Senate Estimates - Highlights from Day One: 11 February 2013
The first day of Senate Estimates has again revealed an extraordinary litany of Labor waste and mismanagement.
No certainty on election date
Government Senate Leader Stephen Conroy has refused to say that the Prime Minister will stick to her commitment to hold the election on 14 September.
Senator Conroy, who was representing the Prime Minister at the Finance and Public Administration Committee, refused on multiple occasions to say that he considered the PM’s announcement was an “unconditional commitment”, leaving the door open for an earlier election. So much for ‘certainty’!
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.
Dining out on climate change
Even before this round of hearings began an FOI arising out of last October’s Estimates revealed that members of the Government’s Climate Change Authority spent $1,760 dining out at taxpayer expense at Melbourne’s top-of-the-line Italian restaurant.
An Authority spokeswoman claimed the dinner was necessary so its nine hand-picked members could meet informally and get to know each other.
Taxpayers struggling to pay their electricity bills will be interested to know that dinner included New Zealand king salmon, southern supreme beef, oyster & mushroom gnocchi and pudding.
Who could it be?
The Department of Parliamentary Services has launched an investigation into the use of a parliamentary computer to post pro-Labor messages online, using fake names.
It appears that a single computer in Parliament House pretended to be at least nine different people to post comments on the Colac Herald website.
Let’s hope the investigation into this particular dirty trick doesn’t spark another riot.
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".
Looks like an heroic assumption given the Labor’s record on illegal boat arrivals to date.
$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.
More Labor waste
- The Government has thrown out the rule book for good financial management and is handing out $2 million for new Carbon Tax public relations without calling tenders.
- The Government is giving away pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners in its efforts to promote the Schoolkids Bonus – one of the programs supposed to be financed from proceeds of the much-depleted mining tax.