House debates

Monday, 22 July 2019


Consideration of Legislation

5:05 pm

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

I second the motion. If this motion moved by the member for Watson is not supported by the government then any doubt that people in this nation might've had about what the major driver of this government's third-term agenda is will ebb away entirely. And it's already ebbing away for farmers who are doing it tough in drought ravaged communities who saw the Prime Minister at the Bush Summit last week offer not one single new agenda item for them. For manufacturing businesses and workers, hundreds of thousands of workers, who are coming to grips with the most serious energy crisis to afflict this country since the mid-1970s, this is not an energy crisis caused by an internal shock as was the case in 1974; it is an energy policy caused by mismanagement of that policy area by this government. For households who are experiencing unprecedented wage stagnation, and plummeting consumer confidence and living standards, it is becoming increasingly clear what is driving this government.

This government is simply driven by the creation of conflict. It is simply driven by increasingly crude attempts to divide the nation, to divide this parliament, instead of helping us come together to deal with the very, very serious issues that are confronting Australia. All we have from this Prime Minister is a laser-like focus, to use the words of the last parliament, on partisan politics instead of the national interest. So it is with this latest crude, transparent attempt to ram this legislation through without any proper parliamentary process or the ability of the opposition in the longstanding customary way to hold a caucus meeting and consider the terms of the legislation. We're not asking for the usual convention, which is for a bill to be presented and then the subject of debate, perhaps, in the next week; we're simply asking for 24 hours so that the Labor Party caucus can come together tomorrow morning and consider this bill.

As the member for Watson made clear, this is not the same caucus that considered the bill earlier this year. This is a different caucus. The bill reflects the terms of amendments that were adopted by this House. It is not the same bill that was considered by a different Labor caucus earlier this year, and we are only asking for 24 hours. Now, just to give a sense of that being quite a significant concession by the opposition to the government, the former manager of parliamentary tactics for the coalition, the member for Sturt, said back in November 2012:

The convention has always been that a bill should be introduced and then debated the following sitting week, not the next day. Only in the rarest circumstances is the parliament required to have a bill introduced and then debated the next day.

The former member for Sturt saw a 24-hour period of consideration of a bill to be the rarest of circumstances. He didn't even acknowledge the possibility that a bill would be introduced and debated and dealt with by this chamber on the same day. This is just extraordinary. I challenge the minister in his response to this debate to point to another circumstance where a bill has been introduced, debated and dealt with on the same day without the ability of the opposition caucus, whether it's a coalition or Labor caucus, to consider the bill and come to a proper conclusion. As the member for Watson said: what is the rush?

This is a government that saw only one of these two bills pass the House and then just lie on the Senate table. They didn't even bring it on for a vote in the Senate, week after week, over the course of the earlier part of this year. And, as the member for Watson made clear, the bill itself—if passed, which presumably it will be—would see money able to be drawn down under its provisions on 1 July next year at the earliest, presumably funding projects that you wouldn't expect to see starting to feed into regional communities until calendar year 2021 at the earliest, you would have thought. That is the year after next. What on earth is the rush that would not allow this government to grant the opposition and crossbench members 24 hours to consider the terms of this bill?

Well, we know what the reason for the rush is. It is this Prime Minister's obsession with creating conflict, his obsession with seeking to divide this nation and to divide the parliament, instead of bringing us together to deal with issues of national interest. And that's all in spite of Labor's very strong record over recent years of supporting all the government's significant measures designed to deal with this terrible drought that is afflicting Australia—changes to the farm household allowance, increases to the farm asset threshold, and many more measures that were proposed by the government, considered in good faith by the shadow minister, who's joined us in the chamber, and supported by the Labor caucus.

So, we have a good record on this. And, as I said, in the ordinary course of events we'd have a shadow cabinet meeting tonight and a caucus meeting tomorrow morning and would be able to come into this chamber tomorrow and have a debate—24 hours notice between the introduction of the bill and debate. Even the former Manager of Government Business, the former member for Sturt, said it would be the rarest of circumstances to have only 24 hours. We are happy to have a proper debate about this bill. It is an important bill from the perspective of drought-ravaged communities and the perspective of Australia's infrastructure agenda. This is an important debate for this parliament to have, but it's proper that the debate happen after due consideration of the provisions of the bill by the opposition and frankly also by members of the caucus—consideration that would happen, as I calculate it, over the next 16 to 20 hours. What on earth is the rush?

But it is increasingly clear—and this is a very serious issue for this parliament and this nation—as this third-term government starts to frame its agenda for the next three years that this Prime Minister doesn't care about this parliament coming together to deal with the national interest. This Prime Minister cares only about fomenting division. He cares only about trying to create conflict and create some short-term political advantage for him and his political party as a result of that conflict. As the member for Watson said, even the minister—who I thought was better than this—has fallen into this trap that you're either with the government or against the government. Whatever the policy topic of the day is, clearly the talking points went out this morning from the Prime Minister's office and every minister—and I thought this minister was better than that—used the talking points. Whatever the issue is—insert issue—whose side are you on? Could you be any more juvenile than this? But that's what you get from a Prime Minister focused only on fomenting conflict.

The bigger issue here than just this bill—and this bill is a very important bill, for drought-affected communities and for Australia's infrastructure agenda—is that this is starting to frame every single approach by this government. As a result of simply trying to foment conflict, this government is able to distract from the really big issues facing this nation, and the complete lack of an agenda this government has particularly to deal with the deteriorating nature of our economy. As I said, in my portfolio area we have the most serious energy crisis afflicting this country since the mid-1970s. On my last count, the government is, since 2016, up to its 13th or 14th energy policy. And instead of trying to land something that will actually alleviate the position of households and businesses, all they can do is foment conflict.

There is no agenda by this government to deal with the fact that GDP per person in Australia has gone backwards for three quarters in a row. That hasn't happened since the early 1980s. Productivity growth is falling off a cliff. Wages have been stagnating for years. There is no plan by this government to deal with any of those serious economic issues and, as a result of their complete lack of an agenda to deal with the serious issues facing this country, all this Prime Minister can do is foment division, foment conflict.

We're not going to sit back and watch the longstanding processes and conventions of this parliament fall victim to a Prime Minister so focused on partisan politics—so focused on dividing this nation and dividing this parliament. We insist upon having 24 hours for our caucus to be able to consider this bill properly, come back to this parliament tomorrow and have a full debate about the implications of its provisions, to ensure that parliamentary process is followed with this bill and every other bill that this government seeks to introduce after it.


Meredith Doig
Posted on 23 Jul 2019 4:35 pm

Congratulations, Josh. At a worrying time, I hope you will stand firm against the forces of populism and authoritarianism.