Media Release

Senate Estimates Committees - Highlights from Week One: 27-30 May 2013

More evidence of Labor incompetence - In case you missed it

 

Monday 27/5

Budget’s carbon price projections just wishful thinking

Senate Estimates heard today that the forward price on the European market for December 2016 carbon permits is $5.42.  This is less than half the $12.10 price contained in the Budget’s forward estimates.   If the market is correct and the price in 2016 is only $5.42 there will be a $2b shortfall in Government revenue in 2015-16 and $4b in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, of course, Australian business is currently paying $23 per tonne for its carbon emissions while the current European price is about $4.75 per tonne.   No wonder so many Australian industries are finding it difficult to compete in international markets.

 

Asylum seeker facts

Senate estimates heard that the:

-  Number of asylum seekers estimated to arrive by boat in 2012-13 Budget – 5,400

-  Number to actually arrive so far in 2012-13 – 22,276

-  Number expected to arrive before end of 2012-13 – 25,000+

-  Number of asylum seekers held in immigration network as at 30 April – 11,549

          -  Number on Christmas Island - 2,495

          -  Number at mainland detention centres – 6,818

          -  Number held in other facilities and transit accommodation – 597

-  Number on bridging visas at 30 April– 10,327

-  Number in ‘community detention’ – 2,752

-  Number of asylum seekers being held offshore

          -  Nauru – 419

          -  Manus Island – 294

-  Number of asylum seekers who had arrived by boat held in detention when Howard Government left office – 4

 

Department gone, waste continues

The Department of Climate Change was established as a separate portfolio agency in its own right in March 2010.  It was abolished in March 2013.  Towards the end of its brief life it locked taxpayers into a 15 year lease on office space in a six-star energy-rated building in Canberra at a cost of $158 million. The lease costs were in addition to the millions the Department spent on the offices’ luxury fit out  including an executive wine fridge and multiple top-of-the-range coffee machines.  Now the Department has gone but the lease obligation remains until December 2027.   In any other Government waste like this would be a scandal.  In the present Government it’s routine.

 

Parliamentary shop in need of retail therapy

The Department of Parliamentary Services is spending $245,000 on a review of ways to boost sales at the Parliament House shop, food outlets and specialist tours.   Given that food services are already contracted and there are currently no specialist tours, the shop looks the main hope for improvement.  

According to the Department’s 2011-12 annual report the Parliament has nearly one million visitors per year.  Yet the shop, which is run by the Department, had revenue of only $1.19m and a profit of $110,368.  It’s hard to think of anyone other than a Government Department that could make so little money from such a large captive clientele, or that would spend 20 per cent of its revenue and more than twice its annual profit to find out why.

 

Labor’s claims of Section 457 visa rorts routed

In March this year, Julia Gillard claimed employers were rorting Section 457 visas: 

“ … temporary overseas workers are being brought in and taking jobs where there are Australians ready, willing and able to do it”.  In April Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor, asserted that more than 10,000 workers were involved in these rorts.  But Departmental officials told Senate Estimates that just 170 out of a total of 29,100 employers who have sponsored an employee on a 457 visa have been subject to sanctions for breaking the program’s rules.

 

Sick of work?

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry revealed that its employees took an average of 15 sick days last year.  This is almost twice the public service median of 8.5 days.  Half of the Department’s sick leave was taken by just 15% of its employees.  There is no requirement in the Department for employees taking sick leave to produce medical certificates after a certain number of days off but needless to say the bureaucrats said they were paying “very close attention” to the situation.   All sounds a bit crook to me.

 

Overseas investors snub Tasmania

Not one overseas investor has taken up the offer under the Significant Investor Visa program to set up business in Tasmania.  While 435 applications have been received under the scheme, which is designed to attract migrant investors to Australia, none of the potential investors wanted to go to Tasmania.  Says a lot about the way the Labor-Green Tasmanian Government has destroyed confidence in the island State’s future.

 

Tuesday 28/5

 

Truism confirmed

In one of his Jack Aubrey novels, author Patrick O’Brian has Stephen Maturin observe that one seldom hears a person admit that they were asleep when they should have been awake or that they have enough money.   So it was not surprising that Senate Estimates heard Immigration Department officials deny Thai Government claims that Australian guards contracted to escort a prisoner who escaped whilst in transit were asleep when the man escaped.

Reductio ad absurdum:   But the Department went further.  They went on to deny that the escapee was even a prisoner.  No, he was just a person “undertaking a removal path”.   But if he wasn’t a ‘prisoner’ then logic dictates he couldn’t have been in custody.  And if he wasn’t in custody, then logic also dictates that he couldn’t have ‘escaped’.   And if he didn’t escape, then what’s the problem?   Just proves that this Government can rationalise anything.

 

Pink batts debacle – it’s a write off

Labor’s failed home-insulation program, which was shut down after causing at least 200 house fires and was linked to four deaths, is still costing taxpayers millions of dollars.  Senate Estimates was told that $18.5 million in debts owed by dodgy installers has been written off over the last two financial years and another $11 million is still to be collected from installers who falsely claimed cash from the Government under the program.  Of the debts still owing, $7 million is from the Rudd Government’s original plan and $3 million relates to the assistance package that was meant to fix the problems the original plan created.

 

PS sickies up 25% in a decade but not ‘core business’

Unplanned absences (mainly sick days) have increased from 8.9 days per year in 2001-02 to 11.1 days in 2011.12 – an increase of 25%.  When it was suggested at Senate Estimates that unscheduled absences could be costing taxpayers $2 billion a year and asked why the Public Service Commission didn’t seek to collect detailed information from Departments and agencies on the reasons for these absences, the Commissioner replied:  “I don’t regard it as core business for me to have to identify and cost that particular issue”.   As one Coalition Senator later remarked:  “Not  the kind of remark you’d be likely to hear from a private sector employer”.
 

Asylum seeker costs blow out

According to evidence given at Senate estimates the broad cost of operating the detention network at this point of 2012-13 financial year is just shy of $1.5 billion, including:

-  Lease of some detention facilities –  $103 million

-  Payment to Serco to run the detention centres, including wages, food etc.   –  $686 million

-  Red Cross services  – $53 million

-  Freight, charter and other travel – $107 million.

-  Health services – $206 million

-  Number of asylum seekers held in immigration network as at 30 April 2013  – 11,549

-  Number of asylum seekers who had arrived by boat held in detention when Howard Government left office – 4

 

Consequences of border protection failures

Under questioning at Senate Estimates, officials from the Immigration department revealed that:

-  There are 25 asylum seekers still at large out of the 63 who have escaped from immigration detention centres in Australia in the past year

-  A suspected terrorist wanted on an Interpol ‘red notice’ lived at Inverbrackie (SA) with his family for about nine months.  Osama bin Laden was also wanted on an Interpol ‘red notice’.

-  A Sri Lankan asylum seeker suspected of killing his girlfriend before fleeing to Australia by boat was released into the community on a bridging visa for six months while his case was reviewed.
 

Antarctic Division put on ice

Australia’s world famous Antarctic Division is clearly not a Labor priority.  Estimates heard that:

-  For the third consecutive year the Antarctic Division has had to negotiate a one-off allocation of $9.5 million to maintain its operational activities, and nothing has been allocated to the Division in the forward estimates years.  

-  Australia will need a new ship to act as it Antarctic research vessel by 2017 but no funding has been provided to build it (estimated to take two years)

-  Funding for the ‘air link’ to Antarctica ends in June 2014, and no provision has been made for funding after that time


In Brief

In other evidence, Estimates has learned that:

·         The Department of Sustainability and Environment has so far taken no steps to allow tens of thousands of drought-affected Queensland cattle to graze inside previous grazing properties that have now been declared national parks.  Indeed, it has not even briefed its Minister on the issue.

·         The Prime Minister’s Communications Director, who is in Australia on one of the section 457 visas the Prime Minister says are so unfair to Australian-born workers, had the normal security clearance processes ‘waived’ to enable him to work in the PM’s office.

 

Wednesday 29/5

 

Fact checking the ABC fact checker

The ABC has appointed former Fairfax journalist, Russell Skelton, to head its Fact Checking Unit.  The unit has been tasked to “check the accuracy and factual basis of public statements by politicians and other public figures” in the lead up to and during the election campaign.

The intervention by the ABC into what will undoubtedly be a hotly contested election campaign got off to a shaky start when it was revealed at Senate Estimates that Mr Skelton has twice been criticised on a factual basis by the ABC’s own Media Watch program – for inaccurately reporting on an Aboriginal community he did not visit.

It also turns out that Mr Skelton has a long and inglorious history of tweeting and re-tweeting his own and others’ vilifications of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and other prominent Coalition MPs.  While Mr Skelton was not an ABC employee at the time, all these tweets can be seen online under a banner proudly proclaiming that he is “Editor, ABC Fact Checking Unit, Sydney, Australia”.

It goes without saying that the ABC’s job specification for Mr Skelton’s job declared that the appointee would help build a reputation for accuracy and impartiality.   Given Mr Skelton’s record he has a big job before him.

 

Farm finance fiasco

In April the Government announced a Farm Finance program to help farmers get through the stressful times being caused by the high dollar and the dry conditions.  Good move.   But instead of ensuring the program was properly targeted the Government capped the assistance at $30 million for each State and the Northern Territory, giving no thought to the huge difference in the number of farmers in each jurisdiction.  For example, if every one of the 522 farmers in the NT successfully applied they could each receive a concessional loan of up to $57,471.  But if all the 43,000 farmers in NSW successfully applied the maximum loan each could receive would be only $697.  Another case of the Government throwing money at a problem rather than thinking it through.

 

Government costs blow out but industry pays

Senate Estimates has been told that the cost of developing the Government’s new biosecurity IT system has blown out from $36 million to at least $56 million.  Worse still, importers will be required to meet 75% of the increase even though it did not know about it until contacted by the Coalition.  And the whole project will be delayed for at least another 12 months.  More evidence that the Government is much better at spending other people’s money than it is at managing it.

 

Murray Darling reform slows to a trickle

The Rudd/Gillard Governments have a history of being much better at announcing plans than implementing them.   Senate Estimates heard that it’s happening again, this time over the Murray Darling Basin plan, which was legislated last year.   More than 25 drafts of the Inter-Governmental agreement have been written,  but all have been discarded and there is still no sign-off.  Further, the Water Recovery Strategy has still not been finalised despite the draft being released more than six months ago and nearly 60 per cent of the water already having been recovered.   Meanwhile, Estimates also heard that there are no Commonwealth Environmental Water Office staff on the ground in the catchment area; all the Office’s staff are still based in Canberra.

 

Red tape costs a mystery to Labor

Having introduced more than 20,000 new regulations since coming to office, the Government has recently begun talking about reducing red tape.  However, the government’s grandstanding was revealed as spin when Estimates was told that the euphemistically-named Office of Best Practice Regulation does not know the cost of the red tape the Government has imposed on the economy.   This despite the fact that on coming to office Labor promised a one-in, one-out approach to new regulation and cabinet submissions are supposed to be accompanied by regulation impact statements.   It seems that Labor still naively believes that if the processes are in place good performance will automatically follow.

 

Labor’s road funding promises not quite what they seem

-  On 24 April Prime Minister Gillard flew to Rockhampton and with great fanfare announced a “new $4 billion investment” in Queensland’s Bruce Highway.  Turns out it wasn’t so new.   Senate Estimates has heard that $1.2 billion of the $4.1 billion had already been spent by the time the prime Minister made her announcement, and the $2.9 billion balance will spread over the next ten years.

-  Estimates also heard that the Gillard Government has abandoned its much-spruiked 2016 deadline for duplicating the Pacific Highway.  Under Labor, the duplication will not now be completed until at least 2019.

 

In brief

In other news from Estimates:

-  It was revealed that while local councils are required to ‘self-assess’ the emissions from their landfill sites in order to calculate the amount of carbon tax they need to pay, the Government cannot say how the emissions should be measured.   Worse still, councils can face penalties if they get their calculations – and hence their tax payments - wrong.   Farcical.

-  The Civil Aviation Safety Authority revealed it is still considering an incident involving Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus over complaints that he refused initial requests to turn off his mobile phone as his flight left Sydney on 23 April.

 

Thursday 30/5


High cost of Green tape

Australia already has a highly inefficient environmental approvals process, with costly and prescriptive laws at local, State and Federal levels.  This was driven home forcibly at Senate Estimates this week when it was revealed that administering Australia’s principal environmental protection legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) already costs taxpayers $32 million and requires 210 staff.  This cost does not include most of the technical work, which is contracted out.

But now the Gillard Government plans to add a new environmental test that will cost around ‘another’ $10 million each year and require up to 50 extra staff. 

 

Rushing contentious issues

Estimates has uncovered further cases of the Gillard Government rushing to get contentious matters locked in place before the September election.  Labor hopes that by doing so it will leave a ‘legacy’, which the Coalition, should it win the election, will find impossible to undo. 

-  Appointing and re-appointing people to jobs even though they won’t take them up until months after the election. For example, the Commonwealth Electoral Commissioner has been reappointed even though his current appointment doesn’t expire until March 2014.

-  The Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s rush to write up to $800m in green loans despite knowing the Coalition’s plans to scrap it if it wins the election.

-  Signing contracts to lock in the NBN rollout for years ahead even though the Coalition, if it wins the election, has promised to roll it back.

 

Drugs in sport investigation ‘could take years’

On 7 February Government Ministers Kate Lundy and Justin Clare shocked Australian sports lovers with sensational claims about organised crime and performance enhancing drugs in sport.  At the time, both Ministers were strongly criticised for demonising our top sporting codes and players without producing supporting evidence. 

Three months later, Senate Estimates has been told that the investigations now focused on just two codes, the NRL and AFL, that just 113 people had been interviewed and that the investigations could take years.  It was also revealed that not a single sporting code had taken up a $5 million Government offer to fund out-of-season testing for athletes.

 

In Brief

-  The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) spent more than $180,000 on taxis in just six months but couldn’t provide details about the purpose of the trips.

-  Update – Sleeping Guards. Thai authorities have recaptured the German jewel thief the Department of Immigration ‘lost’ whilst in transit from Australia to Germany. Thai authorities have demanded that the Australian Government send ‘another’ team of guards to Thailand to take charge of the prisoner. Hopefully they’ll provide them with some ‘No-doz’ and a thermos, (at further Taxpayer expense naturally).

 

 

(Senate Estimates resumes next week)