House debates

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Grievance Debate

Turnbull Government

6:34 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I look forward to talking about the Liberal way and what it means for Canberra. Time and time again, we have seen how the Liberal Party wields power in Canberra. When it is not cutting funding for the national capital, is not just not funding the national capital at all. To the Liberal Party, Canberra is either an ATM or an afterthought, and I will not stand around and let this Turnbull government treat Canberra with complete and utter disdain—to treat the servants of democracy, the public servants who actually serve this government, with complete and after disdain. After all, this is the city that was built-up by Sir Robert Menzies, and yet the Liberal Party has complete and utter contempt for his vision.

This government's treatment of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority is a classic example. It is embarrassing to watch the Deputy Prime Minister try to defend this decision to uproot 175 staff from the APVMA. It is embarrassing because nobody can defend it. Nobody has so silver a tongue that they could adequately defend the Deputy Prime Minister's display of unashamed pork-barrelling when he decided 175 Canberra families should be forced to relocate from my electorate into his in New England. We know that the Deputy Prime Minister called for a cost-benefit analysis of this relocation decision. We know the cost-benefit analysis is completed. We know that, in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister himself, if you are basing your decision on the costs and the benefits alone, 'You wouldn't do it.' What we do not know is exactly how damning the case for the relocation actually is. That is because the Deputy Prime Minister has failed to release the cost-benefit analysis and failed to guarantee its release at any point in time—at any point in the future. They are happy to spend taxpayers' money producing a report; they are just not happy for taxpayers to ever see it.

I wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister on 28 June calling for the cost-benefit analysis to be made public, and what happened? I received no response—still no response after all this time. The member for Hunter wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister on 19 August and, like me, he received no response. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister is better at reading the results of a cost-benefit analysis than he is at reading letters, because on current form, it is pretty ordinary. What is it—the 28th of June? How many months have we had since then? July, August, September, October, November—five months and no response to my letter. And how many months for the member for Hunter, and still no response to his letter? Because if the Deputy Prime Minister is better at reading the results of cost-benefit analysis than he is at reading letters, he will recognise there is nothing to gain from this move—nothing to gain from this relocation. This relocation promises all pain for no gain.

Under questioning in the parliament in October, the Deputy Prime Minister failed to cite a single benefit of the move for Australia's agriculture sector. So when I say there is nothing to gain from this move, it is because that is what the Deputy Prime Minister has said himself. And he would know, as he is the only person who seems to have seen the cost-benefit analysis into the move. There is nothing to gain from this, and Canberra has everything to lose.

Who is surprised, though, on the Liberal government's form with this town; this Liberal government's complete disregard for the welfare of its public servants? Who could be surprised that this government would treat these proud servants of democracy with contempt? We saw it in 1996, when the coalition government got rid of 30,000 public servants right across the country—15,000 across the ACT. Imagine the loss of 15,000 jobs in your electorate. Imagine the loss of 15,000—one, five, zero, zero, zero—public service jobs in the electorate. Take one look at the coalition government's track record and you will see exactly what this government thinks of public servants: when they are not cutting staff, they are cutting pay and conditions. The government has failed to conclude workplace bargaining across the Australian Public Service, almost three years after the process began. The 'chaos'—and that is the only word that describes these three years—has affected more than 150,000 people nationally, and 115 agencies in this time. That is 150,000 people across the nation who have not had a pay rise in three years.

This level of incompetence is breathtaking, and has not been seen from a government in 30 years when it comes to public sector bargaining. This government's hostility to workplace pay and conditions has led to an untenable bargaining position, and this government's arrogance has led to this dysfunctional and unworkable stalemate. Labor successfully established the Senate inquiry that will help to shine a light on the concerns that APS employees have, because there are real concerns that deserve to be heard and are worth hearing, even if the Prime Minister thinks otherwise. Just last week we had the Department of Immigration and Border Protection making history by voting down the enterprise agreement for the third time, with a vote of between 81 and 82 per cent over those three votes. This is after three years of these things being negotiated.

I am not surprised that Labor and the coalition would disagree on this issue, in terms of people having a right to be heard and their concerns listened to. Labor does not share the Prime Minister's agenda of cutting jobs and stripping rights. We do not believe that bargaining means bullying. Labor believes in an approach to enterprise bargaining that builds staffing capability and uses fairness as a starting point—and fairness is a novel concept for those opposite. These APS employees are our servants of democracy. These are the people who are serving this government. They are serving you. They deserve fairness in the workplace, fairness when it comes to work-life balance and fairness when ensuring secure, meaningful jobs, and that means fairness when it comes to bargaining so that agencies are not told to strip away rights and conditions. Canberrans are voting down these offers because they are not fair—like, as I said, Immigration and Border Protection have done for the third time, making history. It is as simple as that. They are voting these offers down because they are not fair. Canberra is a city that is dedicated above all else to the fair go. It is a city based on people who come here to serve the nation—to make a difference. These people have altruistic values, and how are they being treated? With complete and utter contempt from this government.

One of the best things about Canberra is how so many of us are here by choice and not birth. Canberra is the sort of place you come to to start a new life. It is what I did, and it is what so many others in Canberra have done. Canberra is not the sort of place that cares about where you went to school. Canberra lets you create yourself. In saying that I am reminded of Tamara Makeev OAM, who was born to a mother and father living in exile in 1923. They were in Poland when the Soviets advanced, deporting every Tsarist loyalist and their children to Siberian concentration camps. Her father was an officer in the Tsar's army and Tamara was put on the last train to Germany. It was there she met Kiril, the man she fell in love with while they were both in a displaced person's camp in Munich. Her wedding dress was hand sewn from an old Russian military parachute. Eventually the United Nations organised for Kiril and Tamara to work on the Snowy Mountains scheme, which they did before moving to our great national capital, Canberra. In Tamara's words, Canberra was where life began. She was actively involved in our community and made a significant contribution, to the point that she received an OAM. Australia owes her a great debt. It is through the efforts of Tamara and through the efforts of so many others like her who come to Australia in search of a better life that Australia is so deeply enriched.

So when I hear about the Turnbull government's decision to back itself into a review of our hate speech laws, it worries me. It worries me because nobody from the government has ever made clear what they want to be able to say that they are currently not allowed to say. It worries me because watering down legal protections against racist hate speech is not how we prevent racist hate speech. We will not diminish the destructive and divisive effects of racist hate speech by legalising it. We want to control it.

The Prime Minister made a good point three months ago when he called the campaign by his far-Right conservative back to dilute Australia's race hate laws a 'distraction'. He made a strange point on Monday when he said the same campaign suddenly had 'considerable merit'. Nothing has changed—the case for reviewing 18C is just as paltry as ever—so, if it was a distraction in August, why does it now have merit? This Prime Minister has chosen to govern in the interests of a sliver of his party room. He has been successfully distracted into pursuing a bad idea to a very bad outcome.

Let me be clear: we should celebrate our diversity. We do not apologise for it and we do not accommodate those who seek to undermine it. These rights are hard-won, and they should not be easily surrendered. All Australians deserve the right to be free from racial and ethnic vilification. All Australians deserve a government that will protect against dangerous hate speech.