Wednesday, 5 December 2018
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent:
(1) private Members' business order of the day No. 17 relating to the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Indi being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business, except for Question Time, for final determination by the House;
(2) immediately on conclusion of consideration of the National Integrity Commission Bill 2018, private Members' business order of the day No. 23 relating to the Coal-fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Melbourne, being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business, with the exception of Question Time, for final determination by the House;
(3) immediately on conclusion of consideration of the Coal-fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2018, private Members' business order of the day No. 25 relating to the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 standing in the name of the Member for Wentworth, being called on immediately and being given priority over all other business, with the exception of Question Time, for final determination by the House;
(4) notwithstanding the above, if the leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business agree that order of the day No. 1 relating to the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018 should be given priority, then that order of the day shall be given priority over all other business, provided that the orders referred to in (1) to (3) above must be finally determined pursuant to (5) below; and
(5) if consideration of the orders of the day has not been completed by 7.30 pm on Wednesday, 5 December, any questions necessary to complete the House's consideration of the orders of the day being put to the House immediately and without delay or intervening debate.
We've now got a day and a half of this power-sharing parliament left this year. What is crystal clear is that the Australian people want issues brought up and resolved here that currently the government is trying to hide and stop us from resolving. So we need to suspend standing orders not just to debate these very important private members' bills, which I'll go to in a moment, but to allow them to be brought on for a vote. What is crystal clear is that there is a majority in both houses of this parliament now that want urgent action on climate change, want action on a national integrity commission and want to see better treatment for people that we are currently locking up, to the point where, within the next day—within the next hours—their health is at risk. What we need to do is to make the best use of this last day and a half, not by debating what the government has on the agenda—which is working out how we can take money away from universities and increase fees for students—but, instead, by debating these very important bills.
We need a national anticorruption commission in this parliament. Just in the last few days, both houses of parliament have resolved that we should establish one. For the first time ever, a motion that the Greens put through the Senate found its way to the House, and both houses of parliament have said, 'Let's set up a national anticorruption watchdog.' But, despite having days to do something about it, the government has done nothing. Here we are, left with a day and a half of this sitting calendar, and the government has done nothing.
We need to suspend standing orders so that we can debate the member for Indi's bill and send it through this House up to the Senate. People have said that there are things that need to be changed in the member for Indi's anticorruption bill. They can be looked at. When the matter comes to the Senate, I am sure the Senate will do its job and look at the amendments that need to be raised and find ways of doing that. But the Senate won't get the chance to do that if the current government continues to stall and prevent us from taking steps to have a national anticorruption watchdog before Christmas. So we must suspend standing orders to allow us to debate the member for Indi's bill. It is a very good working model, one that can be improved, and the Greens have brought amendments into the Senate to improve it. But let's get on with it and let's stop dragging our heels.
If you ask most people in the country, 'What would you rather have parliament spend its last day and a half debating—ways of lifting fees for students and cutting funding for universities, or establishing an anticorruption watchdog?' I know what they would say. I hope the government agrees to this motion to prioritise the establishment of an anticorruption watchdog, which we now know both houses of parliament want. What we also know is that, if we leave here in a day and a half with the laws as they are, this government is going to spend the summer months working out how to take money that could be going to schools and hospitals and give it to coal-fired power stations. That's why this motion is so urgent.
The government have said that they want a scheme in place over summer to start handing out, shovelling, public money either to keep coal-fired power stations open longer and allow the refurbishment of them or potentially even to go and build new ones. This is environmental madness, but it is also economic madness. It is going to expose the taxpayer to billions and billions of dollars of potential compensation, because the energy minister is saying, 'I might even underwrite their carbon risk in case a future government decides to take action on climate change.' It is urgent that we deal with this now, because those contracts could be signed over summer. We have seen in Victoria what happens when a government that is on its way out booby-traps the budget for a subsequent government. We saw it with the East West Link. They knew that the opposition didn't like it, but they nonetheless went ahead and signed contracts, and it cost us over a billion dollars. Let's prevent it this time by passing a law which says that the government can do what it wants, but it can't dole out money to coal-fired power stations.
What could be more urgent than the health and wellbeing of children who are currently locked up in detention and of adults who are being brought to the point of destruction? If we go back a few weeks ago, we had reports of 12-year-old children trying to kill themselves in detention centres under our watch. We now know that the people who are on Manus and Nauru, who are under the Australian government's care, are now at breaking point. They need to be given the medical attention they deserve, and they need to be given it immediately. We are not talking about something that can wait until later—until next year. That's why standing orders have to be suspended. We have to give them medical care now. If any of our children were sick, we would get them to the doctor straightaway. But what we've got is children who we should treat as our own because they are under the Australian government's care now threatening and, in some instances, attempting to kill themselves. They are in urgent need of medical attention, and they just cannot get it in the places where they are. They're locked up, or as good as locked up, and it is affecting their health. We must bring them, and the other people who doctors say are in need of medical attention that they can't currently get on Manus and Nauru, here for medical assistance as soon as possible.
The member for Wentworth has brought forward a bill, cosponsored by me and, I think, the member for Denison, to say: let's bring them here. It is a bill that is perfectly consistent with the policies of the other political parties in this place. There is a bill that would now ensure that these people get the urgent medical attention that they need. There can be no basis for opposing this motion, because what could be more urgent than getting people the medical help that they need? If the government do not support this motion, they have to explain why they are not prepared to listen to doctors' advice and give these people the medical assistance they need. The supreme irony is that the Minister for Home Affairs, who is not here, has said that he can't be here because he follows doctor's advice. I guess there's always a first time for everything! We have no confidence, sitting here on the crossbench, that that minister is going to do what the doctors say. Why we need legislation and why we need it urgently is so that people can get the care that they deserve.
Another matter that the government and the opposition have said is urgent and needs to be dealt with is encryption. I don't share that view about the urgency of the whole package of bills, nor do I share the view that this bill needs to be passed. I think it's a bill that deserves great scrutiny. There are huge alarm bells being rung not just by people concerned about civil liberties but by the tech sector, who are saying, 'This legislation, in many instances, is really going to make it difficult for us to stay in Australia.' In my view, that is legislation that should be dealt with through the usual processes, but respect the fact that the government has a different view and the opposition may have a different view as well.
A provision is included in this suspension motion to allow them to bump that up the agenda if they want. If they consider it so urgent, the numbers are the numbers so they can bring it on and debate it. It cannot be said that in any way we are getting in the way of important government business here, because nothing could be more important than restoring faith in this place by debating and establishing an anticorruption commission; nothing could be more important than stopping the government walking out of here in two days time with a blank chequebook exposing Australian taxpayers to billions of dollars of risk, because of their fetish for coal, because they are still under the control of a hard rump of climate denialists; and nothing could be more important than making sure that people who are under our care get the medical attention that they need.
I commend this motion and I urge the government to support it, so that we can debate and vote on what is important to the Australian people.
The government doesn't support the motion proposed by the member for Melbourne. The government has a full agenda for the remaining day and a half of sittings for this calendar year and is anxious to get on with it.
I do acknowledge that the range of issues that were raised by the member for Melbourne are significant and are serious, but the government also has plans in place to deal with each of those matters he has discussed in the legislation proposed by himself and the crossbench.
In particular, I'd point to the government's agenda today in relation to reducing the cost of living through introducing legislation dealing with the household energy costs, which are a critical part of this government's agenda. This government has taken deliberate action in relation to energy security and reliability of supply, but also in terms of ensuring that individual householders get the benefit of legislation that will put downward pressure on the cost of living for businesses and, in particular, for households.
We have a full agenda before us today. Just moments ago the member for Wannon was introducing legislation importantly dealing with a range of matters. In particular, the member for Wannon is keen for his legislation, as Minister for Education, in relation to the cost recovery mechanism for the higher education bills ,which are bills that form part of this government's strong economic plan. This government has a deliberate and strong plan in relation to providing for a safer, stronger and better Australia where everyone can get ahead. It is important that the motion to suspend standing orders not be agreed to, because it allows the government to get on with its plan for the future of our nation.
In particular, I refer to the government's agenda in relation to the border protection measures that the member for Melbourne referred to in his motion. The border protection measures this government has been able to bring into place have meant that most children have been removed from Nauru, and people are receiving the benefit of Australian taxpayer funded medical assistance if they are still on Nauru. It is critical that this government be allowed to continue with strong border protection measures to make sure that we don't add to the number of people in detention. In relation to the member for Melbourne's motion and the urgency dealing with that matter, the government has already taken action in that regard.
In relation to the member for Melbourne's questions with regard to the urgency associated with climate change, as I referred to earlier, this government has taken action in relation to making sure that we meet our targets, our international commitments, in relation to reducing our emissions but also ensuring that the reliability and affordability of energy is attended to for the benefit of businesses, for the benefit of jobs and particularly—I would note in the presence of the member for Maranoa, the minister for agriculture—for the productivity of our nation. There are many, many agricultural businesses value-adding to the products that are grown in his electorate and mine, which are highly dependent on this government's agenda in terms of reducing the cost of energy, and affordability and reliability of supply.
Again, I would say that the suspension of standing orders should not be supported, because the government already has an agenda in relation to ensuring that reliability and affordability of energy is delivered but also we meet our environmental commitments as a good international citizen.
In relation to the matters raised by the member for Melbourne regarding the National Integrity Commission, the government has an agenda, and I think there's agreement across the chamber. I think the government has an agenda in terms of ensuring the integrity of this place, and there is a general commitment in that regard, and the government is working with the opposition in that regard as well.
Just on the point regarding the government's agenda for the remainder of today, in just a few moments time I was intending to introduce the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill, and that should be allowed to continue. This government takes seriously its commitment to the Australian Defence Force and to our veteran community, and it is critical that the government be allowed to proceed with that agenda as the day progresses. In relation to our serving personnel and making sure they receive the support they require, I think the Defence Legislation Amendment Bill is an important piece of legislation that should be allowed to be introduced in the normal course of business as we continue to provide for the safety and security of our Defence Force personnel but also as we look after our veterans and their families as they transition out of the Defence Force.
One aspect of that bill which is particularly significant—and this is why it should be allowed to be introduced in the normal course of business today—deals with our Reserves. The Reserves are such an important part of the Defence Force capability. You'll know, I'm sure, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, from your own experience in your electorate, that the Reserves add a level of additional capability to the Australian Defence Force that is the envy of many other defence forces around the world. Making sure that any issues relating to that defence service can be properly respected in the workplace is important. The legislation I was about to introduce—and, hopefully, will be introducing in a few moments time—deals with making sure that any issues of dispute with employers, if there are any concerns about how the employers are handling the Reserve service of Australian Defence Force personnel, can be properly mediated by the Chief of the Defence Force. It's an important piece of legislation which I hope to have the opportunity to introduce to the House in just a few moments time.
The other piece of legislation I referred to just a moment ago relates to ensuring the reliability of energy supply and ensuring that the cost of living for households is addressed in this place. How we're going to take action to reduce the cost of living for individual Australians is, I think, probably one of the most significant issues, if not the most significant issue, that get raised with many of my colleagues on this side of the House, and I'd be surprised if it's not for members on the other side of the House and, in fact, for those on the crossbench. I know you travel throughout many parts of Australia, Mr Deputy Speaker, as does the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. As I travel around regional Australia, the concern the public have in regard to making sure they can afford to put their air-conditioners on and can afford to warm their houses in winter is a fundamental issue, particularly for older Australians. This government is taking action to protect older Australians from inappropriate behaviour by the large gentailers. We are taking action to ensure that their power supply is reliable and, of course, as I mentioned earlier, that we deal with issues in relation to our national emissions targets.
The suspension of standing orders shouldn't be supported, because the government has a full agenda ahead for the rest of this sitting day and also going into tomorrow. This government has a strong record of achievement. By proceeding with its own agenda, it has been able to ensure that our economy is stronger. We've seen record job creation over the past five years. We've seen vast improvements to the budget bottom line, so much so that, in 2019, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are expecting to announce a budget surplus ahead of schedule, and we've seen vast improvements in relation to economic growth across the community. So the government's agenda should be allowed to be implemented and the suspension of standing orders should be rejected, because we have more work to do. We have more work to do here in this place and more work to do in the community. I would encourage those opposite to not support the suspension of the standing orders, in recognition that this government is getting on with the job of delivering, as I said, record employment, with more than a million jobs over five years—
The Manager of Opposition Business is sceptical of the claims I'm making, but if he lets me have an extension of time perhaps I can go into more detail about this government's record of achievement. The reason why the government should be allowed to continue with our agenda for today and tomorrow is simply that we do have a strong record of achievement. There is more to be done, and we are getting on with doing it. So it's about making sure that we have a safer Australia, a stronger Australia and a better Australia where everyone can get ahead. Our economic plan is delivering that. Our policies in relation to border protection are delivering that. Our policies in relation to energy and the cost of living are delivering that, as well as our policies in relation to education and health. We've seen increases in funding available across the Australian economy to improve the situation in all communities, large and small. And, as the minister for agriculture pointed out, our policies in relation to drought are delivering relief and benefits for our farming sector.
It's important that the government gets on with delivering its agenda. That agenda, through strong economic management and a strong economic plan, has meant that these types of bills that we're introducing here today are affordable. They are delivering outcomes for all Australians. The government will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders.
I want to thank the member for Denison for reserving his right to speak, which has given me the opportunity to explain very briefly why the opposition will be supporting this suspension motion.
The minister at the table says he thought he had me. He was making some compelling points until he decided that this was an adjudication on whether or not the government is getting on with the job. You had me; you gave it away with one line! Let's not forget what we've been willing to suspend standing orders for. We were willing to suspend the entire parliament, and I participated in suspending the entire parliament, so that we could deal with new laws about strawberries, which were then never used. But we decided that it was important enough to stop the parliament for. Surely if we did that then the state of health and medical advice for people in an extraordinary predicament at the moment with respect to the migration amendment that's before us is a reason for the parliament to pause and say, 'Let's deal with that.' Surely, in the same way, dealing with a national integrity commission, given the views of both houses of parliament, is an issue that is worth having the parliament stop and make sure we deal with it. There will still be time for the different ministers to introduce their bills. There's no doubt that will still be done. Might I add that not only will that be done but also the bills that are being introduced aren't going to be voted on today anyway. In fact, the bill that the minister referred to won't be voted on until February next year at the earliest—if at all, because, as we know, there are only 10 days in eight months to be able to deal with legislation. If they had thought the bill they were introducing today was particularly urgent, they would have put forward a very different sitting calendar.
I also want to thank the crossbench and the member for Melbourne for making sure—even though the member for Melbourne has a different view on the bill—that the motion provides that, if there is agreement between the government and the opposition on national security legislation, it will still be allowed to be brought on and dealt with at any point. I think what we have in front of us is a very reasonable set of bills that have been put forward by the crossbench. There is no doubt that these issues are more urgent than simply introducing bills that will not be dealt with by February—and probably, realistically, a whole lot of them won't make it through the parliament until August or September at the earliest. With that in mind, the opposition is happy to support the suspension of standing orders that's in front of us.