Senate debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Constitution Alteration (Local Government) 2013; Second Reading

7:49 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

It is an affront to our democracy that the Greens-ALP alliance is guillotining this fundamentally important piece of legislation, legislation designed to change our Constitution, the foundation block of our parliamentary system and Commonwealth powers. There is no doubt that this legislation will enhance central control over local government. We as a coalition have said that we will not stand in the way of debate or prevent this question from going forward to the Australian people. But what we have said and reminded the government of time and time again is this: their own expert panel, led by Mr Spiegelman, has told them that now is not the right time. So it begs the question: why are Labor doing it, aided and abetted by the Australian Greens and the so-called country Independents in the other place? We have heard no answer.

Secondly, the independent Australian Electoral Commission has told the government that, to run a successful referendum, one should have at least a 27-week lead-in time. We now know that that will not be possible; at most, it will be 18 weeks—in other words, truncated by one-third. Why was it so necessary to put this question up now? Again, Labor do not provide any answer. It is not that they do not provide a comprehensible answer; it is simply that they have none and they provide none.

The third factor in this debate, which I think is the most egregious, is this: the skewed funding for the 'Yes' and 'No' cases, to a factor of 20 to one. It is as unprecedented as it is unprincipled.

For Mr Howard, the staunch monarchist that he was, when there was a proposal to put before the Australian people a plebiscite in relation to whether or not Australia should become a republic, it went completely without second thought that the 'Yes' and 'No' cases should be equally funded. It has thus been and should continue to be.

You see, from the coalition point of view, we believe that the integrity of the process is just as, indeed more, important than the question that is to be put to the Australian people. But as is Labor's wont, they think they can always buy results: see a problem; throw money at it; problem gone. Swamp it with taxpayers' dollars, and the problem is gone. I think the Australian people in their commitment to the underdog will ensure the failure of that particular strategy.

I also remind those opposite that they, in this last budget, had to cut the asbestos agency by $1.8 million before it was even established—that is their commitment to the workers suffering from asbestos related diseases. But we have got $10 million for an advertising campaign on the local government referendum and we have got $22 million to promote the government's National Disability Insurance Scheme, which has bipartisan support. There is no need to advertise that other than for blatant political purposes, and that gives you an insight into the government's priorities. It is not a pretty sight. It is highly ugly.

We have got more than enough money for a skewed 'Yes' campaign, we have got more than enough money for a de facto political campaign on the NDIS with taxpayers' money but, no, we do not have enough money to set up the asbestos agency as we should because there is not $1.8 million available. And where is the trade union movement in all of this? It is nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be heard. It is an absolute abdication by the trade union leadership of this country. They are more interested in their own future preselection prospects than they are in genuinely looking after the needs of Australian workers.

The fourth outrage in all of this is the gag debate today. Let me remind the leader of the government in this place what he said in relation to certain legislation that the Howard government gagged. Yes, we did guillotine legislation. But with all of these things it is always a matter of proportion. I remind those opposite of the 32 bills in a full three years, which was railed against as an outrage against democracy, an undermining of the Senate, and so the rhetoric went on. And here we are today voting at the end of this week for 216 guillotined bills—6½ times the number under the Howard government. Where is the outrage from the absent press gallery on this? Why are their keyboards not tapping away like they did just those few years ago? This is what Senator Conroy had to say on that occasion: this guillotine had the effect of preventing 10 speakers from stating their views on this legislation. Well, tonight's gag will be denying 15. So where is Senator Conroy? He is very quiet. The hypocrisy oozes out of every pore of this Greens-Labor alliance.

Whilst I am on the Greens, let us recall the alliance agreement, signed on 1 September 2010. Do you know what the first principle was of this great alliance? Principle 2A was that the parties agreed to work together to pursue the following principles: transparent and accountable government, and improved process and integrity of parliament. We now know that this document is as useful as a used tissue—to be discarded without a second thought, completely and utterly irrelevant. There is no intention by the Australian Greens to have these policies implemented. So tonight we will continue with a rolling guillotine that was described by Senator Conroy as absolutely arrogant. The Australian Greens parade themselves as this protector of the Australian parliament, especially the Senate. Senator Milne told us. Yet since the Howard government got control of the Senate that commitment to government integrity and accountability has indeed been a false one.

If that was the case with 32 guillotines, what does it tell us about the 216 guillotines in which Senator Milne herself has been complicit, and which Senator Milne and the Australian Greens have voted for, each and every one? How do the Greens look at themselves in the mirror of a morning and say, 'Yes, we signed up for a transparent and accountable government; we signed up to improve process and integrity of the parliament,' when they have wilfully voted, day after day, year after year, now, in this 43rd Parliament, for over 216 guillotines on very important legislation?

So self-righteous are the Greens that they want at least 2½ hours dedicated each week to their private member's bills—chances are, a good policy. It is a pity they could not allow 2½ hours devoted to each and every bill that comes before this place, such as the Gonski review legislation. 'Oh no, no 2½ hours needed for that legislation; we know it all'—just like they knew it all about the carbon tax which they guillotined. What a great success that one was! What a great success the mining tax which they guillotined was!

And so we have 216 bills to be guillotined in the most shameful and arrogant display by any government.

In concluding, I simply say this: the Senate is at its best and at its safest when the Liberal Party and National Party coalition has control here, because we now know that when the Greens-Labor alliance has control the guillotine becomes a daily, if not an hourly, occurrence.


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