House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Australian Interests

3:46 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

At this time, in this moment, Australia needs a government that will take responsibility and a government that will lead. But what the beginning of the parliamentary year has revealed is that, instead, we have an eight-year-old, tired, deflated, worn-out, broken wheel. This government is literally limping along a road while other countries are taking off into a post-COVID future.

When the remarkable Grace Tame was named Australian of the Year earlier this year and inspired Brittany Higgins's extraordinary expression of courage in telling her story, it has unleashed and unfolded a conversation in this country unlike any that I've experienced in my lifetime. It is one which asks us to think about the gender relations of our society, one which asks us to reaffirm the status of women in Australia—for women to be believed, and for women to have the right to be respected and be safe at home and at work. That conversation was always going to have the Prime Minister as being central to it. He is the most senior person in the country, yet it's as if he didn't hear a word of it because, whenever the Prime Minister has opened his mouth, he has completely missed the mark.

When Brittany Higgins made her allegations, the Prime Minister sought to defend the position that an alleged rape that took place just metres from his office two years ago was not made known to his office until February of this year. That just can't be right. That is not true, because, everybody in this building, on both sides of the parliament, knows that there is a human resources function which exists in the Prime Minister's office on behalf of all ministerial staff. That's exactly why Peta Credlin and Malcolm Turnbull, two people who know a little bit about how prime ministers' offices work, have said that that claim beggars belief. But, when the Prime Minister made that claim, what he really said to the country was that, rather than dealing with the issue, he was going to seek to politically manage the issue. When serious allegations were made in respect of the Attorney-General, the obvious step to take was to put in place an independent inquiry to remove the shadow hanging over the first law officer of the nation and also, given the tragedy of the circumstances, to allow the serious allegations that had been made to be properly explored. But this government was never going to allow that kind of scrutiny to apply to this Prime Minister and this government. Then we saw the defence minister respond to Brittany Higgins and her allegations by making a terrible character attack.

Where that leaves us on this day is with two ministers hanging by a thread, a reshuffle which is about to occur and thousands of public servants in important departments like Attorney-General's and Defence without the foggiest idea of what this government is actually on about. And all of this is occurring while there are a million people on JobKeeper and when, three days from now, that benefit is going to be removed. Treasury is saying that up to 150,000 people are going to lose their jobs in three days time, and all that those people hear from this government is boasting and arrogance. What's in its place is the much-touted wage subsidy program, JobMaker, which the government said would support 450,000 jobs. Well, on this day it's 609. Then there are the vaccinations, which the government rightly says are the key to getting us past this crisis, to having a sustained and permanent recovery. They said there would be four million Australians vaccinated in this month. We have six days to go and with six days to go, this government is 3.7 million shy of its four million target. If this government has one job this year it is to vaccinate Australia. Right now, this government is horribly behind in the single most important job that it has this year.

This is a government which is completely at sea. You might say it's lost its way but the truth is it never had a way at the start. What we need to see is a Prime Minister who sits in this chair and speaks for the Australian people rather than wallowing in the politics of the day. We need a Prime Minister who sits in this chair and is a statesman rather than just a political hack.


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