Thursday, 27 June 2013
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Labor Party Leadership
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation (Senator Wong) to questions without notice asked by Senators Abetz and Brandis today relating to recent changes in the Government.
Division, seething hatreds and revenge are the new paradigm in this dysfunctional Labor government. Honour, integrity and loyalty are foreign concepts without any use in their internal treachery. When specifically asked today, the Leader of the Government in the Senate could not tell us why for any policy reason the Prime Minister was removed. And of course the Deputy Prime Minister was removed and the Leader of the Government in the Senate was removed. The three highest positions in the land were all removed last night. When asked what was the policy reason for this manoeuvre, no answer was provided, no rationale was proffered whatsoever. I wonder why that might be. It is a pretty simple answer because there is no answer. There is no policy rationale for the wholesale slaughter of the leadership and cabinet members last night.
Those changes last night had nothing whatsoever to do with the welfare of the Australian people. Those changes last night had nothing to do with a new policy direction for this nation. The changes last night were all about Labor desperately trying to preserve themselves. Of itself, Labor's turmoil is irrelevant other than Labor is supposed to be the government of our great nation. Labor's new team's approach is revenge on those within and attack on Mr Abbott without—personalised, non-stop, ugly negativity.
They have no first-term agenda or record to run on. Why? Because they sacked their first-term Prime Minister, remember. So let us turn to the second term. Well, they sacked their second-term Prime Minister as well. So what is their policy going to be as they lead in, asking the Australian people to endorse them for a third term? Well, we have the first-term Prime Minister that we sacked for incompetence returning to you to deliver a third-term government, a third-term government solely built on revenge on those within and attack on Mr Abbott. I simply say to the Australian people, there is an alternative, it is a genuine alternative—it is a 50-page plan of real solutions for the problems being faced by the Australian people.
Might I also say that with this change of the deckchairs comes the real risk of the destruction of documents, on which Mr Rudd has form from whilst he was with the Queensland government. So I table a letter written by myself to the Prime Minister requesting a guarantee that certain documents deliberately withheld by the former Prime Minister and Mr Shorten will be preserved, especially given the Australian Information Commissioner's preliminary view that the documents appear to be official documents despite the Prime Minister's office trying to assert to the contrary—documents that go to ministerial integrity for the former Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. We will be watching the actions of this government very carefully in that particular space.
But the Australian people simply deserve better. Seven cabinet ministers were destroyed last night.
An opposition senator: Eight, now.
Eight, now. The tally goes up. Before that, Minister Ferguson was destroyed and Senator Kim Carr was destroyed. The list goes on. This is a dysfunctional government, more interested in itself—more interested in the internecine warfare within the Labor Party—than in delivering good government to the Australian people.
The Australian people are entitled to expect better from their government. Simply recycling the first-term failure as the front man for the third-term attempt will not cut the mustard, nor should it. Until the Labor Party can explain the policy rationale for the change, it is obvious there is no real, genuine change. (Time expired)
What was noteworthy not only in the questions asked by Senator Abetz and Senator Brandis but in all opposition questions in question time today was the absence of this opposition's use of question time—today is the last available question time—to present any sensible alternative. Instead, we saw the slurs and the innuendo of which we are accused.
Let me give you a few examples from some of the commentary in question time today. It was said that we on this side are motivated solely by our own self-interest and that we have no values. There were derogatory references to the word 'mate'. I wonder sometimes whether senators on the other side of the chamber understand how their commentary looks. I really do wonder if they see how their presentation appears to everyday people that deserve better from both a government and an opposition.
Certainly there has been division in the Labor Party. There is no question about that. And that has now been settled. The issue of the leadership of the Labor Party has been settled, will remain settled and will remain clear. We will now be solely focused on the needs of Australians, unlike those on the other side who carp and carry on.
Senator Abetz interjecting—
Senator Abetz just highlighted, 'It's all about revenge and knives and axe attacks,' but he holds up a glossy, vacuous 50-page document. Mr Abbott has been holding it up for months. What is more notable about that document is not so much what it says but what it does not say. And there are countless policy areas that we could go through in that regard.
Instead, we know what the Labor government says. We know what we can do better. Senator Abetz claims that we could not talk about what policy needs to be changed or what would be different. What we do know very clearly is that we can and do need to make a clearer message. We need to develop policy and promote it better. We understand that that is something that we can do in the interests of Australians as we focus on their needs so that we can better deliver what has already been delivered in terms of a strong economy—a triple-A rating of our economy—and protecting jobs in ways this opposition never would have.
We have promoted education and achieved consensus in disability care and generally in education as well. We have improved superannuation for Australians. These are things this opposition would never do. We will confront this election with a very stark difference. The vacuum of policy from those on the other side—the failure to present an alternative government—was demonstrated in question time today. There was no alternative government presented from the other side. They are incapable of doing it. They could not even receive a compliment for a departing senator without interrupting it. They have problems amongst their own colleagues which I was very sorry to see.
The policy position from this opposition is not just about the fact that Mr Abbott continues to say no. It is about the failure to develop sensible, reasonable positions that will preserve the needs and the interests of the Australian people. That is where as a government we have a clear track record. We can acknowledge the global circumstances we have been in. We can protect Australians jobs and the Australian economy. We can improve our education system. We can improve the treatment of people with disability in this country in a way in which our resources show we should. These are all things that we can do, and we can do them in a way which achieves consensus amongst the Australian people to improve things we know we can do better.
There is no question that in a range of policy areas we can, and do, need to improve how we reach people. We need to improve the message we give Australian people about our values and why we are the Australian Labor Party.
Senator Brandis interjecting—
The other side says things like what Senator Brandis is saying right now: 'You are us.' He is glib and very funny—not really!
For those who are students of history, the events of the last 24 hours—extraordinary and spectacular events—constitute the greatest political collapse of a government in Australian federal political history. There have been times of turbulence on both sides of politics because that is in the nature of politics, but never before, in 112 years, has an incumbent government so comprehensibly collapsed.
With the announcement about half an hour ago of Mr Stephen Smith that he would not be recontesting the election and would be leaving the cabinet, we have had in the last 24 hours the resignation from the cabinet of no fewer than eight of the 22 members of cabinet—more than a third. That has never happened on either side of Australian politics before. That fact alone tells you how unprecedented is the turmoil that has beset the Australian government.
The sad reality is—and it is an ugly sight on display for all Australians to see on their television news and current affairs shows—that the political party that constitutes the government of Australia at the moment, the Australian Labor Party, is deeply riven by the most poisonous personal hatreds and antagonisms that we have ever seen on either side of Australian politics. And that is not just me saying that; that is what they say about themselves.
We have lost eight of the 22 cabinet ministers overnight. But what I want to know—and this was the point of the questions that I and my colleagues asked of Senator Wong—is: what of some of those who are saying and who have in the past expressed their contempt for and lack of confidence in Kevin Rudd, starting with Senator Penny Wong herself, who said that she did not consider that he was the right person or had the right temperament to be the Prime Minister of Australia? Yet not only does she continue to sit in his cabinet but she has been one of the beneficiaries of this political upheaval, because she has become the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
What about Mr Gary Gray, the Minister for Resources and Energy? This is what Mr Gary Gray said about Kevin Rudd only last week:
He doesn't have the courage and the strength that's required to do this job. What he can do is spread confusion.
How can you have a government when one of the senior members of it, who continues to sit in the cabinet, not six days ago described the new Prime Minister as a man without the courage and the strength that is required for the job of Prime Minister?
What about Mr Tony Burke, who continues to sit in the cabinet and who last year described the first period of the Rudd government in these words:
The stories that were around of the chaos, of the temperament, of the inability to have decisions made—they are not stories.
That is what Mr Tony Burke said about Mr Kevin Rudd. Yet Mr Tony Burke continues to sit in his cabinet.
Then there is Mr Brendan O'Connor, who last year said this about the 2010 election campaign, speaking about Mr Kevin Rudd:
… there had been 'unbelievable' leaks during the 2010 election campaign against Ms Gillard and hence the Labor party.
That is unprecedented in Labor's history, that we would have leaks coming out of cabinet to target the then-prime minister during an election campaign, to aid and abet Tony Abbott to win the 2010 election. That destabilisation, that treachery has gone on now for varying degrees for the last 18 months.
And he was talking about Mr Kevin Rudd.
Eight of the 22 members of the cabinet have resigned and refused to serve. They would rather sit on the backbench or go into retirement than serve with Kevin Rudd. And there are at least another four who do not have the moral courage to do what the others did and resign, and who are on the record saying that they have no trust or confidence in this man.
Senator Brandis says that he is an historian of politics. Let me go through some history. Problems in either the Labor Party or the coalition are not new. Leadership challenges are not new. I can go back to 1980 or further than that. There was Fraser versus Snedden in 1975. In 1982, there was Fraser versus Peacock. In 1983, there was Peacock versus Howard. In 1985, there was Howard versus Carlton. In 1987, there was Howard versus Peacock. In 1989, there was Peacock versus Howard. Then we had a doozey in 1990: Hewson versus Reith versus Webster. Then in 1993 it was Hewson versus Howard. In 1994, it was Downer versus Hewson. If we move on to 2007, it was Nelson versus Turnbull. In 2008, it was Turnbull versus Nelson. In 2009, it was Abbott versus Turnbull.
If you want to have some analysis of challenges in politics, it is a bit hypocritical for the coalition to come in here and argue that the Labor Party is the only party that has issues with leadership. Leadership is always an issue in the coalition. It always has been and it always will be.
And it is not just fights over leadership. Let me tell you about the big fight within the coalition. It was a fight between the guy who thought he was a great Treasurer, Peter Costello, and the Prime Minister, John Howard. We had a period in which Peter Costello did not have the guts or the backbone to stand up to John Howard and did not have the guts or backbone to stand up for this nation. He allowed John Howard to throw good money after bad on tax cuts, which meant that we could not invest in infrastructure in this country, in children's education or in a national disability insurance scheme. We could do none of those things because there was absolute turmoil during the whole period of the Howard government between John Howard and Peter Costello. And who won that battle? It was John Howard—much to the regret of those who wanted to try to build this country.
At the heart of the Howard government's management of the economy was a raging, unending argument.
And the reason was simple: according to Peter Costello, the Prime Minister believed the public would be grateful to the government for new spending and would vote accordingly. So it was one big bribe from the coalition—no economic position, no building for the future, no spending on public schools; public schools were diminished under the Howard government, health was diminished under the Howard government. So I will not accept for one minute any lectures about instability or any lectures about economic credibility from those economic incompetents across the aisle. I will not accept that for one minute.
Even Senator Sinodinos: what did he say? This is Howard's former chief of staff, now a senator here. He said there was:
"a lucky dip feel", as officials and ministers scrambled to formalise tax cut options and decide which ones would get the go-ahead.
Well, we do not do that. What we do is invest in health, invest in education, invest in infrastructure, invest in the NBN. We make sure the issues we take up are building this economy and building this nation, not like the economic incompetents across the chamber.
Welcome to the house of Atreus! It is the most bizarre place. I always wanted to know what it was like to live in a Greek tragedy and here we are in the middle of one. It is bizarre; it is the most internecine, crazy place. I now know the Labor Party's policy: you get two for the price of one. If you vote for one Prime Minister, you are bound to get two of them, in every term. Instead of the fortunes of the house of Atreus it is the fortunes of the house of Rudd, the fortunes of the Labor Party.
And now we see all the manifestations of that rather bizarre prototype of a Prime Minister revisiting us. We knew it was getting ugly when we saw Mr Rudd parading through the airport with his sleeping bag. He was obviously a little bit tired—he was going to nod off—so he was parading through the airport with his sleeping bag, just to let you know that he was going to the sleep-out. We all carry our sleeping bags through the airport! I can't get through Canberra Airport without my sleeping bag under my arm! Then, of course, when you are at the sleep-out you must have a media contingent there for when you wake up; it is extremely important. When you wake up and you are putting your teddy bear aside—it is time for Noddy to wake up—you have to have the media there, just to know that, thank the Lord, you are awake! And we are back to the slow walks through the car park, the prophetic glimpses, the sideways looks, the walking with the camera—here comes the bride in the big fluffy white dress!—walking with the camera, walking out the door, walking to the car park, walking to the car. This is the new world—this mad, mad, mad world—that we have returned to. And we are back to 'zipping'. We are zipping here, we are zipping there, we are 'rocking' around the country.
It is not surprising that we not only have a new Prime Minister but that, because of this insanity, as well as losing a Prime Minister, we have also lost a Deputy Prime Minister and a Leader of the Senate—that is the highest office holder, the second-highest office holder and the third-highest office holder, all in one night. That is like the left bower, the right bower and the joker, all gone. And we also lost the defence minister, the minister for agriculture, the minister for communications and the Treasurer. And do we say that this is sanity? Is this what we are offering to the Australian people? 'Buy this product; this one will work.' If you went to your accountancy practice and walked in the door and asked, 'Who are you people?' and they said, 'We just decided last night to change everybody' you would say: 'Give me all the books back. See you later.' If you went into your dentist and all of a sudden there was this manic confusion and change of staff as they pulled out the drill to stick it in your mouth, you would get out of there toute de suite. But these people are not your dentists, these people are not your accountants; they are actually running the country—well, actually we do not know who is running the country. Maybe Lord Howes is running the country. Who would know?
The next thing, of course, is: when is the election? Have we noted that Mr Zip Zip has decided that he is not quite zipping to an election? No, he is going to wait a little while. I can see that happening, because he wants to go back to the Lodge. It is merely weeks, and he wants to go back there; he is moving the furniture back in. But don't worry: he will be sustained on a regular diet of airline food as he goes to every sundry country in the world twice before the election, just to make sure that we have the people of Lesotho onside, just to make sure we are moving the dynamics of things in the Laotian jungles, just to make sure peace reigns in Cyprus. We will have the Prime Minister of Australia, for these last few weeks, in every far-flung corner of the world, giving us press conferences telling us about the importance of the things he is doing. Meanwhile, back in Australia, we head towards $370 billion in gross debt, unemployment rises and we have the crash in the cattle market. Meanwhile back in Australia, chaos reigns.