Thursday, 25 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
Well, this has been quite an extraordinary fortnight in this parliament. From time to time, we speak about waste in the form of this government's attitude towards public funds. We've spoken about sports rorts, the capacity to rort absolutely anything and distort outcomes politically—even security from the Minister for Home Affairs—and regional grants rorts. Everything this government does, it puts a political focus on it. I do think that the biggest waste of taxpayers' money that we've seen is the $190,000 of taxpayers' money spent on an empathy consultant for this Prime Minister, because this Prime Minister is an empathy vacuum. All he understands is politics and he consistently acts in his own political interests rather than the national interest. This is a prime minister Australians know doesn't have their back because he's too busy looking after his own. This is a prime minister who is not on the side of Australians.
We saw it firsthand in this term of his prime ministership, I think, with the issue of the bushfires. Remember that? 'I don't hold a hose, mate,' was his response to justify his complete complacency in the lead-up to those bushfires. What we know is that that complacency and lack of empathy has continued with a complete failure to look after people who are still living in caravans or who are still waiting for support in electorates like Gilmore, in electorates like Eden-Monaro and in electorates like Macquarie, but also in electorates held by government members. There has been a complete failure, for example, to allocate money based upon an annual allocation for an emergency response fund; zero was spent last financial year.
We saw it as well during the pandemic. We know that the federal government is responsible for the issue of aged care. We've lost 685 older Australians to the pandemic in aged-care homes. Scott Morrison's response: 'When it rains, everyone gets wet.' That is what he actually said. Now we're seeing the rollout of the COVID vaccine being bungled—one more area this government's responsibility where, I expect, we will again see a lack of empathy from the Prime Minister.
We've seen it with regard to the robodebt debacle. People were given bills for money that they didn't owe to the government, with tragic consequences. There was literally a loss of lives as a result of that. From this government there was no response, no empathy whatsoever. They settled a court case in order to try to move the issue on.
This is a prime minister who has a management textbook where his heart should be. He's a political manager, not a prime minister. In his world, appearance beats substance every time. I have said before, he's all smirk and mirrors. It's always about the play, always about the spin, always about what the politics of an issue are; not about addressing issues on the basis of their substance.
We see it with the squirming that we see in question time every day, where the Prime Minister purports to suggest that the story isn't changing every day—that somehow we all knew, weeks ago, that at the beginning of last week the Minister for Home Affairs was added to the list of ministers who knew about the reported sexual assault on Brittany Higgins. We know now that the minister's chief of staff told his chief of staff. But, again, apparently, it would be alleged that still no-one told the Prime Minister. We know that a member of the Prime Minister's staff knew two years ago, because that member of the Prime Minister's staff was the chief of staff to the minister for whom Brittany Higgins worked, and that was the office where the reported sexual assault occurred. He's just playing with words to say that his office did not know. That is just a fact.
A second member of his staff, we know through the text messages—including to Brittany Higgins—said that it would be raised with his chief of staff. That was two years ago. A third member of his staff knew that the alleged perpetrator was dismissed two years ago. And the person who Brittany Higgins describes as the 'fixer' in his office checked in with Ms Higgins, not once, at the time of the reported sexual assault, but also after the Four Corners program last year.
So we had ministers who knew, and his office knew. People knew it had been reported to the AFP. The minister had actually asked for a report on what the appropriate response should be during that period and received it before Brittany Higgins was put back into the room for a meeting where the reported sexual assault occurred. Yet this Prime Minister would have us believe that no-one told him—no-one told him! The circumstances are still that the only person who seems to have actually lost their job and suffered here is of course Brittany Higgins—the victim. For everyone else it's all okay. He said that he's disappointed that the chief of staff didn't tell him, in spite of the media, other ministers' offices and everyone telling him that it had occurred. It's just absurd. The questions that were being asked by journalists and by others were not a trivial matter. At the end of the day, these were allegations about a serious crime. The idea that he did not know is just not credible.
And, to rub salt into the wound, he has his former chief of staff doing an inquiry into what his office knew. We've asked pretty simple questions—things like, 'Why don't you just ask your chief of staff what happened and tell us?' But, instead, we have the Gaetjens inquiry—the same person who looked after the sports rorts inquiry—and it's going to be a cabinet-in-confidence document. So it won't be released. Come back in 30 years! It's just extraordinary that that's the case.
The fact is that the fish rots from the head. This is a government characterised by cover-up, a government characterised by treating taxpayers' money as if it's its own and a government that is not on the side of the Australian people. This is what characterises the government. Whether it's sports rorts, community safety rorts, grassgate, watergate, forged documents or matters as grave as bushfires, the pandemic or reported sexual assault, the Prime Minister always thinks about the politics and he never accepts responsibility. It's always someone else. No wonder this government doesn't want a national integrity commission. This Prime Minister promised it in 2018 but the fact is that they've walked away from that commitment as well.
We see it in this parliament with legislation. The only thing we did yesterday was to change a couple of words about freedom of speech; that's quite ironic from a government that shuts down freedom of speech in this chamber. They don't have an agenda coming out of the COVID pandemic; that is very, very clear. They have an agenda about themselves, an obsession with themselves, an obsession with protecting themselves.
This Prime Minister doesn't have your back because he's too busy protecting his own back. He doesn't have your back if you want security of work. He doesn't have your back if you want to be confident of safety in your own workplace. He doesn't have your back if you expect him to keep renegade MPs like Craig Kelly from endangering public health. He certainly doesn't have your back if you're risking your life delivering food for $10 an hour on an old bike. This government—and we supported them—stood up on the issue of the media code. But when it comes to standing up on the issue of gig workers, they say, 'It's all too hard; it's complicated.' What's complicated about paying people the minimum wage in this country? What's complicated about decent wages and conditions that most Australians take for granted? The fact is that this Prime Minister has shown a lot about his character since he took over the job. Empathy lies outside of the limits of Scott Morrison's character. That's clear to one and all, and unfortunately it's been on full display in the last fortnight.