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14 things we learned in Senate estimates

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Scott Ludlam 1 Nov 2015

Senate estimates can be a challenging process when we're well prepared and rested. When it comes on the back of a busy parliamentary sitting week it can be an absolute mess. There was a lot to cover and a lot to discuss. If you're not sure what estimates is all about, here's a primer.

Senate estimates


1. The Abbott/Turnbull government's indiscriminate cuts to the foreign aid program has meant that three key programs in Myanmar have been cut

Australia will not provide future contributions to the Three Millennium Development Goal Fund, which aims to reduce the mortality rate among children under five, reduce maternal mortality rates, and begin to reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Australia will also reduce funding to the nongovernment education systems, and reduce funding for Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research in Myanmar, which helps the nation develop a more self-sufficient agriculture sector.


2. There's new bureaucracy, but no new funding - or restoration of old funding - for homelessness services

There appears to be a new focus on cities. There's a Minister for Cities. There is an interdepartmental committee that includes Treasury, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance, and Infrastructure. They get together and have tea, and sometimes biscuits. The new focus on cities may be welcome, but there still no sign of the $44 million dollars that the 2014 Abbott budget cut out of the homelessness capital budget.


3. Last time there was large-scale mining in Bouganville it sparked a civil war. Now mining may be starting again.

Australian aid money and Australian expertise was used for the drafting of the mining legislation that passed the Papua New Guinean parliament in March. The legislation was undertaken by the autonomous Bougainville government with stakeholders from their own community. There are widespread concerns that the community consultations were deficient and that local people are only now becoming aware of the impact of the legislation, too late to do much about it.


4. Nuclear waste process approaches critical point 

The process for working out what to with the nation's 60 year radioactive waste legacy is reaching a critical point. At any time, a list of possible sites for further evaluation could be released by the Australian Government, which is when the difficult work starts. What kind of material will be stored there? Should it be moved at all for the time being? Do we need to produce this waste at all? At least there is *some* process in place rather than the brutal obsession with dumping the waste on Muckaty under the previous Government, and in this exchanged we learned a little more to help inform a diabolically difficult debate. 


5. Between 0.4 and 2.6 per cent of the population suffer Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), but so little is known

Anywhere from 92,000 to 598,000 Australians suffer from this extraordinarily complex and debilitating condition. There is no collective diagnosis, there is no known cure and there is no consistent management plan. The NHMRC has provided a little over $2 million in funding between 2000 and 2013, which matches the slow pace of research worldwide. It is time to step up our efforts to fund basic research and advocacy and provide real hope for people with this 'invisible disease'.


6. SBS may need to cut services and commissioned content on new channels - thanks Tony Abbott. 

There'll possibly be a reduction in commissioned TV content. Management are trying to avoid decisions about cutting any services-radio services, content services-until There's a better understanding of the funding situation. The government did not anticipate their bill to move SBS advertising into peak times failing to pass the senate, so they have no plan b for SBS funding. And the new SBS cooking channel will be more than 90% acquired content.


7. The Chief of the Defence Force says there is no military solution to the Iraq and Syria conflict

There needs to be a total solution that includes political and diplomatic parts to it, as well as the military. Air Chief Marshal Binskin also outlined the processes in place to prevent any civilian casualties due to operations by the Australian military.


8. The Australian arts community breathed "a sigh of relief" at the replacement of George Brandis as Minister

That wasn't something we found out. But we're pretty sure. Congratulations, Senator Fifield, on taking on the arts portfolio. There's a lot of damage to clean up, such as...


9. After the brutal budget, The Australia Council have been forced to reduce their support to key parts of the arts sector

Funding programs to support individual artists and project activities for the small to medium companies were collectively in excess of $50 million. This has been cut by $17 million.


10. The operators of the Ranger Uranium mine, inside the Kakadu World Heritage Area, have yet to finalise the plans to rehabilitate the site and the costs of that process

ERA - the mine operator - stated that it had been advised by the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation that 'the Mirarr Traditional Owners do not support an extension to the Ranger authority'. ERA's share price dropped 25 per cent off the back of that announcement. As to whether ERA is going to be financially capable of rehabilitating the site to a condition where it could be reincorporated into the World Heritage area - its difficult to ascertain.


11. Two years after taking government promising a cheaper National Broadband Network delivered faster, NBN Co still can't tell us how much the copper network costs to maintain

Malcolm Turnbull's insistence on using a 'multi-technology mix' rather than an all-fibre model has meant that a vast amount of new copper cable will be installed across Australia. A case of a household within 5 kilometres of the Melbourne CBD being on a 'pair-gain' connection and unable to connect to an ADSL connection was put to the Minister, demonstrating once again that the Liberal's promise that every Australian will have fast broadband available to them by the end of 2016 was a fantasy they sold to the electorate as fact.


12. The Australian Interactive Games Fund was supposed to be a three year program, but was axed after one year, despite being very successful

The Fund commenced in the 2012-13 financial year. It was meant to be a three-year funding program. In 2014-15 it was axed. So it only ended up delivering $10 million of the budget before it was cut.  It enabled companies to develop a project, retain IP in Australia, build their skills and businesses, and repay the taxpayer support FTW. Let's get this scheme back on its feet.


13. There's a new Minister for Cities, a Prime Minister who likes getting his photo taken on trams, but no attempts to reinstate the urban programs that the Abbott government gutted.

Under the previous government $500 million was invested for national innovation hubs. They have been cancelled. The major cities unit and the national urban policy were axed, the suburban jobs program was not extended, the state of our cities report was discontinued and we saw the cancellation of funding for urban transport projects. We heard nothing from the Turnbull government so far on fixing the scorched-earth approach of his predecessor.


14. Federal funding for the Perth Freight Link is in serious jeopardy

The Commonwealth retains the right not to fund the project. Decisions under the legislation are based on assessment of the project proposal reports into stage 1 and 2 (which has just been postponed), and money then flows only once the government has satisfaction with those project proposal reports. If the government is serious about only considering infrastructure projects on their merits and against the return on investment, they'll cancel their involvement with the project and encourage WA Premier Barnett to do the same

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