Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Statements by Senators

Coalition Government

12:52 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This Liberal government is now eight years old and if it were a child it would be in grade 3. It would have lost some baby teeth. It would know how to read and write. It would be learning some valuable life lessons. So let's look back on this eight-year-old government and see just how they're tracking against the key lessons that all Australians try to teach their children. Lesson 1 is actions speak louder than words. When the pandemic started, Prime Minister Morrison thanked our essential workers time and again but the pandemic only magnified just how dangerous insecure work and low wages are, and just how many essential workers are themselves insecure. Did the Prime Minister show his thanks with a good, secure jobs plan? No. Did he show his thanks with a rise in real wages? No. Did he show his thanks by fighting against wage theft? No, no, no. Instead, he introduced a bill to parliament that would have cut workers' wages and increased their job insecurity—fail.

Lesson 2 is take responsibility. We've seen over the past few years that Prime Minister Morrison is not a huge fan of this life lesson. On the devastating bushfires he told us that he doesn't hold a hose. On the tragic deaths in aged care last year he told us that it's a problem for the states. On the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins, metres from his office, he said he didn't know about it. On the allegations against Minister Porter, he said he didn't read them. On vaccines and quarantine facilities, again, it's a matter for the states. Whatever the situation, if it casts a bad light on himself or his government Prime Minister Morrison refuses to take responsibility. When we say, 'Wash your hands, Prime Minister,' we don't mean of everything.

Lesson 3 is respect your elders. Aged care has been in crisis for so long now, long before the pandemic started, but the Morrison government has failed to act time and again for a sector that is in desperate need of help. They sat on report after report as the horror stories unfolded. Even today, after the royal commission and after the budget, there is still no plan to deliver the stable, well-trained workforce that must be the foundation of our aged-care system. Workers are still in need of good, secure jobs, and there can be no solution to the aged-care crisis without them. Our elders in aged care and the workers who care for them deserve so much better from this government. Fail.

Lesson 4 is don't kick people while they're down. This has been a hard lesson for this government to learn. Robodebt was introduced by the Prime Minister himself. It was a nasty scheme that targeted vulnerable Australians with illegal debt notices. It destroyed lives; tragically, it led to suicides. The Liberals purposely targeted vulnerable Australians on income support. They only stopped when they were dragged into court. They've now been forced to pay back $1.8 billion to the Australians they hounded. Last week, a judge described robodebt as a 'shameful chapter' and a 'massive failure' after hearing what he called 'heart-wrenching stories' of pain and anguish from victims. Fail.

Lesson 5 is learn from your mistakes. After 21 breaches in hotel quarantine across the country, you would think that the Morrison government would realise that their approach is not working and that more needs to be done to keep Australians safe and to keep Australia running. You would think they would realise that it is time for them to step up and build safe, fit-for-purpose national quarantine facilities, as they were told to do by their hand-picked advisor Jane Halton last October. How many more breaches in hotel quarantine do we need to have before this government realises that it isn't working? How many more before they commit to building open-air facilities in every state and territory? Fail.

Lesson 6 is be honest and tell the truth. This one has been particularly tricky for the Morrison government. This government just hasn't been the most transparent and honest of governments. From sports rorts to safer seats rorts, from airport rorts to jobs for mates, this government seems to have a problem with honesty and transparency. They are eight years old but have failed to establish the national integrity commission that Australians so want to see to help restore their faith in government. Fail.

Lesson 7 is value your education. Over their term in office, the Liberal government have slashed apprenticeships and gutted funding from TAFEs right around Australia. Last year Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, pushed through a bill that cut a billion dollars from university funding, put uni jobs at risk and doubled the cost of uni degrees for thousands of Australians, making it harder for people to even access university, especially women. Fail.

Lesson 8 is to share. During the pandemic, Prime Minister Morrison was pushed into a nationwide wage subsidy for Australian workers and businesses. Who did he choose to exclude? He chose thousands of Australia's most insecure workers: casual workers, hospitality workers, gig workers, university workers and more—workers in some of the hardest hit and most insecure industries. Yet big and profitable businesses like Harvey Norman were able to pocket JobKeeper and still don't have to repay the millions of dollars the government handed out to them. After excluding so many insecure workers, Prime Minister Morrison then told them to smash open their piggy banks and raid their own super. Instead of sharing the burden equally and helping all Australians, he told some of the most insecure Australians to fund their own pandemic support. Fail.

Lesson 9 is treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Apparently the Morrison government needs empathy training to understand this basic lesson that Australians try to teach their own children. Recently, Prime Minister Morrison couldn't even sympathise with Brittany Higgins until he looked at her through the lens of a father and his daughters. He is still actively supporting a known miscreant in his party room: Andrew Laming, the member for Bowman, who harasses the women in his community that he is meant to represent. The Prime Minister speaks over women in his own party when they are being asked about women's issues within his government and, time and again, Prime Minister Morrison has failed to stand up for women. He has failed to stand up for the women in his party, for the women in this parliament and for the women of Australia—fail, fail, fail!

Lesson 10 is to apologise when you are in the wrong. Despite all the harm and all the hurt that this government has left in its wake, saying sorry seems to be the hardest thing to do for the Morrison government. It's always, 'I regret,' or, 'I'm sorry you felt that way.' Maybe one of these days this government will finally learn the difference between skirting around the S-word and a genuine apology, the genuine apology that so many Australians deserve from this government.

The Morrison government has failed the basic tests that we want all children to pass, the tests that mean a child will eventually grow up into a well-rounded adult, a responsible and kind person who treats people with respect and plays their part. So will this government ever grow up? Will it grow up and do better? Or can Australians just expect more of the same—a tax on wages and job security, a tax on vulnerable Australians, more rorts, more lies, more cover-ups, disrespect for the women of this country, more buck passing and more blame shifting? Australians have had enough of waiting for this eight-year government to finally grow up and to finally learn the life lessons that everyone else in our community seems to understand.


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