Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Mining, Health Take Note of Answers

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis), the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Ronaldson) and the Assistant Minister for Health (Senator Nash) to questions without notice asked today.

The question today that was directed to Senator Brandis about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act ignores the fact that the broad Australian community supports the principle that there should be freedom of speech. We should not be restricted in the ability to debate things that are important to the Australian community. One only has to look overseas to see what happens when a state imposes laws that impact on the freedom of speech—things such as blasphemy laws operating in some countries—and which inhibit the ability of people to express an opinion. Freedom of speech is the absolute underpinning of a civil society—of a secular, plural democracy—which is what Australia seeks to be.

The principle that the coalition also believes, though, is that there is no place for racism or for vilifying people upon that basis. We also contend that there needs to be a balance. The balance is currently not correct. The process that the coalition has adopted is sound. We recognise that there are a large number of stakeholders in this debate and we see that, even within the Human Rights Commission, the Race Discrimination Commissioner has opposed it, the Human Rights Commissioner has supported it and the President of the Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has acknowledged that there is a need for change.

So the process this coalition government has put in place, with the release of the exposure draft today, is a sound process. I welcome the ability of Australians to debate these issues without being labelled racist or anything else. I welcome the ability to have a civil conversation and put this issue on the table.

I move to the answers by Senator Ronaldson about the mining tax. There has been a lot of discussion here about why the mining tax should be abolished. There have been comments by senators opposite about how good this tax is. They say that it has not really affected things. I point to the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, who have identified that there is a rising unemployment level among people who support the development of mines and exploration by the mining industry because of a downturn of investment in mining exploration in Western Australia.

That contrasts significantly with the actions of this government, which has brought in the Exploration Development Initiative. That EDI is specifically designed to provide incentives for people to invest in the exploration of new mining leases to stimulate investment in the mining sector, which would lead to a flow-through in jobs in all kinds of sectors. It is an example of the kind of quality investment and incentive that this government tries to bring, as opposed to the taxing of success. We seek to create success, as opposed to tax success.

The mining tax has not been particularly successful in the revenue it has raised. Perhaps that is not surprising when we look at some of the revelations recently about the actions of the previous government. In terms of the pink batts scheme, the government received advice that it would be foolish to roll it out in the time frame that it wanted. Yet they did it, and we saw the devastating unintended consequences of that. There was a description recently of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That scheme had bipartisan support but it was rushed through without due diligence. The independent inquiry described it, in their report, as an aircraft yet to be completed but which had already taken off. Unintended consequences are why this mining tax has resulted in more expense than revenue raised. That is why this government, in things like access to Woomera, is making sure that we do due diligence and do the regulation impact statements—to make sure that the legislation we bring forward will be effective and not have unintended consequences.

Lastly, I go to the issue of superclinics. I note that Senator Nash talked about the national level and about Western Australia. South Australia has a classic example. In Modbury there is a superclinic that was opened at a cost of $25 million of taxpayers’ money. It was opened right next door to existing doctors’ clinics, which explains partly why the clinic opened with no doctors. Not only did they spend the money but they had no doctors to deliver the services. They finally got a contractor to deliver the services but—guess what?—by 2012 that contractor had walked out too. So, yet again, we had a white elephant—a big lemon—in a $25 million building built by the opposition, when they were in government, but which did not deliver any services. It was in ill-thought-through policy.

Question agreed to.