MPI June 2012
[A Close] Hello, I’m Andrea Close. Welcome to MPI.
[A Close] In today’s MPI the Government delivers the Federal Budget. Debate over a code of conduct for M.Ps and links with A.S.E.A.N strengthened.
Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan has delivered his fifth budget promising a return to surplus and greater support for families and people with disabilities. Mr Swan told the Parliament the budget strikes a balance between financial responsibility and supporting the community.
[W Swan] The four years of surpluses I announced tonight are a powerful endorsement of the strength of our economy, resilience of our people and the success of our policies. Madam Deputy Speaker in this uncertain and fast changing world we walk tall, as a nation confidently living within our means. Mr Speaker this budget delivers a surplus this coming year on time, as promised and surpluses each year after that strengthening over time. It funds new cost of living relief for Australian families. It helps business invest, compete and adapt to an economy in transition and it finances bold new policies to help Australians with a disability, the aged and those who cannot afford dental care.
[A Close] As well as projecting a one point five billion dollar surplus for the 2012/13 financial year, Mr Swan announced billions of dollars of new spending programs.
[W Swan] This budget is about discipline and restraint but also about priorities, ensuring precious funds are redirected to the purposes and people that need them most. Across the budget by saving and redirecting $33.6 billion we’re balancing the books, making room for five billion dollars in new payments to households, finding an extra $714 million to help companies compete on top of the $3.7 billion in small business tax breaks. Funding the historic first stage of a national disability insurance scheme. Investing in dental services for those that can least afford them and strengthening the aged care system. Investing in productivity and competitiveness by building on key improvements in health, education, infrastructure and clean energy.
[A Close] However opposition leader Tony Abbott attacked the budget for turning Australians against each other.
[T Abbott] The fundamental problem with this budget is that it deliberately, coldly, calculatedly plays the class war card. It cancels previous commitments to company tax cuts and replaces them with a means tested payment because a drowning Government has decided to portray the political contest in this country as billionaires versus battlers. It’s an ignoble piece of work from an unworthy Prime Minister that will offend the intelligence of the Australian people.
[A Close] Mr Abbott also questioned the Government’s ability to deliver a budget surplus in the next financial year.
[T Abbott] How can the Treasurer be so confident of next year’s skinny surplus when this year’s deficit forecast to be $23 billion in last year’s budget has now grown to $44 billion? How can he be confident that next year’s surplus won’t evaporate completely given that it’s already shrunk from $3.5 billion in last year’s budget and the cumulative budget bottom line has deteriorated by $26 billion in just 12 months?
[A Close] But Mr Swan said the projected surplus and new funding promises are a testament to the underlying strength of the Australian economy.
[W Swan] In a global economy marked by anxiety and uncertainty our nation is a beacon of resilience, stability and success. Not just for the strengthening surpluses we will build years ahead of our peers Madam Deputy Speaker. Not just for the growth rates outpacing the major advanced economies over coming years. But for the resilience of our people and the value we attach to the fair go.
[A Close] A Code of Conduct for M.Ps has been suggested in the wake of recent allegations made against sitting members. The speaker, Peter Slipper opened this sitting period by standing aside while he dealt with allegations made by a former member of his staff.
[P Slipper] Honourable members will know that some allegations have been made in relation to me by James Ashby including a claim under civil law and a claim of criminal behaviour. This is the first opportunity that I have had to affirm to the House that I deny allegations that have been made. I believe I am entitled like any other person to have the presumption of innocence. I’m also entitled to have these matters dealt with by proper process. It is unfortunate that trial by media seems to have become the order of the day in this country.
[A Close] Mr Slipper asked Deputy Speaker Anna Burke to reside over the House in his absence.
[P Slipper] I propose to ask the Deputy Speaker as Deputy Speaker and members of the Speaker’s panel to assist in chairing the proceedings of the House. There is much more to be done and I look forward to completing what I have begun. I present a copy of my statement and invite the Deputy Speaker to take the Chair.
[A Close] The member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, also made a statement responding to a Fair Work Australia investigation into his time as a union leader. Mr Thomson accused the opposition and the media of feeding a campaign of hate against him.
[C Thomson] “Go cut your wrists, or better still, hang yourself.” “Go out the back, cut your throat, that’s the only way.” “Have you slashed your wrists yet?” “You are dead.” “A bullet between the eyes will save taxpayers money.” You have unleashed the lynch mob, and you have fanned it. And for that you all ultimately are responsible. These are the types of emails, letters and phone calls that my family, myself and my staff have received.
[A Close] Mr Thomson said it was not the role of Parliament or the media to act as judge and jury.
[C Thomson] So I think it’s important to once again remind the House that I have not been the subject of any conviction, not even the subject of any illegal proceedings. None of the allegations have been tested in any court or tribunal.
[A Close] These two issues have led to calls for greater standards and accountability for sitting Members of Parliament. Key Independent Rob Oakeshott said the House should endorse the Draft Code of Conduct proposed in November last year.
[R Oakeshott] That’s related to this issue but was agreed on by all of us and all parties 18 months ago and it is timely that we actually progress that and then when we are in the future caught in this space between Section 44 issues in the Australian Constitution and community sentiment wanting action we do actually have a document that we can refer to and hopefully set a standard from.
[A Close] The Greens want to go further, flagging a Parliamentary oversight body based on State anti-corruption authorities. But another Independent, Tony Windsor, has warned a Code of Conduct or oversight body could have serious drawbacks.
[T Windsor] Codes of Conduct tend to come before Parliaments when the numbers are very tight or in a hung situation. Both major parties tend to run from them. There was talk of a Code of Conduct in those days and in fact I think one was actually passed. I wasn’t madly in love with the Code of Conduct because I knew quite well and what did happen is as soon as a majority Government comes along the Code of Conduct is dictated by numbers.
[A Close] A package of legislation called Stronger Shipping for a Stronger Economy that aims to revitalise Australia’s shipping industry has been passed by the House of Representatives. The five Bills are designed to turn around the decline in Australia’s shipping industry by introducing a zero tax rate for Australian shipping companies creating new criteria for registering on an Australian international shipping register and imposing a new three tiered license system. Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told Parliament the changes were welcomed by the shipping industry as it aims to level the playing field with Australia’s international competitors.
[A Albanese] In part because of the resources boom Australia’s shipping task is now the fourth largest in the world. But at the same time as it’s been growing the number of Australian ships operating has been in drastic decline, down from 55 in 1996, down to 21 today with just four operating internationally. In a country where 99.9 % of our exports is moved by ships there will soon be no Australian shipping fleet to revitalise. We need to act now or we simply won’t have an industry at all. An Aussie flag on the back of an Aussie ship will be consigned to history. Our reforms are designed to encourage investment in Australian shipping, not through protection but by making Australian ships which operate competitive with their international competitors, through zero tax for Australian shipping companies and zero tax for Australian seafarers.
[A Close] Increased training requirements are an example of new initiatives aimed at making the shipping industry more efficient and to enable Australia to be a major player in forecasted industry growth.
[M Symon] There’ll be additional requirements placed upon shipping companies accessing the income tax exemption. For instance they’ll be required to comply with a mandatory training requirement for crews and I think that’s very important in an industry such as the maritime industry where it is not that easy to get in for a start and it’s very hard for training to be undertaken for many people. In the next two decades it has been predicted that trade at Australian ports will triple and there should be no reason that Australian flag vessels and Australian seafarers are not part of that staggering growth.
[K Thomson] These Bills do not provide a subsidy to Australian shipping. They don’t close the coast to foreign ships. What they do is reduce the costs for Australian ships to operate and in turn increase their competitiveness against foreign ships. They go a long way towards creating a level playing field for Australian ships to compete against foreign ships.
[A Close] National’s leader Warren Truss moved to refer the bills to the Productivity Commission to assess their potential economic impact on manufacturing, coastal trading and passenger services.
[W Truss] These Bills if passed would have a very significant impact on our coastal shipping industry. As the Minister has often stated this is an historic reform of our shipping industry. If the Government’s got it wrong it could decimate what is left of domestic shipping and lead to the loss of thousands of land based industry jobs who are unable to compete with imports carried on international vessels. Yet the House Committee was only given the opportunity to have a cursory enquiry into the package.
[A Close] Several Opposition MPs spoke in favour of the motion and also warned the Bills were protectionist and will increase costs to Australian businesses that depend on shipping.
[G Christensen] Well according to Deloitte the expected shipping costs that will increase will amount to between ten and 16 % and if we really want to look at what effect this legislation will have I’d say let’s not focus on the benefits to the M.U.A or the Maritime Union, let’s look at how this will benefit or rather not benefit exporters and industry. Let’s look at the impact that this is going to have on the nation and its economy.
[P Fletcher] What is the likely impact of this set of measures Mr Deputy Speaker? In answering that question we must first recognise that today foreign vessels operating on single and continuous voyage permits comprise around 30 % of domestic coastal shipping in Australia. Accordingly if there are onerous new restrictions imposed which make it harder for foreign registered ships to operate in Australian coastal waters which make it harder for such ships to carry freight for Australian customers between one Australian port and another it is very likely that shipping costs are going to increase.
[A Close] However the motion failed and the Bills narrowly passed with the support of some Independents and Greens M.P Adam Bandt.
During National Reconciliation Week the House Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Committee heard from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples about the protection of Indigenous languages. The Committee is examining the links between Indigenous languages and improving education, community wellbeing, interpreting services and also strategies to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage.
The M.Ps heard about the importance of Aboriginal languages for reconciliation and improving learning in Indigenous communities. During the Committee’s previous enquiry into the Criminal Justice System and Indigenous youth language was identified as an important component of cultural connection, strengthening inter-generational relationships and community building. Director at the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Vannessa Curnow, said language is central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
[V Curnow] Language is at the core of our being, our identity, of who we are and it’s our connection to the knowledges of what’s been learned in the past from our ancestors.
[A Close] These ancient languages have been spoken in Australia for over 40,000 years. However, unfortunately as few as 20 are now considered strong and even some of those are at risk of being lost. She stressed the need for urgent action in Indigenous language learning, maintenance and revival.
[V Curnow] It’s critical. All of those languages need investment now otherwise they won’t survive into the future and those languages holds our knowledge to our past and that knowledge has been generated over such a large period of time we need that for Australia’s future as well. We’re asking that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages be addressed as a national priority for Australia. Just like closing the gap is a national priority, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are part of closing the gap so they should be addressed in the same way as all the other areas like health and justice and education, because languages is part of each of those areas and making improvements in each of those areas. So language really needs to be funded properly and those resources targeted properly.
[A Close] Committee Chair Shane Newman expects to release a report later this year with strong recommendations for Government action.
Members of the House of Representatives Social Policy Committee saw firsthand a range of preventative labelling on alcohol at a round table on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The enquiry is investigating how to prevent an unknown number of Australian babies from being born suffering brain damage and other health issues caused by their mother consuming alcohol during pregnancy. The M.Ps were confronted by a lifelike doll of a baby with F.A.S.D made by a Virtual Parenting. They also discussed with experts how better labelling can discourage more women from drinking while pregnant. The enquiry heard of the growing need for more information and support groups since one in five women continued to consume alcohol despite knowing they are pregnant.
One hundred years ago the original plans for the National Capital were unveiled when Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony announced the winners of the Federal Capital Design Competition. To mark this Centenary a rediscovered document from the Griffin’s 1911 entry has been handed back to the Commonwealth at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra and put on display to the public for the first time.
[S Crean] I think this is another one of the important events that is going to lead to the recognition of this truly momentous Centenary next year, the birth of the nation’s capital.
[A Close] Until recently this document had been thought to be lost but has since been found in a storage container in Canberra earlier this year and given to historian Dr David Headon who confirmed it as the original.
[Dr D Headon] I looked at it expecting it to be an original copy and in fact was certain that I was looking at a type version. Then it was just a case of confirming there were not two type versions so that we had an original, original complete with hand drawn diagrams almost certainly by Marion Mahony Griffin.
[A Close] As the last remaining piece of the Griffin entry, the 29 page document explains and describes the 16 competition drawings the Griffins submitted as part of their winning entry 29.
[D Fricker] Look it completes the picture of the design entry of Marion Mahony and Walter Burley Griffin. It’s a prose if you like which is… there’s a whole set of plans and documents which are the technical aspects of the entry; elevations, designs, schematics etcetera. This document here is like the marketing pitch. This entails all of the emotional sort of aspects of the design and the inspiration that went into the design and it provides a prosaic explanation of what they were attempting to achieve with their design entry.
[A Close] The document includes original hand drawn diagrams of the underlying concept for Canberra that provide an invaluable insight into the planning process.
[Dr D Headon] But I would say all things considered, in terms of written works this is the most significant document in those foundation years. It is such a treasure. It is such a find. And for that to now find its place not only to be reacquainted with the original 16 drawings but potentially to be on display again with the renderings next year when the art guys will be showing the 16 drawings is something special and something that all of us will enjoy throughout 2013.
[A Close] The document is on show at the National Capital Authority Exhibition at Parliament House and then will feature in the National Archives Exhibition, Design 29, Creating a Capital to celebrate Canberra’s Centenary next year.
[A Close] Highlighting the importance of closer relations between Australia and South East Asian nations saw the Prime Minister of Thailand warmly welcomed to the Federal Parliament in Canberra. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other senior Ministers came to Australia to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The purpose of the visit was to help boost bilateral trade and investment between both nations. The focus on trade, investment and tourism is understandable with Thailand now Australia’s ninth largest trading partner overall and it’s second largest in the association of South East Asian nations.
Last year the two way trade between Australia and Thailand was worth nearly $20 billion. The visit by the Thai Prime Minister was also aimed at strengthening cooperation in areas of security, energy and food safety and sharing progress on science and technology. Boosting trade and people to people links between Asia and Australia was also the focus of an A.S.E.A.N Parliamentary delegation which visited Melbourne, Canberra and Wagga Wagga. Emphasising these links with Asia, M.Ps from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and Burma came to lean about Australia’s political system and build ties with Government and industry.
Indonesian M.P Adisatrya Sulisto said the visit had been very fruitful for the delegation, representing many of Australia’s closest neighbours and most important trading partners. Mr Sulisto said the recent A.S.E.A.N China Free Trade Agreement has opened up Indonesia to Chinese imports, presenting challenges for Indonesian manufacturers and leading to widespread de-industrialisation.
[A Sulisto] Many entrepreneurs would now prefer to become traders rather than industrialists because it’s just easier to import cheaper goods from China and then selling them at home, rather than creating or being innovative ourselves and trying to add value through the process and selling them domestically. So that is a big issue.
[A Close] Mr Sulisto said Indonesia has responded to this challenge by appointing a Minister for Creative Industries to encourage youth to be more entrepreneurial and create Indonesian products to sell domestically and for export. Harnessing the power of youth in her country is also the focus for the youngest member of the delegation, 28 year old Singaporean M.P Tin Pei Ling.
[T Ling] Well like any other young person, whether it’s at the workplace, politics, Singapore or otherwise, there will be certain challenges that comes with being young. For one thing we definitely don’t have the years of wisdom compared to someone who is more senior and therefore we will have to work doubly hard for instance to prove our credibility and to earn the trust that people have so far bestowed on us. But I think that youth is not a disadvantage and it is something that we can work to our advantage because of the energy, the ideas and the potential that we can bring about to an otherwise I think ageing population.
[A Close] Ms Tin Pei Ling believes immigration, infrastructure and an ageing population are the hot button issues for Singapore as it expands and grows as a society. Both Parliamentarians believe stronger political and trade ties with Australia are vital, as A.S.E.A.N deals with the challenges and opportunities of economic development.
[A Sulisto] Maybe we can do that through educational exchanges and also cultural exchanges; to understand each other better and that would lead I think to better relationship politically and also in the longer term increase our trade.
[A Close] Ms Ling says A.S.E.A.N can play a role in further developing these international relationships.
[T Ling] We see Australia as a friend to Singapore and to A.S.E.A.N and I think it has to go beyond just trade, the figures. It has to be something deeper than that. It has to be cultural as well and I think there is long term interest in that we, strategically if we can build on this relationship I think it will also help to ensure greater regional stability and security which will be very conducive for all of us to prosper together in the future.
[A Close] Year 11 students have taken a behind the scenes look at Federal Parliament as part of Rotary’s Adventures in Citizenship.
[Madam Deputy Speaker] I do want to recognise in the gallery today students from the Rotary Adventure in Citizens program and welcome them to the House and congratulate and thank Rotary for this wonderful initiative. I think we’ve all made them very happy.
[A Close] In the week long program students had a first-hand introduction to the processes of Government in Australia with the chance to meet their Local Members and see Parliament in action.
[Monica] Coming to Parliament House and seeing it just not from the general public perspective but actually getting to go behind the scenes a little bit and then also go and sit in and watch some of the proceedings it really does give you that different perspective and it’s just so interesting.
[Kate] Seeing just how Parliament works and how they actually are here for the public and for everyone here and that they’re not just robots.
[Dianna] Listening to all the Politicians say how they got here and how hard it was and how great it is to be here I really think that I could be here and make a big difference in people’s lives.
[A Close] Students also had the opportunity to deliver a 90 second statement on an issue of importance to them.
[Bradley] My 90 second statement was on the Princes Highway. It is a local issue in our area. There are many crashes along our stretch.
[Monica] I spoke about the value of education and how here in Australia we have so many opportunities to really, we have a brilliant education and yet there are people in developing nations who don’t have this.
[A Close] After their week in Parliament House many students said they were now more aware of their responsibilities as citizens and the values and privileges of being an Australian.
[Dianna] Get more involved with the community and volunteer more so I can help more people. Because after seeing how Parliament House works and how doing a small thing can make a big difference in someone’s life I think it’s really important to show that to everyone else and help others.
[Monica] To recognise that we all have different varying opinions but everyone’s opinion is respected and valued and we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up.
[A Close] Well that’s all we have time for in today’s MPI. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.
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