Wednesday, 19 September 2018
I was in continuation when we suspended this discussion prior to senators' statements earlier today. I indicated then that I would go through some background in relation to the address-in-reply because it's been some time since we addressed this debate. I was highlighting that it's with some surprise that we are now occupying government business time with this debate rather than any agenda that the Morrison government might seek to progress before the Senate.
The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove, addressed both houses of the parliament on 30 August 2016. The day after the address-in-reply was listed for debate in the Senate, Senator Hume moved that the address-in-reply be agreed to. Fortunately for the government, the Senate agreed to suspend standing order 34 enabling the Senate to consider business other than that of a formal character before the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech was adopted. That was fortunate, because His Excellency's speech was some two years ago. Here we are still debating the address-in-reply, and we can't escape the glaring fact that this is to fill a spot in the program because the Morrison Liberals don't have enough business. More surprising, too, is that the draft red for tomorrow lists this as the Morrison government's principal item, again, for debate tomorrow. There is still no agenda. This week, we have seen senator after senator on the government side of the chamber line up to waste time and speak repetitively on bills that the opposition and the majority of senators have agreed with. We've even had the farcical spectacle of government senators voting to block Labor's moves to pass the government's bills expeditiously. This occurred twice on Monday.
I'd like to briefly reflect on the stark differences on the handling of this matter between the two houses of the parliament. The Speaker of House of Representatives delivered the address-in-reply to His Excellency at Government House in Yarralumla on Tuesday, 23 May 2017—well over a year ago. In this chamber we have instead seen a legislative program dominated by bills that focus on the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government's obsession with union bashing or helping its mates at the big end of town. For example, we wasted an inordinate amount of time around the enterprise tax bill, which would have seen big businesses get a $65 billion tax cut. There have also been the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the registered organisations bills that the government failed to pass before the last election and used as a trigger for the double dissolution election in 2016—ironically, the bills that led us to this address-in-reply.
What this highlights is that the government has run out of steam. We're only debating this two years on from when this parliament first met, because the Morrison government has no agenda and is simply trying to stack its legislative program with place fillers, like this, that should have been finalised long ago. In fact, this delay in finalising this matter is disrespectful to the Governor-General and should have been addressed some time ago.
Finally, I would like to also make the point that the Prime Minister under whom we are debating this address-in-reply today is not the same Prime Minister who was in office when His Excellency actually delivered the opening speech outlining the Turnbull government's agenda. So we are still technically debating the Turnbull government's agenda. Not only do we have a government that has no agenda and no reason to be in office but we also have a Prime Minister who rolled the former Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, for no apparent reason—well, at least not a reason that any government member, other than perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister, has been able to explain to the Australian people.
Don't get me wrong. The Governor-General's opening speech is a very important process and institution in the parliament, but it shouldn't be used by those opposite as a means of covering up that they are a government in name only. They don't have a plan. They are divided and dramatically disunified and really should be calling an election as soon as possible so that the Australian people can have their say on this chaos that continues to engulf the Liberal Party. They should give the Australian people an opportunity to elect a Labor government that has a clear, fair and responsible plan that is focused on delivering for this nation, for the Australian community, and not just for themselves.