Thursday, 26 October 2017
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of this Government to respect proper standards and accountability.
I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
This matter of public importance must start with this observation: Labor's criticism of the government's bungled raids is not about the integrity of the AFP; it's about the lack of integrity in this rotten government. Yesterday morning I said that these raids were the desperate action of a grubby government led by, quite frankly, a grubby Prime Minister—and I repeat that today. This isn't a throwaway line, but everything that has happened in the previous 36 hours, since I first made that statement, and everything that this government has done since yesterday morning confirms the truth that Australia has a grubby government and an increasingly grubby Prime Minister. During question time, this point was most clearly illustrated when the Prime Minister had a chance to defend Senator Cash. When the opposition moved a resolution condemning her, they did not defend her; they simply gagged the debate. Of course, the events this week—the unprecedented actions of this government—are occurring because this government is a desperate government running out of time.
Senator Cash should try and salvage what remains of her reputation by resigning immediately. After all, if she seeks inspiration on the matter she should listen to the words that her leader, the member for Wentworth, said during the 'Utegate' scandal in 2009. He said that misleading the parliament:
… is an offence that should result in the dismissal or resignation of a minister. It is perfectly clear.
But, like so many other issues under this current Prime Minister, we've seen a pattern of behaviour emerge again. What this Prime Minister and this government do is focus all their energy on their opponents and none on the people of Australia. What this government and this Prime Minister do, whenever confronted by a choice to take the high road for national interest and put people first, is always look for the low road of their self-interest and to attack their opponents.
We see the classic Turnbullian power play: wild, wild accusations, extreme language, big promises. You can just see him when he was a barrister with the clients the night before the case: 'We've got this in the bag. I'm the best that money can buy, and we've got this in the bag.' But the next morning, as we saw yesterday morning, we see that the case has changed. The facts are actually not as good—poor old client. 'Oh, my learned leader, the barrister, says—oh, the facts are changing. I'll be back to you in a moment.' You could just see the disappointed ranks of the government: 'But, dear leader, you said that we would win this. We've got Shorten where we want him. We have Labor where we want them. We have the unions where we want them.' And what happened? Classic overreach. Deep down, every member of the government knows that their Prime Minister lacks judgement.
What should the government have been doing this week? They should have been prioritising first home buyers, but instead they defend the negative-gearing tax interests. They are a government who, when they have the chance to pull the trigger on gas exports, instead spend their time defending their beleaguered Deputy Prime Minister. They are a government who, when they talk about workplace relations, always talk about unions and union representatives. They say they like the workers, but they've never seen a worker whose penalty rate they don't want to cut arbitrarily. I've got no doubt that they pop into 7-Eleven when the coffee maker at home is broken, and they get served by workers, but does it ever cross their born-to-rule elitist minds that maybe the workers who are serving them in these fast-food operations are not getting paid properly; they're the victims of wage theft? They love to talk about employment, but they never talk about casualised employment. They never talk about the people who are underemployed.
Mr Falinski interjecting—
All right. I withdraw. Misleading the parliament just once is an offence that demands a resignation. But old Senator Cash, not content to mislead the parliament, misled it five times—five times! If she won't resign, the Prime Minister must sack her. He must put the national interest and the integrity of the parliament ahead of his own political interest.
But the problem is that this born-to-rule Prime Minister thinks that he is above the rules. This is the problem, the infection which infects the whole of the government. They think, these conservatives, that they're born to rule and that they're always right, no matter what the facts. The problem is: they are born to rule, but they're unfit to govern.
We know, we understand, that this isn't the minister's first offence; it was just her worst performance. Credit to Senator Cameron, Senator Watt and Senator Kitching, who pushed through a shameful and deliberate conservative filibuster to uncover the truth. Imagine if we had an employment minister who actually focused on the 700,000 Australians who are unemployed and the 1.1 million Australians who are underemployed, someone who cared about the fact that she presides over the lowest wage growth since records were kept or the 700,000-plus workers who are having their penalty rates cut? Imagine if we heard speeches from the government about workplace safety or industrial diseases or labour hire exploitation? Instead, this minister appointed a law-breaker to head up the ABCC and is now asking Australians to pay another $400,000 to pay his legal bills.
But it wasn't just Senator Cash who humiliated herself last night. They say that you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. In its first public outing, the Registered Organisations Commission has shown its true colours: nakedly political, grossly incompetent, shamefully partisan and hopelessly compromised. It must be amazing to Australians when they hear that the government can whistle up 13 police to chase up documents 10 years old within a day, based on an unknown caller. Imagine how many Australians are frustrated to hear that.
An honourable member interjecting—
They might be worried about law and order, their personal safety. No-one other than the government can get 13 police to chase up documents 10 years old, when ordinary Australians can't get the attention and the safety they want. This is a government not focused on the priorities of the people. But, of course, we know that this is a government that doesn't care about the conditions of ordinary people. We're not going to let the government off the hook for the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, putting pressure on drivers to cut corners and take risks. We've already seen a seven per cent increase in the rate of fatal crashes involving articulated trucks. And the consequences of letting ideological obsessions control industrial relations policy are that workplaces are less safe, wages are flat and the rip-offs and the rorts against workers continue.
Whilst this government spends every week obsessing about its political opponents, Australians suffer. In the last financial year, 55 million calls to Centrelink went unanswered—families looking for support, people with disability looking for help, and jobseekers trying to pick themselves up and get back into the employment market. This is a government that can't answer the phone to its citizens but can find their address to send the debt collectors to. And in The Courier-Mail today we see another cabinet leak, saying the Prime Minister's decided to turn his back on constitutional recognition for the First Australians. This is a government that never misses an opportunity not to represent and put the people first.
I have to say—and I don't mind admitting this, even as Leader of the Opposition—that, when the member for Wentworth rolled the former Prime Minister, I thought my job would get harder but I actually thought politics would get better. I think the Australian people genuinely thought it was a chance to put some faith and hope back into politics. But the Prime Minister, by all his actions ever since that event two years ago, has systematically destroyed the faith and hope of people who thought he'd be better than what he's turned out to be. And we know that the Prime Minister has a particular style of destruction: when all else fails him, he chases his opponents. Ask Peter King, the former member for Wentworth. Ask Brendan Nelson. Ask Tony Abbott. Ask Kevin Rudd. Well, I just want to advise the government on this fact: Australians have worked this Prime Minister out; they know he doesn't believe in anything except his own survival. That's just not good enough for Australia. Every day between now and the next election, we will put people first: we will stand up for better quality jobs, housing affordability, better energy prices and a fair go all round.
The coalition is not going to be lectured by the Labor Party about standards. I have been in this chamber for quite a while, and I could give you example after example of the Labor Party standing by some of the worst members the House of Representatives has produced—the member for Dobell being a classic case. But I don't even need to go back that far because right now, in the current Labor caucus, are two people who should not be in the positions they are in: Senator Kitching, who the Leader of the Opposition referred to earlier, and Senator Dastyari, who is back on the frontbench of the Labor Party. Senator Dastyari was required to stand down because he got donors to pay his personal bills for him. He didn't just fail to declare donations from Chinese donors, from foreign donors, to the Labor Party in some kind of administrative muck-up; he actually asked donors to pay for his own personal expenses!
Mr Champion interjecting—
As the member for Wakefield said, who is rarely in the House—
Senator Dastyari was stood down. And now he's back. He was stood down for a matter of months. This week the Leader of the Opposition, incapable of standing up to the CFMEU, is even incapable of standing up to Sam Dastyari. So he's put Sam Dastyari back on the frontbench and he's in the decision-making team of the Leader of the Opposition's office.
Secondly, there is Senator Kimberley Kitching, the hand-picked candidate of the Leader of the Opposition to go into the Senate. She was hand-picked by the Leader of the Opposition against the advice of most of his frontbench from Victoria, including the member for Isaacs, who threatened to resign as shadow Attorney-General over the appointment of Kimberley Kitching but then didn't have the courage of his convictions. Senator Kitching was referred by the Heydon royal commission—the royal commission that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says found nothing—to the DPP for criminal charges. In spite of knowing that, the Leader of the Opposition put her into the Senate, over the complaints and objections of some of his frontbenchers. She was referred to the DPP for possible criminal charges for aiding and abetting the false and misleading statements of six other HSU officials by sitting their right-of-entry test. Apparently, she bragged that she got 100 per cent in some of the tests, saying, 'Did another one—got 100 per cent again.' This is the person who the Leader of the Opposition thought should sit in the Australian Senate and who he is praising right now in the House for her pursuit of the Minister for Employment.
But it's not just Senator Dastyari or Senator Kitching; the Leader of the Opposition himself has amongst the lowest standards of any Leader of the Opposition who's ever sat in that seat. The issue that we are debating today is the misuse of union members' money. The opposition thinks that the indiscretion of a ministerial staffer is a capital offence but that the misuse of union members' money is something that should be ignored. In fact, people who do it are promoted in the Labor caucus. The issues that we're discussing are the questions the Leader of the Opposition needs to answer about the donation of $100,000 to GetUp! in start-up money, when it was first getting started, when he was on the board of GetUp! and also the national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union. So, when he was secretary of AWU, $100,000 went to GetUp! from the AWU, and he was on the board of GetUp! when it got started. And, quite legitimately, members of the fourth estate have asking the Leader of the Opposition to answer questions about whether the correct processes were followed in the union, and he has refused to answer those questions. He has refused to cooperate, and the AWU has refused to cooperate. That is why the offices of the AWU in Melbourne and Sydney were raided—because the ROC had evidence, enough suspicion to suspect, that those documents could be destroyed. The ROC and the AFP obtained a warrant from a magistrate in Victoria, who agreed that they had good enough cause to have that suspicion that the offices should be raided.
The AFP don't go around raiding union offices for the fun of it; they did it because they wanted to make sure the law was upheld. In the Labor Party, that is a capital offence as well, and their response to that has been to attack the AFP—to attack the integrity of the Australian Federal Police—which is utterly disgraceful. One day, perish the thought, the Labor Party might be back in office again, and the AFP will serve them as well as it has served this side of the House and the other side of the House over the last 30 or so years, with complete fairness to both sides. In fact, it was appalling that the AFP commissioner felt the need to defend the AFP by putting out a statement today. Andrew Colvin should not have been placed in this position by the Leader of the Opposition. He was placed in this position by the Leader of the Opposition and by the disgraceful statements of the member for Gorton about the AFP and its lack of integrity, accusing of it being a political tool of the government.
A government member: What a disgrace!
It was a disgrace, and it remains a disgrace. He says:
The AFP has this week been the subject of commentary and innuendo regarding its independence and the ability of AFP members to carry out their work objectively and without political interference. The AFP … undertakes its activities without fear or favour. The AFP rejects in the strongest terms any suggestion to the contrary.
The other two matters that have been discussed and that the Leader of the Opposition has failed to provide the facts about are the donation of $27,000 that Australian Super gave to the Australian Workers Union when the Leader of the Opposition was the National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, was on the board of Australian Super and was the candidate for Maribyrnong. Amazingly—coincidently—not very long later, the AWU made a $26,000 donation to the Maribyrnong campaign.
The Leader of the Opposition refuses to answer questions about that. Which part of probity doesn't this Leader of the Opposition understand? Thirdly, in 2007 the Leader of the Opposition cut out the middle man: 'I'm sick of wasting time with Australian Super or the GetUp! organisation; I'll get a donation of $25,000 directly from the Australian Workers Union to the Maribyrnong campaign.' That was when he was the candidate for Maribyrnong and the National Secretary of the AWU.
Mr Hawke interjecting—
He cut out the middle man, as the assistant minister points out, and got the money transferred directly across. And this is the man who lectures us about standards and transparency and accountability? He has absolutely zero credibility.
Could I also say in relation to the defence of the AFP: what a disgraceful performance it has been. It is totally contrary, once again, to the Leader of the Opposition's past statements about the Australian Federal Police.
I would love to talk about the New South Wales Labor Party, but there isn't time to go through Eddie Obeid; Joe Tripodi; Ian Macdonald—is he still in prison? I think Ian Macdonald is still in prison, isn't he? I would love to talk about the New South Wales Labor Party, but I've only got so much time. Bill Shorten said in 2015—
Mr Champion interjecting—
Why don't you make another interjection? That last one was a great success. Bill Shorten said in 2015:
We recognise that the AFP is independent, they’ll make their own decisions about what they choose to investigate or not and that’s as it should be.
The Leader of the Opposition knows full well that the smokescreen he's trying to create is just that, a smokescreen to cover his embarrassment about his addiction to being connected to the union movement and his inability to stand up to the CFMEU or the AWU, or even Sam Dastyari or even Senator Kitching. If he won't stand up to the union movement, he won't stand up for the nation's interests.
Opposition members interjecting—
Listening to the Leader of the House is like listening to Catweazle ranting about elec-trickery, the telling bone—the conspiracies. It is like a pantomime character getting excited: 'Look out! He's behind you!' But what was notably absent from that spirited defence was a single mention of the Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash, and why she should remain in her position.
What we know for certain is this minister has misled the parliament five times, and she should go. If the Prime Minister had any courage, he would make her go. Don't forget, this is a Prime Minister who has already lost five government ministers: the former member for Mayo, the member for Fadden, the former member for Fisher, the member for Farrer and Senator Canavan. Today we're likely to get No. 6. Tomorrow we might get Nos 7 and 8. This Prime Minister is going to break John Howard's record for losing ministers—what an incredible achievement!
Only a Prime Minister who is weak, who doesn't have the confidence of his party, would be too gutless to take the action that is obviously necessary to anybody watching. We can only conclude that he's too weak to act because he doesn't have the support of his colleagues or that he was in it up to his neck. I've got to say, it really does not bear examination, does it? The Prime Minister summons the minister down to his office and says: 'There are all these very concerning reports this morning that you or your office have tipped off the media to a raid that happened yesterday. What have you got to say to that?' We are expected to believe that Guthrie Featherstone QC, MP asked just one question: 'Did you do it?', that the minister just answered: 'No. It wasn't me,' and that Guthrie Featherstone QC, MP didn't ask the obvious next question. This Prime Minister's so great at cross-examining that he wrote a book about it—The Spy Catcher Trialtalking about what a fantastic lawyer he is, but he didn't say, 'Actually, Minister, the reports aren't about you tipping off the media; the reports are your staff tipping off the media.' It absolutely beggars belief.
It is a classic tactic of those opposite to try and say that we have asserted this or asserted that. I have to be very clear about what the problem is here. It's often not the crime but the cover-up that gets you, and this is the case with this minister too. If she had been frank about the fact that her staff had done the wrong thing instead of misleading the parliament five times, instead of trying to drag out proceedings last night so she could get past the media cut-off times and past the dinner break, I think people might have a bit of sympathy for her. But the fact that she has persisted in misleading and persists with the same today makes our sympathy evaporate.
I have to be clear about this other element: the Leader of the House tried to imply that we are somehow criticising the Australian Federal Police. That is the very last thing that we are doing. We heard evidence just this week from the Federal Police that government cuts will:
… mostly apply to our discretionary funding. That is areas that fund a large portion of our anti-narcotics, our organised crime work, our general operation work, our fraud and anti-corruption.
In those circumstances, every Australian will be asking themselves why the Federal Police, who are so good at their work, so good at protecting Australians, instead of being out busting organised crime gangs, drug traffickers and gun traffickers are doing work that Star Track Express could have done: going down the road and picking up some documents because the ROC sent them to do so. This is an outrageous use of tightly stretched resources when we are hearing how tightly stretched those resources are.
What we know is that this government will always use taxpayers' resources to pursue political opponents. They will say anything. They will do anything, because this Prime Minister— (Time expired)
It is sad. Their concocted outrage can't even limp to the end of five minutes. To have the Deputy Leader of the Opposition stand here in this parliament and compare the AFP work to that of a Star Track Express courier is a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and she should stand up here now and apologise to the hardworking members of the Australian Federal Police. The truth of the matter is this: those opposite would not have put this motion if Michaelia Cash was not a woman, if she was not an effective minister and if she was not calling their mates to account. The fact of the matter is that they can throw up as much dust as they like, they can make as much noise as they want over there but they can't obscure the fact that they are running away from the facts. They can't cover up the secret payments any longer. They can't cover up the secret deals, the self-interest and the corruption that is rampant in the Labor Party, rampant in the union movement and rampant in their associated entities. They can't win this argument. They can't convince anyone of their views, so they're left to do one thing and one thing only: try to confuse people. They try to claim the AFP's work is that of a Star Track Express courier, because what else would you expect of the party of Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald, Joe Tripodi, Bob Carr and Luke Foley?
Mr Champion interjecting—
The member for Wakefield wants to be heard. It's a shame he doesn't try as hard to be understood!
They're led by a man who complained when he was a minister in the previous government that his $300,000 salary wasn't enough, that he was underpaid. He is a person who is opposed to increased funding for schools, opposed to lowering taxes for small businesses, opposed to completing the funding for the NDIS that those opposite left dangerously unfunded, opposed to more jobs and higher wages, and opposed most of all to the legislation that would end corrupting benefit payments to unions. He, now, and the Labor Party now, say that a minister should resign because a staff member leaked a story about police raids on a union. Okay, fair enough.
So where were those opposite when Tony Hodges, a former member of Julia Gillard's media team, spread information in order to incite a riot against the then Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah? The same media unit then put out stories how Prime Minister Gillard's security team had to protect the poor frail member for Warringah. What a story. In full technicolour for everyone to see, the Prime Minister lost her shoe, and the Leader of the Opposition was escorted by AFP officers. But don't worry; I am sure if there had been some StarTrack couriers standing nearby they could have stepped in and done the job, according to the deputy leader. That's why Prime Minister Gillard resigned, of course. If you leak a story to a newspaper about a union getting raided, that's the same as inciting a riot against the Leader of the Opposition, right? Of course it is. They're the standards.
Mr Champion interjecting—
The member for Wakefield, back again; thanks for helping us out. The fact of the matter is there is nothing they won't say and do to obscure the facts here. The Leader of the Opposition stands up and talks about the poor quality of the coffee he gets in Melbourne and how poorly paid the person making the coffee is but, let's not forget, it was his Fair Work Commission, appointed by him, who he referred this decision to, that came to this decision. So there we have it. We have a party over there that can't remember anything and forgets everything, including the fact that they get payments from people like the CFMEU, including the fact they used to have a minister in New South Wales by the name of Eddie Obeid and the fact that they gave $100,000 to GetUP! (Time expired)
This is a very important debate we are having today because it goes to whether in fact the government has colluded with the media in order to expose raids by the Australian Federal Police. I want to make it very clear: the opposition support the Australian Federal Police. They are an independent statutory body and they had to do what they did because a warrant was issued. But let's be very clear about what we're talking about. This is the relationship between the government and the regulatory body it established for these purposes. At the time, when the government foreshadowed its interest to create the Registered Organisation Commission, Labor said we had concerns with this particular body because we said it would be used for political purposes. We said, instead, we would be very happy to see these responsibilities within the remit of ASIC and we argued that that should be the body that deals with serious alleged breaches by officers of registered organisations. We argued that would be the better place. We even explained to the crossbench before the legislation was enacted that the government would use this commission as its political tool to attack its political opponents, because that's the pattern of behaviour of this government since it was elected in 2013.
Let's outline the pattern we have here. We have a government that established a trade union royal commission in order to attack its political opponents. We have a government that's had two royal commissions and summonsed three Labor leaders, two of whom were prime ministers of this country. It is unprecedented that a government would actually set up these executive inquiries and call former Prime Ministers in that way, and yet, of course, that is what this government did. What they did with respect to the trade union royal commission was call the Leader of the Opposition. He sat in the dock for two days; he actually answered 900 questions. There were no findings against the Leader of the Opposition, despite the fact that the commission itself was discredited. It was discredited because we found out that the commissioner of the trade union royal commission was someone who had accepted an invitation to raise money for the Liberal Party at the same time as he was commissioner of the royal commission.
So the reality is this: this is a pattern of behaviour by this government to use state power to attack its political opponents. It did so with the establishment of that trade union royal commission and it's done so now by creating a standing commission, because that's what the Registered Organisations Commission is. It's a standing commission to investigate, ostensibly, registered organisations. But, of all its investigations and inquiries, which one hit the media? Of all the inquiries and investigations of this new body, which investigation was referred by the minister to the commission? Only one, and that is, of course, the one that relates to the allegations made against the AWU in an attempt to smear the federal leader and federal Labor. That is the only matter that's been referred by the minister.
Let's get the chronology right. The Prime Minister and the minister created the Registered Organisations Commission, the minister appointed the regulator of the commission, the minister referred the investigation of this matter to the commission, the minister's office leaked information about the raids of the investigation to the media, and then the minister suggested she had done nothing wrong and the minister suggested that her office had done nothing wrong, and she said so five times in the Senate. She misled the parliament on five occasions. It beggars belief that she did not know what her office was up to in relation to this matter, given the extent to which she was involved from the establishment of the agency to the referral of the investigation and, of course, to the collusion with the media in order to ensure that they elevated this matter by publicly broadcasting the raids.
There is no way that a reasonable person would conclude that the minister has been involved in anything other than gross abuse of ministerial power, and that's why she has to resign. That's why she has to resign: she has misused her office and, indeed, she has breached ministerial responsibility. If she does not resign and the Prime Minister wants to adhere to the Westminster system and ministerial responsibility, he must sack the minister. If he doesn't sack the minister, this government clearly shows it wants to continue this corrupt behaviour.
I rise on yet another absurd motion by those opposite. Haven't we heard some fire and brimstone in this place over the last 24 hours! We've heard some frankly unbelievable claims by those opposite, trotting in here one after the other and sticking up for their union mates, as they do. It's laughable that today's MPI is about proper standards and accountability when those opposite, who claim to represent the workers of Australia, have failed to support our legislation to protect those workers, to protect union funds and to ensure that workplaces are safe. Let's look at our record. The government have done an exemplary job at exposing the criminal and often despicable behaviour of the union movement in this country. We were responsible for the introduction for the ABCC, removing the rotten apples from the building sites and ensuring that the construction sector once again becomes a functioning, workable industry. But did those opposite support that piece of legislation? No, they didn't.
Ms Husar interjecting—
What about corrupt payments? Did they support the corrupting benefits legislation? No, they did not. Did they support the government in stamping out under-the-table corrupt payments, criminal payments, from employers and unions? No, they did not. We have also established the Registered Organisations Commission, which was responsible for the recent raid on the AWU that we are discussing here today, but did Labor support that legislation? No, they did not. And why is that? We all know why, because those opposite dance to the tune of the union movement every day, day after day. As sure as night follows day, we know the rules.
It's worth reflecting on why the AFP raided the AWU. The Registered Organisations Commission opened their investigation into the Leader of the Opposition's union last Friday, but such is their experience and others' experience with the union movement, with their arrogance towards the rule of law, that the Registered Organisations Commission believed that, if they had requested the information, the information would have been destroyed. Let that just sink in. It's all quiet now; how wonderful!
How outrageous that those members opposite come in here, day after day, defending those organisations that display such a criminal lack of respect for our laws and our country's institutions that they would potentially destroy damning evidence against the man who wants to be the next Prime Minister! That is why the commission advised the AFP to raid the offices to collect those documents. The raid was conducted because the Registered Organisations Commission thought there was sufficient evidence of union wrongdoing in regard to the opposition leader's donation of $100,000 to GetUp! 10 years ago. That is why the AWU was raided.
But this is not the first instance of unions playing fast and loose with the rule of law, is it? We've seen this year CFMEU bosses in Victoria telling rallies of workers that they would find out where the ABCC inspectors lived and would target their children. Or how about the CFMEU walking off the job at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane? That caused thousands of dollars in excessive government expenditure—
An opposition member interjecting—
What? That didn't happen? I'll take that interjection. And it delayed the project. How about the illegal Commonwealth Games industrial action where CFMEU officials threatened a safety inspector?
But don't take my word for it. We've got at least three former Labor prime ministers who have come out to talk about the despicable behaviour of the CFMEU. Kevin Rudd, only two days ago, told the Labor Party it should sever its ties with the CFMEU. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke said last year that the ALP should sever its ties with the CFMEU, and also former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating said that the party should reduce the power that the union has over it. I would suggest the current Leader of the Opposition take some advice from his predecessors. So as we, on this side of the House, have all said today, this MPI is truly ridiculous, and those in the Labor Party should hang their heads in shame for the comments they've made in this place today.
Everything we on this side of the House do is about protecting Australian workers. It's about protecting the workplace. It's about protecting their funds. Those opposite do everything in their power to protect the union movement, their union mates, while selling out the union members, as we've seen with the example of the workers at Cleanevent, and we know that they do this to protect their union mates, and we know that it's done to protect the rivers of gold that are given to them to help with their election campaigns. It is shameful that we even have to debate this today, and it is shameful that those opposite do not protect the workers that they claim, day in and day out, that they represent. Shame on you.
When it comes to the failures of this government to respect proper standards and accountability, the Prime Minister's track record on the NBN is an absolute pearler. In 2013, this Prime Minister stood up with the then Prime Minister, looked the Australian people in the eye and said that they would deliver a National Broadband Network for $29 billion and have it finished by 2016. He declared that it would be open and it would be transparent. But then the first test came: the December 2013 strategic review. In this report it was revealed that the Prime Minister's multitechnology mix for the NBN had blown out from $29 billion to $41 billion. Did he offer any explanation as to how the high cost of the NBN had become even $12 billion more expensive overnight, or any explanation as to why it would now not be delivered until 2020? He offered no explanation whatsoever. Worse still, if you want to talk about proper standards and accountability, every key assumption in the 2013 strategic review remains redacted and blacked out. So much for the transparency promised by this Prime Minister. Even to this day, this government refuses to release that information.
Then we saw information emerge about further cost blowouts and delays and failures in the rollout with this Prime Minister's multitechnology mix—the rollout that was supposed to be 'faster, sooner and more affordable'. Here are some of the things that we learned. We started to learn about secret trials where the NBN had reduced the cost and time to deploy fibre. We began to hear about the cost of fibre to the node—about how this Prime Minister's copper NBN's cost was blowing out even further. We heard about how the cost of copper remediation had blown out by more than 1,000 per cent. We learned that the HFC network, which the Prime Minister touted as a game-changer, was actually not fit for purpose.
Did we see any transparency and accountability as a result of that? No. I'll tell you what we saw, Mr Deputy Speaker. We saw a raid. We saw an unprecedented AFP raid in the middle of an election campaign in Australia in 2016. We had the NBN chairman then publish a most politically charged opinion piece about that raid, defending the NBN's actions. Bear in mind that this is the hand-picked chairman of the NBN, hand-picked by this Prime Minister. This was despite advice from the nation's top public servant saying that doing so would breach caretaker conventions. Just to quote from an article at the time:
NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski wilfully breached caretaker conventions during an election campaign and did so against the express advice of the nation's top public servant.
We see the full extent of these failures again revealed in the August 2015 corporate plan, where the NBN again blew out in costs from $41 billion to up to $56 billion. But did we get more transparency? We had scrapped external oversight of the NBN corporate plan.
So we have a project personally undertaken by this Prime Minister, who is so invested in it—the one in which he declared we would have full transparency and openness. We have seen nothing of that. This born-to-rule Prime Minister, who fancies himself as a genius, has been exposed on every front when it comes to the NBN. He has lurched from failure to failure. He was a failure as communications minister. He is a failure as Prime Minister. He stuffed up the National Broadband Network. Just look at the evidence. We dropped from 30th in the world for internet speeds to 50th. There has been a 160 per cent increase in complaints about the NBN from consumers. We are now placed last out of 28 countries in the world for broadband satisfaction. Last! Last in the world. This great Liberal hope, this champion of copper—he coveted the prime ministership his entire life—exposed as nothing more than shallow and glass jawed. In the immortal words of Paul Keating: you light him up, there's a bit of fizz, but then nothing. Nothing. (Time expired)
I'm pleased to speak on this matter of public importance because the people of my electorate on the Central Coast absolutely demand and expect proper standards and accountability from the government. Since the coalition came to government in 2013, including by winning the seat of Robertson, that's exactly what they've got from this government. We have been delivering on every single one of our commitments to my electorate and we can be held accountable to it by the people of Robertson while also being completely up-front about how we are transforming our critical region, which for six long years prior to September 2013 had been woefully neglected by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor government.
Let's compare and contrast. We're delivering 600 new jobs into Gosford with the ATO, a $45 million investment towards a world-class Central Coast medical school and medical research institute, the new state-of-the-art Woy Woy oval on the Peninsula, and many more projects that I don't have time to mention. The Central Coast, and the seat of Robertson in particular, is now seeing a real uplift thanks to this government. But we need to be fully aware of the flaws and the risks of the approach to accountability and proper standards taken by the members of the Labor Party. Under Labor, we need to ask ourselves: what did our region, the beautiful Central Coast, actually become known for? Do I even need to mention the former Labor member for Dobell, Craig Thomson? Do I need to mention the chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, which in Robertson was also reflected in the short-lived stints of Labor representative Belinda Neal—do you know who she is?—and Deborah O'Neill? Do I need to mention the failure to deliver or plan for more local jobs and better infrastructure? Do I need to remind members opposite, including the shadow minister, who ought to remember this, about the big red button that was pushed with great fanfare on Gosford waterfront by the then member for Gosford—
Ms Husar interjecting —
Let me just repeat this point, as it's clearly worth remembering: do I need to remind members opposite about the big red button that was pushed with great fanfare by Stephen Conroy and Deborah O'Neill on the Gosford waterfront? They said that fibre to the premise, rolled gold, high-speed broadband was coming to Gosford, only for the poor residents and businesses of Gosford to find out that 90 per cent of homes and businesses couldn't actually connect.
This Leader of the Opposition, just like during his time as a union boss, will say and do anything for the sake of politics while, at the same time, ignoring or brazenly voting against anything that actually delivers the critical reform our nation needs. Labor's approach is to respect its union bosses, ignore the decisions of an independent umpire and have no credible plans for jobs or small businesses. For example, for many years local small businesses have been competing on an uneven playing field against big businesses like Woolworths, McDonald's and KFC, as big businesses have negotiated enterprise agreements with big unions to lower Sunday penalty rates. The Leader of the Opposition has been totally hypocritical on this issue. As a union boss, he cut penalty rates to low-paid workers. The Leader of the Opposition is happy for big businesses and big union leaders to do deals cutting penalty rates, but it appears Labor quickly whistles to a different tune on penalty rates when an independent umpire does it for small business.
The Leader of the Opposition says he's against foreign workers, but his record of granting 457 visas shows that he brought foreign workers in at the expense of Australians looking for work. He said he was in favour of a cut in the company tax rate, but now Labor is opposing the coalition's company tax cut. Labor wants to attack Central Coast's small businesses and their employees by repealing the coalition's enterprise tax cut plans, and yet you can see how the coalition's plan is working. Just look at the fantastic response of local businesses in my electorate to the instant asset write-off. Close to 300,000 Australian small businesses have taken advantage of this, including more than 2,200 in my electorate.
We've got a strong record of delivering on reform, including strong changes in industrial relations, such as protecting firefighters from union takeovers and legislation to restore the rule of law and stop union thuggery in the building and construction sector. We've secured the passage of the corrupting benefits legislation that will bring an end to the dodgy deals done between employers and unions that do nothing to benefit workers, and much, much more. But, sadly, because the Leader of the Opposition always puts politics and his own interests ahead of the national interest, he cannot be trusted to deliver for our nation or for the Central Coast. Labor, it would seem, is short on standards and short on accountability.
It has been another shocking week for the government. The NBN is a flaming catastrophe; the budget is in bigger debt than it has ever been. This week the government has been busted massively underfunding the Australian Federal Police. And we've got a minister in the other place who has been shown up for misleading parliament yesterday five times, and probably by the end of the week we'll see a few more ministers out the door.
It is a basic sign of maturity to take responsibility when things go wrong, but that is not what we see from the Prime Minister. In fact, the finger is pointing at anyone he can find. It's Labor's fault. It's the unions' fault. But the biggest bait and switch that has been put this week in parliament, and which I want to speak to today, is the inference that by attacking the government, which as an opposition we are entitled and supposed to justly do, we are somehow attacking the integrity of the Australian Federal Police. That is wrong. I speak on behalf of all my Labor colleagues when I say how incredibly proud we are of the brave men and women who work in this incredible organisation. We represent a lot of people who put on uniforms and do incredible things with their daily work, but it is quite rare to come across a group of people who put themselves in danger, who put themselves in the line of fire, every time they get out of bed and put on a uniform, and go to do work protecting us every single day.
One of the most difficult areas of law that I have responsibility for in my party is the work we do with child exploitation, and that's been discussed this week. The Australian Federal Police are at the front line of that, and just about every other major security threat that we talk about in this parliament. Whether it's terrorism, whether it's the work that we do trying to fight drugs, trying to fight gun importation—all of these things—the Australian Federal Police is absolutely at the epicentre of.
We've heard a lot of frustrated commentary from those on the other side, who are getting up and talking about how much they are enamoured with the work of the Australian Federal Police. I say to those on the other side of the House that, if you were so committed to supporting the brave men and women who protect us on the beat every day, you would probably be making sure that you pay those officers properly. We know that the Australian Federal Police have not had a pay rise for more than two years. That means, in real terms, the people whose work you stand up and laud when you're talking about the incredible work that they do are actually going backwards, and that is because of your government and because of the cuts that you have made to that organisation. Earlier this year, the Australian Federal Police were offered a pay deal which would see them getting a very minimal pay rise; some officers, though, were going to go right backwards in pay, including a set of officers who were going to receive a $35,000-a-year pay cut. The organisation has refused that industrial agreement, but I want to read to you from a letter to the Prime Minister written by the head of the Australian Federal Police Association, Angela Smith. She writes:
As Prime Minister, you take every opportunity to praise the operational successes of AFP employees, yet this adulation rings hollow if those same employees are rewarded by cuts to their pay and entitlements.
Labor has not taken that view. We have fought for those police officers in their pay agreement and we hope that that will get a good outcome.
We saw the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police in estimates this week. I have to say that I feel a lot of sympathy for Commissioner Colvin as he tries to navigate a difficult situation, because the truth is that the government has cut $184 million from this organisation over the coming four years. He revealed in estimates this week that the organisation has lost 117 staff over the last year alone. How can the Prime Minister stand up in question time and say that he is so much in favour of this organisation? He speaks with one voice in this parliament and then he and the Minister for Justice go down to the cabinet room and do something absolutely contrary to those comments, and that is gut this organisation.
This week, the ABC came forward with a memo written by a senior Australian Federal Police officer which showed that, over the last period of time, 23 critical raids have not been properly investigated because the Australian Federal Police does not have the resources to do it. The ABC reported that there was a 1.6-tonne cocaine importation that could not be fully investigated by the Australian Federal Police due to lack of resources.
We are so supportive of this organisation—and we're genuinely supportive of the organisation. I only wish that the government's commentary about the Australian Federal Police was backed up by real support for those officers and funding for that organisation.
The theatrics of those opposite that we've seen over the last 24 hours are nothing more than a desperate attempt to take attention away from the very core of the issue that we are talking about—the very core of what has happened in the last 24 hours and why those raids were undertaken. The values and principles of the union movement have been shown up because a statutory authority saw fit to raid a union because they failed to provide the information that was required of them. Let's talk about the values and principles of the organisation and their link to the Labor Party. How can you say, in any fairness, that a fair organisation would do that? If they have nothing to hide, then why would they undertake those actions in such a public way? The reality is that this MPI is nothing more than just cheap theatrics to hide the Leader of the Opposition from the questions that he needs to answer about the actions that he took when he was part of the union movement—and the union movement and Labor are so intrinsically tied.
The standards and values of the CFMEU are seen in my home state of Queensland. We're seeing now the actions of the CFMEU at Oakey Creek up in Queensland, where they are saying the most abhorrent things about men's and women's children. You come in here with the sanctimony and the way in which you criticise this side for the way that we handle ourselves, yet you sit there and take money from the CFMEU and you defend the actions of these deplorable human beings who would dare to utter those words. Would you not hold them to account? If you had the morals and the values to stand up to that behaviour, then you should do that today. But you don't. You turn your back—you turn your back on the Australian people and you turn your back on the workers at Oakey Creek.
What a disgrace that you would tie yourself to an organisation that would say deplorable things about children. I'm a father of three young boys and I can tell you I would be absolutely disgusted if someone made those accusations, those assertions, about my children. If you are parents and you look deeply inside your heart instead of putting your heads down in shame, which you should, then you should stand up here today and say that those are not the actions of proper human beings that anybody should be associated with. That is an absolute disgrace to be associated with that sort of action. You should stand up and do that today, as should the Leader of the Opposition, not have a distraction. The Labor Party members are running around trying to distract everybody about the real core of the issues here, about the values and principles of the union movement in this country.
But let's think about what could happen if the Labor Party were to be put into parliament. Let's think about what impacts that would have on our nation, the absolute deplorable state that we will see in our economy and the values and principles that they will bring.
Ms Madeleine King interjecting—
She has, Mr Deputy Speaker. These are the sorts of values and principles that they want to defend and they cannot defend those actions. The reality is, if we were lumbered with a Labor government after the next election, we would see these values and principles trickle down through our nation and that is not something that we can allow to happen.
Finally, because of the work that we in the government have done, we are pulling the economic levers to get growth within this nation. Over 800,000 jobs have been created on our watch. We are pulling the economic levers that are creating jobs. But because those opposite are so intrinsically tied to the union movement, because they are so part of the union movement, because they are part of the values and principles of the labour movement, they cannot understand how an economy works and they will bring those values and principles of big government. Those opposite don't understand that if you empower your nation, if you give people the environment and the infrastructure to create wealth and to create the jobs, they will do it for our nation because they are good people who understand what a hard day's work will do for them and for this nation. They are the principles and values this side uphold, every day of the week. Those low union movements that come out and attack children in this day and age are deplorable.
I'm proud to say that we on this side will hold firm on this. We will make sure that we won't be distracted from where we need to go in isolating the union movement and the actions that they've undertaken over the last years. This is something I'm proud to say that we will continue, despite the theatrics that we see from those opposite.