Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Matters of Public Importance

Turnbull Government

4:04 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

At 8.30 am this morning Senator Siewert and Senator Leyhonhjelm each submitted a letter in relation to standing order 75, proposing a matter of public importance. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that Senator Siewert's letter has been received:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Turnbull government's lack of courage on matters of importance to everyday Australians.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:05 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to today's matter of public importance.

There was a national sigh of relief when Tony Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull. Most Australians gave the new Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. We were pleased to see the end of Tony Abbott's divisive politics. We hoped that it would mark a turning point on so many critical issues—issues like climate change, getting children out of detention and marriage equality—that we would finally be able to transition our economy and set ourselves up for those industries of the future—

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It is appropriate for the honourable senator to refer to members in the other place by either an appropriate title or with the prefix of 'Mr'.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Bernardi. I am sure that Senator Di Natale will take note of that.

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We hoped that Prime Minister Turnbull would help transition our economy to set ourselves up for those industries of the future and that we would end the attacks on the poor, the sick and the unemployed—on ordinary working people. But here we are, only months out from an election, and very little has changed.

With each week that passes, it is becoming more and more apparent that this Prime Minister lacks the courage and the vision so desperately needed to stand up against some of the dinosaurs inside his own party, that he fails to act with the courage and conviction that is so desperately needed to ensure that his beliefs and priorities prevail over the dinosaurs of his party.

Let's start with the issue that will define this election: catastrophic global warming. Here we are, in January, the middle of summer, and we have seen extreme weather: bushfires in Victoria, in South Australia, in Western Australia and now in the World Heritage area of the precious wilderness between Cradle Mountain and the Walls of Jerusalem. At Lake Bill we are seeing an ecosystem never before exposed to fires, with species being wiped out. We are seeing pencil pines and cushion plans that will be destroyed by these fires—the loss of some of the most precious biodiversity anywhere in the world. In Queensland the Great Barrier Reef is on track for a catastrophic bleaching event. We are seeing the impacts of climate change right now in this country and we must act.

We are seeing the health impacts of climate change manifest themselves right around the world with the spread of vector borne diseases, and there are alarm bells now with the Zika virus, something that we know will be vulnerable to changing temperature and those vectors that will increase their spread. We already know that in northern Australia the mosquito that carries that virus has the potential to spread with catastrophic climate change.

But this is not just an issue about the impacts of climate change on the environment, health and our social systems; it is also an issue of how we manage to transition our economy from those polluting sources of the past to those industries of the future. The Prime Minister talks a lot about innovation. He talks a lot about being flexible, agile and nimble. But, when it comes to global warming, there is absolutely no commitment to innovation, flexibility or agility.

I was in Paris, where I saw the Prime Minister and indeed the Minister for Foreign Affairs defend Tony Abbott's pathetic emission reduction targets, making us the laughingstock of the world. He is still committed to taking the axe to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, two agencies that are driving innovation in the renewable energy space. Just today we saw the commitment to open up new coalmines: again there was the huge, polluting coalmine in the Galilee Basin, something for which Senator Larissa Waters has been a champion to try to protect that precious community and environment and to prevent the impacts of catastrophic global warming.

Why is Prime Minister Turnbull backing the opening up of that coalmine? Why is he committed to abolishing those agencies that are driving investment in renewable energy? It is because he lacks the courage and vision to take us on a different path. It requires vision to understand the opportunities that are opening up before us if we embrace the renewable energy revolution. It requires courage to stand up to those industries that are fighting for the status quo, that are holding us back, that incidentally are huge donors to both the coalition and the Labor Party—those industries of the past that are holding back the industries of the future.

On the issue of people seeking asylum in this country—innocent people fleeing persecution, seeking our protection and seeking refuge in Australia—just today we learned of the High Court's decision. But this is not a legal question; this is a moral question, and it can never be acceptable, regardless of the problem, to have a solution that locks up young children who are innocent, causing them tremendous grief and suffering, forcing them to self-harm and damaging those people's lives permanently. And here we are, with Malcolm Turnbull facing a decision about whether he will deport children who are born here in Australia to that system of offshore detention camps to continue to inflict that suffering on vulnerable people. So far, the signs on that issue are not good.

On marriage equality, a question of ending prejudice and discrimination, we now see the farce that is the plebiscite that this government is committed to. Even members of that government say they will not stand by the decision of the Australian people. Let's not have a plebiscite. Let's have a vote, let's do it now and let's end prejudice and discrimination in marriage once and for all.

On the question of the republic, a person who says that this is his life's work, who has campaigned on an issue that defined his entry into politics, is now vacating the space, saying that it is up to the Australian people to lead the charge. We have three leaders of our main political parties in this country who are committed to a republic. It is not the fault of the Australian people that we do not have a timetable towards a republic; it is a failure of leadership. And this nonsense that we need to wait until the reign of the Queen is over: that is the point. The point of a republic is that we make our decisions independent of the monarchy.

We have now a debate around tax reform in this nation—a debate that is about what it means to live in a civilised society: investing in health care, investing in education, investing in the social safety net and ensuring that we look after people who are vulnerable. We have the opportunity to do that by ending unfair tax breaks and ensuring that tax reform starts at the top and not at the bottom, and yet here is a government committed to raising the GST because it wants to protect its mates at the big end of town and would rather go after those people on low and middle incomes, further increasing this huge and growing gap between the haves and have-nots in Australian society, between the super-rich and those people who are struggling. The issue of tax reform is not some dry economic debate about whether we can balance the budget; it is about the society we want and whether we are prepared to live with the growing inequality that has become a major problem within Australian society.

It is a debate around getting our investment setting right so that we do not continue to give preferential tax treatment to the property sector and the mining sector and that we drive the innovation that is so desperately necessary in advanced manufacturing, in the renewable economy, in the health sector, in the education sector and in being a service based economy, which is where our future lies.

So it is an election about courage and vision, and the Greens have laid out an optimistic, forward-looking road map for how to transition Australia from an old economy to a modern, prosperous, confident 21st century Australia. Just last year we launched our plan, a detailed blueprint to renew Australia—to have 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030, generating jobs and investment in this country; to end the system of offshore detention and to have a much more humane way to look after innocent people who are seeking our protection; to deliver marriage equality and to deliver it now; and to ensure that, when it comes to raising revenue, tax reform starts at the top rather than the bottom. We want a corruption commission, a corruption watchdog, rather than targeting one sector of society. We have been courageous. We have been visionary. We have provided the leadership in this country that is so desperately lacking from this government, and we will do that right up until the next election. (Time expired)

4:16 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I look forward to this MPI debate put forward by the Greens here: 'The Turnbull government's lack of courage on matters of importance to everyday Australians'. One of the tragedies we have just seen in many states is the fires through the summer in Western Australia and South Australia, where I grew up, from Pinery through to Mallala through to the Freeling area et cetera. Senator Di Natale talks about the fires in Tasmania. I have warned them; I have told them; I have moved motions in this place: when you lock up country and you leave it and you do not manage it, you are going to get savage fires. Look at Tasmania: six million hectares, 52 per cent, locked up. You are not allowed to graze it. No. Just let the fuel levels grow and grow. Once you get more than five to 10 tonnes a hectare, a 40-degree day and a 50-kilometre wind, you are out of control. It will happen in the red gum forests down in Deniliquin. There is nothing surer. They have now prevented grazing. They managed it for 100 years. The truth may affect some over there. They do not like it. If you lock up the country and you leave it and you will not reduce the fuel levels, that is what you are going to get. 'Oh no; we can't allow grazing. The cattle and sheep have got hard hooves on their feet.' It is all right to have the brumbies, the deer, the wild pigs, the goats—you name it. They do not run around in ugg boots, but it is all right for those to graze there. But do not control-graze the national parks.

I would like to put a question to the Greens. How many of you have actually fought a bushfire? How many of you have been out there with a knapsack, with a shovel, on a fire truck? Put your hands up. Have you ever been to a fire? Thank you, Senator Lines; I was referring to the Greens. Mr Acting Deputy President Back, you and I have been to plenty. Good on you, Senator Siewert. But get out there amongst those savage fires and have a look at what they are doing. When fuel levels get up, the fires are that hot they get into the crowns of the trees and kill the trees. They travel so fast the animals have no time to escape. I am very pleased—I often put it on my Facebook—that there are koalas at our farm, in the front garden and down the creek, and they are safe. They will not burn, because we graze the country around and we keep the fuel levels down. They are protected. I have done my share of firefighting, especially when I lived in South Australia for the first 25 years of my life. Until you learn this, you are going to destroy the environment. You are going to lock up country and leave it. The National Parks Association are pursuing their agenda right around the nation: lock up more country and leave it; do not graze it; do not keep the fuel levels down. If there are not enough resources for hazard reduction burning, this is what you are going to get every seven, eight or 10 years: savage fires destroying the environment. One day, when it is all destroyed, you will learn and you will listen. Until you get on board with this, you are doing the wrong thing—100 per cent.

Let us talk about marriage equality. Two men married will never be the same as a man and a woman. There will never be equality. They cannot have children, for a start, so they will never be equal. But what I really endorse is equal respect, equal rights—

Senator Di Natale interjecting

Get another tune. When we have the plebiscite, if it is voted down are you going to drop your agenda? No, you will not drop your agenda if it is voted down. Are you going to do what the people want if it is voted down? Of course you will not. You will pursue your issues.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the chair, Senator Williams.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My sincere apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President.

Let me turn to the global warming debate. What do we produce—1.3 or 1.4 per cent of the world's emissions? It is quite amazing. China just did some figures. They made a mistake about the coal they burnt last year. They actually burnt 17 per cent more than they calculated for. The 17 per cent more they burnt—now they have done their figures again—put out more CO2 than the whole of Australia does in a year. That is just through their one error of burning more coal. China is actually a net exporter of coal, a lot of it of very poor quality, of course. But is bringing in a carbon tax, as we saw the Labor Party and the Greens do before, going to save our nation? We could shut down all emissions in Australia, but, unless the big emitters act, it is not going to make one ounce of difference. We do not have a tent over our country. We actually are linked to the globe. And yet you expect us to suffer all of the financial pain. That is what those opposite want to do going to the next election. They will bring back the emissions trading scheme, the carbon tax: 'We'll bill you like we did before, and we'll save the planet.' No. The emissions are going up. You need to get those big emitters to actually do their bit.

I commend the Turnbull government for the way they have progressed trade agreements around the world—great for agriculture, great for regional and rural Australia. I put a question to Senator Sinodinos today about the some 180 countries that are now dropping their export subsidies. We have seen America for decades with their Export Enhancement Program. You would be well aware of it, Mr Acting Deputy President Back—how they are taking our wheat market. They are subsidising their product into markets that traditionally we would hold and taking away our markets. They are gone. What is happening with the free trade agreements? Our exports into South Korea are increasing enormously for wine, grapes, almonds and all sorts of nuts. Beef exports to Japan have gone up by 24 per cent in 12 months alone. And now we see record beef prices coming to people out there in the rural areas. I remember 15 years ago cattle hit $2 a kilo live weight. Eighteen months ago they were $1.60. Who else in Australia had a 40 per cent reduction in their wage from 15 years ago? No-one. But now we have got it right. Congratulations to the government, to Minister Barnaby Joyce and especially to Trade Minister Andrew Robb for the great work they have done.

This is a farcical matter of public importance from the Greens. This is leading with their chin. I am sure more will have plenty to say. If we went down the Greens' road, we would just go broke and we would destroy the environment anyway.

4:22 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak in support of this MPI. If we needed any confirmation that Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull were the same, it came in question time today when Senator Brandis confirmed the Turnbull government was on exactly the same path as the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. The same wrong, misguided policies which have hurt ordinary Australians under the prime ministership of Mr Abbott and will continue to hurt ordinary Australians under the prime ministership of Mr Turnbull. Whether those Australians are young or old, working or pensioners, almost no-one is spared, except, of course, the big end of town. Wasn't this one of the reasons why Mr Abbott was deposed—that he had lost touch with ordinary Australians and that his first budget was way too harsh? And yet, if we needed that confirmation from Senator Brandis that Mr Turnbull was on exactly the same track, it came unequivocally during question time today.

Let us have a look at what is happening here. There is an attack on workers in Australia and on penalty rates. In fact, Senator Cash confirmed on Monday in the media that penalty rates were a part of the agenda. The Turnbull government has confirmed that they want to take penalty rates away from working Australians. Why would you do that? Why would you reduce the take-home pay of a group of workers who are already low paid? Complete nonsense. Why do they want to do that? Because they are on the side of the employers. Because John Hart from Restaurant and Catering Australia is their good friend. He was on a working committee that Mr Abbott proposed and put up, and I am sure he is still on that committee. He has the ear of Mr Turnbull and has said, 'Penalty rates have got to go.' That affects, by 30 per cent, the take-home pay of those workers. Those opposite have no idea over there because they always mix with the big end of town.

Industry super: one of the first things the government did in a little side deal with the crossbenchers was to let the leading employers—again, their mates—off the hook to freeze superannuation contributions. And how short-sighted was that? Because that affects people's retirement incomes. That affects how much money people have to retire on. And who will have to pick up the shortfall? The government of the day. But it does not bother the government because again they were looking after their employer mates at the big end of town. They said, 'Sure, we will save that money.' It was farcical to say that somehow those savings would end up in workers' pockets. Well, of course it has not. It stayed in the boss's pockets—wining and dining and Liberal Party donors, no doubt.

We see today that this bill is back here, watering down industrial relations laws. Never mind that the government have said, 'Work Choices is dead, buried and cremated.' It is not. It is sneaking into this place under another name. These industrial laws in the bill before the parliament will again make it easier for employers to reduce the working conditions and trade off entitlements. Under the Turnbull government's proposal, you can trade a pizza for a penalty rate. What a disgrace. They want to take weekend penalty rates, reducing income from about 30 per cent, and now they want to be able to do little side deals. Let me tell you, when the employer sits down with a low-paid worker, it is not even playing field and that is why you need strong unions in this country—so that workers have a proper voice and proper representation.

But the attack does not stop on workers. The attack is on pensioners. The Greens have got a responsibility here, because in a dirty deal with the government they have cut part pensions. The Greens said that was knocking off high-paid people. Well it is not, because in a few years time down the track again—absolutely short-sighted, it shows that the Greens are still on the L plates when it comes to the economy—it will hurt middle Australians. And again, who will have to rescue them? It will be the government of the day having to try and find money to prop up pensions, because the part pension decision that the Greens made with the government will hurt ordinary Australians into the future. The facts are there for all to see.

Yes, we want to increase the pension age to 70. Again it shows how out-of-touch the Turnbull government is; they have never met a builder's labourer or a cleaner. They have probably never seen the people who clean their offices—the invisible workers. Imagine saying to those cleaners that they are going to be carting heavy things, they are going to be vacuuming floors and they are going to be scrubbing and polishing until you are 70—how out of touch is that? It is an absurd suggestion for people who do manual work in this country to work until they are 70. If you choose to work that long, good on you, but to actually make it a condition is a disgrace and it shows once again how out of touch those opposite are.

Let us have a look at the attacks on young people, another group. We have got workers, pensioners, and now we have got young people. The government want to punish young people who cannot get a job. The unemployment rate in Western Australia has gone sky-high, partly due to the absolute mismanagement by Colin Barnett and finally the West Australian is even attacking him. This bloke could not manage his way out of a brown paper bag. We have record-high youth unemployment, and what does the Turnbull government want to do? It want to make those people go without money. First of all they had a suggestion of six months. It is now down to six weeks. They think somehow that mum and dad can just stump up for looking after that young person who, through no fault of their own, cannot get a job. But, of course, they do not believe that. They think young people are lazy. In fact, they have said that young people lie on the sofa playing with their Xbox—again, totally out of touch. It is very difficult in Western Australia to get a job. And remember, if you get a job, the Turnbull government are the people who want to take your penalty rates away. If you get a job, and you are on junior wages, you are not going to be paid very much at all. Thank you to the Turnbull government!

Of course, for those young people who want to go on to universities, the Parliamentary Budget Office confirmed today that the $100,000 degrees are still there. They want to burden young people with $100,000 of debt—imagine that. It is unimaginable if you are a 17 or an 18-year-old entering university that you are going to have to carry that debt. In fact, I think government ministers under Mr Turnbull have said, 'It is just shelved.' Well it is still there—$100,000 degrees. So, if you are unemployed or you want to go to university and you are a young person, forget about support from the Turnbull government.

Then there are the attacks on families. There are the cuts to family payments that they want to put through. What about their parental leave proposition? Remember the imaginative too expensive scheme that Mr Abbott put forward that would massively advantage people on high incomes—again, their mates—leaving ordinary Australians worse off? Well, that got scrapped. His backbenchers revolted. Under Mr Turnbull we have had people accused of being double dippers: women who get some maternity leave from the workplace and then are topped up by Labor's scheme—Labor introduced the paid parental scheme. We are now seeing that being watered down so women who want to return to the workforce will be forced to go back much sooner because they will be worse off, so they are hit with family payments and they are hit because the Turnbull government has taken away their paid parental leave—and that is their intention.

Medicare: almost from day one of the Abbott-Turnbull government they have attacked Medicare. Again today the Parliamentary Budget Office confirmed there are more hits to Medicare through pharmaceutical benefits. That is where they want to go next. It is bad enough that they are now forcing most people to pay upfront for pathology and radiography services—and they do not come as single items. Women with breast cancer and women who require Pap smears: that is who they are continuing to disadvantage.

Climate change: again today it was confirmed that for the first time in 10 years our greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise. Their failed payoff to the big end of town, their failed direct action policy—there is the proof: greenhouse gas emissions are rising in Australia for the first time in 10 years.

What about employers? We have seen what they want to do on super. Under the Turnbull government they give the big banks access to workers' funds to try to water down boards and then in the latest move we have a five per cent failure rate on contributions. What do we see? We see the minister wanting to reduce penalties to give employers a way out when they do not pay workers' entitlements on super. It is very clear who the Turnbull government stands for: it is the big end of town.

4:32 pm

Photo of Dio WangDio Wang (WA, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Proposals for a national integrity or anticorruption agency in Australia date back to the 1980s. At first they had been quietly repeatedly rejected by the party political duopoly that runs this country. A decade ago a joint study by Griffith University and Transparency International Australia recommended 'a new independent statutory authority to be tasked as a comprehensive lead agency for investigation and prevention of official corruption, criminal activity and serious misconduct involving Commonwealth officials', including, sadly, members of parliament. Transparency International Australia also called for a national anticorruption body after claims of corruption in Centrelink leases in 2013. The government itself has also spent the past few years talking about the need for a corruption watchdog and I acknowledge members of all political parties who have advocated publicly or privately for such an agency.

Meanwhile, Australia's international reputation for being relatively corruption free is waning—dropping from a global ranking of the seventh least corrupt nation 20 years ago to the 13th, ranking behind countries like Canada, New Zealand and Singapore in the Transparency International Australia 2015 corruption perceptions index. Similarly, Hong Kong was known as one of the most corrupt places on Earth 50 years ago but within five years of the start of its Independent Commission Against Corruption all overt and syndicated corruption was eradicated and Hong Kong is now regarded as one of the most corruption free societies in the world. The Hong Kong ICAC was among the world's first to effectively enforce protection against private sector corruption and is an active partner in promoting international cooperation.

Given the very important work done by our own agencies—ICAC, for example—it is not easy to believe that corruption does not exist in governments and parliaments in this country. Add this to an era in which we are corporatizing all of our government institutions and there is overwhelming evidence at hand to show that now is the time for bipartisan support for a national integrity watchdog. Domestic experience and international best practice models have shown that political leaders must forge broad political coalitions that can endure organised opposition if they hope to prevent systematic corruption. As such I call on the government and the opposition to reflect the will of the wider Australian public— (Time expired)

4:35 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I address the grab bag of demands from the Greens and the Labor Party I do want to express my sentiment with Senator Wang in the sense that you would have to be naive to think that elements of corruption and misuse by public officials do not take place in parliaments across Australia. As evidence I ask Senator Wang to have a close look at Mr Clive Palmer. Mr Clive Palmer, who of course is the leader of the Palmer United Party, said in the media just the other day that his companies—and one of them is now in administration—received good value for their millions of dollars in donations to the Palmer United Party because of the Palmer United Party's decision to support the abolition of the carbon tax. That to me is a tantamount admission that that money bought results from a political party. If that is not corruption, it is very close to it, Senator Wang. I understand completely your desire to stamp out corruption and crookedness. I support you in that, but the pot is calling the kettle a little bit black unless you acknowledge the transgressions of Mr Palmer in this space.

Now let me return to the grab bag of demands and grievances. It is like national grievance day in here. We had Senator Di Natale standing up talking about the virus de jure, the Zika virus. Last year it was Ebola and this year it is the Zika virus. Then he talked about catastrophic global warming while North America is suffering under metres of snow. We are finding them talking down the Great Barrier Reef, one of the great assets of Australia's tourism industry. Rather than talking it down, they should be talking it up and getting as many tourists to go there as they possibly can—but on and on we go. It is about more demands for more money, more government control and more intervention in the economy. The Greens know best and they are ably supported by the Labor Party.

We heard Senator Lines with her grab bag of demands as well. One of the things Senator Lines said was not lost on me. She suggested, in some way, shape or form, that the coalition were intent on doing deals with big business to disadvantage workers. I think Senator Lines got a little bit confused. I think Senator Lines was confusing the evidence from the trade union royal commission and the slush funds that were given to Mr Shorten and his union in exchange for trading-off worker benefits. That is the documented evidence, yet Senator Lines dares to come in here and say that this side of the chamber is not working to advantage workers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we want to get ourselves out of the problems that were created by those on the opposite side, including their colleagues the Greens—which are that the country is now mired in debt, our growth is stagnating and we have higher unemployment—we need to grow our economy. We need to cut the size of government, we need to lower taxes and we need to grow our economy, because that is the only way we will provide more jobs for more Australians. It is the only way we will be able to export competitively. It is the only way we will be able to sustain a strong and healthy safety net in this country without restricting or deflating our economy under the yolk of heavy burdensome taxes, and the coalition government has a plan for exactly that.

We want to get the government out of people's lives as much as possible. We want to be there to support them when they are desperately in need; give them a hand up and lift them, so that together everyone in this country can avail themselves of the opportunities. But you do not do that by reducing the businesses that are going to provide those jobs. You do not do that by making government bigger. Government is an imposition on our economy. Government only has money to spend that it takes from other people or that it borrows from future generations. That is what is lost. With all these big spending promises—the billions here, the $10 billion there, the unfunded Gonskis and whatever else they want to go with—they are robbing from future generations, because that money has to be paid back.

What a dark day it was when Mr Rudd became Prime Minister of this country. There was no net debt in this country. When Mr Rudd finished as Prime Minister of this country there were hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of debt. It is a trajectory that we have not been able to arrest because of the intransigence of this place and because of the pie-eyed wish list we have heard so much about today.

We have to confront reality in this country, and the reality is that we need more people working. We need more people paying taxes. We need to grow our economy. And the best way to do that is to get government out of the way. Let us encourage our tourism industry by talking up the Great Barrier Reef and its great benefits. Let us talk up our manufacturing industries—what is left of them—by saying we can produce top quality at a competitive price, because people are prepared to pay for quality. Let us talk up our export industry, not by demonising coal but by celebrating the fact that it provides cheap, effective and efficient fuel to billions of people across the globe to lift them out of poverty by providing them with electricity. Let us celebrate our iron ore exporters as people that are generating tens of billions of dollars' worth of revenue for this country and taking huge risks along the way. Let us continue to celebrate success rather than try and make government the centre and the focus of it all—

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Not paying their fair share of tax.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note Senator Cameron talks about people not paying tax. You know what, Senator Cameron—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—yes, we want people to pay a fair share of tax but they are complying right now with our existing tax laws. If you do not like it, do not put the tax rates up, change the laws to prevent the loopholes. That is the simple way to do it. Those on the other side will never do that, because they hate industry.

4:42 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

What a contribution we had there. It was not a contribution that sought to defend his government. We know he is a bit lacklustre in his support of the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull. He may be right; quite frankly, it is a different salesman but it is absolutely the same policies. Senator Bernardi talked about how this government is all about helping Australians. What this government did when they first got in was demonise Australians by calling them 'leaners'. They came out with the most appalling first budget of 2014 that saw off Prime Minister Abbott and saw poor old Mr Hockey's career down the drain.

That happened because there was no honesty in the Abbott campaign. There was no honesty in the Abbott campaign that saw them come to government. They did say that they were not going to cut health, education and the ABC. They did say there were on a unity ticket with Gonski. But unfortunately, with the change of Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull has shown a lack of courage in the face of ultraconservative elements in the coalition party room. It really should come as no surprise that his government have also failed to show any courage. They have failed to show courage on the issues that matter to Australians, on the matters that shape the lives of individuals, families and communities across this country.

All these Australians ask is some honesty in this government. They never saw it under Mr Abbott. They expected to see it under Mr Turnbull, but that has not come. That has not come. We hear it each and every day from the ministers of this government: 'Nothing has changed. Our policies are the same. Nothing has changed under this government.' So Australians should be disappointed, and they are disappointed. They are disappointed that this new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, has not come in here and tried to put some honesty back into the election commitments that this government gave.

The Turnbull government has shown that it is no better than the Abbott government, adopting the same cuts and out-of-touch policies. In fact, in many cases, unfortunately, the Turnbull government is now going further. Just before Christmas, the Turnbull government ripped a further $2.1 billion out of health by slashing bulk-billing for diagnostic imaging and pathology.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not nonsense, Senator O'Sullivan. It is not nonsense. Get out there. Listen. Listen to the people who use pathology. Listen to the sector. It is not nonsense. This is what you did. You have ripped $2.1 billion out of diagnostic imaging and pathology, and you are gutting crucial health workforce training programs. That is what is happening out there. I know you have been away; you might not have caught up. But that is what is happening.

That cut just builds on the $60 billion in health cuts—health cuts they said they would not do—made by the Abbott government, cuts which have been gleefully adopted by the Turnbull government. It is clear that, regardless of who the leader of the coalition is, our health system is at risk under the coalition. Our hospitals are at risk under the coalition. Patients are at risk under the coalition. And, under the coalition, Medicare will always be at risk because the Liberal government believe that your access to quality health care should be determined by your ability to pay.

The Liberal government would also happily see your ability to pay determine your access to education. Before the election, again, it was 'no cuts to education', a 'unity ticket' on Gonski, but what we saw when they came into government was $30 billion ripped from our schools. Different salesman, same policies. (Time expired)

4:47 pm

Photo of John MadiganJohn Madigan (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to contribute to today's debate on the Turnbull government's lack of courage on matters of importance to everyday Australians. Yesterday, with Senator Xenophon, I co-sponsored a motion that called for an inquiry into bullying within the Australian medical profession. This motion was passed by the Senate, and I applaud Senator Xenophon for his work on this important issue.

I was pleased to stand beside him because of the actions of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency against the small number of doctors who are treating patients in Australia presenting with Lyme disease—or, as referred to in this place, a Lyme-like illness. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Baggoley told the Senate hearing last year that the Department of Health and the Medical Board of Australia did not support a policy of warning off doctors from treating patients with suspected Lyme disease. Professor Baggoley said AHPRA did not have an official position on Lyme disease, and it was not its role to adjudicate treatment of the condition.

But this is not true. Seven doctors treating patients for Lyme disease have been or are currently being bullied and harassed out of their profession. Camberwell doctor Geoffrey Kemp, a GP of more than 40 years experience, has treated more than 350 patients for Lyme symptoms and is now unable to continue because of severe—some would say outrageous—restrictions on his practice. These include being only allowed to work in a group practice approved in advance by the Medical Board of Australia, not using homeopathic medicine, not practising without a workplace supervisor who is approved in advance by the board and submitting to a fortnightly audit of his patients' files. AHPRA's campaign against Dr Kemp commenced mid last year but reached a climax in December with a formal hearing at the disruptive time of just before the Christmas holiday break.

I call on the Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, to rein in her AHPRA attack dog. I call on the government to insist that AHPRA immediately stop targeting doctors treating patients with Lyme disease. This campaign of harassment and bullying is creating medical refugees out of thousands of sick Australians who now cannot obtain treatment or who must go overseas to do so. I put on the record my enthusiasm for the forthcoming Senate inquiries into both the prevalence of Lyme-like illness in Australia and bullying in the medical profession.

4:50 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not want to make a practice of this, but I do have to open today, in the interests of transparency, with a confession. My confession is that I do not often get excited by anything that the Greens party says, but today I simply could not believe it when they wanted to invite a debate with my government on the question of courage. Here we have an antijobs, anti-industry, anti-employee, antidevelopment party that wants to have a discussion with the Turnbull government on the question of courage. Well, I can tell you: we are up to it, so sit up, kick your shoes off and have a listen.

It took a lot of courage to implement policies in this nation to increase jobs—last year, under the coalition, over 300,000 new jobs. That is in the face of a party that wants to have a discussion about courage—an antijobs party, a party that publishes on its own website that in the next five years it wants to get rid of the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coal industry, wiping places like Central Queensland, Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone off the face of the map without any regard to the hundreds of thousands of families and the economies of all of those communities. So I am happy to have a discussion with you about courage in relation to that. Sixty per cent of the jobs that were created by us last year were full-time jobs—180,000 jobs. That is 180,000, probably, mums and dads and other forms of family structures around the country who now have a better standard of living because our government has had the courage to implement those decisions and those policies that are job-creating. So I am happy to talk to you about courage there.

I am also happy to have a discussion with you about courage when you are a pro unlawful immigration party. You actually promote unlawful immigration. So if you want to talk about courage, there is the courage of our government to stop the boats, to save the 1,200 deaths on the high seas—a fact you have never mentioned. I have been here two years and not once have the Greens and Labor made reference to the fact of that terrible loss of life. Under our government, under the courage it takes to stop the boats, not one death on the high seas. So if you want to talk about courage, I am happy to talk about courage.

Let's talk about courage with children in detention—1,992 children were in detention under the Greens and Labor. We have had the courage to reduce that, to put in place policies and measures to reduce that now to fewer than 100. They are the sorts of things that take courage if you want to have a discussion.

We have committed, in somewhat difficult financial times, to a $50 billion infrastructure plan. That is over three times the commitment to the Snowy River scheme, in difficult economic circumstances. We have got the courage to go ahead and do it. We have got the people who are going to manage the economy to make sure that we deliver on it. That is courage if you want to have a talk about courage.

If you want to talk about courage: the development of northern Australia. This is the place where you want work practices to change, where you want things in the agricultural industry to change to make it almost unviable. This is the place where you, with the Labor Party, wiped off hundreds of millions of dollars of value across family farms and enterprises right across northern Australia and brought a billion dollar industry to its knees in less than one hour. You want to talk about courage, I will tell you what courage is: to restore that industry. Courage is to bring it back from death's door, as we have done, as this government have done in our term and restore it to where it is now—an absolutely viable industry, allowing some of those people to have survived.

I am happy to talk to you about courage today and any other day. It was a mistake for you to put the word 'courage' in your motion. If you want to talk about courage, it takes courage for a country under this government to go ahead and finalise three major trade agreements and the TPP when you and the Greens for seven years resisted it. It has increased—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

I know you don't like to hear this. It has increased the value of agricultural exports by 29 per cent—over $10 billion. So now we have thousands of families, my heart constituency, who are far better off living in northern Australia and right across agricultural sector. This year alone, we have had a 29 per cent increase in the volume of agricultural exports in certain classes. Barley, canola and chickpeas are all up. Chickpeas are up 39 per cent. It takes courage for a government to fast-track and enter into those relations to make sure that they produce a deal that is in the interests of their country.

It would be unfair if I did not mention the fact that our friends in the Greens party also have courage. It takes courage to mislead the Australian people on the impacts of climate change, to frighten people so it impacts on their business plans. It takes courage to mislead the Australian people on kangaroo populations to a point where it makes it difficult for us to get the kangaroo harvesting industry up and going. It would provide 4,000 jobs in the bush and over a hundred million dollar boost in to economies and communities all across western Queensland, New South Wales and a little bit of Victoria. It takes courage to come out and say you are going to destroy the coalmining industry and all the tens and tens and tens of thousands of jobs and the knock-on jobs for families that that will have.

It takes courage to go to the Australian people and tell them you are going to advocate the introduction of death duties—if you ever find your way into a position to be able to do it. It takes courage to elevate policy positions that will destroy economies and economic activities in rural communities in your antijobs and antidevelopment approach.

In closing, any time, any place, here or outside, that you want to have a debate with this government about what we have done and what you have not done, make sure you plant the word 'courage' fairly in the sentence and make the job of turning you down as easy as it has been. Thank you for the opportunity.

4:57 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Welcome back, Senator O'Farrell. I trust your sojourn in New York was—

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator O'Sullivan it is.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, Senator O'Sullivan. Anyway, you did well in New York by the sound of it. The courage that I want to talk about is the courage of conviction. I think that that is what the matter of public importance is about today:

The Turnbull government's lack of courage on matters of importance to everyday Australians.

That is the courage of our convictions. Someone told me, 'The art of politics is achieving what is possible.' I suppose that that is probably correct, but most of us in this place have convictions. Most of us have the courage of our convictions and we will not easily be dissuaded from that conviction.

However, if you knew nothing about the Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, and you googled him, you would find out that he was the leader of the Australian Republican Movement for seven years. I imagine that in seven years you would have an irrevocable conviction that there should be an Australian republic and that if you ever got in a position where you could actually influence that outcome—that is, being the Prime Minister—you would probably not walk away from that conviction. But it appears as if the current Prime Minister has walked away from his conviction that Australia should be a republic. He has not been at the forefront of that debate. He has not initiated any initiatives that would bring that closer, despite the fact for seven years he was the leader and was publicly out and about seeking an Australian republic.

If you wikipediaed 'the honourable Prime Minister Turnbull' you would probably come up with a whole lot of stuff on climate change. Climate change was in his DNA until it threatened his opportunity to occupy the Lodge. It was there. He was on the front foot. He was leading with conviction, until two things happened. The first thing was that he was done in as opposition leader and the second thing was that he was able to get the Lodge. It would appear that the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull does not have the courage of his convictions in respect to two very important matters that you cannot move around Australia without talking to everyday voters about. Climate change and the Australian republic are well worn paths. People in the street want to know where you stand on those two issues. You could have been mistaken for thinking you knew where the honourable Prime Minister Turnbull stood with conviction on climate change and the republic. However, he has been able to walk away from that conviction.

The other issue which is gaining some publicity is marriage equality. Before he became Prime Minister, he was out there advocating one position, but as soon as he became Prime Minister he adopted the Hon. Tony Abbott's position. So on three quite easily distinguishable, recognisable policies he has not had the courage of his convictions.

I will put on the record a quote from the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull on Meet the Press on 4 October 2009:

I mean, Tony thought he was going to go to an election and he'd be saying "great big tax" and Kevin Rudd would be saying "save the planet" but instead Rudd just walked away from it and looked like a man who believed in nothing and his support - as Rudd himself confesses and Howard said - his support just fell off a cliff, because people, Kerry, in politics, the public, will forgive you for a certain amount of incompetence. You don't want to stretch their patience on that. But they will never forgive you if you are seen to believe in nothing.

  …   …   …

Because if you believe in nothing why are you there?

So if he has abandoned his convictions on these three basic items, why is it not abundantly apparent to all that he has traded his convictions for the job? If you want to have a look at convictions, start with the alphabet: Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, go on to Bernardi. They never lack the courage of their convictions; their positions are always out there. I do not agree with them, but at least you can hear and understand them. (Time expired)

5:02 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to today's matter of public importance, whose subject is the Turnbull government's lack of courage on matters of importance to everyday Australians.

I have to agree that up to today the Turnbull government has displayed a lack of courage to many issues of importance to everyday Australians, but I make this point: it can change. I have just had a meeting with the PM and I have taken to him some very important issues, including the plight of SAS soldier Evan Donaldson and former Army officer Marcus Saltmarsh. I thank him for the time he gave to me today. Talking to him is always pleasant. He is a very good listener and talker, but it is actions that I judge him by.

With reference to the harm and damage that have been clearly done to Evan Donaldson and Marcus Saltmarsh, the PM has agreed to support genuine mediation processes for those gentlemen. I can only hope that that happens extremely quickly. That would be the best and easiest way of ensuring they are compensated for the incredible harm they have suffered for 7 years and 16 years, respectively.

I also spoke to the PM about the $650 million of Medicare cuts. He did not promise to lift them but he did promise to speak with Tasmanian medical scientist Richard Hanlon who warned about the $30 pap smears Australian women are faced with if the Liberals' cuts to Medicare go ahead. I hope the PM shows common sense and courage and abandons the cruel Liberal cuts to women's cancer checks and Medicare bulk-billing.

Other areas where this government can show some courage is to stop their freeze on federal assistance grants, grants the rural and regional local governments of Australia are heavily reliant on. These assistance grants are central to a council's budget and are intended to help build and maintain roads. Why did the coalition freeze these grants? As if rural Australians were not struggling enough, now their rates have increased. With rates at an all-time high, families will be incapable of achieving the Australian dream and own their own home.

That leads me to the Tasmanian municipality of King Island, an island that relies heavily on exporting its produce. Within 12 months their only shipping service will be taken out of the game, and neither the federal or state Liberal governments will contribute the necessary $60 million to upgrade the deepwater port at Grassy to ensure King Island. Without this upgrade, King Island will not be able to continue to export its world renowned products. Every person on King Island is crying out for help, but the Turnbull government and the Hodgman government have ignored their desperate pleas.

Now let us talk about Tasmania's public health system. My state is in the grip of an extreme health crisis, but the state Liberal government has no feasible plan to nurse the system back to health. In fact, the state Liberal government plans on reducing the number of hospital beds and medical staff instead of providing a much needed increase. The hospitals are operating at more than 100 per cent capacity, and Tasmania already lags behind the national average on bed numbers. Tasmania needs a further 150 beds to service its population. Only last week, The Mercury reported that a 95-year-old woman was left vomiting for hours on the floor of the Royal Hobart Hospital because there were no available beds. This woman had nothing but a blanket to lie on. It is not the fault of the healthcare workers. Tasmania's hospital staff are wonderful, highly skilled people. They simply do not have the resources. To make matters worse, Tasmanians are already waiting four times longer for elective surgery than any other Australian and are dying between one and two years earlier, on average, than their mainland counterparts. The only way to save the Tasmanian health system is to start by opening another 150 beds and, in the long term, place a third, fully serviced, hospital on the north-west coast. In the meantime, I ask the Minister for Health, Susan Ley, to stop making the health crisis in Tasmania worse by introducing $650 million worth of cuts to bulk-billing incentives on cancer and diabetes checks, which will mean people will not seek help until it is too late, which can only mean hospitals will be inundated with cases that could have been prevented. (Time expired)