Transparency has left the building and cost of living relief is nowhere in sight
RBA confirms Labor’s economic mismanagement is fuelling inflation
Under questioning by Senator Bragg, the RBA Governor Michelle Bullock conceded that Labor’s fiscal policy was “broadly neutral” rather than contractionary.
By failing to run a contractionary fiscal policy over the last 18 months, Labor has fuelled inflation and increasing interest rates.
The evidence from the RBA demonstrates Labor’s economic incompetence. Failing to help the RBA fight inflation by reducing spending, Labor is directly responsible for higher interest rates and persistent high inflation.
Labor has had 18 months to get the budget into a contractionary position and with international turmoil upon us, Labor may have missed the window to smash inflation.
Australia’s core inflation of 5.2 per cent is higher than almost any major advanced economy, including Germany, France, the US, Japan and Canada. Labor’s economic agenda is only making it worse.
No need for urgency or detail
To kick off Defence Estimates, Senator Birmingham quickly established that following the attacks by terrorist organisation Hamas on Israel on Saturday 7 October the Prime Minister had not only failed to call a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) but also failed to request a briefing from the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF).
The CDF confirmed that at no point since the conflict broke have briefings been provided to the Prime Minister outside of NSC meetings and would not confirm when or how many of those meetings occurred.
However, what we can glean from the Prime Minister’s own public statements, is that NSC failed to meet until Wednesday 11 October – four days after the attack – and we now know that he didn’t speak to the CDF either.
DEWR staff underpaid
The Department of Employment and Workplace admitted it had underpaid 99 staff over $60,000 in wages.
It has so far cost the Department almost $200,000 in legal and consultant fees to rectify the errors.
During questioning by Senator Michaelia Cash in a Senate Estimates hearing Department Secretary Ms Natalie James revealed staff could expect the money in this week’s pay run.
Ms James revealed the total amount to be repaid to the 99 staff was $62,926.52, which includes an indexation payment. The average repayment was $635.25, while the highest repayment is $4051.07.
She also revealed that legal advice about the underpayments had cost the Department $119,625 so far and eternal consultants were paid a further $75,866 for data analysis.
Solar security on slippery slope
DCCEEW made the concession that the majority of solar-inverters are being purchased from China despite being fully aware of the risks to national security and that it is working with Home Affairs to ensure there is a capability to protect our energy sovereignty. In the meantime, it doesn’t appear that there is an appetite to pause the purchase of these problematic products which include purchases from Huawei. It seems that it was too risky to allow Huawei to be involved in our 5G network, however a direct involvement in the nation’s energy security, doesn’t appear to be a problem.
Home Affairs when questioned about solar inverters was unable to identify if Chinese made solar inverters were in use across government despite being able to provide similar information regarding CCTV cameras earlier in the year.
Transparency and accountability gone to the day SPA
After cross examining PM&C, IPEA, Finance and Defence, Senator Birmingham confirmed that none of them would accept or even know who has responsibility for the draft guidelines that is behind the complete absence of detailed reporting on Ministerial use of Special Purpose Aircraft (SPA).
For the Albanese Labor Government, which use to beat the drum for greater transparency and accountability, it has drastically cut details of reporting that was standard practice for decades and appears to not be in a hurry to provide the transparency promised, despite departmental advise to the contrary.
Disturbing culture inside department after “hotties list” revealed
During Monday’s RRAT hearing, Senator McKenzie uncovered a damning Capability Review of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications, and the Arts.
The department was revealed to have an attrition rate about twice that of other government departments and alarming culture issues within the department were exposed.
Under questioning by Senator McKenzie, Department head Mr Jim Betts confirmed allegations of a “hotties list” in the graduate program and other allegations of harassment.
Mr Betts revealed further details on the matter, telling the committee the department was first made aware of the list in March, a formal complaint was made in May, and that the department had failed to source the alleged list or determine who in the graduate program was involved.
Mr Betts confirmed he had not informed the Minister of the alleged list but had discussed the allegations with the Australian Public Service Commissioner.
The Department assessed as unable to articulate its vision for what the department’s purpose is and what it is supposed to accomplish.
Commitment to culture change
Following revelations of the alleged “hotties list”, Senator McKenzie questioned the Public Service Commissioner on Tuesday regarding his knowledge of the matter.
The Minister for Public Service was also in attendance at the hearing and Senator McKenzie secured a commitment from the Government to set a minimum standard of training for all new graduates in the wake of the ‘hotties list’ revelations.
This is a significant win on behalf of Senator McKenzie and Public Service Shadow Jane Hume who have acknowledged the policy change made by the APS.
Labor slap super tax on young Australians
It was revealed by Senator Bragg that Labor has failed to obtain Treasury modelling on how many Australians will be impacted by their new super tax.
The Government knows how much money they will likely collect in new taxes but claims not to know how many people will be impacted.
Labor claims their new tax on super balances over $3 million will only impact 0.5 per cent of Australians. Actuarial estimates show this new tax will hit 500,000 Australians, particularly impacting younger Australians.
Labor’s evidence was misleading at best because the Treasury told the Senate Economics Committee the recent 2023 Intergenerational Report does include the impact of the new super tax. However, when pressed on how many Australians will be impacted, Treasury said they “hadn’t done that modelling”.
National “Secrecy” Committee
The Albanese Government’s tricky politics was on full display at Estimates with officials unable to answer simple questions relating to when or if the National Security Committee of Cabinet met. Reasonable questions, including around the dates of meetings went unanswered as the Government hid behind “security concerns”. This is despite the Prime Minister standing up on a number of other occasions detailing when the NSC has convened and what had been discussed. This is yet another example of Labor’s shamelessly hypocritical lack of transparency and accountability.
Potential listing of Iranian IRGC
Senator Paterson extracted confirmation that the process to list IRGC has been considered by the Government.
The Attorney-General’s Department believes that IRGC cannot be listed as a terrorist organisation, because it’s an organ of a state (Iran) and defending inaction because it would be “complex” to amend the legislation.
Despite the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade telling Senator Chandler that such a listing was only impeded by current Australian Government legislation, the AGD is unaware of any potential change in law to permit IRGC to be listed as a terrorist organisation.
The Government has shown a lack of enthusiasm to fix this technicality despite the Coalition stating in writing and publicly it would support the listing in a bi-partisan way.
Shrinking budget for Defence and inflation pressures
At Budget Estimates in May the Coalition revealed that Defence has had a real spending cut of $1.5 billion to its budget and was also required to find $7.8 billion of savings.
During the latest round of Estimates, Senator Birmingham verified that Defence still hasn’t worked out where those cuts will be made.
Defence confirmed it is yet to identify $1.8 billion of cuts for the $7.8 billion in reprioritisation in the forward estimates that the Government announced in the May Budget.
Not only is Defence having to find major spending cuts, but it is getting far less bang for its buck as a result of inflation pressures. As Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty put it:
“Well, Senator, it erodes our purchasing power as it does for all Australians, all departments and our entire private sector. So, so defence is not unique in terms of the impact of inflation on the amount of purchasing power that we have with the budget. I think the Government’s very aware, of that and you know, that is why, you know, Mr. Marles and other ministers have told us that we must ruthlessly prioritise because of the very challenging budget circumstances.
Defence shouldering the load without any replenishment
Under a shrinking Defence budget and reviews within reviews, Defence also had to admit at Senate Estimates that it is also absorbing all defence hardware cost commitments associated with military support to Ukraine.
Officials confirmed $730 million of military assistance has been committed to Ukraine, virtually all of which entails Defence giving away their equipment and dollars with no new money allocated by the Albanese Government to replenish Australia’s supply.
ADF personnel leaving faster than recruitment
In an exchange between Senator Birmingham and Defence officials we learned that despite new retention policies of the Government, personnel are leaving the Australian Defence Force faster than they are being recruited.
Since 30 June 2023, there was an outflow of 1,373 people from the ADF and an inflow of 1,252 people, meaning the personnel shortfall is on track to get worse.
The ADF was found to be 800 personnel behind its year-to-date full time recruitment targets.
Senator Birmingham: “We are still losing more than we’re gaining?”
General Fox: “Yes”
NBN quizzed on internet price hikes
Amid the cost-of-living crisis, we were keen to hear what the Government thought about the rising internet prices.The Communications Minister had described a new NBN pricing deal as “great news for consumers”.But with Telstra and Aussie Broadband using the deal to push up prices by up to 10% for millions of Australians, did the Assistant Minister agree with Minister Rowland’s comments?What did she make of the fact that families would be paying more, and that families on the lowest-cost plans were likely to be hit hardest? Didn’t that make a mockery of the Minister’s comments that the NBN deal was “great for consumers”?She wouldn’t say, and stuck like glue to the Minister’s talking points.The NBN told Senators that prices set by retailers were a matter for them and besides which, they said, “the new NBN deal was good news for consumers because it provided certainty for retailers.”
No Transparency on Bulk Billing Despite Plummeting Rates
Bulk billing rates have dropped every single month under the Albanese Labor Government, plummeting to the lowest levels since 2013 despite being at record highs under the Coalition.
Despite this concerning trend, the Government blatantly refused to provide any measurements of success for their policy to triple the bulk billing incentive.
The failure to provide clear intention to achieve higher bulk billing rates has not filled the Opposition with any confidence that this Labor Government will be able to buck the downward trend in bulk billed GP consults as the costs of healthcare continue to rise.
Collins Class Life of Type “Ongoing” Extension
Labor’s attempt to score petty, political points when it comes to the life of type extension (LOTE) of Collins-class submarines. The Albanese Government left it until the morning of Estimates to release a statement informing that it will use an independent assurance activity to inform the life-of-type extension of the fleet, before using Estimates to question officials about the timing of decisions made by the former government. Defence officials denied that past decisions had caused any delays and were clear that life-of-type extension was still on track to begin in 2026. The Albanese Government has been in office for over a year now – they should stop attempting to critique past decisions and focus on getting on with the job of managing Defence in the best interest of our nation. The clock is ticking, and the LOTE program is a vital measure to ensure the strength of Australia’s submarine capability. Leadership, not leaning on reviews, is what is needed.
Review Port of Darwin lease set adrift
Despite promising at the election to review the Port of Darwin lease, Prime Minister Albanese forgot to initiate the review and then when his department did act, he sat on the report for seven months.
Senator Birmingham revealed under questioning that PM&C officials only initiated a review into the Port of Darwin lease after hearing the Prime Minister respond to a journalist’s question in August 2022 – three months after the election and with no formal instruction from the Prime Minister.
It took five months for PM&C to provide a draft report, before a final was delivered to the PMO in March. Since then, for seven long months, the Prime Minister sat on the report before sheepishly releasing a statement through his department late last Friday afternoon (20th October) to announce that the lease arrangement wouldn’t be changing.
Surface Fleet Review yet to surface – more delays, more uncertainty
The Albanese Government continues to show complete disregard to the defence industry and the hard-working men and women at our ADF, by refusing to provide any guidance around the timing of its response to the Surface Fleet Review. What was meant to be a ‘short, sharp review’ has proven to be anything but – with the review itself complete but the Government sitting on it for even longer than the review took to complete. Labor is only prepared to say it will respond in the “early part of next year”. Officials also refused to give any certainty to the South Australian shipbuilding industry that the Hunter Class Frigate Program will continue.
First deportation of UMA to Nauru in 9 years and capability gaps in the ABF
The Australian Border Force had to reveal that last month a vessel was intercepted, and its passengers taken to Nauru for the first time in nine years. This is the ninth people smuggling venture to attempt to arrive illegally in Australia since the May 2022 Federal Election.
The revelation comes as the ABF is to release its usual monthly report this Friday with more details.
Senator Paterson was able to ask about recent reporting of a drop in capability of the ABF specifically in the spaces of flight hours and patrol days.
The Australian Defence Force is having to plug the gaps in our border protection. In an uncertain strategic environment, we need the ADF focused on its core business – not making up for failures elsewhere. The Government needs to adequately fund the Australian Border Force so that it can conduct its own maritime surveillance program without relying on defence assets.
The ABF Commissioner Michael Outram also suggested that the decline in capability is due to the ageing of its fleet which isn’t due to be replaced until 2027.
Infrastructure cuts and delays continue
The Government’s 90-day Infrastructure review now sits at day 180 days (28/10/23).
Under questioning from Senator McKenzie, the DITRDCA admitted the Review won’t be released till MYEFO.
This scenario will take the review well past 200 days.
An additional $3 billion in cuts to infrastructure road and rail projects since the October budget, to prop up the budget surplus we uncovered during McKenzie’s questioning on the department. This is on top of Labor’s $9.6 billion cuts and delays to infrastructure projects in its first budget.
McKenzie’s questioning also saw exposed the Government is pressuring recipients of grants (made by previous Coalition government) to exclude local (opposition) MPs from attending events to open taxpayer funded community infrastructure.
The Prime Minister’s Covid-19 Inquiry nothing but a political witch hunt
The Prime Minister has taken full ownership of the completely disingenuous and politically driven COVID-19 Inquiry announced last month, it was confirmed in the Community Affairs Committee.
Under questioning from the Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care Anne Ruston, Minister Gallagher confirmed that the ‘independent panel members’ for the inquiry were captain’s picks by the Prime Minister and failed to alleviate concerns on Dr Angela Jackson’s clear and close ties to the Labor party.
Shadow Minister Ruston questioned how “a former senior staff member of a Labor Cabinet Minister is an appropriately independent person to be called an independent panel member.”
This is particularly concerning given it was also confirmed on Thursday that the ‘independent’ panel members would be in charge of an exclusive, invitation-only submission process to the inquiry.
The Government’s missing National Terrorist Register
The status of the register is still unknown as AGD is “consulting” with other departments before providing advice to government.
Funding for the register has been provided to the AFP.
There is no expected timeline for the register despite being 18 months into the current Government’s term.
Complex and confusing Bill exposed
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations appearance at a Senate Estimates hearing was characterised by a series of complex and confusing explanations of the Government’s so-called Closing the Loopholes Bill.
A phalanx of departmental officials was required to explain various parts of the controversial Bill. It often took two or three officials to contribute to the answer to a single question.
Shadow Minister for employment and Workplace Relations Senator Michaelia Cash said: “One thing that was made very clear was that, despite what the Government keeps claiming, service contractors are not excluded from the labour hire provisions in the Bill.”
A departmental official told the hearing: “It is not a strict prohibition against the inclusion of services contractors.”
Watt’s over-egging of over-fishing
Only minutes after trying to boast about Labor’s efforts to increase Australia’s plantation estate, Forestry Minister Murray Watt’s mismanagement of the issue was laid bare when he admitted he was unaware of an Albanese Government Bill that will trigger the opposite outcome.
Senator Watt was questioned by Senator Duniam on his knowledge about – and, more specifically, his position as Forestry Minister on – the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Multinationals Pay Their Fair Share—Integrity and Transparency) Bill 2023. During the exchange, and notwithstanding that the Bill was introduced to the Parliament more than four months ago, he was at a loss to provide any detail about his understanding of the Bill and the damage, if passed, that it would inflict on the plantation forestry sector.
The Australian Forest Products Association has estimated that the financial impact of the Bill will be to cause an approximately $20 million loss to plantation companies every year. Haplessly, Senator Watt confessed that “I have not seen (that submission), personally”, and that he wasn’t even across the broader content of the Bill either.
Additionally asked if the Albanese Government was working on a resolution to this very serious problem, he extraordinarily said, “I’d have to find out”.
Chinese made CCTV cameras discovered in AGD office
Estimates revealed an additional government site was discovered to host Chinese made CCTV cameras.
The site, an AGD office in Victoria is the first to be identified as to having a Chinese made camera within the AGD portfolio.
Missing this site in the first assessment was put down by the department as being the fault of recent MoG changes that saw relevant information not being centralised.
The cameras were immediately removed on identification but information about their replacement was taken on notice.
Research funding under spotlight
The Australian Research Council, which receives close to $1 billion a year in government funding, has conceded it has limited oversight over this massive funding for research centres.
In Senate Estimates the Opposition uncovered that one research centre spent more than $800,000 on travel and events in 2022 to which the ARC conceded to investigating.
Minister’s hand-picked mobile black spot failure
We heard the disastrous outcome of Minister’s Rowland’s decision to hand-pick 54 sites for Mobile Black Spot Funding before the last election.After the department assessed the sites, nearly a quarter of the Minister’s list failed to make the final cut, including five in the electorate of Eden-Monaro.An extract of a letter from Labor MP, Kristy McBain to a constituent, promised “that a Labor Government will invest $500,000 to improve mobile coverage in Wee Jasper.”But the department had not funded the Wee Jasper site due to “extremely high costs and did not represent value for money.”It was put to the department that the then-Shadow Minister had misled local communities.It was put to the Assistant Minister at the desk that this affair was “highly embarrassing for the Government.”When the Coalition pressed the issue, the Labor chair of the committee cut the broadcast and adjourned the hearing into a private meeting.Meanwhile the Auditor-General is continuing his investigation into this affair.
Can’t quit Qantas
Questioning of department officials by Senator McKenzie uncovered Qantas freight planes have been granted a special 12-month deal to break the Sydney airport curfew.
An admission was made that the Member for Grayndler, Prime Minister Albanese was consulted on the matter, yet Minister for Transport was not.
Critically, the special arrangements were originally introduced during COVID, but have been extended without explanation for 12 months.
Regulation for the protection of Australian technology waiting months for HA Minister sign off
The instrument required for the department to regulate the protection of Australian technology has been left unsigned, nor actioned by the Minister for Home Affairs since October 2022.
The Department has updated the amendments this year, but it still remains unsigned, leaving it inoperative until actioned by the Government
The Department has provided advice to the Minister as well as different departments across government. This advice was provided to the Minister in August 2023.
Technology transfer is a key issue in foreign espionage being flagged by ASIO Director-General as recent as last week at the five-eyes meeting in the US – ASIO boss Mike Burgess hits out at China’s sanctioned theft of intellectual property (smh.com.au)
Federal Labor’s Indigenous cultural heritage laws on the chopping block?
Labor’s election promise to create standalone Federal Indigenous cultural heritage protection laws is now in tatters.
Officials from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) admitted on Monday night that it was now “unclear” if the Albanese Government would introduce the new laws in this term of Parliament.
The officials also undercut Federal Labor’s denials earlier this year that they had not been chastened by the Western Australian Labor Government’s disastrous experience in attempting to introduce similar laws.As The West Australian newspaper reported, “asked by Shadow Environment Minister Jonno Duniam whether the debacle in WA influenced the process of designing a Federal regime, (DCCEEW) acknowledged there were lessons to be learnt”.
That the future of any new Federal Indigenous cultural heritage protection legislation should now be so clouded represents a total reversal from the Albanese Government – and the responsible Minister, Tanya Plibersek, who said on 24 November 2022 that “there’s never been a better moment” to progress such laws.
No knowledge of what taypayer-funded Defender’s Office is defending
It was already bad enough that, last year, the Government allocated over $8 million of taxpayers’ money to a radical environmental organisation called the Environmental Defenders’ Office (EDO).Now it turns out that the relevant Department knows nothing about most high-profile legal cases that the EDO has been running.
Asked about the EDO’s involvement in cases involving each of Raelene Cooper and Emil Davey, DCCEEW officials admitted that they were “certainly not … aware of what they’re spending”.
This is despite the fact that Ms Cooper’s injunction has, very consequentially, caused work to cease on the Scarborough Gas Project.Similarly, Mr Davey has allegedly been directly and indirectly involved in a number of highly damaging, disruptive and violent public protests – including one that forced the evacuation of Woodside Energy’s headquarters and another that involved the threatening trespass of the private residence of the company’s CEO, Meg O’Neill, and her family.
Plibersek thinks 41 = 14,736
Earlier this year, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek claimed that “over 99 per cent” of 14,736 public submissions supported her proposal to triple the size of the Macquarie Island Macquarie Park.
Yet, the Director of National Parks testified at Environment and Communications Estimates that only 41 unique submissions were actually received.The remainder were simply pro-forma documents generated as part of mass email campaigns from two organisations.
To make matters worse, Assistant Minister, Jenny McAllister, and the relevant officials couldn’t deny that Ms Plibersek had signalled, in a tweet on 22 May, that she had made up her mind on the outcome of the review before the public consultation period had even ended.
Murray ‘not my job’ Watt indifferent to Queensland fishing devastation
Fisheries Minister Murray Watt’s indifference to stakeholders even in his own portfolios crashed to a new low on many fronts during Estimates.This was particularly evident when he was asked a series of questions by Senator Jonno Duniam late on Tuesday about the Government’s devastating ban on Queensland gillnet fishing.
Extraordinarily, he attempted to argue that he and his Department had “no responsibility” and their involvement would be “a misallocation (of) resources”.This is despite the fact that the gillnets ban is already turning into one of the most devastating decisions in memory for Australia’s commercial fishing industry, putting the livelihoods of hundreds of families in jeopardy and creating widespread spillover effects for many other businesses and regional communities.
Ironically, prior to last year’s election, Watt was one of the most willing cheerleaders in the very personal campaign that the ALP ran against then Prime Minister Scott Morrison.On 14 May 2022, he even said that “more than anything, it’s time Queenslanders had a government in Canberra that works with us, not against us (and) that doesn’t always tell Queenslanders ‘it’s not my job’”.
Government fails to act on Yipirinya school proposal
The Albanese Government failed to provide any assurances during Senate Estimates that it would deliver Yipirinya School’s on-country satellite school proposal at Burt Creek north of Alice Springs.
This follows the Government’s broken promise to deliver $40 million to schools to support community safety initiatives under the Alice Springs community safety package.
New role in DoD, Deputy Secretary for Governance (Defence)
While the Australian Defence Force is shrinking along with the Defence budget a new role in governance within the Department of Defence has been endorsed.
The DoD deputy secretary level role will focus on record keeping practices and more media assistance to ministers.
A recruitment company is managing the application process with an expected salary of at least $340,000 – $400,000.
Australia Post closures
Back in June 2020, the-then Shadow Communications Minister posted on social media that “Labor vows to oppose Australia Post cuts.” During Estimates this week we heard that under Labor, Australia Post is closing its Perth Gateway Facility and redirecting the sorting of incoming international mail to Sydney and Melbourne, effective from 27 October. The Perth facility has also been home to personnel from Australian Border Force and Biosecurity Operations. We also heard that Australia Post is now sending out letters to targeted Licensed Post Office licensees, offering to buy back their licences. Australia Post said it had made 274 offers in metropolitan areas, with the majority in NSW and Victoria.
Labor isn’t listening to farmer concerns
Australian farmers feel under siege by the Albanese Government, with shattered investment confidence that will flow to increased grocery bills.
In Estimates Minister Watt shunned fears raised by damning National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) survey results from 1600 farmers across Australia, including the detrimental impact of Labor policies on agriculture and the regions.
The NFF’s survey results showed that a majority of farmers think the Federal Government’s policies are harming the industry and one in three farmers are less positive about the future of farming than they were 12 months ago.
It takes a special talent by Agriculture Minister Murray Watt to lose the confidence of Australian farmers, all within 12 months.
ABC faces grilling on Hamas attacks coverage, costs and spending
The Coalition grilled ABC officials, particularly over its coverage of the Hamas attacks on Israel learning that an ABC journalist, Tom Joyner, who labelled claims regarding the killing of babies as “bullsh*t” had been “rotated out of Israel” and the matter was now subject to an investigation.The ABC was forced to defend an interview on 7.30 with a Hamas representative, which the committee was told had “legitimised terrorism”.The Managing Director refused to say sorry, regarding a defamation case involving former special forces commando, Heston Russell.We heard that the ABC’s legal costs in the case were around $800,000, so far.The committee was also told the ABC had spent $150,000 in travel costs sending 44 staff to cover the 2023 Garma Festival.
When questioned by Senator McKenzie on Tuesday, the Australian Public Service Commissioner admitted the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts had made a mistake in circulating pro-Voice referendum content at the request of Minister McBain. The APSC admitted the Minister should not have asked that of the department.
Follow-up opportunities to examine how widespread this practise is, including informing councils and other community groups NOT to invite Coalition MPs to events.
Aviation monitoring yet to take off – but big win on ACCC monitoring
Under questioning from Senator McKenzie and Smith on Wednesday night, Treasury Department revealed the Treasurer was yet to direct the ACCC to reinstate aviation monitoring, with officials advising the direction is “still being worked up”.
Treasury and Senator Gallagher (representing the Treasurer) failed to provide answers on how the new ACCC airline monitoring would be funded or if the monitoring would be backdated to 30 June when the previous monitoring regime ended.
This was in stark contrast to ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb who told the committee the ACCC maintained capacity to run the monitoring and could “pick up where we left off”, and that the ACCC was able to monitor the sector from 30 June, with no need for any gap.
Furniture upgrades for the Ministerial Wing but who approved it?
If you’ve been walking around the ministerial wing lately, you might have noticed there’s been quite a bit of furniture in the corridors, and if you’ve been wanting details about the upgrades, unfortunately we don’t have answers. Nine of the 30 suites have already been completed, however the Department of Finance couldn’t explain how exactly the upgrades were approved or whether they were even approved by a Minister. Most troubling was the fact that the Department couldn’t give a figure for how much the upgrades are going to cost. With inflation raging and Australians facing a cost of living crisis, you’d think the Government might have re-prioritised a furniture upgrade…
Labor’s hypocrisy on board appointments
In a Utopia-esque performance, Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher refused to acknowledge that the Treasurer’s first appointment to the Chair of the Productivity Commission, Chris Barrett, had any links to Labor- despite having served as Chief of Staff to former Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan at the same time as Mr Chalmers worked for him.
This bizarre performance comes after Minster Gallagher said in a speech earlier this to the Chifley 2023 Conference that members of the Productivity Commission were linked to the Coalition.
Senator Hume: Do you accept that Mr Barrett has a political connection to Labor? It is pretty simple.
Minister Gallagher: My answer is there is a merit selection process.
Senator Hume: That is not the question that I asked. You said that the previous Productivity Commission Board had connections to the Coalition. Does this appointment have a connection to Labor?
Minister Gallager: There was a merit process.
Senator Hume: That is not the question I asked.
Minister Gallagher: Well that is my answer.
Minister Gallagher also refused to call out the appointment of former Labor Senator Chris Ketter to the plum job as Trade Commissioner in San Francisco, a job which he neither applied for nor was the recommended candidate, despite previously saying she would end the “jobs for mates culture” in Government.
Labor’s minimum standard training for APS grads
In light of revelations of the “hotties list” allegedly created by graduates in the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications, and the Arts, the Australian Public Service Commission revealed that there is currently no uniform standard across the department for introducing new employees to the APS Code of Conduct. Senator Bridget McKenzie called for compulsory, minimum and consistent training during the induction period of new APS employees.
Labor’s NDIS scheme still has no policies to reduce growth
Yet again the Secretary of the Department of Finance and Minister for Finance could not point to a single policy that would deliver the supposed reduction in NDIS expenditure to 8% growth, confirming that Finance had not costed a single policy measure that would deliver the savings.
Finance repudiates Bowen’s fake nuclear costing
The Department of Finance confirmed it has not been asked to cost any policy on replacing coal fired power stations with small modular nuclear reactors further damaging the credibility of the fanciful cost of a nuclear transition suggested by Minister Bowen. These costs had already been widely criticised by industry experts.
SRFS up,or down? Submarine rotational force—west at risk
Despite being less than four years away from the commencement of Submarine Rotational Force—West (SRF—West) in 2027, it was revealed in Estimates today that works to uplift HMAS Stirling, to be nuclear-ready to host US and UK nuclear submarines, won’t commence until 2025. It is of significant concern that the Government can’t explain why works to prepare our nation for AUKUS can’t get going sooner, and whether there’s enough time with only two years from when they start to when the US and UK submarines arrive. Officials also identified ‘workforce risks’ relating to works at HMAS Stirling. The Government must explain why upgrades at HMAS Stirling are not commencing sooner than 2025 and what it will do to address workforce shortages and minimise delays.
Labor Delaying Affordable Access to Critical New Medicines
The Government has failed to refute serious concerns that they are delaying the listing of critical new medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Under questioning in the Committee Affairs Committee on Thursday, neither the Department or the Minister could deny that urgent and affordable access to life-changing medicines is being denied from patients in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. It was revealed that this year alone there have been at least 19 critical medicines recommended for listing on the PBS that are still not accessible for patients more than three months later.
Last time Labor was in government, we know they had to stop listing new medicines on the PBS because they couldn’t manage money. The Coalition does not want to see this happen again.
The boomers are coming but the Aged Care Minister has failed to prepare
In the Community Affairs Committee, it was revealed that a mere 9,500 additional home care packages are being released by the Albanese Labor Government this financial year.
This is an extremely disappointing effort in comparison to the 80,000 additional home care packages the Coalition released over the two-year period prior to the election.
The Aged Care Minister has been heralding that ‘the boomers are coming’ and that this next generation of older Australians will want to remain independent in their own homes, but clearly is not preparing for their arrival.
The revelation that there has been an increase in wait times for level 2 and 3 home care packages further proves this lack of preparation.
ACIC vacant CEO role, what to expect before the end of the year
The department confirmed that the CEO role at ACIC is still vacant after being so for nearly 12 months.
It also admitted that in relation to a cascade of temporary vacancies, it would be preferable for them to filled substantively.
Since then, the department has begun to conduct another recruitment round with the role being advertised on the 8th of September and on the 1st of October with the panel determining a shortlist in the last week, hoping to conduct interviews “in the coming weeks.”
Labor’s plan to diminish the influence of States in the Senate
Senator Dean Smith questioned Mr Richard Pye, Clerk of the Senate, about the potential impact of Labor’s proposal to increase the Territories’ Senate representation to 4 or 6 seats. Mr. Pye acknowledged that increasing Territory representation without a proportional increase for the States necessarily reduced the States’ influence. Further questioning of Minister Farrell by Senator Smith led to him admitting the Government was considering the move as part of its response to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.
Senator Dean Smith: “Increasing territory representation from two to four, or to six, for each territory would diminish the influence of states if their Senate representation were not increased similarly. Is that correct?”
Mr Pye: “I suppose it would, from a logical point of view.”
Big Spender Aly
Minister Aly likes to spend big on hosting events across the country.
In the last 12 months, the Minister’s portfolio has spent over $260,000 on travel, catering and accommodation costs for various planning and committee meetings, including $5,100 for a welcome to country and cultural activity, and a whopping $125,618.65 for a three day meeting in Canberra.
With the cost of living continuing to rise for most Australian households, it begs the question as to how out of touch Minister Aly is with everyday Australians.
NDIS Independent Review delayed
It was revealed Labor’s NDIS Independent Review will be delayed, creating more fear and uncertainty for NDIS participants and their families. With an original 30 October deadline, the review has been a year in the making, and it was confirmed the report now needs to go through National Cabinet, which has been ‘penciled in’ for 4 December. More than 600,000 NDIS participants will now have to wait at least 5 weeks longer to find out if any cuts will be made to their plans, and the overall findings and outcomes. The Minister has had one year to ensure this report would be delivered on the promised date, and has failed thousands of Australians, their carers and their families.
Delays to contact NDIS participants impacted by data breach
It took a very long time for NDIS participants to be informed of a data breach – involving their sensitive information. The data breach happened in April 2023, and affected HWL Ebsworth – a private law firm that provides legal services to government agencies, including the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). It was only in late July and early August that those affected by the breach began to be notified. During questioning around when the Minister was notified of this, and why it took so long to contact the 645 participants who were impacted it was claimed due to varying disabilities, the communications process was slowed down. The Department confirmed it had identified the 645 participants and who they were by 13 June, yet it was only in late July and early August that they began to notify these people.
Minister rooted to the spot on plantation issues
Only minutes after trying to boast about Labor’s efforts to increase Australia’s plantation estate, Forestry Minister Murray Watt’s mismanagement of the issue was laid bare when he admitted he was unaware of a new Albanese Government Bill that will trigger the opposite outcome.
Senator Watt was questioned by Senator Duniam on his knowledge about – and, more specifically, his position as Forestry Minister on – the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Multinationals Pay Their Fair Share—Integrity and Transparency) Bill 2023.During the exchange, he was at a loss to provide any detail about his understanding of the Bill and the damage, if passed, that it would inflict on the plantation forestry sector.
The Australian Forest Products Association has estimated that the financial impact of the Bill will be to cause an approximately $20 million loss to plantation companies every year.Haplessly, Senator Watt confessed that “I have not seen (that submission), personally”, and that he wasn’t even across the broader content of the Bill either.
Additionally asked if the Albanese Government was working on a resolution to this very serious problem, he extraordinarily said, “I’d have to find out”.
North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency
The Attorney-General’s Department revealed it recommended an external audit be conducted into the troubled North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, which has faced allegations of corruption, fraud and a mass exodus of staff.
But Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and his Department appear unwilling to get directly involved in holding NAAJA to account.
The recommendation of an audit was revealed during questioning from Shadow Attorney-General Senator Michaelia Cash and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price in a Senate estimates hearing.
The AGD also revealed NAAJA received millions of dollars of additional Federal Government funding on top of the widely reported $83 million over five years from the National Legal Assistance Partnership.
Nauru boat transfer legal advice
The Attorney-General’s Department was unable to confirm whether it gave vital legal advice to the Government on the international law implications of Australia’s first transfer of asylum seekers to Nauru in nine years.
On Monday in Senate Estimates hearings, the Australian Border Force revealed that in September of this year it intercepted a boat at sea and transferred the passengers to Nauru – the first such transfer in nine years.
On Tuesday, officials from the Attorney-General’s Department were not able to confirm whether they were even consulted about the international law implications of the transfer.
“These are very serious international law issues that were front of mind when the Coalition set up Operation Sovereign Borders and stopped the boats,’’ said Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, who questioned them on the matter.
Parole of child sex offenders
The Attorney General’s Department confirmed the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has delegated his decision making role over the release of child sex offenders to Departmental officials.
They also further confirmed that departmental officials had released child sex offenders on parole.
Shadow Attorney-General Senator Michaelia Cash said: “When I was Attorney-General I did not delegate this important decision-making power to the Department as I believed it was the rightful responsibility of Australia’s Attorney General to make such important decisions.”
“As a matter of principle I believe it is important for those who commit these crimes to serve their full sentence of imprisonment. The Department have taken on notice the question of how many child sex offenders have been releases on parole and I think it is something Australians deserve to know.”
“They said they had not complied with an Order for Production of Documents on this matter because of possible data entry errors. This is also quite extraordinary. The department should be able to provide such basic information.”
ASD and Microsoft’s big investment
It was announced on Wednesday morning that Microsoft will be investing $5bn into cyber security capabilities in Australia with the support of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
Senator Paterson opened his line of questioning asking if this was the first time Microsoft and ASD had worked together, to which Rachel Nobel the Director of ASD confirmed that it was in fact not, and that the two organisations have worked together for two decades.
With Microsoft being a part of the cyber security partnership program since 2019 and more recently signed a MoU together in 2021 under the last government.
Despite The Prime Minister being very public in the announcement the government is not contributing to the $5bn investment package.
Notably the Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber security was absent from the announcement, to which the ASD Director was unsure as to why.
DFATs position on using Cyber sanctions
DFAT stated that the government has still not used the cyber application of the Magnitsky sanctions regime. Reasoning that such applications would be extremely complex.
Brendon Dowling the ambassador for Cyber affairs and critical technology, stated that the sanctions are only one tool that the department might use to respond to serious cyber incident against Australia.
Bendon stated that they would feel more comfortable to apply law enforcement capability over the use of sanctions.
Foreign Relations Scheme, HK Police and Charles Sturt University
Senator Paterson revealed in estimates a five-year MoU between the Hong Kong police and Charles Sturt University signed in 2018 and which was expected to expire mid 2023.
DFAT was unable to confirm if Charles Sturt had updated the department on the status of their relationship with the HK police as to its potential renewal or cancelation.
The Senator also revealed a similar program exist between Griffith University and Yunnan Police.
When asked directly about the appropriateness of such relationships with Chinese police, the Minister stated that the actions taken by the HK police to place a bounty on the heads of an Australian citizen and permanent resident are unacceptable.
The Minister refused to elaborate as to appropriateness of the relationship and deferred to the AFP’s statements earlier in the week despite the arrangements with universities being distinct to the AFP relationship.
This comes as DFAT has responsibility for overseeing and cancelling if need be such relationships that universities undertake.
NSW and federal govts pause work on digital credential sharing
A plan to bring digital Medicare cards to the Service NSW app and NSW digital drivers licences to myGov was paused earlier this year and has not resumed after early teething problems emerged with the project.
The decision to pause the project was revealed during Senate Estimates on Wednesday, prompted by a cache of briefing documents released to the Coalition under Freedom of Information laws.
Does anyone like Labor’s Misinformation Bill?
Senators were told the Government received more than 23,000 responses, including 3025 formal submissions and a further 20,336 comments to Labor’s proposed Misinformation Bill, which officials described as “a very substantial number.”
Although it had been over 2 months since submissions closed, only 1265 had been published online.The “comments” will not be published.Officials denied that the Minister’s office had any role in selecting which submissions were published or when.Pressed on whether the Government would live up to the Minister’s promise to introduce a Bill into Parliament this year, officials were less committal.They said there was “no stated timeline” for when the revised Bill would come to Parliament.
Government could not guarantee accuracy of misleading claim on two-for-one medicines
Following the mismanaged implementation of 60-day dispensing, taxpayers have been forced to pay for a misleading advertising campaign that is creating false expectations amongst pharmacy customers.
In the Community Affairs Committee on Thursday, Minister Gallagher could not guarantee that all Australians eligible for 60-day dispensing would receive ‘twice the medication for the cost of a single prescription’, despite advertising campaigns and constant claims from the Government that this is the case.
Shadow Minister for Health Anne Ruston called out the Minister’s ‘refusal to actually confirm that all Australians who will get 60-day scripts will get twice the medication for the exact same price of one script’.
Indigenous boarding school costs review
The Opposition has forced an embarrassed Albanese Government into reviewing the costs of a charity contracted to deliver four remote Indigenous boarding schools, two of which were axed by Labor in its May Budget.
Under questioning by Shadow Education Minister Senator Sarah Henderson the Department of Education conceded it had commenced an investigation into Studio Schools’ operations including the payment of $600,000 per annum to two senior executives.
The review was commenced after Senator Henderson wrote to Education Minister Jason Clare seeking an urgent action.