House debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Prime Minister

2:09 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Today it is clear that we have a Prime Minister in name only. He is a Prime Minister without power. He is a Prime Minister without policies. He scraped home at the last election with no authority and no agenda, only the ability to respond to events. Today we have seen an appalling outcome for the nation. It is unbelievable that, even though the Prime Minister said yesterday that he could not take any action on energy prices because any single member of the government could veto it, today they've highlighted that they are even more divided. This is a government whose conduct is selfish and shocking. It is a narcissistic government consumed by its own jobs and its own struggles, and it's forgotten the people of Australia.

The case for no confidence in this Prime Minister can be made through five arguments. The first is: if the Prime Minister's own party doesn't want him, why on earth should the parliament put up with him? Second, we have dismal paralysis on the energy crisis which is affecting Australia, driving up prices and carbon pollution, and no government can retain the confidence of this parliament if they tell us they can't even advance legislation to drive energy prices down. The third proposition for why we should have no confidence in this Prime Minister is that the hallmark of his prime ministership is that, whenever his beliefs meet the opposition of his backbench, he surrenders his belief. This parliament should not put up with a Prime Minister only interested in surviving in his own job. He stands for nothing and fights for nothing except his own job. His notorious poor judgement is a hallmark which any government backbencher is happy to tell you about at length anonymously.

But, more important than the first three reasons, there is the fourth. Australians have got real issues, and this government is not addressing them. No amount of valedictory speeches from the Prime Minister can correct that wrong. Finally, the reason we should have no confidence in this Prime Minister is that your government is hopelessly divided, and it isn't even just about you anymore, Prime Minister. The Liberal government in this country cannot agree with each other on fundamental issues, and a divided government cannot run this country.

Turning to the first proposition—why we should have no confidence in the Prime Minister—if the Prime Minister has nearly half of his MPs wanting to change the Prime Minister today, how on earth should all of us have confidence in him? When you add together the 35 dissidents—soon to be a majority, I suspect—the 69 Labor MPs and possibly the crossbenchers, a clear majority of Australia does not want this Prime Minister to be the Prime Minister. We have no confidence in him.

I notice that, before question time, the member for Dickson—who at least had the integrity to go to the backbench because he couldn't support the Prime Minister on the frontbench—did his job interview. But what was telling—and why we should have no confidence in this Prime Minister—was that he was asked five times if he was going to challenge again and he had all the good reasons in the world not to answer that question. So I say to Australians who are shocked by the turmoil in this government: the turmoil is not over until the member for Dickson has the scalp of the Prime Minister hanging from his belt.

What is also telling is that, for the 35 MPs who voted to change the Prime Minister, some of them sit on the frontbench. We had the Minister for Health desperate to replace the Minister for Foreign Affairs until he discovered that the numbers weren't there. Obviously, he's a lot tougher when it comes to swearing at grandmas than when it comes to challenging the foreign minister. We've got the member for Deakin, the campaign manager for the member for Dickson, sitting quietly there as an assistant minister. Your best days are ahead of you, Member for Deakin.

But you can only conclude by the cowardice of frontbench rebels against the Prime Minister that the Prime Minister's weakness is infectious. At least those who voted against the Prime Minister should have had the courage to say, 'We'll undermine the government from the backbench not from the frontbench of this government'.

I said there was a second reason why we have no confidence in this Prime Minister. The handling of the energy policy by this government alone is reason enough for this House to have no confidence. They've proposed that we should have, initially, an emissions intensity scheme. We know that the current Prime Minister had a view on that, and we said we were willing to talk about that. But, as soon as we came to the dance, the Prime Minister was dragged away by the right wing of his party. Then the Prime Minister rolled out the poor old clean energy target and the Chief Scientist to advocate it. That didn't last very long. Labor is prepared to be bipartisan. What we discovered is that, when it comes to energy policy, when the Prime Minister refers to 'bipartisanship', he means getting the two warring wings of his own party to agree.

Then, of course, we had the much-unloved National Energy Guarantee—NEG 1.0, NEG 2.0, NEG 3.0. This is a government whose energy policy is guided by the never-ending panic of a Prime Minister. The reason we have no confidence in the Prime Minister is that, if he's too weak to legislate policy, if he's too weak to fight for what he believes in, how on earth will we ever lower energy prices in this country? I do not accept that, when the Prime Minister announces 'mission accomplished' on energy prices, when he and his Treasurer and home affairs minister and potential contender for the Prime Minister's position announce that energy prices are coming down, go and talk to real Australians; they just don't agree with you.

This is the real issue—the third issue. We have a Prime Minister whose premiership of the position, his stewardship of the Prime Minister's position, has been marked from day one; he never fights for the principles he believes in. He never understands that when you appease your critics and when you surrender your principles, your critics come back and they want more and more, and now they just want your job. The critics in the Liberal Party and the conservatives can smell the weakness within the Prime Minister. They can sniff the weakness in the Prime Minister. They can see the vulnerability in this Prime Minister. No matter how many times the Prime Minister changes his views on climate change, no matter how many times he's changed his view on the republic, advocating now the morbid argument that Australia can't be a republic until the current Queen passes away—he keeps giving in. Let's remember his judgement on the banking royal commission. The Prime Minister has notorious poor judgement because he does not actually fight for anything he believes in.

When this Prime Minister rolled the previous Prime Minister, I thought that we would see a different kind of politics, that we would have a sensible form of politics. I thought my job would be harder—I concede that. But I thought, at last, we could build a national consensus on climate change, on having an Australian head of state, on actually doing something to look after the middle class and working class of this country. But the Prime Minister, having obtained the highest office in the land, we've discovered, never fights for anything except his own job.

Of course, he has notoriously poor judgement. Only someone of Turnbullian genius could argue against a banking royal commission for the last two years. Only this government could have argued in favour of giving the states the right to have income tax powers so that there's double income tax in this country. Only this government could still hang on to the corporate tax cuts at this point in the electoral cycle. Here's a prediction: this Prime Minister is so afraid of people's reactions to him, he so craves positive polls, he so needs the approval of people, that he will drop the corporate tax cuts, because he never fights for anything he believes in.

There are real challenges facing the Australian people which deserve to be heard but which are getting neglected under this government—under this narcissistic, selfish, self-obsessed government. Government MPs—a few of them are yelling out interjections—know that the people of Australia are more than frustrated with their conduct today. They know they have a government focused on themselves, and not on the people of Australia. There are real problems out there in Australian society. Wages are at a record low. I thought I was in a parallel universe last week when the Prime Minister said that wages are getting better. They are at record lows. If you don't believe me, ask the people who are not getting a pay rise in this country. They don't live like you. They don't live like the people in parliament. Many Australians have not had a pay rise. Many Australians have seen their conditions go back. We have many Australians in casual and part-time work. We have many Australians working in labour-hire jobs alongside permanent workers, yet the labour-hire workers are paid less. We have many Australians who feel the system is broken. By the way, the conduct of the government today would give them no reason for optimism that the system is not broken.

There are other issues in this country which need to be addressed. One is the unacceptable blow-out in waiting lists for aged care. Look at the government—they think they're so clever. Every day the waiting lists get longer. Then you've got to look at the general dismantling of our healthcare system under a government who'd rather give tax cuts to private health insurance companies than rein in the premiums they charge Australians. Then you look at our schools, our TAFE and our universities. This government is not properly funding schools. This government is not properly funding TAFE. This government is not properly funding universities.

When you look at the ranks of this government, some of them perhaps genuinely don't understand these issues. But what chance do some of the backbenchers have when they have a Prime Minister so out of touch, when they have a Prime Minister who gets up every day in question time and says how well things are going? Tell that to the farmers experiencing drought. Tell that to young people who can't get apprenticeships. Tell that to older Australians who can't get the aged-care assessments they need to get the support that they require so they can live their remaining years with dignity. And, of course, we've got to look at the mess they've made of child care. A quarter of Australian families are paying more for child care than they were before this Prime Minister was the Prime Minister.

However, it is not just the division and it is not just the fact that the government is out of touch with the real issues of Australians and so absorbed with themselves. To be fair to the Prime Minister, it's not all his fault alone. The problem is that the Liberal Party of Australia is not the Liberal Party they once were. It is riven by fundamental disagreements at the heart of the government. That is why the member for Dickson feels the need to speak up for the conservatives. That is why so many of the brave anonymous assassins of the Prime Minister over there say that this government is somehow not living up to conservative standards. This is a government at war with itself, and, as much as they may say it's not, as much as those in it say they are economic supermen making Australia better for all Australians, the fact of the matter is: this is a government that is desperate to survive.

Members of the backbench and brave members of the front bench: we know that, when you drop your silly corporate tax cuts, that is a battle won by Labor. But we know that war is not over. We are determined. The best way to stop corporate tax cuts in this country is to vote Labor at the next election.

Look at the way this government has pursued the ABC. The old Liberal Party, the party of Fraser and Menzies, would not have attacked the ABC. Now we have, in the job specification of the Minister for Communications, to be a serial complainant about the ABC.

And of course we see the ongoing debates about school funding. The best way to look after the government schools, the Catholic schools and independent schools, is not to rob Peter to pay Paul but to properly fund all schools based upon need.

And this is a government that loves to talk about a 'big stick'. In the game of question time bingo yesterday, this government had the big stick on energy companies and the big stick on banks. The problem is: at the same time, they're trying to legislate tax cuts for the very companies they say they're tough on.

The real problem in Australia at the moment is that this Prime Minister is simply not up to the job. And no amount of Mogadoned behaviour at press conferences after leadership changes can unmake this truth. The reality is, Prime Minister: you have 35 people behind you who, this morning, voted not to have you as their leader. And I predict: that number will get larger. Today, you may well have all the government members vote to have confidence in you, but doesn't that just show the parallel world to which this parliament has descended? This morning, 35 of your colleagues, who you thought were your great supporters, voted to do you in. And on Thursday, or in two weeks time, or after the next poll, which you worship so foolishly, what will then happen is: more of them will do you in.

So let us be done with the dishonesty that this parliament has confidence in the Prime Minister. Your colleagues don't want you. You've exercised notoriously poor judgement, because you are as weak a Prime Minister as we've seen since Billy McMahon. You are a dismal failure when it comes to energy policy, telling us: it's not your fault; it's the fault of individual members of your government. You have no idea how the real people live. You are hopelessly out of touch with their views. And finally, and fundamentally, you lead a divided government. And nothing you can do will change that fact.


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