely excluded from the negotiations of this tax should not be subject to the tax. Given that the three big miners were the only companies that negotiated the tax, these are the companies that should pay the tax. If some of the miners excluded from the negotiations are unfairly forced to pay then there should be a much higher threshold before the mining tax liability kicks in. Secondly, and additionally, the government should commit in legislation that smaller miners will not pay the mining tax any earlier, or at a higher rate, than the three big mining companies. These proposals will not fix this mining tax. However, these proposals would at least make the tax fairer for the smaller mining companies excluded from the negotiations.
Finally, I would like to discuss the proposed use of the mining tax revenue. The government's rhetoric in the budget papers and as recently as today's question time is that the mining tax is 'investing in our mining regions' and 'further investment in our regional communities'. It is hard to believe these statements from the government when over 50 per cent of the first billion dollars from the mining tax fund will be spent on upgrading the roads, freeways and bridges around the Perth city airport under the Gateway WA project. What I would like to know from the government and the relevant ministers is: how many of their nine Regional Development Australia committees in WA have endorsed the Gateway WA project as the No. 1 regional development project in my home state? I think I know the answer and it will be either none or, at the very best, one. I hear the government is trying to justify this project as regional development, but the reality is that it is nothing more than pandering to marginal electorates and further supporting a fly-in fly-out workforce, which has a devastating effect on regional development in Western Australia. I urge the regional members of this House, especially those who have a resource industry, to consider the merits of the mining tax for regional development and regional Australia.
This mining tax is bad for industry, bad for Western Australia and bad for my electorate of O'Connor. Further, this particular mining tax is grossly unfair for smaller and emerging miners and every mining company excluded from the Labor government's deal with the big three.
I rise tonight to address a number of defence personnel issues which have come to my attention and which warrant genuine consideration by the government. But, before I do, I wish to acknowledge the death of three more Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The political debate about the war—as much as there is one—and my personal opposition to the conflict are one thing, but the fine performance of our soldiers in Afghanistan and the tragedy when one or more of them is killed or hurt is another thing entirely. My heart goes out to the families and friends of our most recent fatalities. May our nation's sons rest in peace. And may we in this place be careful to ensure the work of all our service men and women is appropriately recognised and rewarded.
To that end, I urge the government to look afresh at the continuing unfairness in the superannuation arrangements for some serving and retired defence personnel, in particular members of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefit Scheme. In essence, the problem is that currently the benefits paid by DFRDB and DFRB are indexed to the consumer price index instead of to male total average weekly earnings or the pensioner and beneficiary living cost index as is the case with other government benefits and pensions. As a consequence, the real value of the pension for some defence superannuants is falling further and further behind, to the point where evermore ex-service men and women are struggling to meet even the most basic costs of living—and that is wrong.
Neither the government nor the opposition is in the clear on this matter because the problem has existed for many years and neither has done anything about it. The ALP should be condemned for not doing something about it since its election in 2007. The coalition should be condemned for not doing something about it during the Howard years and, more recently, for tabling a patently unconstitutional private members' money bill in a theatrical display designed to win over serving and ex-service men and women.
Another perennial issue of concern is defence compensation arrangements—for instance, the way some service personnel have to choose whether to receive compensation by pension or a lump sum if they fit within the Veterans' Entitlements Act or the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. The way I understand it, in some cases, if they opt for a lump sum payment, their pension is reduced to offset the cost. On the face of it, this seems perfectly fair, except that once the cost of the lump sum payment has been offset, the pension does not increase to the full level. So those veterans who need a helping hand early on are forced to take less money overall than those who opt for the pension alone. The review of military compensation arrangements released in March this year has found that there are several alternatives which may address the perceived inequities in the compensation system, but they have been deemed too complicated to implement. Again, that is wrong.
Such matters do need to be looked at afresh and every effort should be made to ensure our ex-service men and women are treated fairly. While we are at it, we need to be mindful that the defence community is much bigger than the men and women in uniform and it is not just service personnel who need the government's support. Defence families, in particular, experience unique pressures—for example, regular relocations and lengthy time apart due to postings, operations and training. Helping out is the Defence Community Organisation, which provides counselling, relocation support, crisis care for dependants and bereavement support. But cuts are proposed which would drastically reduce the level of support the DCO provides, including cutting skilled social workers, reducing allowed client visits and a reduction in regional centres.
I understand that the natural instinct of governments is to cut costs by centralising service delivery. However, I firmly believe that our defence families deserve the very best and most personal services we can give them, including being able to directly access services locally without having to go through a national call centre. The Hobart DCO will be one such centre affected if the proposed reforms are realised and it would be increasingly difficult for families, particularly in Tasmania, to access the care they need. Again, that would be wrong.
Another important consideration for our soldiers, past and present, is recognition. I am concerned to have learned there is some division within the Vietnam veterans community about the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August being used as Vietnam Veterans Day. The issue is not the importance of the Battle of Long Tan, which is clearly one of the most significant battles in Australian military history and one that warrants special recognition. No, the issue is that some veterans of other battles in South Vietnam are frustrated because they feel Vietnam Veterans Day ceremonies focus too much on Long Tan to the exclusion of the other significant battles. Some veterans even avoid the ceremonies on that day as they do not feel included or appropriately recognised.
Frankly, it upsets me to know that some, perhaps many, of those who made great sacrifices for us in times of war are left feeling excluded on the very day meant for them. Make no mistake: I am ex-6 RAR myself and I agree that the Battle of Long Tan is enormously significant and should be remembered as such. Perhaps it should be granted its own commemorative day, but I do see how it could be inappropriate to recognise the entire sacrifice made by Australian diggers in Vietnam on the day of just one of the many battles that make up that sacrifice. Perhaps it would be more appropriate and respectful to recognise Vietnam Veterans Day on the date the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam first touched down in Saigon or the date our combat troops completed their withdrawal.
Talking of anniversaries, and on a more positive note, I am delighted to recognise that Anglesea Barracks in Hobart is the oldest continually occupied barracks in Australia and on 2 December this year will celebrate its bicentennial—the first bicentenary, in fact, celebrated by the Australian Defence Force. It goes without saying—but I will say anyway—that I was delighted with the Prime Minister's commitment to me earlier this year to keep Anglesea Barracks regardless of any Defence recommendation to do otherwise.
Finally, I would like to wrap up this omnibus of defence issues with the plight of one particular ex-serviceman, a constituent about whom I do not claim to know all the facts other than that there is a strong prima facie case that he has been treated unfairly and I think it is time for the minister to intervene. My concern is to do with Wing Commander Robert Grey, retired. For over a decade now Mr Grey has been seeking an inquiry into the dismissal of several senior RAAF officers, including himself, under defence inquiry regulations. He has been told continually that the problem is an administrative one, thus denying him access to the military justice system. The Department of Defence has repeatedly directed him to the Scheme for Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration and refused to instigate an inquiry. This is despite the fact that the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force and the Chief of the Defence Force have all recognised that significant errors occurred in the handling of Mr Grey's dismissal. Mr Grey is currently left without answers, only being given the option to engage in the CDDA review process. But, given that this scheme has been largely discredited by the Commonwealth Ombudsman and in the Street and Fisher report, it is a sad indictment that the department will not allow Mr Grey and his colleagues to access a more appropriate avenue to address their grievances in the form of a merits review. I think it is time for the minister to intervene.
In closing, Australia owes a great deal to our armed forces past and present. We need to recruit them carefully, train and equip them well, put them in harm's way only when genuinely warranted, and care for their loved ones along the way. Our consideration must extend to when they are hurt or retired. Finally, I should declare again that I have a personal interest in some of these matters on account of being a beneficiary of both DFRDB and DVA pensions myself.
I seek leave to continue the grievance debate in the last couple of minutes that we have.
Just in the last couple of minutes that we have before we rise tonight, I would like to say that the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing announced last week that a headspace centre would be based in the outer east of Melbourne in either Ringwood or Knox. This is a terrific outcome for the people of the outer east. There is a significant need for such services in our community, where the incidence of youth mental health problems is higher than the state average yet the services available are lower than the average in the rest of the state, or certainly in the rest of Melbourne.
I have been leading a campaign for many months now to try to raise the awareness of youth mental health in my electorate and to try to get a headspace centre based there. We have had a public forum. We have raised $19,000 in charitable donations, partly going towards the headspace foundation and also the Butterfly Foundation. We have brought attention to the issue through the local media, and we have led a petition which has received 10,000 signatures, which we believe is the second largest petition in Aston history. Of course, I would like to see the centre finally go in in Knox rather than in Ringwood, which is just up the road in the member for Deakin's electorate. However, either way it is going to be a good outcome for the outer east—but I will certainly still be campaigning for it to be based in Knox. I would particularly like to thank my Youth Mental Health Committee for all the work that they have done—in particular Pauline Renzow and Prerna Diksha.
The time for grievances has expired and the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192(b). The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.
Main Committee adjourned at 22:00
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 22 February 2011:
In respect of the media report 'A rails run on the champers' (Daily Telegraph, 30 November 2010, page 16), is it a fact that chef Mr Tony Bilson was contracted to work at an event held by the Australian High Commission in Bangladesh; if so, (a) on what date and for what purpose was this event held, (b) what sum of money was Mr Bilson paid for his services at this event, (c) did the Government pay for Mr Bilson's airfares and accommodation; if so, what was their combined cost, and (d) what was the total cost to the Government for this event.
asked the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in writing, on 3 March 2011:
In respect of the additional capital works, acquisitions, employment and contractual services at schools providing education to children in the Inverbrackie detention centre: what total sum of money (a) has been, and (b) will be, provided to the SA Government to cover associated costs, and what is the itemised breakdown of these costs.
The answer to the honourable member's question is:
The costs incurred by those schools in delivering services to detainee minors (including but not limited to salaries of additional teachers, senior teachers and teachers' aides, teachers' equipment, school fees, school uniform costs, school excursion costs and other related education costs for detainee minors), will be paid to the Government of South Australia on a cost recovery basis.
The fees will be set out in a formal agreement which is currently being negotiated between the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of South Australia.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship exchanged letters with the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet on 17 December 2010, in which the parties agreed to work together in good faith to establish the formal agreement and that, in the meantime, South Australia would provide education (and other) services to people housed at the Inverbrackie APOD.
In accordance with the exchange of letters, approximately $860,000 has been paid to date to the Government of South Australia for education services provided to minors located in the Inverbrackie APOD.
It is not possible to predict the total sum of future costs that will be provided to the Government of South Australia as:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 24 March 2011:
(1) Has his department undertaken any studies into the effectiveness of new social media in its public diplomacy campaigns; if so, when were they undertaken and what were the results.
(2) How many Australian embassies have (a) Facebook, (b) Twitter, and (c) Youtube, accounts, and where are these embassies located.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) DFAT is currently trialling the use of social media to promote two major bilateral public diplomacy programs in North Asia: the Imagine Australia Year of Australian Culture in China 2010-11; and the Australia-Korea Year of Friendship 2011.
(a) Imagine Australia Year of Australian Culture in China
The Australian Embassy in Beijing has established a presence, in broadcast mode only, on three Chinese-language social media sites, similar to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They include:
The three accounts aim to promote the official program of events among Chinese audiences and to reinforce other forms of outreach. The accounts were launched in January 2011 and are accessible through the official Imagine Australia website managed by DFAT https://imagineaustralia.net/en/.
The embassy has reported positively on the trial to date, concluding that social media will potentially become the premier platform for marketing the program. Regional outreach has been significantly stronger than anticipated, with subscriber interest coming from most provinces and regions across China. More detailed analysis of the effectiveness of these tools will be undertaken as the year progresses and the outcome of this trial will help inform future use of social media for public diplomacy campaigns.
(b) Australia-Korea Year of Friendship 2011
The bilateral Year of Friendship program marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the Republic of Korea. The Australian Embassy in Seoul is trialling the use of YouTube and a Korean-language i-Phone application to promote events on the official program to audiences in the Republic of Korea.
The i-Phone calendar application and YouTube account were launched in January 2011 and are accessible through the official Australia-Korea Year of Friendship website http://australiakorea50.com/ managed by DFAT. The effectiveness of these social media tools to promote the achievements of the past 50 years, and to raise public awareness of Australia in Korea and of the importance of the bilateral relationship to both countries, will be progressively assessed over the coming year and will be reported on in full at the conclusion of the program.
(c) Other uses
DFAT established a generic DFAT Twitter account on 7 April 2011. It seeks to complement the department's traditional communication channels, such as media releases and websites, in order to reach a wider and increasingly mobile audience, including people with limited internet access and travellers who may rely on Twitter for information. In times of consular crises, tweets will provide updates on fast-changing situations and will refer followers to the Department's websites, which remain the authoritative source of information. Twitter is an additional way of sharing information with the public about Australia's foreign and trade policies, latest travel advisories, media releases and breaking news, speeches, recruitment and the release of new publications.
The launch of Twitter followed a number of limited, event-specific social media trials for consular purposes, including during the soccer world cup in South Africa, the Commonwealth games in India and the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in Rome. These trials highlighted the potential benefits of social media platforms as public communication tools but also reinforced the need to address a range of technical, resource and administrative issues, as well as associated risks.
(2) (a) Facebook
No Australian overseas mission currently has an active Facebook account.
Two Australian overseas missions established Facebook accounts for specific time-limited consular purposes in 2010. They were the Australian High Commission in Pretoria for the soccer world cup and the Australian High Commission in New Delhi for the Commonwealth games. Both accounts are now closed.
One Australian overseas mission has an active Twitter-style account. The Australian Embassy in Beijing established Sina Microblog, a Chinese Twitter-style microblog account for message posts of up to 140 characters, photos and video, to promote the 2010-11 Imagine Australia Year of Australian Culture in China (see Question 1).
Four Australian overseas missions previously established Twitter accounts for specific time-limited consular events. They were: the Australian High Commission in Pretoria for the 2010 soccer world cup; the Australian High Commission in New Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth games; the Australian Embassy to the Holy See for the canonisation of St Mary MacKillop in October 2010 and the Australian Embassy in Chile in response to the earthquake in February 2010. These accounts are now closed.
DFAT launched an official generic Twitter account (@dfat) on 7 April 2011. Its primary purpose is to complement the Department's traditional forms of communication and to accompany information published on its websites in order to reach a wider and increasingly mobile audience.
Two Australian overseas missions have active YouTube, or local equivalent, accounts.
The Australian Embassy in Seoul established a YouTube account to promote official events associated with the Australia-Korea Year of Friendship 2011 and the Australian Embassy in Beijing established a Youku account (China's equivalent of YouTube) to promote official events associated with the 2010-11 Imagine Australia Year of Australian Culture in China. Both accounts were established in January 2011 (see Question 1).
In addition, four dedicated YouTube channels have been established since December 2010. These include a DFAT channel and channels for Mr Rudd, Dr Emerson and Mr Marles.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 24 March 2011:
(1) Of the 487 Australian adviser positions in Papua New Guinea that were considered by AusAid's Joint Adviser Review Report, how many are currently filled by former AusAID staff.
(2) How many Canberra-based AusAID officials have travelled to Papua New Guinea since the 2010 election, and what was the total cost of their travel.
(3) In respect of part (2), (a) what was the cost of their travel, (b) where did they stay, (c) what were the names of the hotels in which they stayed, (d) what was the total cost of their accommodation, and (e) were additional security measures required for their travel; if so, at what cost.
(4) How many AusAID officials have visited the Southern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea since the 2010 election.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) Six of the 487 adviser positions considered by the Joint Adviser Review in Papua New Guinea are currently filled by former AusAID employees. Of these six, four individuals are Papua New Guinea nationals.
(2) 89 AusAID Canberra-based officials have travelled to Papua New Guinea between 21 August 2010 and 30 June 2011. The total cost of this travel, including accommodation, meals and incidental costs, was $495,031.
(3) (a) The total cost of this travel was $495,031, including accommodation, meals and incidental costs.
(b) (c) and (e) Consistent with the practice of successive governments, AusAID does not comment on the nature of specific security measures, personnel movements or locations where this information may put staff at risk. AusAID has put in place some new measures to protect our staff in Port Moresby and we are providing our staff with a higher level of security than before. AusAID closely monitors the security environment in Papua New Guinea and ensures all necessary protective security measures are in place to mitigate the risk to AusAID officials when travelling to PNG.
(d) The total cost of their accommodation was $115,162.
(4) Four AusAID officials have visited the Southern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea since the 2010 Australian election.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Tertiary Education and Skills, in writing, on 30 May 2011:
In respect of the Youth Allowance in the electorate of Murray for the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 (to date) calendar years: by postcode, then secondary students, tertiary students and other, what total number of applications were (a) received, and (b) approved, and how many of the approved recipients are in receipt of full payment.
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
The following tables provide the requested information on Youth Allowance recipients in the electorate of Murray for the calendar years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011). Full-rate refers to the recipient's payment rate when Youth Allowance was granted.
In order to protect the privacy of individuals, populations less than twenty are reported as "<20". Data includes postcodes where the majority of the postcode falls within the Murray electorate. (Source: Centrelink administrative data)
Youth Allowance - Claims by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2007
Youth Allowance - Claims by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2008
Youth Allowance - Claims by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2009
Youth Allowance - Claims by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2010
Youth Allowance - Claims by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray from 1 January 2011to 30 June 2011
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Tertiary Education and Skills, in writing, on 30 May 2011:
In respect of Independent Youth Allowance in the electorate of Murray for the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 (to date) calendar years: by postcode, then secondary students, tertiary students and other, what total number of applications were (a) received, and (b) approved.
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
The following tables show the number of people in the electorate of Murray whose claim for Youth Allowance was approved with independent status in the calendar years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011). (Source: Centrelink administrative data)
There is not a separate application process for Independent Youth Allowance. The response to Question Number 398 provides information on the total number of applications for Youth Allowance received for the same periods.
In order to protect the privacy of individuals, populations less than twenty are reported as "<20". Data includes postcodes where the majority of the postcode falls within the Murray electorate.
Independent Youth Allowance - Approved Applications by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2007
Independent Youth Allowance - Approved Applications by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2008
Independent Youth Allowance - Approved Applications by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2009
Independent Youth Allowance – Approved Applications by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray for the Calendar Year 2010
Independent Youth Allowance - Approved Applications by Postcode in the Electorate of Murray from 1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Tertiary Education and Skills, in writing, on 30 May 2011:
In the electorate of Murray for the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 (to date) calendar years, how many people were/are receiving (a) Rent Assistance, or (b) the Living Away From Home Allowance.
The Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
(a) The following table provides the number of people who were receiving payments administered by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations during the specified period and who received or were receiving rent assistance in the calendar year 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011) in the electorate of Murray.
Source: Centrelink administrative data - Rent Assistance for recipients of Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Sickness Allowance, Widow Allowance, Partner Allowance, Austudy, ABSTUDY
(b) As the Living Away from Home Allowance is administered by the Australian Tax Office, the Minister is unable to provide the data requested.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, in writing, on 6 July 2011:
In respect of the Pacific Island Workers Program, (a) how many people have participated to date, (b) what is the breakdown by (i) post code, and (ii) agricultural areas, of where these people worked, (c) what is the anticipated duration of the program, (d) what funding has been provided by his department for this program, and (e) did all workers under the program leave the country when their visas expired.
In respect to the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (the Pilot) and as of 15 July 2011:
(a) 550 workers have participated in the Pilot.
(b) Table 1 contains the number of Pacific seasonal workers who have participated in the Pilot by agricultural location, mapped to postcode level.
Please note that some Pacific seasonal workers have worked in more than one location. Pacific seasonal workers are mapped against each location they have worked in.
(c) The Pilot will run to 30 June 2012.
(d) The Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements for the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Portfolio, 2008–09, p.19, displays both the Administered and Departmental funding estimates for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to establish the Pilot—see Figure 1.
Visa compliance is the responsibility of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC). DIAC advises that visa compliance by Pacific seasonal workers has been very high with only one worker not departing before their Special Program (Subclass 416) visa expired in November 2010. Requests for information about the Department of Immigration and Citizenship's compliance activities in locating visa overstayers should be referred to the Minister for Immigration and Citizen
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
Other areas of IEDD and the Department that were involved in the development of the package include Macroeconomic Modelling Division, Social Policy Division, Indirect Tax Division, Infrastructure Competition and Consumer Division, Personal Retirement Income Division and Tax Analysis Division. These divisions have broader responsibilities but around 87 people had some level of involvement in developing the package.
asked the Minister for Health and Ageing, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of hip replacement operations utilizing now recalled products manufactured by DePuy Orthopedics, Inc., a division of Johnson & Johnson, Inc., (a) how many of these operations were funded by Medicare, and at what cost, (b) what was the cost to the Government of patients who have or will have revision surgery, and (c) what is the Government doing to recoup, from DePuy Orthopaedic, the money it has invested in the use of these products, including revision surgery.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(a) According to National Joint Replacement Registry data, approximately 4800 hip replacement surgeries occurred in Australia using ASR devices. As Medical Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for hip surgery do not identify which prostheses are used it is not possible to identify how many of these surgeries were funded by Medicare using MBS data.
(b) It is not possible to answer this question - see (a) above.
(c) The Government will continue to consider any options it may have.
asked the Attorney-General, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
Are there any restrictions on Mr David Hicks as a free citizen of Australia; if so, can he indicate what these restrictions are, and specifically why each one is in place?
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
Mr David Hicks is not subject to any restrictions as a 'free citizen of Australia'. Like all citizens, he is entitled to the same rights and freedoms, and is bound by the same obligations under Australian law.
asked the Minister for Resources and Energy, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of Program 4 of his department:
(1) As at 1 July 2011, what total number of staff were employed under this program.
(2) What total number of staff are forecast to be employed under this program in (a) 2011-12, (b) 2012-13, (c) 2013-14, and (d) 2014-15.
(3) As at 1 July 2011, in respect of (a) APS 1, (b) APS 2, (c) APS 3, (d) APS 4, (e) APS 5, (f) APS 6, (g) EL 1, and (h) EL 2, officers under this program, what number were (i) ongoing, (ii) non-ongoing, (iii) full-time, and (iv) part-time, and based in (v) Canberra, (vi) Sydney, (vii) elsewhere in Australia, and (viii) overseas.
(4) As at 1 July 2011, what number of SES Band (a) 1, (b) 2, and (c) 3, officers were (i) ongoing, and (ii) non-ongoing, and what were their (iii) job titles, (iv) common law agreement start and end dates, (v) office locations, and (vi) salary ranges.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) As at 1 July 2011, a total of 64 staff were employed by Tourism Division.
(2) Staff levels in Tourism Division are forecast to increase slightly in 2011-12 to around 6 additional budgeted staff. Staffing budgets and levels beyond 2011 12 are yet to be determined.
(3) As at 1 July 2011, there were 59 non-SES staff employed by Tourism Division. A breakdown is provided in the table below.
1 EL2 staff member was based in Perth; all other staff were based in Canberra.
(4) As at 1 July 2011, there were 5 SES staff employed by Tourism Division. A breakdown is provided in the table below.
All SES staff were based in Canberra and employed on an ongoing basis.
The salary ranges for SES Band 1 and SES Band 2 staff employed by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (as at 30 June 2011) are provided below.
- SES Band 1: $160,000 - $234,000.
- SES Band 2: $225,000 - $255,000.
asked the Minister for Resources and Energy, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of Program 4 of his department in 2010-11:
(1) What sum of program expenditure was spent on (a) advertising, (b) hospitality or entertainment, (c) information and communication technologies, (d) consultants, (e) staff training and education, (f) external accounting services, (g) external auditing services, and (h) external legal services.
(2) What are the details of all grants paid, including the (a) recipient, (b) date announced, (c) date that the first payment was dispatched, and (d) date that the last grant payment was due.
(3) What was the total travel expenditure for staff employed under this program.
(4) What was the travel expenditure for (a) first class, (b) business class, (c) premium economy class, (d) economy class, and (e) in total, for (i) domestic, and (ii) international, travel.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) A breakdown of direct expenditure by Tourism Division in 2010-11 is provided below.
Note 1: Figures exclude GST.
Note 2: Figures exclude general corporate overhead costs (e.g. in relation to ICT) which are funded centrally through the Department's Corporate Division.
Note 3: Figures include expenditure for initiatives that are jointly funded by the Commonwealth and States/Territories using funds allocated for implementation of the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy.
(a) Advertising – $28,386.
(b) Hospitality or entertainment – $4,640.
(c) Information and communications technologies – $184,978 (most of this expenditure is for costs relating to the development of the National Tourism Accreditation Framework database).
(d) Consultants – $6,040,761 (most of this expenditure is for costs relating to the Tourism Research Australia work program).
(e) Staff training and education – $43,582.
(f) External accounting services – nil expenditure.
(g) External auditing services – nil expenditure.
(h) External legal services – $41,903.
(2) Details of grants payments made by Tourism Division during 2010-11 are provided below.
During 2010-11, Tourism Division made milestone payments for the TQUAL Grants projects announced by the Minister on 15 December 2009. Payments made during 2010-11 totalled $2.911 million (excluding GST). Details of these projects, including grants recipients, are available at http://www.ret.gov.au/tourism/tourism_programs/tq/tgrants/Pages/default.aspx. Payments for these projects were made over the period from January 2010 to June 2011; final payments were completed in June 2011.
Regional Tourism Project - Wonthaggi State Coal Mine Visitor Centre Upgrade
During 2010-11, Tourism Division made the final milestone payment for the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine Visitor Centre Upgrade project, which was announced by the Government during the 2007 election. The total value of this grant was $1.5 million; the final payment made during 2010-11 was $0.3 million. The grant recipient was Parks Victoria. The funding agreement for this project was signed in December 2008 and payments for this project were made over the period from February 2009 to December 2010.
Economic Impact Assessment of the Cruise Shipping Industry in Australia
During 2010-11, Tourism Division provided a grant of $14,850 (including GST) to Cruise Downunder Incorporated as a contribution towards a survey of cruise ship passengers. The funding agreement was signed in March 2011; payment was made in April 2011. This grant was jointly funded by the Commonwealth and States/Territories using funds allocated for implementation of the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy.
(3) Total travel related expenditure for Tourism Division staff in 2010-11 was $288,304.
(4) (i) Total domestic travel expenditure by Tourism Division in 2010-11 was $203,082 – including expenditure of $124,749 on airfares. A detailed breakdown of domestic airfare expenditure by class of travel is not readily available. Domestic air travel undertaken by Tourism Division staff is generally economy class, wherever possible utilising the lowest fare available on the day the travel is booked which suits the practical business needs of the traveller. While SES officers have an entitlement to business class domestic travel, the established practice in Tourism Division is for SES to travel economy class on short flights (e.g. for travel to Sydney and Melbourne).
(ii) Total international travel expenditure by Tourism Division in 2010-11 was $85,222 – including expenditure of $65,503 on airfares. A detailed breakdown of international airfare expenditure by class of travel is not readily available. Employees required to travel on official business overseas are entitled to business class travel on international flights.
asked the Minister for Resources and Energy, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of Program 4 of his department in 2010-11:
(1) What are the details of all memberships with organisations that are funded by this program, including the (a) name of the organisation, (b) cost of membership, (c) duration of membership, and (d) reason for membership.
(2) What are the details of all sponsorships, including event sponsorships, funded by this program, including the (a) name of the recipient, (b) cost, (c) duration, and (d) reason.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) Details of Tourism Division memberships in 2010-11 are provided below.
(b) $319,718 - costs shared between Tourism Division ($164,887) and Tourism Australia ($154,831), as set out in the answer to Parliamentary Question number 479 where Tourism Australia's contribution to the cost of Australia's membership was rounded up to $155,000.
(c) Annual membership
(d) Engagement with other countries on tourism issues, including to influence policy directions and outcomes. UNWTO membership: expands Australia's network of contacts in specialised areas and our knowledge of key international tourism developments; allows access to tourism research and statistical data accumulated by the UNWTO; and facilitates the ability of Australian consultants and research organisations to successfully tender for UNWTO projects.
(a) OECD Tourism Committee
(c) Voluntary contribution to the annual OECD Tourism Committee work program.
(d) Engagement with developed countries on tourism issues, including to influence policy directions and outcomes; access to tourism related research and statistical data.
(a) APEC Tourism Working Group
(b) Australia's APEC membership is funded through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
(c) Ongoing membership
(d) Engagement with regional partners on tourism issues, including to influence policy directions and outcomes; access to tourism related research and statistical data.
(a) Australian Services Roundtable
(c) Annual membership
(d) Stakeholder engagement; access to tourism related research.
(a) Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated (ACSPRI)
(c) Annual membership for Tourism Research Australia
(d) Participation in non-standard technical courses related to research and statistics.
(a) Council for Australian University Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE)
(c) Annual membership
(d) Stakeholder engagement, primarily in relation to tourism research.
(2) Tourism Division did not provide any sponsorships during 2010-11.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of the Government's insulation inspection and remediation program, how many inspections have been carried out under the program to date, and how many (a) 'safety-related' payments have been made under the program, (b) problems were identified as 'non-safety', and what was the average estimated cost to individual households to rectify these problems, and (c) problems were identified as 'pre-existing'.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
Inspections and rectification of HIP related safety issues are completed at no cost to the householder.
There have been approximately 24,000 claims for reimbursements made by householders under Stage One of the Foil Insulation Safety Program (Interim FISP). Interim FISP ran from 10 February 2010 to 5 July 2010.
There have been 23,666 non-foil households identified as having pre-existing (that is non-HIP) related safety issues. These issues have been referred to the householder for action.
The cost of rectifying these pre-existing issues is unknown to the Department and is outside the scope of the Home Insulation Safety Program.
On 20 April 2011, I made a policy committment to continue to notify householders of pre-existing safety issues so they are able to make an informed decision regarding rectification at their own cost.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of my letter to him dated 22 April 2010 about a claim of alleged fraud under the Home Insulation Program at a property in Killara, (a) what is the progress of investigations, (b) has any person or entity been charged with an offence, and (c) if fraud has been established, what action has or is being taken to recover monies.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
I can advise that the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is treating all allegations of fraud very seriously.
When allegations of fraud or non-compliance are received (such as the concerns raised by the residents at the Killara property) a review process is conducted to consider both the specifics of the allegation and the profile of the insulation installer to fully assess the matter and inform an appropriate response. Depending on the results of this review, the response may include compliance action, referral to the Australian Taxation Office, or the investigation of the alleged fraud.
It is not the policy of the Department to provide feedback or progress reports on the status of matters undergoing compliance or investigation, as this may compromise the integrity of those processes.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of the report made to his department (ref no. 4301199) of an alleged fraudulent claim under the Home Insulation Program in an apartment complex in Turramurra, (a) what is the progress of investigations, (b) what interviews have been conducted, including of the occupants, (c) has any person or entity been charged with an offence, and (d) if fraud has been established, what action has or is being taken to recover monies.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
I can advise that the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is treating all allegations of fraud very seriously.
When allegations of fraud or non-compliance are received (such as the concerns raised by the residents at the Turramurra property), a review process is conducted to consider both the specifics of the allegation and the profile of the insulation installer to fully assess the matter and inform an appropriate response. Depending on the results of this review, the response may include compliance action, referral to the Australian Taxation Office, or the investigation of the alleged fraud.
It is not the policy of the Department to provide feedback or progress reports on the status of matters undergoing compliance or investigation, as this may compromise the integrity of those processes.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of the report made to his department of an alleged fraudulent claim under the Home Insulation Program in an apartment complex in Hornsby (referenced in my letter to him dated 5 October 2010), (a) what is the progress of investigations, (b) what interviews have been conducted, including of the occupants, (c) has any person or entity been charged with an offence, and (d) if fraud has been established, what action has or is being taken to recover monies.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
I can advise that the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is treating all allegations of fraud very seriously.
When allegations of fraud or non-compliance are received (such as the concerns raised by the residents at the Hornsby property), a review process is conducted to consider both the specifics of the allegation and the profile of the insulation installer to fully assess the matter and inform an appropriate response. Depending on the results of this review, the response may include compliance action, referral to the Australian Taxation Office, or the investigation of the alleged fraud.
It is not the policy of the Department to provide feedback or progress reports on the status of matters undergoing compliance or investigation, as this may compromise the integrity of those processes.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 16 August 2011:
In respect of the report made to his department of an alleged fraudulent claim under the Home Insulation Program in an apartment complex in Hornsby (referenced in my letter to him dated 11 July 2010), (a) what is the progress of investigations, (b) what interviews have been conducted, including of the occupants, (c) has any person or entity been charged with an offence, and (d) if fraud has been established, what action has or is being taken to recover monies.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
When allegations of fraud or non-compliance are received (such as the concerns raised by the residents at the Hornsby property), a review process is conducted to consider both the specifics of the allegation and the profile of the insulation installer to fully assess the matter and inform an appropriate response. Depending on the results of this review, the response may include compliance action, referral to the Australian Taxation Office, or the investigation of the alleged fraud.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 17 August 2011:
(1) What number of Government advisors is providing supporting documentation for the Clean Energy Plan, what departments do they work for, and what are their salaries.
(2) What sum is allocated for the establishment and/or expansion of the bureaucracy to develop and implement the Clean Energy Plan.
(3) What expenditure has the Government incurred to date for the development of the Clean Energy Plan.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) The Plan for a Clean Energy Future (the Plan) contains a number of different policies and programs which are designed to move Australia towards a clean energy future. These policies and programs have been designed and will be implemented across a number of government departments. For the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the provision of advice to government leading to policies such as the Plan and developing supporting documentation come under the Department's Program 1.1 (Reducing Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions) and Program 1.2 (Improving Australia's Energy Efficiency). Given that the advice that the Department provided to the Government to develop the Plan was a core departmental function, no additional funds were allocated to the Department for this purpose. The Department was allocated funds to run the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and to run the Garnaut Review Update (including secretariats in both cases), details of which were provided in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook in 2010.
(2) Financial costs associated with policies and programs under the Plan can be found in Appendix B of Securing a Clean Energy Future – the Australian Government's Climate Change Plan at: www.cleanenergyfuture.gov.au/clean-energy-future/securing- a-clean-energy-future.
(3) See (1).
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 17 August 2011:
(1) What number of Government advisors is providing supporting documentation for the Clean Energy Plan to save the Great Barrier Reef, what departments do they work for, and what are their salaries.
(2) What sum is allocated for the establishment and/or expansion of the bureaucracy to develop and implement the Clean Energy Plan to save the Great Barrier Reef.
(3) What expenditure has the Government incurred to date for the development of the Clean Energy Plan to save the Great Barrier Reef.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in writing, on 18 August 2011:
(1) Is the Minister aware of the department's decision on 10 August 2011 to cease honouring the farm exit grant package previously extended to 30 June 2012?
(2) Will the Minister consider reinstating this package for the many families pre-assessed as eligible by Centrelink and already in the process of selling or awaiting the sale of their farm asset on the strength of this grant offer?
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
(1) On 10 August 2011 the Government announced the closure of the Exceptional Circumstances (EC) Exit Grant program to all new applicants. As the program guidelines clearly stated the EC Exit Grant program would close on 30 June 2012 or if all funds were expended. Closing the program earlier than anticipated hasn't reduced the number of people assisted; the same numbers of people have been assisted. The Government initially allocated $9.6 million to this program. At the time of closure this had been boosted to almost $14 million. The Government will continue to stand by farmers, as it did during the drought and now in a period of improved conditions.
(2) The Government will not re-open the program to new applicants. Anyone who was eligible for payment under the scheme will have their application assessed in line with the guidelines.
asked the Prime Minister, in writing, on 25 August 2011:
I am advised that the answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
This information as at 30 June in the years requested is available in:
(1) the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Annual Report 2007-08; and
(2) the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Annual Report 2010-11.
Both reports are available on the department’s website at http://www.dpmc.gov.au/annual_reports/index.cfm.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, in writing, on 25 August 2011
The Minister for Finance and Deregulation has supplied the following answer to the honourable member's question:
(a) Refer to the 2008-2009 Department of Finance and Deregulation Annual Report.
(b) Refer to the 2010-2011 Department of Finance and Deregulation Annual Report.
asked the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, in writing, on 25 August 2011:
The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
There were 192 Senior Executive Service employees in the Department on 1 July 2008.
There were 177 Senior Executive Service employees in the Department on 1 July 2011.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, in writing, on 25 August 2011:
The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:
(a) The SES figures as at 1 July 2008 can be found in Tables 7 and 8 of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Annual Report 2007-08.
(b) The SES figures as at 1 July 2011 can be found in Tables 16 and 17 of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Annual report 2010-11.
asked the Attorney-General, in writing, on 25 August 2011:
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
According to the Attorney-General's Department Annual Report 2007-08, on 30 June 2008 there were 78 Senior Executive Staff employed by the Attorney General's Department.
According to the Attorney-General's Department Annual Report 2010-11, on 30 June 2011 there were 81 Senior Executive Staff employed by the Attorney-General's Department.
asked the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, in writing, on 19 September 2011:
(1) In respect of Renewable Energy Certificates, can he indicate what measures, if any, are in place to protect customers who have paid up-front for solar panels, but not received them because the installer is in receivership.
(2) To qualify for Renewable Energy Certificates, are installers of solar panels required to (a) demonstrate that they have Clean Energy Council accreditation, and (b) lodge a bond or provide surety or insurance to cover any financial or workmanship default.
(3) In the case of Solar Shop Australia, can he indicate whether the Government is requesting that the receivers honour the installation of unfinished works.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) The Renewable Energy Regulator (the Regulator) and the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator (ORER) were established by the Howard Government in 2001, under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, to administer the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme. The RET is not a Government rebate scheme and does not provide public funds. The RET provides for registered persons to create certificates and sell those certificates privately to liable parties. There is no role for the Regulator or the ORER in settling the sale of these certificates or monitoring contracts which relate to those certificates.
The RET does not prescribe the market models employed by participants. The onus is on contractual parties to undertake their own due diligence around the ability and commitment of their counterparty to abide by contractual conditions. As the Regulator and the ORER have no enforcement powers in relation to market conduct or enforcing contracts, their standard practice is to advise anyone with an issue about marketing or payment issues to contact their relevant Fair Trading Office, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Australian Securities and Investments Commission as appropriate to the complaint. This advice was given to all those who contacted the ORER. In the case of companies that are in receivership or administration they should also contact the appointed receiver or administrator.
Once the Clean Energy Future legislation is passed, the RET will be administered by the Clean Energy Regulator which will have additional powers to deal with this type of behaviour. In particular, the Clean Energy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 includes specific provisions to increase the Regulator's powers to refuse registration or suspend registration.
(2) (a) Yes, to be eligible to create certificates for solar panels systems under the RET they must be installed and designed by a Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited installer. The CEC installer must also sign a range of written statements before certificates can be created, including a written statement that they installed the system to meet the requirements of the local/state/territory government, that they completed the installation along with their CEC accreditation number. Further details are available on the ORER website at: www.orer.gov.au/sgu/index.html.
(b)There is no requirement in the RET scheme that the installer must have surety or insurance to cover any financial or workmanship default. However, there are requirements as part of their CEC accreditation to have insurance requirements including Certificate of Currency/Proof of Public Liability Insurance cover that have a minimum $5 million coverage.
(3) As stated in the response to part (1), the ORER does not have legal power to intervene in contractual matters. This is a matter for the contracted parties and the receivers.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
I understand the Queensland Government has a widening program in place for the highway and additional reconstruction works are to be carried out on flood damaged sections through the National Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
asked the Minister for Resources and Energy, in writing, on 13 October 2011:
(1) Is the Proposed Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Facility, Northern Territory: Transport Assessment Report (Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia Pty Ltd and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 13 March 2009) the most recent publication on this topic; if not, what is, and from where is it available.
(2) Can he confirm reports that his department has recommended that radioactive waste be transported from Sydney to a proposed Northern Territory waste management facility along highways through the Murray Valley, including Mildura; if so, (a) why is the Murray Valley and Sturt Highway route through Mildura preferred over a more direct and quieter route from Sydney via Broken Hill and Peterborough in South Australia, and (b) would he consider using rail transport instead.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(1) The Parsons Brinckerhoff report commissioned in 2006 is the most recent publication on this topic.
(2) The Parsons Brinckerhoff report puts forward a range of possible transport options to potential Commonwealth radioactive waste management facility sites then under consideration by the Howard Government. The Department has made no recommendation on transport routes and is not in a position to do so given that a national radioactive waste management facility site has not yet been selected and the site subjected to regulatory assessment.