House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Matters of Public Importance


4:01 pm

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

This issue may seem like an entertaining exercise for us to shoot invective across at each other, and it's good to see that new members are getting on their feet and doing that. Maybe we can't call ourselves new anymore; we're into the new year.

But we must never forget that what we do and say in this place affects real people, real people and real businesses. I will give you an example of one. In my electorate, there is a small business—or maybe a medium business—called Fratelli Engineering. Fratelli, for those who speak Italian, means brothers. It is a family business that was formed in 1996. We hear from those opposite that you want to make things here again. Guess what? Fratelli Engineering makes things here. It employs 20 people, many of whom have physical and mental disabilities, who work for a family business.

For the first time ever, that family business is now seriously questioning whether they can stay open. They have been there since 1996. I spoke to the owner, Sam Leo, just before I came in here for this debate. I asked him, 'What would you like to say to those opposite?' He said—and I didn't prompt him—'I trusted you. I trusted that you would help bring power bills down'. Trust matters. Trust matters because it goes to the heart of integrity. We are in opposition here, and that means we must reflect upon lessons learnt from that election last year. Integrity was one of them.

You may say that that's just about a corruption commission. We've heard a lot about that, and that was supported by this House and in the Senate. But it's not just about corruption commissions; it's about what we do and what we say. It's about trust. At the core of trust are promises. You can look at promises in two ways. You can look at a promise in a contractual way, in that there are consequences that may lead to a cause of action in a court. That's not what we're dealing with here. We're not dealing with promises that Australians can take you to court over. If we could, I would encourage Fratelli Engineering to go to court and have all of you as the respondents. We are talking about a moral obligation and a moral commitment. We can argue that is an even more important commitment for integrity and for trust. There is no cause of action, but it is about morality and moral consequences. People like Sam Leo and the pensioners that we heard about from many of the other speakers, who may seriously question whether, because of their power bills, they can turn the heating on, keep themselves warm and look after themselves and their families. They are going to make decisions this year, because they relied upon what was promised.

I don't know about those opposite, but I had a visit from the Edelman Trust Barometer. They spoke about a survey they did in this country on institutions and trust. There are some alarming conclusions. I encourage those opposite, if you have not read this, to listen to what I'm about to say. No institution is trusted by Australians anymore. Our institutions are out of balance. Government and media fuel a cycle of distrust and are seen as a source of misleading information. We are more divided today than we were in the past. This is a global survey: it's not just a problem here, but we must focus on what we can do in this country. Forty-five per cent of Australians surveyed think we are more divided than in the past. When asked about our social fabrics, 61 per cent said this: 'The lack of civility and mutual respect today is the worst I have ever seen.' The question of whether the social fabric that once held this country together has grown too weak to serve as a foundation for unity and common purpose—54 per cent. This is a problem that we must all face.

Leading up to an election, political parties make promises because there is a reward if that promise is believed. The reward is that you get to sit there and you get to occupy the blue-carpet offices. But people rely upon what you say. It's not just what the Prime Minister said but also what some of the candidates said. I'm going to single out one that happened in my electorate. The Labor candidate in the seat of Menzies in a quote to the Warrandyte Diary said that you, as a government, would match the fixing of the '5 Ways' intersection, where a young girl died. People in my electorate relied upon that promise that was made, then when I went to visit the minister about that commitment, guess what? It wasn't matched because the candidate didn't submit the paperwork. Guess what? Australians know you don't submit paperwork and they are onto you.


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