SENATOR BIRMINGHAM: (South Australia) (16:42): I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. Ten minutes is nowhere near long enough to go through the systematic government waste and incompetence of the Rudd and Gillard governments. Ten minutes is nowhere near long enough to go through even the systematic government waste and incompetence exposed at Senate estimates in just the one committee that I intend to touch upon today-the Senate environment and communications committee-and the gross examples of waste and incompetence that were once again discovered, uncovered and discussed at those estimates hearings.
The gold medal winner of them all in the environment portfolio under this government is the Home Insulation Program. Nothing stands out more and nothing looks better in terms of waste from this government than how they failed in that Home Insulation Program-what would come to be known as the pink batts debacle. We discovered in estimates how much it cost-what the final tally was: $2.156 billion was spent over four years on installation costs and clean-up costs in this dodgy program that saw so much waste occurring around Australia and so many wasted taxpayer dollars. The pink batts disaster, announced in February 2009 and abandoned barely 12 months later, has left this multibillion-dollar legacy and has been linked to at least four deaths and more than 200 house fires. The program has also left behind some debts for the government-2,494 bad debts that this Labor government is still trying to chase, taxpayer money it has given to businesses and is now trying to get back because it was fraudulently claimed. These 2,494 bad debts total $34.5 million from the Home Insulation Program, and indeed the subsequent Insulation Industry Assistance Package, which was meant to be rectifying the problems, has itself left 58 bad debts totalling $5.45 million. It would be comical if it weren’t so sad; it would be funny if it wasn’t taxpayer money being wasted.
But what we have is a situation where even the clean-up went wrong and taxpayers have had to foot the bill and are left with bad debts. Such are the bad debts that the government is trying to chase that the Department of Environment and Climate Change have called in the debt collectors. They have engaged what they politely refer to as a ‘mercantile agent’ to try to recover some of the money that the government has handed out and now wants to claim back because it gave the money to people who should not have got it in the first place. Dun & Bradstreet now stand to charge the government to chase these bad debts to try to get back some of the taxpayer money. The Dun & Bradstreet website assures taxpayers and others who might want to engage them that their ‘experienced team is committed to maximising your collections whilst ensuring that your customer relationships are maintained’. Here is a bit of advice for the government: firstly, I do not think you want to maintain relationships with the people who ripped your government and the taxpayers off for this money in the first place. Secondly, if Dun & Bradstreet are so good at managing to get money when it is needed, perhaps you should ask this company to collect your mining tax as well, because it does not seem to be going so well for the government on that front.
The Home Installation Program is but one. On a far greater scale of implications for the Australian economy is Labor’s absolute incompetence when it comes to the management of its carbon tax. In the carbon tax we discover that the government has effectively outsourced this tax regime to Europe. The confirmation was given in Senate estimates that if Europe were to take steps for Europe to adopt a more ambitious target than it currently has, that would, all other things being equal, result in Australians paying a higher carbon tax. That means a policy taken in Brussels, made with European considerations in mind, would result in Australians paying more carbon tax. This is the type of madness this government has embarked upon. It has decided that if the government is not capable of making decisions itself it is happy to outsource those decisions to Europe.
Little wonder then that as a consequence of outsourcing the decision-making to Europe on the rate of Australia’s carbon tax, the government cannot tell us what the carbon tax may be. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency could not tell us in estimates whether the $29 predicted in the forward estimates of the government would be accurate or even a best estimate. They pointedly refused to describe the government’s own budget forward estimates as accurate or as a best estimate. Instead all we could get was that: ‘In the current market the estimate is not implausible’. That is good to know about the budget forward estimates, isn’t it? The budget forward estimates that this government is relying upon are ‘not implausible’. That really provides a lot of confidence. Equally, when asked whether Senator Milne’s prediction that the carbon price could, when linked with the European scheme, go to $50 in a few years, we were told that was ‘not completely inconceivable’. Clearly Australians can have absolutely no confidence in what they will be paying as the carbon tax under this government, because $29 is ‘not implausible’ and $50 is ‘not completely inconceivable’. Who knows what we will be paying? All that is clear is that Australians will most certainly be paying more under the carbon tax.
The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the new Clean Energy Regulator are on a drive to increase workplace productivity. We discovered that the New Clean Energy Regulator, one of several new bureaucracies established to manage the carbon tax, have in setting up their new offices decided to undertake a measure of workplace productivity that is quite novel. They have installed eight Nespresso coffee machines at a cost of $20,175 to the taxpayer. The justification for this? According to the CEO:
That procurement was for eight machines which was one for each of the staff kitchens. We did that obviously to provide a level of staff amenity but also because we thought it would be beneficial for productivity for staff to be able to buy their coffee on the premises rather than go out of the building.
It is nice to know that the taxpayer is now footing the bill for coffee machines as productivity measures within the Public Service. However, the Clean Energy Regulator is but a small-time contributor when it comes to such measures, because the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research admitted to buying five $15,000 coffee machines at a total cost of $75,000. The advice to public servants looking to transfer between departments is if you want good coffee the department of industry, with its $15,000 coffee machines, is going to have better coffee than the Clean Energy Regulator who paid a paltry $20,000 for eight machines. Perhaps I should be applauding the Clean Energy Regulator on the efficiency of the purchase of those coffee machines.
I am sure the coffee will go nicely with the wine cabinet that is needed for the climate change department’s new building. The new Nishi building in Canberra is receiving a $20.5 million taxpayer funded fit-out that comes complete with luxuries like a stainless steel wine cabinet. Apparently there was a need to accommodate either a wine fridge or a standard fridge in the executive dining room of the department’s new digs. I trust they will be well enjoyed. Having new digs and dining rooms, of course, requires you to have kitchens. Luckily the government built some kitchens for the sole purpose of the climate change ads. They built kitchens at a cost of $79,700, although sadly they were fake kitchens. If they are hoping to be able to enjoy meals from these kitchens in the dining rooms with the coffee made by the coffee machines, the government will sadly be mistaken, because the $79,000 kitchens were fake kitchens. We hope that if the government are going to go on another multi-million dollar advertising spree at taxpayer expense that requires the use of kitchens they will still have these fake kitchens available to use.
I could go on, but what we see from this government is such waste that comes about every single estimates. This is why the Australian public have so little confidence in the government.