This information was revealed in this week’s proceedings in Senate Committees:
Giving up on rip off merchants
The Government has given up trying to recover more than $15 million fraudulently claimed by dodgy installers under Labor’s disastrous pink batts scheme.
In addition, it is chasing another $10 million still outstanding.
Incredibly, officials revealed that $1.9 million has been written off and $3 million is still outstanding under the special assistance package the Government was forced to establish to help legitimate businesses recover from the closure of the first scheme.
High cost of office
The Department of Climate Change, which the Coalition has promised to abolish if it wins the next election, has locked itself into a 15-year lease on new office accommodation.
Cost: $158 million. But that doesn’t include the fit-out costs, originally budgeted at $20.5 but now expected to blow out by at least another $500,000.
Immigration Department’s budget assumes no more boat arrivals
The huge influx of illegal boat arrivals has forced the Department of Immigration to revise this year’s asylum budget from $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion.
But, incredibly, the Department is preparing its budget for next year on the assumption that illegal boat arrivals will stop.
The Department’s Portfolio Additional Estimates Statement released last week claims spending on illegal boat arrivals will plunge by $1 billion next financial year and a further billion dollars in 2014-15.
Asked if these allocations were based on stopping the boats, the Department’s Secretary replied “Yes”.
$440,000 per month to maintain decommissioned detention centre
0n 6 March 2012 then Immigration Minister Bowen decommissioned the Pontville Detention Centre, claiming it was no longer needed.
Eight months later, on 21 November, the Minister announced that Pontville would be re-opened.
The reason: during that time, 232 more illegal boats and 14,391 more people had arrived in Australia.
And the cost of maintaining Pontville while it was “decommissioned” and empty: more than $4 million – or $440,000 per month.
Captain Emad’s family stay on and on
The family of Captain Emad (aka Abu Kalid) is still in Australia six months after the notorious people smuggler fled overseas.
While most of the family’s permanent protection visas have been cancelled they have been allowed to stay on other visas.
No date has yet been set for their removal.
More on illegal boat arrivals
Questioning at Estimates also revealed that:
· 12,844 people have arrived on boats since 1 July. This already exceeds the “around 12,000” on which this year’s Budget was based, and there are still more than four and a half months to go in this financial year.
· Taxpayers are forking out $120,000 per week to have the Antarctic Division’s A419 aircraft on standby waiting to ferry asylum seekers around the Australia.
· More than $50 million has been spent on charter flights for asylum seekers since 1 July 2012
· It cost $3.7 million to fly Sri Lankan boat arrivals home because they did not qualify as asylum seekers
· There are only four people currently staying with Australian families under the Government’s much-vaunted Home Stay program for asylum seekers.
Super delay for Super Clinics
Departmental records provided in the lead-up to Senate Estimates reveal that seven of the GP Super Clinics promised by Kevin Rudd in the 2007 election have still not begun operations and four others pledged in 2010 do not even have funding agreements.
Proving yet again that Labor are poor managers and you can’t believe their promises, of the 64 Super Clinics promised two have been scrapped, three needed substantial additional funding and at least 21 are not even under construction.
Labor’s strange priorities on cattle
While the Australian cattle industry is on its knees caused by Labor’s live export ban, the Gillard Government is using taxpayers’ money to support Indonesian cattle producers.
Senate Estimates has heard that the Government has allocated $20 million to help the Indonesian cattle industry increase its productivity but only $12.7 million to compensate Australian cattle producers for the devastation caused by Labor’s live export ban.
Postponing the inevitable
Senate Estimates has uncovered a tricky Government plan to delay releasing the latest monthly financial statements in order to dodge parliamentary scrutiny of the current state of the books.
The monthly financial statements for November and December have been sitting on Finance Minister Wong’s desk since 18 January and 7 February respectively but won’t be released until this Friday, after Parliament rises.
So much for Gillard’s promise to “draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; (to) let our Parliament be more open than it ever was before”.
Labor’s whiteboard at work again
Senate Estimates has heard that documents used by the Department of Climate Change to decide which projects should receive $20 million in grants to promote the Carbon Tax have been destroyed.
This made it impossible for the Audit Office to assess whether the most meritorious projects were selected, or to determine the ranking of the unsuccessful applicants.
In further revelations Estimates has heard that:
· For the first time in a decade there have been no Customs vessels patrolling illegal fishing or whaling in the Southern Ocean during the last year.
· The Government has rejected requests from anglers and commercial fishers affected by the Queensland floods to extend the 30 day consultation period into the Government’s plan to lock up 2.3 million square kilometres in new marine parks have been rejected.
· The Civil Aviation Authority is spending about $50,000 a year on office greenery
· The Disability Discrimination Commissioner confirmed that he had resigned from Transport Minister Albanese’s Aviation Access Working Group charged with improving access for people with disability because there had been “much talking … but little else”.
NBN’s caffeine fix is no network fix
NBN Co admitted that it purchased 31 coffee machines for its office staff at a cost of $164,188 and spent almost $4,000 per month on coffee beans.
But the taxpayer-funded coffee breaks don’t seem to have helped NBN Co do its real job – rolling out the network. Senate Estimates heard that:
· As at December, only 10,400 premises were connected to the fibre network. That’s just 7.6 premises a day since NBN Co was established on 9 April 2009.
· The company subcontracted to rollout the network in WA, SA and the NT has failed to deliver a single activated service in 19 months.
· Most of premises in multi dwelling units passed by the NBN cannot be connected to the service.
· NBN Co says it is no longer willing to provide Estimates with “granular detail” about the progress of the rollout – such as its progress in each State. That’s totally unacceptable, but given all of the above it’s probably not surprising.
Small business not a priority for the PM or Cabinet
The Small Business Commissioner has told Senate Estimates that he has not yet met the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Assistant Treasurer or any Treasury officials.
Nor has the Commissioner been asked for input on many issues important to small business, including changes to workplace laws, GST on imported goods and consumer credit protections to small business.
Little wonder that the latest Sensis business survey finds that only 6% of respondents think that Federal Government policies are supportive of small business, while 55% believe its policies work against it.
Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre – all spin and no substance
In last year’s Budget Industry Minister Combet announced a $29.8 million Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre “to help power Australian manufacturing”.
Nine months later officials from the Department of Industry confirmed yesterday that no progress had been made on rolling out the Centre, and that even on the Department’s website there has been no mention of it of any kind since last June.
Where’s the money coming from?
On 12 February Workplace Relations Minister Shorten called a media conference to announce that “the Federal Government, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, is making workplace bullying a Federal workplace relations issue”.
On 13 February the Fair Work Commission told Senate Estimates that it could not afford these additional responsibilities without significant additional financial support. This says it all, really.
· Safe Work Australia no longer refers to ‘stakeholders’, they are now known as ‘social partners’.
· The Defence Department doesn’t receive ‘complaints’, it receives ‘feedback’.
Senate Estimates also heard that:
· So far, the cost of changing the name of Fair Work Australia to the Fair Work Commission is $100,000. That’s $100,000 to change just one word.
· Due to budget cuts it will take another ten years to complete the upgrade of security at Defence Force bases as recommended following the foiled terror attack at Holsworthy in 2009.
· Cuts to the Defence budget have caused the planned $145 million upgrade of the Joint Logistics Unit at Lavarack Barracks to be postponed indefinitely.
Computers in schools program facing axe
Senate Estimates heard that the Government has refused to commit to continuing its computers in schools program, the centrepiece of its so-called Education Revolution, beyond 30 June this year.
If funding is not renewed it will leave parents and schools to carry the can.
The Government’s refusal comes despite Kevin Rudd’s explicit promise in Labor’s 2007 policy speech to continue the program: “This will not just be a one-off investment. And we will fund the replacement of these systems to keep them at the cutting edge.”
660 years to wire up secondary schools
Education Department officials told Senate Estimates so far only 12 out of the nation’s 2,650 secondary schools have been connected to high speed fibre broadband, with just four connected in the last 12 months.
This is despite Labor’s 2007 policy speech promise that “if elected we will connect Australia’s more than 9,000 primary and secondary schools to our National Broadband Network”.
At this pace, it will be 660 years before all secondary schools are connected.
Government can’t say who is responsible for $375 million
For most people $375 million sounds like serious money that should be handled in a grown-up manner, but not for the Gillard Government, apparently. It can’t say who is responsible for administering the $375 million cut from Labor’s foreign budget to help pay for Labor’s border protection failures.
On 11 February the Department of Immigration told Estimates that AusAid was responsible but on 14 February AusAid told Estimates that this “was not (its) understanding”.
The one thing the two arms of Government do seem able to agree on is that the $375 million ‘diversion’ was the first time in Australian history that the foreign aid budget had been raided to fund onshore costs of asylum seekers.
During the week Senate Estimates heard that:
· Last year the Government spent $139.7 million on advertising.
· $70 million has already been spent on advertising the Carbon Tax
· The Government directed the Department to undertake $1 million of research and creative work for phase 3 of the Carbon Tax compensation advertising campaign even though there was no decision to proceed with the campaign.
· Another $2million has been made available for people who come forward with unsolicited ideas on how to sell the Carbon Tax – without public tender or advertising that the funding is available.
· The Government plans to continue its advertising campaigns even though the election date has already been announced.