Tuesday, 23 February 2016
The Prime Minister came to office on 15 September last year promising a new approach. He would be different, he assured us. Here is what he said as he announced his challenge for the Liberal Party leadership in the Senate courtyard on 14 September:
… we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities; explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the peoples’ intelligence, that explains these complex issues, and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take, and makes a case for it. We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.
He promised us no more of the brashness of the man he deposed, the member for Warringah. He promised: no more of the meanness and the divisiveness that characterised the miserable Abbott government—no more of its trademark hostility for anyone who held a view different to its own. These promises matter. The Prime Minister loves the sound of his own voice, make no mistake, but these were not idle musings. They were, and they are, the entire premise of the Turnbull government. They were the entire justification for the Prime Minister rolling his predecessor. They were the justification for the immense political and policy disruption this caused and continues to cause. But how hollow those promises have proved to be.
As soon as the Prime Minister faced his first real challenges, as soon as he was called upon to actually do something rather than just talk and talk, he abandoned the measured, calm and rational approach he promised us. Today in question time—caught empty handed by an opposition rolling out detailed, considered policy—the Prime Minister did his best impersonation of the member for Warringah, and it really was uncanny. He ranted and raved at the dispatch box, trying his best to whip up a desperate scare campaign about Labor's tax policies. It was vintage Abbott. The member for Warringah must have been deeply flattered by the imitation.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister talks about agility, about flexibility. But increasingly it is clear just how brittle he is, how brittle the agenda of the Abbott-Turnbull government is. This is not just a matter of style. It is not just about the government having a glass jaw in this place, no. One of the worst features of the Abbott-Turnbull government is its hostility to all those who have a view different than their own; a hostility to open debate and discussion; a hostility to the vibrant civil society required to foster that kind of debate. Ever since taking power, this government have been unremitting in their attempts to suppress civil society, to intimidate those voices which do not agree with them.
A report released yesterday by the Human Rights Law Centre details just how serious the Abbott-Turnbull government's attacks on Australian civil society have been and how dangerous that is for our democracy. Since being elected in 2013, the Liberals have cut funding to community groups and legal services which work on the reform of the law. They have forced community groups receiving government funding to sign agreements gagging them from weighing in on public policy debates.
The government have not only defunded the Environmental Defenders' Office—legal groups which work to defend the environment and to improve our environment protection laws—but also attempted to stop all kinds of community groups as well as ordinary farmers and private citizens from challenging government environmental decisions in the courts. And though these combative, small-minded policies were introduced under former Prime Minister Abbott, there has been no change in direction from the new Prime Minister. If anything, he has doubled down. He is just as committed to stripping funding from community legal organisations. He is just as committed to gagging independent voices in policy debates. And he is just as committed to banning ordinary people and their communities from challenging government decisions which threaten them in the courts—the most basic of rights in a democratic system like ours.
On 14 September, the member for Wentworth said that we needed a different style of leadership. He was right then. But he has had nearly six months to do something about it now—six months in the highest elected office in the land. And he has proved over and over and over again that he is no different, no different at all to the man he was willing to do anything to depose. He is a man who is full of talk who says one thing and does another, and he has proved that to us on a daily basis since coming to office. (Time expired)