Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Council of Australian Governments

3:24 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Today Senator Cormann was given an opportunity to explain why the government has cancelled the October COAG meeting. If you listen to Senator Cormann's response, you could be forgiven for thinking that a COAG meeting is just like any other meeting—it can be cancelled and there are no repercussions in relation to that. But, of course, we know that COAG is actually 'the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia'—and I'm quoting from the COAG website:

COAG was established in 1992 … to manage matters of national significance or matters that need co-ordinated action by all Australian governments.

Senator Cormann was correct when he said that, in his response, it was a non-response to the question as to why COAG was cancelled. He indicated COAG normally meets twice a year, and that will happen. In fact, yes, that's true; COAG does usually meet twice a year. However, according to the website:

… it will meet when needed and at times it has met up to four times in a year. COAG may also settle issues out-of-session by correspondence.

…   …   …

COAG's agenda is broad-ranging and focusses on improving the current and future wellbeing of all Australians.

The website goes on to say:

COAG has a strong record of driving reforms that have improved the lives of all Australians. For example, micro-economic reform linked to national competition policy in the mid-1990s …

and:

COAG will continue to drive reforms that are vital to Australia’s future.

This is not just any meeting; this is a peak intergovernmental meeting across Australia. At the last minute, the Prime Minister started ringing around various premiers and chief ministers to advise them of the cancellation of COAG. So, when given an opportunity to explain why, the government today has squibbed that opportunity to explain why this peak intergovernmental forum has been cancelled.

This is not the first time that the government has failed to give an answer to the 'why' question. We know that, when persistently asked about why Prime Minister Turnbull had to go, the government is completely at their wit's end to explain why. We have essentially seen a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic here. A Prime Minister is knifed. We have a new Prime Minister. The Australian people want to know what happened, and we don't get an answer.

The cancellation of COAG is from the same government that one Prime Minister ago decided to cancel parliament. All Australians will remember 23 August—that amazing day when the House of Representatives was shut down, apparently at the request of Minister Dutton, in relation to the turmoil that was engulfing the government at that time in the lead-up to the leadership spill. That was a most extraordinary step by this government to basically abandon some key democratic principles of allowing the parliament to continue to debate the top issues of our country, and what arrogance and absolute disregard for the Australian people we saw in that step to cancel the sitting of the House of Representatives. I'm sure all Australians are disgusted by that event.

Of course, this government is at war with itself. It is hopelessly divided, and a government that is divided and warring with itself cannot be focused on the issues that are important to the Australian people. We, on this side, are focused on the key issues. Health, education and energy policy were some of the things that were going to be discussed at the COAG meeting—we want the chance to talk about those things. We want to talk about the cruel funding cuts that have been inflicted on Queensland hospitals and Queensland schools. Our candidate for Petrie, Corinne Mulholland, is so fed up with cuts to schools in the electorate of Petrie that she's brought the message down to Canberra this week. I know Corinne has met with Ms Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to talk about the impact of these Liberal cuts on her local schools. A couple of those that are most eye-watering are the North Lakes State College, at $2½ million, and the Redcliffe State High School, at $1.13 million. We need a government that will get on with the job. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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