Australia Network Take Note of Answers

I rise to address the answer that was given to Senator Birmingham’s question about the Australia Network tender. I would like to start with purpose. That is one area where I do agree with members of the government and members on my own side about the importance of the Australia Network as an important tool in Australia’s diplomacy and representing aspects of Australian culture and values in regions around the world—although, having had a look at the program guide for the Australia Network, I am not actually sure how much Home and Away adds to the world’s true understanding of Australia.

One of the other aspects I wish to address, though, is the commentary that has come from some members, particularly in the Greens, that the ABC are the only people who should be able to provide this service. If you go back in the history of the Australia Network, you will see that it was run by the Channel 7 network from the late 1990s until 2002 as a function of tendering processes. It was run quite successfully during that period, as it has been by the ABC, which goes to show that there are many options for the provision of services.

The present issue is not so much about the service or the value that it adds to our diplomatic effort or to communicating about Australia’s value; it goes to the heart of competence, or lack thereof, in this government. The responsibility for assessing this rested with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They set up an expert panel, and that expert panel twice delivered a decision to government that the government clearly did not like. Now, if the government decides that it wants to have the final say on who is going to provide this service, whether for ideological reasons or for practical reasons, it is completely within its remit to set up an appropriate process to get that outcome. It is, at the end of the day, the executive government.

But one of the areas where this government shows a complete lack of competence is the understanding of the impact of government decisions and govern­ment policy on people and companies in the real world. There were two tender processes. The focus here has been very much on the fact that the department has run a tender process twice. In the real world, that means that there are people, there are companies, who are expending money to develop a bid under a tender process to bring staff onto a team or to hold staff in expectation of a decision being made so that they can deliver a service. That is not free. That costs money. And it goes to the lack of competence of this government that ministers do not understand the implications of their decisions and their delays, their procrastinations, their petty internal wranglings, on real-world companies and people who have to be concerned with profit and loss and cash flow, which are the things that directly impact on their ability to employ people. And it is the employment of people that provides certainty, growth in our economy, homes, education and opportunities for young families.

The incompetence of this government is not just on display here. We have spent this morning debating the Steel Transformation Plan Bill 2011. Back in August, I asked Senator Carr why anyone should have confidence in the decision that he had made about support for the steel industry when steel industry leaders were saying that the government shows a complete ignorance on manufacturing, does not want to listen, is engaged with economic vandalism and does not care whether there are manufacturing jobs in Australia. I was asking him about the steel industry advocate and why the government had not filled that position in eight months. Lo and behold, they then filled it. But we are talking today about further support of the steel industry. Why? Because of the carbon tax—another decision the government has taken which undermines the viability of business and manufacturing in this country, which are the very things that deliver jobs.

It is not only in these industries. If you look at the defence industry, particularly in South Australia, people are very concerned around the fact that this government’s procrastination around tenders—its inability to make decisions and approve projects—is so blocking the flow of work to companies that they are bleeding skills at a rapid rate and people are concerned that we will see a significant downgrade in Australia’s defence capability through its lack of defence industry due solely to the incompetence of this government, which cannot run tender processes and approve projects. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.