Thursday, 17 August 2017
Matters of Public Importance
Today I want to have a conversation with Australians. I understand that people are unimpressed with what they have seen in this place for the last two weeks. We are watching, sadly, the disintegration of a Prime Minister who—even though I wouldn't have voted for him—offered to this country the promise and the hope of a different politics. His hoarse, rambling and unconvincing performance a few moments ago failed to mention his Deputy Prime Minister more than once in 10 minutes. A resolution was put forward by Labor in the standard parliamentary convention: we said the Deputy Prime Minister, with a constitutional shadow over his eligibility, should stand aside from his responsibilities—just as his colleague Senator Canavan did when confronted with a very similar set of circumstances.
This was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to come forward and say, 'No, there's very strong merit to Minister Joyce; he's irreplaceable in the construct of the government,' and to explain the case for having double standards between Senator Canavan and the minister. But he didn't do that. There was only one reference to his beleaguered Deputy Prime Minister in 10 minutes. This is actually a symptom of the greater problem. He spent more of his speech vilifying Labor, attacking unions and attacking his opposition than he spent seriously mounting a case for his vision for Australia.
There are two things that I want Australians to know in the next few minutes: (1) as long as the Turnbull government is consumed by chaos and crisis, as long as the very legitimacy of its mandate and its majority are under a cloud, it cannot and will not do its day job; and (2) I want Australians to hear from us that Labor are focused on the people of Australia and our plans for a better future for this nation. Turning to my first point, this crisis caused by the government's negligence might seem like an obscure thing—the 'vibe of the Constitution', as Dennis Denuto would say; or, as the cynics in the ranks of the government ministry say: 'This is inside the Canberra bubble. It's political correctness.' That's what they might whisper on their alt-right sites. But Australians should know there are consequences. If the Deputy's Prime Minister's dual citizenship had been revealed earlier, if he'd stood aside and done the right thing, this parliament could have reversed the penalty rate cuts for 700,000 low-paid workers. If the Deputy Prime Minister had stood aside, we would have had the overdue banking royal commission that this country is demanding of the parliament.
Australians following these antics might well ask: what on earth is going on?
In the last week, we have seen this Prime Minister suggest that his opponent should be in jail. They have suggested a treasonous plot—a plot with a dangerous foreign power, affectionately known as New Zealand. But, unfortunately, this government becomes more desperate. I say to the government: we understand that the more you attack us, the less you have to say about yourselves and, more importantly, the less you have to say about the people of Australia. Where on earth is that new style of leadership that he promised? When we see neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching on the streets of suburban United States, our Prime Minister is reduced to criticising a local council in Australia. In a time of international uncertainty, with North Korean missile testing, with the threat of fundamentalist terrorism, Australians see their foreign minister embarking on a war of words with New Zealand. Given that it is his last week in the gallery, I think we should hear from Laurie Oakes. On that particular bit of strategic foreign policy genius, he wrote: 'I think it's laughable. It's a joke. It makes the foreign minister look stupid. It makes the Prime Minister look stupid.' Well said, Mr Oakes, and thank you for your service.
When our schools don't have the resources they need, when the TAFEs are closing, when apprenticeship numbers are falling, when women fleeing family violence cannot find a safe place to stay and when Aboriginal people are taken from us too soon because of preventable diseases, Australians are entitled to ask: why is this government spending $120 million on an unnecessary postal survey? Australians are entitled to ask of the parliament and the government: what does this government have to say about people struggling with wages growth at its lowest level since records were kept? It has nothing to say to the Holden workers in Elizabeth, nothing to say to the workers in Penrith Plaza, to the families swamped by power prices, to the young people priced out of university and priced out of the housing market. To all of those Australians worried about handing on a lesser set of conditions to their kids, what do they have to say to them? What do they have say to Australians on the wrong side of inequality, which is at its highest level in 75 years?
This is the plan the government offers Australians: a tax increase for working people and a tax cut for the top end of town. The foreign minister and the Prime Minister publicly humiliated themselves with their bizarre conspiracy theories. This is a matter in our political history. But we shouldn't forget that the Treasurer publicly humiliated himself on Monday when he was caught out trying to verbal the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. What I want to say to Australians is that it is not the incompetence, the trips and missteps of the government which most concern me; it is the unfairness of their policies; it's the ignorance they show towards the problem of inequality. It is the priorities of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister in the people they fight for that concerns us. They don't fight for the workers who need a wage rise. They don't fight for Australians who are underemployed, underrepresented and underpaid. They don't fight for young people being beaten at auction by investors subsidised by the taxpayer. This government does nothing to help these people. This government fights for its people—the millionaires, the multinationals and the tax minimisers. Let me be clear: in the Labor Party, we do not begrudge the top two per cent of income earners their success, but we think they are pretty good at looking after themselves. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer puff themselves up over their plan to increase the tax burden for seven million Australians, and when we say no to that they call it the 'politics of envy'. They think our plan to close loopholes for tax minimisers, to introduce one set of rules in our taxation system for all to stop the income splitting available to the few, not the many, is a war on aspiration.
This government thinks that aspiration is getting a good tax adviser and minimising their income. I think Australians have a different definition of aspiration than this elitist, out-of-touch government. Aspiration is handing on a better standard of living to your kids, a better quality of life, a better deal for your kids than you inherited from your parents. Aspiration is a strong Medicare. It's a good education for your children. It's a decent National Disability Insurance Scheme and proper aged care for your aging parents. Aspiration is working hard and getting ahead. Aspiration is being able to afford to buy your own home. Aspiration is being represented at work when you need assistance. Aspiration is about being able to marry the person that you love. Labor's aspiration is for a fair go all round.
We cannot afford to forget the Liberal rationale for their tax cut for millionaires. They criticise Labor for saying that we don't want to reduce the taxes of millionaires, and they call it the politics of envy. They say that, when we want to restore the budget deficit levy, it is a tax on success. They measure success by how much you earn. Let me be very clear: does that mean that when this government increases the income taxes of seven million people they're not successful people, so therefore it is not a tax on success? Let me say to Australians that the Labor Party does not judge Australian success by money alone. We don't say that a childcare worker on $60,000 is not a success—yes, you are. We don't say that a police officer on $70,000 is not a success—yes, you are. We don't say to the teachers in our classrooms, the firefighters in the fire stations and the people working in regional Australia that if you don't earn a lot of money you are not successful. Labor understands that success is whether or not you're a good parent, a good neighbour. Success is not measured by what is in your wallet; it's what is in your heart. Labor will stand up for all of those people facing income tax increases under this government.
In conclusion, I say to Australians that last night I had a conversation with about 150 students at the ANU. They're worried about the cost of their degrees going up. They don't know if they're ever going to be able to afford to buy a home. They're frustrated at the lack of action on climate change. They can't believe we're even debating marriage equality through a postal survey. They're worried about having their pay cut at their part-time jobs. They don't know why this government has such a lack of understanding of young people, but I assure them: we have the plans and we will deliver. (Time expired)
Today, I would like to continue this conversation with the Australian people, but I will do so without the zingers. There are two things I would like the Australian people to know. The first is that the Leader of the Opposition cannot be trusted. I will repeat that: the first thing is that the Leader of the Opposition cannot be trusted. The second is that the Turnbull government is focused on the things that matter for you.
Why can't the Leader of the Opposition be trusted? Let's take one example: GetUp! A hundred thousand dollars to GetUp! was there when GetUp! was set up. What does GetUp! stand for? To start with, GetUp! stands for completely dismantling our current immigration laws.
The Australian people do want to know this. GetUp! stands for completely dismantling our current immigration laws. What would that lead to? The borders would once again be open to the people smugglers. That is what GetUp! wants. The Leader of the Opposition comes in here and says, 'I support strong border protection,' yet he funds an organisation that wants our current immigration laws dismantled.
What's the second thing that GetUp! want? This is very important. I have here the relevant minister, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and I'm sure he'll be very interested to know this. GetUp! want to change the day that this nation celebrates Australia Day. That's what GetUp! want to do. They want to change the day we celebrate Australia Day, yet the Leader of the Opposition, who came in here yesterday and said 'No, we should continue to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January,' funded the organisation that want it changed and was one of the first people on the organising committee to set it up. Those are the double standards we are dealing with. You're going to hear more about GetUp! You haven't heard the last about GetUp!
No, we do. The second part of the conversation that I want to have with the Australian people today, carrying on from the conversation started by the Leader of the Opposition, is about what this government is focused on. We are focused on the things that matter to the Australian people. Let's take national security to start with. The first job of government is to keep the Australian people safe. We have returned the Defence budget to two per cent of GDP. We are the first government in a decade to fully fund a Defence white paper. We didn't just say, 'Here's a defence white paper. Here's an aspiration. This is what we should be doing.' We fully funded it. We put the money there to back up what we say. That's because this government doesn't just talk, this government acts and this government delivers.
We've seen this when it comes to defence. We have also seen it when it comes to national security laws. We have put national security laws in place, which are helping to keep the community safe. There have been five significant, major pieces of national security reform which have kept this nation safe. We are determined to make sure that the terrorists will not win. National security is our key focus. It's the No. 1 priority of government. We are delivering on it. We are delivering on it not just by talking about it but by putting money in place and putting laws in place that are keeping the Australian people safe.
Let's have a look at the economy. The second most important issue of any government is to make sure that it's providing for its citizens. What is the best way to provide for our citizens? That is to make sure that people have a job. That is what we are doing. Look at the job figures. I haven't heard anything from those opposite on the recent job figures. They're not coming out, saying, 'Isn't it wonderful that jobs are growing and jobs are growing significantly?' Did we hear any applause or any acknowledgment from those opposite when the Treasurer got up and spoke about the latest job figures? Did we hear anything from those opposite? No. It's the fastest growth in full-time jobs since they have started recording the data, and what did we hear from those opposite? Not one word. There was not one acknowledgment of where this economy is going or the jobs growth that is occurring in this economy—not one word. It would be very good if those opposite just came out and said, 'Look, it is good that the economy is growing, it is fantastic that there are new jobs being supported and it is fantastic we are seeing full-time job growth.' It's the fastest on record since they have been recording the data. One would have thought that those opposite would stand up and applaud when the Treasurer spoke, but instead we got nothing—zilch.
The third most important issue that this government is focused on is energy. We are focused on energy. We are making sure that the Australian people will see downward pressure on their energy bills, not upward pressure. We are doing this despite those opposite, who are there encouraging the Premier of South Australia to make sure that there is upward pressure put on energy prices. We are delivering to see downward pressure put on energy prices—absolutely, we are. There's the Snowy Hydro 2.0—look at what that will do. It will be delivered and it will be transformational. The government has secured, through the COAG Energy Council, 49 out of the 50 Finkel recommendations. They were immediately adopted and are immediately being worked on. We are abolishing the limited merits review, which has allowed network businesses to game the system and put billions of dollars of costs onto our consumers. We are putting downward pressure on energy prices, despite the efforts, especially at the state level, by those opposite.
Finally, there are the borders. I touched on what those opposite would like to see when it comes to our borders. Secretly, we know—and it will be very interesting to see what the next speaker has to say about this—that those opposite want GetUp!'s policies to come to fruition.
Ms Butler interjecting—
You do! She just said she does.
A government member interjecting—
The honourable member here heard it, too. She wants GetUp! policies implemented. That says it all. On this side, we are very happy: a thousand days without a boat arrival, no-one lost by drowning at sea and all children out of detention. That is the record on this side, yet we've just heard that those opposite want GetUp! policies implemented. They want to see a return to the porous borders that they presided over. On this side, we don't.
I would like to continue the conversation that the Leader of the Opposition started. I will sum up how that conversation should go. We will keep pointing out on a daily basis that the Leader of the Opposition cannot be trusted. On this side, we will be focusing on the things that matter to people. We will be focusing on keeping Australians safe. We will be focusing on growing our economy, making sure that the record full-time jobs growth that we have been seeing will continue. We are going to make sure that we are putting downward pressure on energy prices, not supporting state governments that want to put upward pressure on them. Lastly, we will continue to have policies in place which make sure that our immigration is controlled by the government, not by people smugglers. (Time expired)
What a ridiculous excuse for a government; what a farce this government is. This has been a week of revelation. Not even I realised just how ridiculous this government has been. I'd like to start by telling the House that I have uncovered, finally, an explanation as to why this government has such a poor record when it comes to investment in infrastructure. Obviously, they don't like investing in infrastructure. They are not a government that is big on investing in infrastructure. They would rather complain about Labor than get to work and do anything. They would rather complain and whinge—we've seen that from the Prime Minister today. It turns out there is an even more interesting explanation for this government's failure to invest in infrastructure. And that explanation is this: it turns out they think that people will want to marry infrastructure if we change the marriage laws. They actually think that people will want to marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge. That's why they haven't invested in infrastructure—they actually think that it might lead to people getting married to infrastructure. We've seen Senator Abetz today in the news indicating that he thinks that, if we change the marriage laws to allow people to get married to each other, then the obvious and necessary consequence of that is people wanting to marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
It is laughable—that's absolutely right, Member for Longman. But unfortunately it is not even close to the most laughable thing that's happened this week. In respect of the ridiculous marriage survey that this government wants us to have, we've had the Special Minister of State having to go out and clean up this government's messes when it comes to silent enrollers and people overseas. We've had the Treasurer be embarrassed and humiliated when the Parliamentary Budget Office put out a correction in respect of his claim that some figures that he had published were PBO figures.
We've had the ridiculousness—and it's hard to top this—of a foreign minister of this nation managing to utterly overegg the pudding, to the extent that we had not just Labor deservedly laughing at the foreign minister but the press gallery utterly demolishing her arguments. You've got to worry about what this is going to mean for Australia—this vast, treacherous, treasonous conspiracy that the foreign minister is unveiling—when it comes to the Australia-New Zealand relationship. We need to seriously consider worrying about not just whether people are getting married to the Sydney Harbour Bridge but whether we should have the Navy stationed under it so that when people come across the Ditch to invade we're ready for them. I have to tell you, she is right to be worried about the New Zealanders. I have been to an All Blacks match; I've seen the haka, and I was intimidated. She should be worried about the New Zealanders coming over the Ditch to invade.
But I have to say: all of these examples of ridiculousness, as entertaining as they are in a shallow and superficial way, actually mean that this government has spent the entire week wasting its time instead of dealing with serious issues. HILDA came out recently, and what did it show: incomes have declined. Private debt for under-40s is at record levels. Homeownership for under-40s is incredibly low. We heard the previous speaker talk about employment, but what he didn't want to mention—for obvious reasons—is that underemployment is at record highs in this country and wages growth is at record lows. This year we saw the wages price index at a lower rate than the consumer price index: a real pay cut for Australians. And what is this government doing about it? It is doing nothing about it.
I'll tell you what the government hasn't done: it hasn't stepped in in order to protect people who are having their penalty rates cut. We had an opportunity to prevent those cuts from taking effect. There was a vote in this parliament, and this parliament failed to pass legislation to protect those workers. Why? Because, in the House of Representatives, we lost a vote by one vote—one vote that could have prevented penalty rates from being cut for 700,000 workers. And why did we lose that vote? Because there is one member in this chamber who was a foreign citizen at the time that he was elected, and he should not have exercised a vote. Had he not exercised a vote, we would have stopped penalty rate cuts for 700,000 low-paid Australian workers. We would have a banking royal commission going ahead right now if the Deputy Prime Minister had not been illegitimately exercising a vote in this parliament. The ridiculousness of this week—the crazy, ridiculous ideas of Senator Abetz and of the foreign minister—has been disgraceful. This government is a mess. (Time expired)
I thank the opposition for this MPI, because the actual MPI reads:
The need for the Government to deal with issues confronting Australians and govern in the national interest.
That is exactly what the Turnbull government is doing. In fact, this Labor MPI again highlights the lack of interest that the Labor Party has in actual policies. It is more interested in playing around on the sidelines with distractions. The coalition government is governing and delivering for Australian families. The coalition government is governing and delivering for Australian workers—indeed, this year, for 240,000 more workers; more than any other year in the last 40 years. The coalition government is delivering for Australian small businesses, and, closer to my portfolio, it is delivering for those living with disability. Perhaps instead of asking such a question of the coalition, the opposition should be asking the Labor leader how he justifies authorising donations of union money to his 2007 campaign when he was secretary of the AWU—a small conflict of interest? Not if you are in the opposition.
The opposition leader has always been big on promises, but short on plans; big on talk, but short on delivery; big on shifting his position, but short on consistency. Instead of attempting to govern in the interests of its union puppetmasters, the opposition should be considering how to serve its constituencies. Compare Labor's lack of achievements to the track record of the strong coalition government and you will see a government that gets on with the job of delivering for all Australians and a Labor opposition that delivers distractions and has no plans. Labor stands for higher taxes on Australians. Labor stands for higher taxes on Australian small businesses. We see an opposition that delivered secret funding deals to 27 schools throughout the country. The coalition government has delivered increased funding, real reform and transparent national needs-based funding for education in this country.
As the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services, I see firsthand the benefits a fully funded NDIS, delivered by the coalition government, will have for some 460,000 Australians who are living with disability and for their families. We want to give them the certainty they deserve—unlike the opposition, which left a $4.1 billion shortfall in the funding for 2019-20. Labor failed to specifically set aside adequate funding, and they spent any savings that they said they were going to use to support the NDIS several times over—typical Labor, magic pudding 'Shortenomics'. Instead of funding the $4.1 billion, they left the most vulnerable in our community in a state of uncertainty. Australians want security. This coalition government has delivered security for our borders. We have delivered more than 1,000 days without a boat arrival and zero deaths at sea and closed 17 detention centres.
Australians want secure and affordable energy. The coalition is putting in place measures to provide affordable and reliable gas and electricity for all Australians. If Labor had its way, Australia would literally be living in the Stone Age with rolling blackouts. Australians want a secure future—one of prosperity and stability. They do not want the frivolous debate thrown around by the Labor Party at the behest of the member for Maribyrnong. Australians want the coalition government to continue our demonstrated track record of delivering on good government, and continue we will. We are a government of job creation, a government of small business success, a government of economic growth, a government of delivering infrastructure and a government of delivering Medicare guarantees.
Labor has demonstrated that they are a threat to investment in Australia, a threat to business, a threat to jobs and a threat to families. As Prime Minister Turnbull said earlier this year:
Their failure to provide for the future is imposing an unconscionable level of debt on our children and grandchildren.
While the opposition ducks, dithers, distracts and wastes time, the coalition government is getting on with governing in the national interest. Contrary to Labor's nay-sayers, we're delivering literally more than 100 pieces of legislation through the Senate because we want to deliver for the benefit of all Australians.
I'm very pleased to speak to this matter of public importance—indeed, I might say, this matter of grave importance—because these are dark and dangerous times. For over 100 years, Australians have believed that New Zealand was a friend, a neighbour, a place that shared our values and a country with whom we would face the world together—our Anzac brothers and sisters. Indeed, in our Constitution there is a standing invitation for New Zealand to join the Commonwealth of Australia. In this friendship, of course, Australians have often lightheartedly joked about our relationship with New Zealand. Some of you may recall The Gruen Transfer and its entertaining joke about New Zealand is 100 per cent for the taking. As it's turned out, how complacent was that? That's because we now know, and this week it's been revealed, that, in fact, across the ditch lies a foreign power—not just a foreign power but a malevolent power that seems to have cast its avaricious eye upon Australia!
This transformation in our foreign policy has been revealed by a few brave patriots who I think should be singled out for comment for their courage and for their imagination. The first out of the blocks with this remarkable threat to this country was the Leader of the House—'the fixer'—who is a politician known well throughout this parliament as a conviction politician. The other, of course, was the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is that foreign policy colossus and paragon of loyalty—loyalty to leader, loyalty to party and loyalty to nation. Of course, what these remarkable patriots have done is they have flung down the gauntlet to this foreign power. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will not be distracted by North Korea and its development of ICBMs. This Minister for Foreign Affairs will not be distracted by the issues confronting President Trump, the UN or anyone else. This Minister for Foreign Affairs will turn her gaze, her 'eye of Mordor', on to New Zealand.
Christopher Pyne said:
How many other foreign governments or foreign political parties in other countries has the Labor Party been colluding with to try and undermine the sovereignty of the Australian Government? Has he—
the Leader of the Opposition—
This brave patriot comprehended the possible scale of what we were dealing with!
The foreign minister was not to be outdone. She understands the power of the Labor Party. She said the Australian Labor Party set up the New Zealand government. She said:
Should there be a change of government, I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia.
In those remarks, she not only laid down a red line for Australia; she decisively intervened in New Zealand's own elections. This act of genius meant she not only defended our interests but also cast our hegemonic ambitions across the ditch. So it is that we are accustomed to confronting a government that is swift and decisive, that dominates the political conversation in this country, that helps us defend this country from a hidden menace, and thus now, behind closed doors, is taking decisive action. There's been talk of there being over one million infiltrators from this foreign power in Australia. There has been talk of this foreign power establishing cells in this country for over a century. Even as I speak, Defence under 'the fixer' must be constructing a new defence posture—forces moving to the ditch. This colossus of a foreign minister must now be engaging the United Nations in contemplating sanctions.
This has not been satire; this has been the coalition's key-lines document. Over the course of this week, this fantastical picture is what they tried to conjure. This is what passes for political strategy in the government. It is a remarkable thing. It's not simply a laughing matter and it's not simply a laughable thing; it's a government that, in a desperate moment, looking for advantage—although finding comedy—threw our bilateral relationship with New Zealand overboard. For a moment's advantage, the foreign minister abandoned her responsibility as a foreign minister to protect that most important relationship, and we on this side are not surprised. (Time expired)
How many people in my electorate are asking me for higher taxes? How many people are asking me to lower their house price, push up their rent and scrap negative gearing? How many people are asking me to let people smugglers back into business? How many people want a brand new carbon tax? How many people wish there was less support for schools? None. How many people are talking to me about changing to a republic? None. How many people are talking to me about same-sex marriage? Very few. They're not talking to me about it. Not once have most of these things been raised, yet they're fundamental Labor Party policies. The opposition is obsessed with issues that are of little or no concern to not just the people of my electorate but the majority of Australians. Australians want tougher border control. They want to pay less tax. They want a good education for their children and grandchildren, and to be able to see a doctor when they need to. They want increased opportunities, and they want government support for them and their community. Most of all, they're yearning for positivity, not the Labor negativity that we continue to see.
Take infrastructure, for example: the government is implementing practical measures not just in Petrie but right around the country. In Petrie we're investing in road, rail, stadiums and community group support—there's lots happening. What do we hear from the Leader of the Opposition on this MPI? The MPI is:
… to deal with issues confronting Australians and govern in the national interest.
What does he do? He comes in here and sticks up for his shadow foreign minister—a shadow foreign minister who has said 'My chief of staff contacted a New Zealand Labour MP without my knowledge.' I ask those opposite, and every member of this House, 'How many of our staff go contacting foreign MPs overseas without our knowledge?' I call her out and say that is rubbish from the shadow minister. And that is what he comes in here and speaks about. He's got a serious issue with foreign policy when he acts as the deputy Labor leader from the job. His current shadow minister says that she doesn't have faith in her own staff. It's outright wrong. And his biggest issue is to call our strongest ally, the President of the US, all sorts of names. That was the Leader of the Opposition himself. The Australian people would have an issue if this opposition ever came to government.
You know what the Leader of the Opposition also talks about? He was talking about white supremacists in the US in his MPI today—like the people of Petrie are really interested in that! The Leader of the Opposition spoke about penalty rates, but he failed to mention that when he was leader of the AWU he slashed penalty rates. He slashed penalty rates for workers at Cleanevent and Chiquita Mushrooms. Why did he do it? He slashed it for a handout to his union.
The latest employment figures we heard today from the Treasurer: 240,000 new jobs in the last financial year and 210,000 in the last six months alone. Youth employment has plummeted thanks to policies from our government, like the PaTH program that those opposite voted against. They voted against it. And I say to those opposite: give me one policy that you have to create a new job in this country. Not an interjection. Exactly! They have zero policies, and they don't know. You know what their policy is? Their policy is to smash small business, to increase taxes for those businesses with less than $10 million turnover. Yet small businesses employ 80 per cent of Australians. Those opposite want to come into this place and talk about the casualisation of the workforce. I'll tell you that if you start smashing trust and smashing small businesses, you'll see greater casualisation.
I'm on the ground, talking to people in my electorate every day, and I can tell you what things are important to them: national security, immigration, jobs and energy prices. We have a state Labor government moving debt onto our power companies—and we wonder why, in Queensland, our energy prices have doubled! (Time expired)
We have reached the final sitting hours of an extraordinary two weeks in this place. The MPI before us goes to the heart of what the problem is with the way this parliament is operating. Members opposite say that they want to talk about the things that really matter in their electorates. Well so do we. Last week, we had to deal with the fact that we had a government which, in its throes of division, decided the answer to the problem of resolving marriage equality in Australia was to throw $122 million at a non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey, for which we can't even be sure that they have the process tied down in a correct way that will deliver a fair say to all people.
This week has just been extraordinary! We arrive on Monday to find out that the Deputy Prime Minister has to ask every member of this chamber to vote to refer him to the High Court to determine if he can even be a member of this place. I mean, that is an extraordinary outcome. And then they want to say, 'Now, just look away; just pretend that didn't happen; business as usual; let's keep going,' so the Deputy Prime Minister can continue as a member of the executive, answering questions on behalf of the government, making agreements on behalf of the government, holding an executive position, voting in this parliament, in a place where the government only has a majority of one, on laws that will determine the lives of our constituents. He can do all that and we don't even know if he's entitled to sit in this place. You cannot pretend that it's not something dramatically problematic that this parliament needs to deal with.
Why on earth did the Prime Minister not—to be honest, why on earth did the Deputy Prime Minister himself not recognise the fact that it is untenable for him to continue in the executive? What sort of leadership—no, what sort of commitment to your own team does that show when you don't have the capacity to understand that you are undermining your own team, your own government?
That's what he's done all week by continuing to operate as the Deputy Prime Minister and as a member of the executive. I am not surprised that there are reports that members of his own backbench are absolutely bemused by his continuing to hold that position. If nothing else, as a member of your own team, you would have to be able to see that you were undermining the credibility of your own government. I'm just bamboozled that they have tried to persevere all week and will no doubt try to do so for weeks to come with him in that position.
The reality is, as so many of our colleagues have pointed out, that we've had votes in this place where there has only been a one-vote majority, and those votes have profound impacts on people right across our electorates. Two clear examples are the vote to take action to protect the penalty rates of working people—over 10,000 in my electorate; every electorate is the same, with people being affected by that decision—and the vote to have a banking royal commission—thousands and thousands of people across this country have been directly affected—and the vast majority of Australians think we should be doing it. They are just two examples.
This government, at its heart, is exposing the problem that it has, and it's a simple one: they are so divided, there is so much division and dissension within their own ranks, that they can't provide leadership. That's what is going on here. When we had that ridiculous farce last week over marriage equality, at the heart of that was a government incapable of governing because of its own internal divisions. This week we have had a whole week in parliament with an extraordinary position, unprecedented in the parliament's history, of a Deputy Prime Minister continuing to operate while he is under consideration in the High Court. At the heart of that is the fact that the government are so divided that they couldn't do what they needed to do—and they know they needed to do it because they expected it of Senator Canavan. When it was him on the chopping block, they knew what needed to happen, but now they can't take the steps they need to take. Let's hope they get some sort of order in their house before we come back to this place, because this speaking list shows that we are willing to discuss the issues. Where are they? (Time expired)
Before I call the member for Fairfax, I would like to recognise, in the students gallery today, students from grades 5 and 6 of Macquarie Anglican Grammar School from Dubbo. They are magnificent ambassadors for their school and town and, I might say, the electorate of Parkes.
I felt so desperately sorry for the Leader of the Opposition when he tried to present this MPI today. He struggled to characterise what the Labor Party stands for. Finally, he came out with a line suggesting that the Labor Party is focused on the Australian people. So this is a Labor Party who doesn't want the Australian people to have a say. This is the Labor Party who wants to deny the people a say in the plebiscite. The only focus they have on the Australian people is this: it's the money. They want the people's money. They're happy to tax them. They're happy to see income tax go up. They're happy to deny small businesses tax cuts.
Ms Keay interjecting—
They're focused on the people only when it comes to the money. The Leader of the Opposition might struggle to define that which characterises his Labor Party, but it's not that hard to define that which characterises the Leader of the Opposition—words such as 'shifty', 'shady', 'shonky', 'shallow'. They all seem to have a bit of a fit. Nice alliteration.
It has got a very good ring to it. Here we have the Leader of the Opposition, who was shifty enough to look Kevin Rudd in the eye and say, 'I've got your back.' He had his back, all right! And then he did the same with Julia Gillard: 'I've got your back.' And then again with Kevin Rudd: 'I've got your back.' This is the same fellow who said to the Australian people only a few years ago, 'I believe in a plebiscite when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage.' Now what does he say? 'I don't believe in a plebiscite when it comes to same-sex marriage.' This is a Leader of the Opposition who used to go into bat for reducing company taxes for small businesses. Guess what? He's now against it.
This man is completely shifty, but he's also shonky. This is a fellow who's more than happy to trade away the rights of workers even though his fundamental role previously with the AWU was to protect the rights of workers. He was happy to trade them away and, in return, ensure the companies with whom he was negotiating would tip money into the union movement—in other words, a shift of money from the worker through to Labor Party candidates. Take from the people, give to the Labor politicians. The Leader of the Opposition is shonky. He is also very shady, as we now know, with him facilitating $100,000 for the GetUp! organisation. Let us not forget that the GetUp! organisation as we speak—right now, today, online—is trying to get rid of our border control. We have had 1,117 days without an illegal boat arrival. Those members opposite, including the Leader of the Opposition, were in government when at least 1,200 people died at sea. Those opposite are more than happy to support GetUp! and more than happy to fund GetUp!, who want to open up the borders and put the lives of innocent people at risk. That is the character of the Leader of the Opposition.
But he's also shallow. We can't forget his shallowness. As we heard over recent days, there is his infamous interview with the ABC, when he was asked what his economic plan was for the country. You would think that an alternative Prime Minister, of all things, just might have an economic plan; he just might have one plan that would create one job. He didn't have an answer. So, alternative Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, what is your economic plan for Australia? Pause, silence, and then finally he says he believes in public transport. Woo hoo! Haven't we got a leader in the opposition! I rest my case.
It's been an eventful sitting week, hasn't it? I think that's an understatement. This week, we've had the Deputy Prime Minister announcing that he has been a dual citizen of New Zealand for the duration of his parliamentary career, raising all the doubts about his ability to stay in the place under section 44 of the Constitution. Then we've had the Prime Minister channelling the Chief Justice of the High Court, proffering what I would think is a dissenting opinion on the Deputy Prime Minister's eligibility. The common interpretation is that the relevant section clearly provides that the Deputy Prime Minister has been, by his own admission, a dual citizen of New Zealand until only this week and is therefore ineligible.
It's only right that the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, will decide the fate of the Deputy Prime Minister this coming week. The High Court will determine the legitimacy or not of the Deputy Prime Minister, as they should. I will leave those deliberations, unlike the Prime Minister, to the judicial scrutiny and expertise of the High Court of Australia. I might add that this comes from a healthy respect for the separation of powers. That's something those on that side should understand better, particularly the Yarra 3. But I won't blame the Yarra 3, because they're following the direction of their great leader!
The High Court will deliberate on the legitimacy of the Deputy Prime Minister's eligibility to be in the House, but I question the legitimacy of the government's policies. The political point, really, is that the government holds power by one vote. The government was able to give a $65 billion tax cut hand out to multinational corporations by one vote. They were able to give working Australians a tax increase by one vote. The government blocked a royal commission into misconduct in the banking sector in this country by one vote. The government was able to pass its flawed citizenship legislation through the House this past week by one vote. The government was able to cut school funding by $22 billion by one vote. The government has been able to inflict cut after cut to Medicare by one vote. It was able to make changes to the pension assets test, which affects 1,800 pensioners in my electorate, by one vote. It has been able to cut the energy supplement, designed to help pensioners to pay their power bills, by one vote. And when Labor tried to restore the penalty rates of 700,000 working Australians in hospitality, pharmacy and fast food, the government blocked our attempt by one vote.
Australians are entitled to ask: what does this government have to say to people struggling, with wages growth at its lowest level since records were kept? What does it have to say to workers in my electorate who have lost jobs in auto manufacturing and are worrying about what the future holds? What does it have to say to families and pensioners who are being overwhelmed by power prices that are out of control? What does it say to young people being priced out of an education and priced out of buying a home? What does it have to say to Australians who are worried about handing on a lower standard of living to the next generation? With this abysmal record, it's only natural that the people of Australia are questioning the legitimacy of this government, and we know the High Court will determine the legitimacy of this government. We all question the legitimacy of this government's austerity program that targets the most vulnerable Australians—with a Centrelink robo-debt program that went after pensioners, students and the disabled—and targets the working class. It's absolutely obscene. Legitimacy does not come with just one vote; it comes through a vision of fairness.
For working Australians, penalty rates mean the difference between paying the food bill and the electricity bill. How many on the government benches even understand the choices that some Australians have to make when they have to make a decision between buying clothes for their kids or paying the electricity bill? This is about priorities, and the priorities of this government are all wrong. We, Labor, are focused on the people of Australia and our plans for a better future for this nation. A Shorten Labor government will take action on housing affordability and climate change. A Labor government will deliver budget repair that is fair. And the tragedy of all this, with all the questions this week swirling around about the legitimacy of this government, is that the government is so focused on its own drama, its own conspiracy theories and its own incompetence that it has lost sight of the very reason that it is here, and that is to serve the people of Australia.
It's with great joy that I take the opportunity to rise today on this motion, because it gives us the opportunity to paint a picture between white and black, between right and wrong, and between what we stand for and what the opposition stand for. Of course, those opposite are all leaving now! If you look at what this side of the House stands for and what we've been able to deliver in the short time that we've been in government, you'll see that what we stand for is honesty and integrity in government. We have restored the Australian Building and Construction Commission after that lot on the other side of the House decimated it when they were in government. We passed the new Australian Building Code. We passed the registered organisations bill and the corrupting benefits bill. Of course, when we talk about industrial relations, they head for the doors!
Run away, run away—that's right! They know that they have absolutely not a shred of respectability when it comes to industrial relations. It's very sad, because what it's doing is costing our country billions of dollars a year because of the corruption that goes on between the Labor Party and the union movement. Not all unions are corrupt—I accept that—and not all union members are corrupt. What we are against on this side of the House is corrupt unions. What have they given on the other side? What do they stand for on the other side? They stand for secret deals between unions and employers. They stand for corrupt benefits. They voted against our legislation on corrupting benefits. They give away penalty rates. They stand here and they, with the greatest amount of sanctimony, talk to us about—
Deputy Speaker, I'm always reluctant to intervene in the MPI, but when the member alleges that members on this side of the House stand for corruption, I would ask that you ask him to withdraw.
The other side, with great sanctimony, talk about penalty rates. But it was in fact Bill Shorten, when he was the head of the AWU, who sold his workers out—the most disenfranchised, the most lowly paid workers. He sold them out; he threw them under a bus. And for what? So that his own AWU could get secret commissions from those same employers they did dodgy deals with. And it turns out there are all sorts of grubby, dodgy deals being done between the AWU and GetUp!, and in fact the Leader of the Opposition, who's seen, as it turns out, payments being made to his election campaigns. To add salt to the wound, they then set out to try to discredit one of Australia's greatest jurists and undermine the Heydon royal commission—very, very sad, particularly when you look at the number of legal professionals on the other side of the House, that they would go and do that.
But it's not just about industrial relations. The difference between us and them is stark in relation to taxes. On our side of the House we've got an agenda to provide and promote jobs and growth. We've achieved record job numbers. Just today we've found out that there were 240,000 new jobs in the last financial year, the strongest full-time jobs growth in 40 years, with 210,800 jobs added just in the past six months—and I see the other side have gone awfully, awfully quiet! Unemployment dropped down to 5.6 per cent, with jobs growth at two per cent—10 times the rate of growth. The Turnbull government are all about jobs—make no mistake about that—and we are getting on with the job.
But it's not just about jobs; it's about security. We are getting on with the things that are important to Australians, whilst the other lot, over on the other side of the House—what are they concentrating on? They're concentrating on doing things like arguing about two seconds. The member for Watson was arguing about two seconds today.