Thursday, 26 October 2017
Matters of Public Importance
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.