Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Council of Australian Governments

3:14 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I suppose we'd have to throw a shout-out there to Senator Molan for soldiering on in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But I suppose he's well experienced in soldiering on in the face of adversity. The simple facts do not sustain his contribution, and, in taking note of Senator Wong's question to and the answer from Senator Cormann, I'd like to point out a couple of really interesting facts. We have headlines which say that the Hon. Scott Morrison has cancelled the Council of Australian Governments meeting in order to address his bullying policy. It's a headline which we all know will be contested, but it just goes to show the state of dysfunction and disunity that is apparent on the other side.

I want to go, more particularly, to the real business of government. Have the charter letters been issued to every minister that was sworn in in the short period of time since that happened? I can point you to one explicit area of policy that I'm very familiar with, which is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In the oversight committee that looks after that—having been a member of it since 2013—there have been about five responsible ministers in that space. There have been four assistant ministers in that space. There have been three coalition chairs in that space. There have been two CEOs and two new chairs of the board. So how is it possible that you can be prepared for a COAG meeting if you have a continual stream of musical chairs? When the music stops, you sit down, find a seat and find a ministry.

I have nothing but cordial relationships with the Hon. Dan Tehan. I've had very good experiences working with him in the area of veterans affairs. The Hon. Dan Tehan has had seven ministerial appointments in two years and seven months. He has had three portfolios in the last nine months. People could go their entire career of two or three terms as a senator in this place and not have as many portfolios. How is it possible that you can govern coherently and effectively deal with the states and territories when you hardly have your ministers in place in a portfolio for three months? The Hon. Simon Birmingham, an adversary across the chamber but a good elected South Australian, has picked up trade. Now he's got to learn the trade portfolio and contribute. The Hon. Dan Tehan's got to pick up education. Put out the myriad of fights, get concise policy in place and then deal with COAG.

Is it any wonder why this new Prime Minister has cancelled COAG? He hasn't even got his ministers briefed about their portfolios. I would hazard a guess that some on that side have not even received their charter letters. We know, through the estimates process, that the charter letters between the Hon. Marise Payne and the Hon. Christopher Pyne took a very, very long time to work out. So how can you program meetings with the states and territories and the premiers and chief ministers of those states and territories if you haven't got your act together as a government? Clearly there is underlying turmoil which is not apparent to the general electorate. They see a Prime Minister go and they think, 'That's it; Prime Minister Turnbull's gone and the Hon. Scott Morrison is in.' But what lies underneath that is an enormous amount of change. It slows down process; it slows down government. It means they cannot effectively govern. When I looked at the proposed legislative schedule for the Senate last week, I saw an interesting item on there: the Governor-General's address-in-reply. That normally only comes up when you're a little bit thin on legislation.

Clearly Senator Molan, soldiering on in the face of adversity and soldiering on in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, did a reasonably good job of reading out things that they do and the fact they don't need meetings to do stuff. But you do need charter letters. You do need ministers who have coverage of their area of responsibility and an understanding of their area of responsibility—the briefings from the department and the view forward—otherwise what is the point of meeting with COAG? That's because, with COAG, the work is done incrementally, and on the day that they meet they will probably announce some reasonably effective stuff. I will leave you with this: young people left stranded in aged care. COAG was to address that.

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