Thursday, 23 June 2011
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Gillard Government, Live Animal Exports
Mr Deputy President, might I congratulate you on what will be your last take note debate.
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations (Senator Evans) and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to questions without notice asked by opposition senators today.
If you want the classic example of people who can walk the walk, fly the fly, travel around the world and create an absolute debacle in our trade with one of our most important neighbours, it is what the Australian Labor Party has done in regard to the live cattle trade. Not only did they fail to consult with the Western Australian government about one of the major industries in their state, not only did they fail to consult with their own colleagues in the Northern Territory about one of the major industries of the Northern Territory and not only did they fail to consult with Queensland; they also failed to consult with the country that we rely on for so much, including our border protection, the people of Indonesia.
This has been an absolute disaster, and we must note exactly where this is leading. We heard the demonstrators the other day down in Sydney and what they aspire to. What do my colleagues in the Senate aspire to? They aspire to a vegan society. We are about to all become vegans—we are about to transform ourselves from eating meat to being hunters and gatherers on the forest floor living on a diet of beetles and nuts!
Not beetles, yes, only nuts! But this is the absurd position.
And the damage is done. It has been an absolute blanket insult to a whole nation to say to them that we do not differentiate between those who are doing the wrong thing and those who are doing the right thing; we just think they are all doing the wrong thing. The whole nation is doing the wrong thing.
I stated this at the start: I said this would come unstuck. They have not read five steps ahead on this one, and now it is unstuck. And what do we have? We have a foreign minister who can hardly stay home. He almost needs a passport to get back into Australia. Where is he when we really need him, when we actually need him to go to work? He is here now—it is the only time we do not want him here but he is here. He has been away for 71 days. He was guiding the Arab rise and the Arab Spring. He was over there guiding the process in Libya. He was part of what was happening in Syria. He is everywhere but he is nowhere where he is needed. When something is of real importance to our nation, where is he? So help me—he is in the building stacking up numbers for his challenge. This is how disconnected this government has become. Everything is a reflection.
I certainly will. I accept your admonishment, Mr Deputy President. The former Prime Minister—and well may we remember that he is a former Prime Minister, especially today—before he was ceremoniously politically assassinated by his colleagues, who then ensconced a replacement who is polling at 27 per cent, is now the foreign minister and does not seem to want to stay in Australia. When we actually need him to do a job, when he actually has to go out and earn his salary, he has decided to stay home. Where is his ticker when we really need it? Where is his ticker when we need him at something that is just slightly more important than Kate's and Will's wedding? He can make it to Sunrise to talk about Kate's and Will's wedding, but he cannot make it to Indonesia to talk about one of our major exports.
This is causing major dislocation to the Indigenous people, the Indigenous workers of Northern Australia, to the people of the Transport Workers Union, who actually cart the cattle round, and to the people of the abattoirs in Indonesia. I hope that we are not differentiating between their right to work and ours. We have actually decided to leave them out as well. Where is it all going to finish? Indonesians now, if they wish now, can start sourcing their cattle from other places. This will do nothing to help animal husbandry.
And might I remind you that Animals Australia waited; we know that they had the vision for two months. They were quite happy to let the barbarity that they saw in those certain abattoirs continue for two months, until they could get media bang for their buck. We know that even back in January they had pictures and were discussing their plan of attack. Why didn't they do something about it in January? Why did they wait? Because this is about theatre, this is about bang for your buck, this is about transforming Australia to their nirvana—a vegan society. They want us to remove ourselves from the consumption of meat! And what do we have for this? No doubt Indonesia will look quietly across the borders at us and say: 'Australia just does not understand. Australia is completely out of touch.'
Congratulations, Mr Deputy President, on your last question time today. Congratulations also to Senators Trood and Barnett.
Senator Joyce concentrated on the question to Senator Ludwig, and I will touch on that briefly before I go to broader questions in question time today. Cheap quips and suggestions that we are turning into a vegan society aside, perhaps the only serious issues that Senator Joyce sought to address were those around consultation in these difficulties with live exports and Indonesia. But I do not recall the Howard government being particularly strong on consultation. I could think of countless examples of very poor behaviour and conduct. In fact, the very conduct that led the Howard government to going out of office was around its poor consultation—its very poor consultation on the Work Choices legislation, if I recall. That was the very point made the other day by Senator Minchin, I think, in his valedictory remarks.
So, if there is nothing more significant than these issues around his appraisal of poor consultation and the suggestion that Australia is turning into a vegan society, it is very hard to take Senator Joyce's comments seriously. But let me take a moment, since he was taking note of the answers to all of the questions to Senator Evans and Senator Ludwig in question time today, to appraise some of those others. I am glad to see that Senator Abetz is in the chamber at the moment, because apart from the predictable political rhetoric, as indeed Senator Evans highlighted in his response to the first question, Senator Abetz seems to suggest that the Gillard government, by setting priorities, is meant to achieve them within 12 months. We all know that priority issues such as climate change are never going to be achieved within 12 months. It is good to see that this government is attempting to deal with these issues, but suggesting that there should be any resolution within a 12-month period is just laughable.
The other priority issues raised by Senator Abetz were the mining tax and boat arrivals in Australia. I seem to remember that these have been problems for the former government. They are intractable problems, and the closest I have seen in policy terms to any resolution of these problems is indeed with the avenues being explored in the Malaysian solution. The Howard government liked to try and claim that it solved the boat problem. We know they did not. We know the number of boat arrivals that appeared over the term of the Howard government, and we know that that government did not find a satisfactory resolution. But to suggest that this is a problem that the Gillard government should have resolved within 12 months is just laughable.
We went through a range of other areas where the opposition asserted promises had been made and had not been met within 12 months. Well, I am sorry, but my assessment of today's question time, apart from the usual one, which is of tedious repetition by the coalition's questions committee, is: seriously, you are starting to look a pack of Froot Loops. Lemons have become much maligned, and the pack of Froot Loops that get up in question time in this place day in, day out cannot raise serious policy issues. This opposition really does highlight the concerns that have been raised time and time again with the Abbott leadership, which is: it is a policy-free zone. There are cheap rhetoric and questions about stabbings, killings and leadership change, when this very opposition is more vulnerable—far more vulnerable—on that issue than the government: four leaders in four years.
I would like to take this moment to remind the chamber of the last leadership change of the opposition. Climate change was the issue raised by Senator Abetz today. What was the demise of the former opposition leader about? What were the issues around which Mr Turnbull failed to continue as Leader of the Opposition? I seem to recall an enormous backflip. Do I recall an enormous backflip on climate change? I think I do. But then I also recall—and Senator Abetz will recall this too—completely atrocious behaviour in respect to Godwin Grech. To see suggestions and contemplations these days that Mr Turnbull might return as Leader of the Opposition are laughable in that context. (Time expired)
Mr Deputy President, congratulations to you, in the chair for the last time today, and best wishes for your retirement.
I would like to take note of answers and support the motion moved by Senator Joyce, particularly with respect to answers given by Senator Evans on behalf of the government and specifically regarding the question I asked about school closures in Tasmania. The question related to the slated 20 closures of state public schools in Tasmania and the more than $13 million of Building the Education Revolution funding that has been provided and spent in Tasmania on those schools. Of course, if those schools close, that is taxpayers' money gone down the gurgler. For and on behalf of Australian taxpayers, we say that money has been and will be wasted if those schools are closed.
The big question relates to the advice that has been provided by the state Minister for Education and Skills, Mr McKim, a Greens minister in the Labor-Greens coalition government that is now in a rolling crisis in Tasmania and is dudding the Tasmanian economy dreadfully. His advice to the state parliament this morning was, 'Yes, I can guarantee that not one dollar will be repaid by the state government to the federal government.' He went on to say, 'That is because those buildings were part of an investment program designed to stimulate the economy and announced 2½ years ago.' So he is saying that, because it was announced 2½ years ago, not one dollar will be going back to the federal government. He said, 'Those buildings are part of state government schools on state government land, and we will decide how to operate those schools, not the federal government.'
When told, 'Senator Evans has not said what you have just alleged,' Minister McKim said, 'He has not said that we are obliged to repay funds. In fact, I have spoken to Senator Evans about this issue personally and at no time has he expressed to me that he, his department or his government have a view that we are obliged to repay the funds, so let us be very clear about that. He has not expressed those views to me.'
Senator Abetz interjecting—
Senator Abetz has interjected and confirmed that that is the advice that was made in parliament today. Frankly, this is where we have a major division now between the federal minister for education, represented by Senator Evans, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and the state minister for education. In the answer from Senator Evans today he made it very clear that he was looking into the matter, he would deal with each school on a case-by-case basis. He did not in any way, shape or form agree with the advice of Mr McKim, the minister for education in Tasmania, that not one dollar will be repaid by the state government to the federal government. Clearly there is a division. Clearly they are way apart in their views if the federal government is dealing with these matters on a case-by-case basis.
I must also alert the Senate to the fact that in the last several days since this decision was made we have had the views of federal Labor MPs. What do they say about the school closures? For example, Senator Carol Brown, a Tasmanian Labor senator, together with the Hon. Julie Collins who is a parliamentary secretary, have either criticised or opposed the closures. They support deferral until 2013. Mr Dick Adams, the federal member for Lyons, and Mr Sid Sidebottom again have either opposed or criticised the school closures. You have the federal Labor MPs from Tasmania saying something totally different to the state minister for education. The question is whether Senator Evans, who represents the federal minister for education, supports and agrees with the views of those federal Labor MPs from Tasmania. Clearly you have a crisis and a division between state and federal Labor. Let us make clear what the BER guidelines say:
Where funding of over $75,000 is provided for a school for the construction or purchase of facilities, we have a right to repayment of the calculated portion of the funding where, at any time during the designated use period, the facilities cease to be used principally for the approved purpose, the facilities are sold or otherwise disposed of.
That is what the funding agreement says. That is what they have signed up to. That is what the federal government stands by. The federal minister today confirmed that those are the guidelines and that is clearly contrary to the supposed legal advice obtained by Nick McKim. I have a list of the schools and there are some 20 of them with hundreds of thousands if not over a million dollars spent on them. Clearly there is a major dispute between the two and this is a problem for the federal government.
I add my congratulations to you, Mr Deputy President, for a very memorable career in the Senate and also the work that you have done in terms of Senate reform. You can see it has not always worked. I wish you and your family all the best for the future.
I turn to the issues before us. I think it was quite amazing to have Senator Barnaby Joyce talk about a disconnect in the Labor Party. I have always thought that Senator Joyce was disconnected from reality, but when you talk about a disconnect, how could you come this week to the Senate and ask questions of the government, and not ask a question about the biggest economic change that has been made in this country for years—that is, the NBN. The NBN reached a massive milestone today, signing off with Telstra and the other companies to make sure that we have in this country modern telecommunications facilities. Not a word from Senator Joyce.
What did we hear from Senator Joyce? We heard from Senator Joyce that we are going to turn into a vegan society, that there is some kind of plot by the Left to turn everyone into a vegan. For anyone who has ever been to dinner with me, that would come as quite a surprise. I certainly would not want to live in a vegan society. Nevertheless, I think we have to be aware that when this ban was put on live exports it was done because of the massive response to the Four Corners report in relation to live exports. It was horrible, but I did not hear anyone from the opposition say, 'Let's do a plebiscite of the Australian community to deal with live exports.' I did not hear that being put forward because you cannot run a country based on plebiscites.
It is interesting to note yesterday's AustralianI do not normally quote the Australiandidn't Paul Kelly tell us about the lack of political understanding by the coalition in relation to plebiscites? Paul Kelly gave the coalition a lesson in what you need to do in terms of taking leadership positions and governing, not responding to these stunts that the Leader of the Opposition seems to be so good at. You cannot govern the country on stunts; it just does not work. You must be a leader and Tony Abbott, in my view, is devoid of leadership.
The Leader of the Opposition, sorry, is devoid of leadership. He is the Evel Knievel of Australian politics—all show and no substance. What do we have now? We have the Leader of the Opposition going to the AMEC conference in Western Australia where we will get the showman and we will get the clown—we will get Lord Monckton there. We will have the showman and the clown side by side at the AMEC conference. The only thing missing there will be Senator Bernardi to do the lead-in act for them.
We are in a position in this country where we must deal with the real issues for the young generation—the young generation that is watching us now. They expect us and they have a right to have this parliament dealing with the issues that will build a decent society for them in the future. They have a right to have us deal with climate change. The young people of this country have a right to have a decent environment. They have a right to expect us to deal with climate change and to deal with the key issues that will give them a future. All we have is the deniers on the coalition side who say there is no problem. Well, there is a problem and the Labor Party stands up for future generations. The Labor Party stands up for this country and we will continue to do so.
I rise to take note of answers given during today's question time and to talk about a government that does not keep its promises, because it simply cannot. It is not only a weak government; it is a government that is riven by division. This government could not fight its way out of a paper bag, but they sure can fight with themselves—unfortunately demonstrated by none better than Minister Ludwig's answers today on the blanket suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia. This is a decision that not only jeopardises an entire industry; it also threatens to trash our diplomatic relationship with one of our nearest neighbours—one of our nearest neighbours that needs our help, not our hindrance. It is an example of an area where this government has been cowed into submission because it is a policy-free zone. It has been cowed into submission by an organised and orchestrated campaign by lobbyists. This is a government that has been caught flat-handed, flat-footed, bereft of ideas and forced into some sort of desperate action that is all pain for no gain. Blanket suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia is pain for cattle, because cattle are probably still being treated cruelly when slaughtered daily in Indonesia. They may not be Australian cattle but they are cattle and animals nonetheless. A government genuinely concerned about cruelty to animals would not take an approach that seems to say, 'Out of sight is out of mind.' This decision stands to do nothing but damage to our relationship with Indonesia.
Minister Ludwig today tried to say, in answer to Senator Williams, that he had consulted with the Indonesian government. What he failed to commit to was having consulted with the Indonesian government prior to deciding to blanket suspend live cattle trade to Indonesia. He failed to commit to that. Why? Because he did not do it. Had he done it, he should have said so today. Minister Ludwig clearly failed to consult with the Indonesian government before deciding to suspend our live cattle trade with that country. He also failed to explain to Senator Williams why he has not sought the help of his ministerial colleagues, such as former prime minister Kevin Rudd: Kevin-everywhere, except for 'Boganville'.
Minister Ludwig also failed to explain why he has not sought the help of his colleague the Minister for Trade, Dr Emerson. This government is riven by division. Why didn't Minister Ludwig seek the help of his colleague Minister Emerson? It is pretty clear: Minister Ludwig's big dad, big Bill Ludwig, said of Minister Emerson that he is a rat, that he is 'friggin hopeless'—actually, big Bill Ludwig used another word, but that is pretty close to it—that he is not a team player and that he has never done his bit for anyone except his own ambition to be Prime Minister. So why would Minister Ludwig even hope to get any help from Minister Emerson, the man who Minister Ludwig's own father has said is a rat? Had Minister Ludwig gone to his colleague Minister Emerson, he hardly would have got a helping hand. This is a government that is riven by division, a government that is breaking its promises to govern the country because it is a government that cannot govern itself.
Question agreed to.