Senate debates

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Governor-General's Speech


12:32 pm

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

If there was any doubt about the link between wages and safety, there was a report from the National Transport Commission:

There is solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use. This evidence has been accepted and indeed confirmed by government inquiries, coronial inquests, courts and industrial tribunal hearings in Australia over a number of years. The association between remuneration and safety applies to both employed and owner/drivers.

Last night in the Senate, the government voted down the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Their sense of accomplishment and excitement over this achievement reminded me of the gleeful nature of the way in which Mr Peter Reith announced the sacking of waterfront workers back in 1998. Both of these moves by conservative governments—by LNP governments—were wrong. Just as it was wrong for the Howard government back in 1998 to buy in so publicly on a waterfront dispute, with their own clear agenda to get rid of the MUA, it is equally wrong for the Turnbull government to have beaten up road safety and the lives of Australian drivers in this debate. It is not as clear-cut as the government would have us believe. It is not owner-drivers versus the rest. It is not—

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, on a point of order, I have just noticed Senator Sam Dastyari with his new haircut come into the chamber, but I am pleased to inform the chamber that, as of my call to him the other day, he now knows what a backload is in transport.

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

No, Senator Heffernan. That is no point of order.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He didn't know what a backload was.

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

Senator Heffernan, resume your seat. There is no point of order, and that is misusing points of order in this place.

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

How dare government senators make a mockery of the deaths of truck drivers? How dare you? You should apologise. So the Turnbull government has beaten this up.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not making a joke of deaths on the roads, you dope.

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

It is not owner-drivers.

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

Order! Senator Heffernan, you cannot just stand up and speak until you are given the call.

Photo of Bill HeffernanBill Heffernan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, bugger it. I'm not going to put up with that.

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

If you have a point of order, you raise it properly as a point of order, and there are other measures to address issues where you think you may have been misrepresented. Senator Lines, you have the call.

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

Thank you, Mr President. It is not owner-drivers versus the Transport Workers Union, and it is an absolute fabrication to make out that owner-drivers have lost their incomes and their livelihoods because of a decision which came out of the RSRT just a few weeks ago. It is as if suddenly the Turnbull government have discovered mums and dads, as they have repeated it over and over in the media and in the parliament. But guess what: just because you say something over and over does not mean people believe your message or that your message is credible. The Turnbull government's new-found love of mums and dads is not credible. You cannot stand for the big end of town over and over, cut health, education, Medicare and pathology services and put banks before people, and then suddenly discover mums and dads. You fail the pub test, and on this issue it is clear that the Prime Minister and Minister Cash in particular have failed the pub test.

Yesterday, in abolishing the RSRT, the government did not talk about road safety or deaths, nor did they outline their plan to improve road safety and reduce deaths. Why? Because they do not have a plan. It is that simple. The Turnbull government are chaotic. It is a government which has no plan, and it has no plan about road safety. The RSRT was not even in its sights until last week. If it was really the big issue they claim it to be then they have had three years to listen to the whole industry and come up with a workable solution that does not put truck drivers and other road users at risk of death on our roads. That is the simple truth. The Turnbull government saw a political opportunity and took it. Unfortunately and tragically, that means more deaths on our roads, because this government have chosen to play politics with road safety.

Let me put the facts on the table: $2 billion is the estimated cost of heavy vehicle accidents in Australia every year. Two thousand five hundred and forty eight people were killed in truck related accidents between 2004 and 2014. That is 2,548 people who did not go home to their families—lives lost and families and loved ones in mourning. In 2012-13, there were 1,728 people hospitalised in crashes involving a heavy vehicle. The number of people hospitalised was up by 1,412 from 2005-06. Between 2012 and 2015, 3,000-plus transport businesses went bankrupt. Sixty per cent of these small firms of five or fewer employees—the mums and dads the Turnbull government have suddenly discovered just last week—went bankrupt because of poor cash flow and poor financial control, not because of high wages or because of the RSRT but because they were not getting the money in quickly enough from the jobs they had done. This is about big business screwing over small business—the mums and dads. This is what needs fixing, a fair go for everyone, and this could have been achieved if the Turnbull government was not playing politics with truck drivers and sat down with Labor, the union and the industry to find solutions.

Sadly, in Victoria between 2008 and 2013, 53 truck drivers took their own lives. According to analysis by the Coroners Court of Victoria, truck drivers had the highest number of suicides out of any profession. Along with these shocking statistics, we have injuries and deaths caused by speed and drivers ignoring safety to get the job done because of the pressure they are under. And in March of this year, while the Turnbull government was plotting to get rid of the RSRT, there were 25 deaths in trucking crashes alone. There were 25 people who did not go home to their families and their friends—people whose families were left devastated. There was not one word from the Turnbull government about this shocking loss of life—no plan, no proposals, just blatant political opportunism.

And let me run the ruler over all the garbage we have heard from the Prime Minister, Minister Cash and the Turnbull government who claim somehow to represent thousands of owner-drivers. Research released today by the Transport Workers Union—checking the facts—absolutely expose the Turnbull government, the Prime Minister and Minister Cash on the garbage they have peddled. Just 12 per cent of Australians polled thought the tribunal should be abolished. They did not ask them. No, they did not ask the Australian voters; they just saw a dirty political opportunity and took it. Twelve per cent of Australians are the only group of Australians who agree with them—not the thousands that they claimed in the media—just 12 per cent. In fact, that figure was consistent. Most of the people polled thought the tribunal should have strengthened powers, and it did not matter who they voted for: whether they voted for Labor, whether they voted for the Liberals, whether they voted for the Independents. Thirty per cent of those polled thought the tribunal should have more powers. They certainly did not support its abolition. Once again, the Turnbull government, the Prime Minister and Minister Cash just ignore the facts of the situation and make it up as they go along.

The truth is—the reality is—trucking is one of Australia's most dangerous jobs. Road transport has the highest fatality of any industry in Australia. It has 12 times the average for all industry. Yesterday, when I began this speech, I talked about some of the owner-drivers and some of the widows that I met, and I mentioned a woman who had become an activist because she lost her husband in a trucking accident. Her name is Suzanne and she said: 'We know drivers are forced to work these crazy hours not because they want to but because the big companies at the top are cutting their transport costs. Why is the government trying to abolish the one body which can stop this deadly cycle? Why are they forcing other families to go through what mine has gone through?'

Those opposite would have you believe that this is all a big union beat-up. Suzanne was not a member of the Transport Workers Union; she is the widow of a truck driver killed needlessly on our roads. This is a view she formed from sitting in the coroners court and her truth is being denied by those opposite for blatant political gain.

Let us hear from Mark, who is an employed truck driver. Mark says: 'Drivers are forced to drive too fast or too long to meet unrealistic delivery deadlines set by companies like Coles. The money is just not there to do everything properly and safely.' And Mark says, and I conclude, 'That is why we need the RSRT.' And let us hear from another owner-driver, not one trumped up by the Turnbull government—an owner-driver who has his own opinion—not one who is being used for blatant political purposes by the Turnbull government, who suddenly found the mums and dads of Australia just last week.

Let us hear from Ray who is an owner-driver, 'Minimum rates need to apply nationally to lift standards and ensure people can pay themselves a wage and pay their overheads, otherwise you get a race to the bottom and safety is sacrificed.' Let us have a look at what the RSRT is able to make orders on, or could make orders on. It could establish minimum rates of pay and not put people out of business—but you never heard that from the Turnbull government. It could look at industry practices for loading and unloading vehicles, for waiting times, for working hours, for load limits, for payment methods and for payment periods—all the factors which contribute to a safe trucking industry. It could look at ways of reducing or removing remuneration related incentives, pressures and practices that contribute to unsafe work practices.

At the time that it was abolished, after some kind of thought bubble by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment just last week, it was looking at issues such as oil, fuel and gas; cash in transit, another dangerous industry; waste; ports and wharves; and retail and long distance—another set of factors which contribute to safe trucking in our country. And what does the Turnbull government do? It abolishes it, for no reason other than cheap political gain. Labor will not stand for that. We will not. We put people first. That is what Labor does. The Turnbull government does not and it never has. Today, as a Labor senator, I stand with members of the Transport Workers Union and truck drivers across this country. I can assure those truck drivers and the Transport Workers Union that Labor will put people first.

12:46 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A person with a Nobel prize in physics knows a lot about physics but probably not about Middle East politics. Being a victim of crime does not make you expert at how to prevent similar crimes or the implements used in them. And being a retailer means you understand things like margins and stock turns, but you do not have expertise in the production of what you are selling—unless, it seems, you are Coles.

Despite being a retailer, Coles apparently believes it knows enough about pig production to tell pig farmers how to produce their pigs. And, if they do not do as they are told, Coles will not sell their pork. We also know what happens when we reach our limitations. We make wrong decisions. We potentially cause harm to others. If we do that in spite of being told we are making a wrong decision, we are not only stupid but culpable. Coles is both stupid and culpable. I will explain.

As male pigs reach puberty, they begin to produce male hormones. That has two effects. First, it makes them fight. A pen full of pubescent male pigs is not a pretty sight. As the hormones kick in, they become aggressive and covered in bites and scratches. Second, the male hormones cause an unpleasant taste in the meat, known as boar taint. Consumers dislike boar taint. Some find it utterly offensive. It is enough to put them off pork permanently. A pen of young adolescent female pigs is placid, with very little fighting, and their meat is quite untainted. Some meat buyers insist on pork from female pigs, but obviously pig farming would not be viable if only female pigs were used.

In the past there were two options. One was to surgically castrate male pigs prior to puberty so the hormones were not produced. This is effective but has obvious animal welfare issues. We are not talking about an operating theatre and anaesthetic here. It also has an economic effect: the shock of castration plus the loss of the anabolic effect of male hormones means the pigs stop growing for a while. The other option was to slaughter male pigs at a young age, prior to puberty kicking in. This is far from ideal in terms of the type of pork produced and is not very efficient either.

A few years ago a vaccine-like product called Improvac came on the market in Australia and elsewhere. It is a simple injection given to male piglets when they are small which blocks the production of male hormones. It is high technology, not a chemical or a hormone, and will in due course be used in other species. When it is used in male pigs, they do not develop boar taint, do not fight with each other and can be allowed to grow to an economic size.

But Coles tells its pork suppliers not to use Improvac—not because it has superior scientific knowledge to the regulators who approved Improvac, not because it knows more about pig farming than pig farmers; it is so it can say to consumers, 'We don't sell pork that contains things'—things it knows nothing about. It feeds on ignorance and bigotry about agriculture. The result is: Coles's suppliers of pork are forced to either castrate their male pigs, slaughter them too early or risk losing consumers because of boar taint. This is bad for pig farmers, bad for animal welfare and bad for pork consumers. Coles does not actually care about pig welfare, or the pig industry, or its own customers. It just wants to be able to tell a nonsense story to gullible consumers. It is dishonest and, as I said, stupid and culpable. If the issue is not fixed, I will have a lot more to say about it in future.

On another matter: like many Australians, I understand the appeal of a very fast train. In fact, those of us forced to spend 20 weeks a year in Canberra love the idea of getting out of here at a very rapid rate. The ABC television documentary Utopia pointed out that 95 per cent of Australians are in favour of very fast trains. But the other five per cent are economists, engineers and other experts in transport. Several studies have shown this plan is not viable in Australia. Even before the inevitable cost blowouts caused by detours to avoid disturbing the habitats of eastern post turtles, it is estimated that a Brisbane to Melbourne train would cost about $114 billion. This is more than $5,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. This is too much money for private companies to raise without setting uncompetitive ticket prices, so the idea can only be entertained by a reckless government. A very fast train would make our taxes disappear faster than a speeding bullet. I also bet that everybody—and especially people in Townsville, Darwin, Perth and Adelaide—can think of things they would rather do with $5,000. For this money, we could offer every Australian several return flights to anywhere they want to go.

As usual, there is a cheaper option which involves governments getting out of the way. If governments really are worried about travel times, and they ought to be, they should reform speed limits on our roads. We could do this for the cost of replacing some road signs. In fact, my mate Ferret, the proprietor of the Penrith Muffler Shop, says he would personally be willing to remove speed indicators between Brisbane and Melbourne at no charge to the taxpayer. I jest—but there is nothing silly about this idea. What is really silly is that we still trundle around our huge continent at speed limits set in 1964, while other countries have adjusted their speed limits as cars and roads have improved. There are huge sections of our highways where a speed limit of 130, which is what applies in much of Europe, would seem more appropriate.

But it should not be up to me to set speed limits; nor should it be up to engineers or the road safety lobby, which thinks speeding is responsible for everything wrong about society. Speed limits should be set based on what the community considers to be appropriate. There is an internationally recognised methodology for working this out. And when speed limits are considered appropriate, relations with law enforcement are positive and the tedium of long distance travel is reduced as travel times are lowered. We cannot afford very fast trains, but we can afford to reduce our travel times through higher speed limits. And if this means getting out of Canberra faster, I reckon it would have a lot of support.

On a serious issue, in November last year I spoke about the case of David Waters and his dismissal by Goodyear. David is one of Australia's top sporting shooters. He has won many competitions and medals, both domestically and internationally. In July 2015, while at work, David agreed to meet a member of a rifle club similar to his own. The visitor, a 59-year-old woman, is a keen shooter looking to excel in her sport. Liz needed advice on fitting an accessory to her new target rifle. David was leaving for overseas in a couple of days, so he agreed to see her during his lunchbreak at work.

Liz drove into the basement carpark that Goodyear shares with several other businesses and their visitors in the building. David was expecting her to turn up with the accessory only. However, she had also brought along the rifle to which it was to be fitted. Until she took it out of her car, David did not know she had the rifle with her. Liz is a responsible shooter and therefore the bolt and magazine had been removed. At no point did the rifle present a risk to anyone. Unsure of his position, David nonetheless suggested to Liz that she return the rifle to the car and leave. But the carpark entrance is open to the street and a passer-by must have noticed the rifle. Within a couple of minutes the police showed up, eventually totalling about 16 of them. They arrested David and Liz and searched their cars. They accompanied David upstairs to his office to retrieve his identification and car keys. He was not charged, for the obvious reason that he had committed no offence. Liz was charged over unlocked transport of ammunition, but no conviction was recorded.

Not surprisingly, some of David's work colleagues saw him being accompanied to his office by the police and drew their own conclusions. People do that. David was instructed to attend a disciplinary hearing. He was suspended without pay. I attended the hearing with David. Those present were Trent Hudson, Goodyear's HR consultant, and Anil Singh, Finance Director and David's immediate boss. Mr Hudson, who now works for Foxtel, did most of the talking, adopting a condescending and patronising manner towards both of us. Mr Singh, who is still at Goodyear Dunlop, said little. However, it later emerged he was the key decision maker. David was summarily sacked with no compensation, no notice or pay in lieu, on the grounds that his conduct had had 'significant reputational impact' on the company.

The letter to David that followed sets out the injustice in detail. It said he had breached company policy by allowing firearms and ammunition on company property. This is a lie. David had no prior knowledge of what was in Liz's car. It said he 'failed to ensure the safety and security of fellow associates, building tenants and Goodyear assets'. Another lie. Safety and security were never jeopardised. It said he was responsible for conduct that resulted in a complaint and a formal warning against Goodyear by the building owner. A complete lie. No such complaint or warning ever occurred. It said David was responsible for conduct that has resulted in a financial penalty against Goodyear by the building owner. Another lie. There was no penalty. It said, without explanation, there was a 'breach of trust in the employment relationship'. That is true, but it was Goodyear that breached the relationship after employing David for 12 years. In summary, the letter said: 'Your actions placed Goodyear in a position whereby it was in breach of its obligation to provide a safe and secure working environment for its associates.' False, and an outright lie. The mere presence of a rifle does not constitute a threat, and, in any case, it is quite trivial in the presence of at least 16 police, each of whom carries a firearm.

What occurred should never have attracted attention in the first place. We Australians are rightly proud of our Olympic, Commonwealth Games and World Championship shooters and the medals they regularly bring home. Unfortunately, it seems the rest of the time they are treated as presumptive criminals. David took action against Goodyear in the kangaroo court known as the Fair Work Commission. Goodyear refused to negotiate in the conciliation phase. Goodyear turned up with four lawyers and a huge pile of documents containing lies and distortions, which it dumped on him 10 minutes before the case was to be heard. Nonetheless, David represented himself and did a fine job. The company's lawyers, Hentys Lawyers, even tried to use my support for him to pursue their assertion that he had done something wrong. Totally unprofessional and disgraceful. He was awarded pay of four weeks on the grounds that his dismissal should not have been summary.

But this is not the end of the matter. There are consequences for Goodyear. Australia's sporting shooters will come to know about Goodyear and its treatment of David. Firearm owners around the world will come to know about it. Virtually all of Australia's 800,000 licensed firearm owners drive cars for which they require tyres. Virtually all of those licensed firearm owners have friends and relatives who also drive cars, requiring tyres. Virtually any Australian who looks at what happened and says, 'That is manifestly unfair,' drives a car. Virtually every firearm owner around the world who recognises injustice to a fellow shooter also drives a vehicle with tyres.

I am calling on firearm owners around the world, wherever they are, to stop buying products made by Goodyear until it does the right thing by David. These products come under the brands Goodyear, Dunlop and Beaurepaires. I am calling on Goodyear to hold responsible those employees responsible for this outrage: Anil Singh, in particular, and those employees who have done nothing to rectify it—in particular Asia Pacific President Chris Delaney. It seems firearm owners have replaced blacks and Jews in the discrimination stakes. We cannot afford to allow this injustice to stand—because, when they come for one of us in the morning, they will be coming for the rest that night.

1:00 pm

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

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the fact that yesterday was one of the most historic and memorable days in the Senate of the Parliament of Australia for both positive and negative reasons. Positively, we have seen the start of a process now in which the people of Australia can have their voice on issues about which I will discuss. Secondly, from a positive point of view, we restored the capacity and the centrality of the families of Australia, particularly the small business families of Australia, to get about doing the work that they do so well.

On the negative side, we regrettably saw by one of our colleagues—the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Stephen Conroy—a most unprecedented, unfair and cowardly attack on the person and the position of the Governor-General of Australia. In his response to the presence and the statements made by the Governor-General on behalf of the government and indeed on behalf of the Prime Minister, Senator Conroy made comments along the lines that the Governor-General had demeaned his office. He drew attention to a past, now deceased, Governor-General and activities. He made the observation that 'a strong Governor-General would never have agreed' to undertake what the Prime Minister of the day had requested and what the Governor-General is required to do, and that the Prime Minister had 'used his position in advising the Governor-General in a way' which Senator Conroy thought 'would never happen again.'

The irony of all this is that constitutional experts have drawn attention to the error of Senator Conroy's comments. Constitutional law expert from the University of New South Wales, George Williams, said:

If anything, the spectre of 1975 would have been raised if the Governor-General had acted contrary to the view of the Prime Minister, so I think he (Senator Conroy) has got it the wrong way around.

Professor Anne Twomey, of Sydney University, made this comment:

The reverse of what Senator Conroy is saying is the case. What was controversial in 1975 was that the governor-general refused to act on government advice and acted without it.

I call on Senator Conroy, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Labor Party's shadow spokesman on defence, to come into this place and reflect on the comments that he made, agree with the statements of his own leader, Mr Shorten, and indeed the Prime Minister and others, and apologise unreservedly to the Governor-General.

If nothing else, we know the person of General Sir Peter Cosgrove—probably one of the most highly decorated and certainly one of the most successful military generals in this country's history. It was in September 1999 that the United Nations mission to East Timor charged Australia with the responsibility of bringing peace and good order to that country following its long years of conflict with Indonesia. And who was it that the Australian government appointed? The government appointed none other than General Sir Peter Cosgrove to lead what became known as INTERFET—one of the most successful military and peacekeeping operations in this country's history. No injuries and no wounds were encountered. He led a contingent of people from 23 countries, involving in all some 11,000 people and he did so with a high degree of military precision and he brought enormous honour to this country. At that time I was undertaking business activities in Asia, including with an Asian military organisation. When Cosgrove was appointed to lead INTERFET, I recall being told by senior generals of that military organisation that we were not good enough and that Australia was going to end up with blood on its nose because its contingent and its leader simply were not capable of undertaking that work.

So yesterday, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and shadow spokesman for defence was decrying the Governor-General of Australia, he was also placing abuse at the person of a military hero of this country. I know Senator Conroy. I believe him to be a man of honour and I believe the right thing he should do is come into this chamber today before we rise this evening and give an explanation to the Senate and to the people of Australia and, in particular, give an apology to His Excellency General Sir Peter Cosgrove.

What the Governor-General's speech yesterday morning, and the results of votes in this place yesterday afternoon, indicated is that we now have a true opportunity for the democratic process to play its part. Registered organisations legislation was introduced into the lower house. It came here to the Senate and was rejected. It then went back to the lower house and came to this place and was rejected again, and it has now become what is known as trigger for a double-dissolution election. In other words, the government of the day, elected to run this country, is unable to bring forward its legislation.

Secondly, as we saw played out yesterday, the Building and Construction Commission legislation was again rejected. It is important for people in this gallery and others around Australia to know that in 2013 the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, on behalf of the coalition, took to the 2013 election the fact that we wanted to reinstitute the ABCC. The people of Australia overwhelmingly returned the coalition to government and, in so doing, made it their position that they were happy with the introduction of that legislation. But yesterday we saw for the second time the rejection of legislation put by the government of the day, and that of course has also triggered a double-dissolution election. It is now time for the people of Australia to confirm their decision from 2013. There could not be a more direct contrast. Drawing upon my own horseracing background, I can say to you that the Labor Party is owned, trained, ridden and strapped by the union movement in this country. What we are going to see over the next few weeks is a very, very clear description of who runs the Labor Party in this country. We saw evidence of it on two occasions yesterday to which I will refer: the ABCC and the construction sector—the CFMEU, which is a huge donor of more than $7 million to the Labor Party for campaign purposes.

Through you, Acting Deputy President Reynolds, I am delighted that Senator McAllister is with us in the chamber. It was not all that long ago that I watched an interview on television with Senator McAllister with the Hon. Paul Ferguson. I recall Senator McAllister saying at the time that it is important to let the courts of Australia make the decisions when it comes to alleged unruly behaviour, dominance, bullying and standover tactics. I would like to draw attention to what the courts said and why it is so necessary for us to return to an ABCC. The Federal Court of Australia, in a recent decision, noted:

Comments such as “[t]he last time it cost us a shit load of money” and “it is going to be expensive but our fighting fund will have to fix it” evidence an attitude on the part of—


branch officials that the risk of the imposition of significant pecuniary penalties will not be allowed to act as a constraint on unlawful activity which they consider to be warranted.

That is the response of the Federal Court of Australia, Senator McAllister, to the activities of the CFMEU. More recently, the Supreme Court of Victoria—and New South Wales and other supreme courts have had similar experiences—stated:

… the imposition of a penalty for contempt of court should not be viewed as simply an anticipated cost of industrial action … few things could be more destructive to the authority of the Court and to the rule of law than the idea that fines or similar punishment are akin to a tax that, once budgeted for, enable the use of unlawful conduct to achieve industrial outcomes.

That has been the response of the federal and supreme courts. If we have a look at the industry regulator itself, the FWBC, it has advised that the spread of unlawfulness in the industry, which was a feature of Victoria and our home state of Western Australia, has now spread to Queensland and South Australia. This is the Fair Work Building & Construction's statement, the regulator, not mine.

As we know, after 2007 when Labor came into government—and I am reminded of the fact that it took them some time, despite the pressure from the unions, to abolish the ABCC—they appointed Justice Murray Wilcox QC. We know him not to be a person of our political persuasion. They asked him to review the industry in such a way that they could buy time before they abolished the ABCC. Justice Wilcox, recognised the need for, and the benefit provided by, the Australian Building and Construction Commission and stated in his report—it was not welcomed by Ms Gillard at that time: 'The ABCC's work is not done. It would be unfortunate if the ABCC's replacement body led to a reversal of the progress that has been made.' That is exactly what we have seen. Those are points that I am delighted I can refer Senator McAllister to as she in this place.

The CFMEU has undue and unruled power over the Labor Party. Through you, Acting Deputy President, to those in the public gallery understand this: the construction industry in this country employs more than a million people. In small businesses and family businesses, the vast majority are not members of unions or the CFMEU, in particular. We know that this government has placed enormous emphasis on construction. There has been $55 billion for infrastructure projects. The evidence before us is that more than one-third of the cost of construction projects in this country is wasted as a result of industrial lawlessness. It is important for the taxpayers of Australia and the Australian community that we reduce and eliminate that 30 per cent wastage so that it can go into the very construction projects about which I speak.

We know that at this time the CFMEU has more than 100 of its officials before the courts around Australia. This is unconscionable. What we saw yesterday was, again, the involvement of the Labor Party and the Greens political party, along with four of the Independents, voting down the reinstitution of the ABCC. We are looking at the largest infrastructure spend in Australia's history. We know very well that should Labor get into government, we would see a continuation of industrial lawlessness simply because those who pay the piper, as we know, call the tune.

The other point of interest yesterday was that we voted to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. I listened to the contribution a few minutes ago from Senator Sue Lines about the problems associated with safety on roads in Australia and how bad this decision is. The interesting thing is that it was 2011 when then Prime Minister Gillard, kowtowing to the Transport Workers Union—another owner, trainer and rider of the Labor Party—instituted this particular tribunal. If what Senator Lines said is true about the tribunal being involved in heavy vehicle road safety, then why have we not seen a significant reduction in the instances of accidents involving heavy vehicles from 2011 to 2016?

We know very well that this particular tribunal was never introduced for the purpose of heavy vehicle road safety. There is already a national heavy vehicle regulator. If Ms Gillard and the TWU—at that time—were truly interested, this is where they would have placed their resources. It is a fact that 85 per cent of all major accidents involving trucks are not the fault or the responsibility of the driver. But we do know that had we not gotten rid of the tribunal yesterday some 35,000 to 40,000 small businesses—owner operated trucking businesses—around this country were already on their way to going to the wall as a result of the decisions of that tribunal, and it is interesting to reflect that back in 2011 even the Transport Workers Union said to Ms Gillard, 'You should put some industry people on the tribunal.' But there was no way in the world. Only recently did the TWU join the government and industry asking the tribunal to delay its decision to axe and destroy the businesses of 35,000 people. Even the TWU joined that, but the tribunal in its arrogance ignored that advice, and now so richly have they been condemned to history with the abolition of that particular tribunal. In contrast to what Senator Lines said when she made the claim the government has laid nothing out in terms of improving road safety, I invite her to go back and read the speech that I gave last night and also the speech of my colleague Senator John Williams, who has long been a champion of the abolition of that organisation.

What does the future hold? What is the choice that the people of Australia have? I will give you two quickly examples: firstly, the economy and, secondly, border protection and security. In 2007 this country was in surplus. We had no debt. We had no deficit. When Labor came into government we were in surplus, the only Western country to be so. By 2013 there was $100 billion of your money in accumulated deficits and some $350 billion of debt. You are borrowing $1 billion a month offshore to pay the interest on that debt. You are not repaying the debt. You are now borrowing more than $1 billion a month offshore out of your money to repay that interest on that debt. So if you want to have a look at a contrast between the economic capacity of governments, you need go no further than the last Labor government and the coalition government—

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It has gone up.

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

because, as Senator Dastyari knows from his own background, the best predictor of future performance and behaviour is past behaviour. So it will be a very, very clear decision for the people of Australia in assessing that circumstance. Look at the Labor Party's policies as they have already been stated: no attempt to reduce taxes in this country and an attempt to destroy investment incentive by their negative gearing opportunities. Has Mr Shorten or the shadow Treasurer, Mr Bowen, come out and explained the rationale? No, they have not. In fact, as somebody said recently, the impact of this on people will be the equivalent of death duties. We know what the impact of the carbon tax has been around Australia. Would Labor reintroduce the carbon tax, to the destruction of Australian families and business? Would Labor reintroduce the mining tax that had such a devastating impact in my home state of Western Australia?

In the time left available to me, I now turn to this country's border protection and security.

An honourable senator: Shame!

Yes, it is a shame. You are right. I will take that interjection. It is a shame, Madam Acting Deputy President, and I will tell you why. The Greens political party were part of the Labor Party government between 2007 and 2013 which produced these statistics that I speak of. In 2007 we did not have any illegal maritime arrivals and we had no children in detention. Between 2008 and 2013, during the time of the Labor-Greens government, there were more than 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals. We know that more than 1,200 people died at sea. We know there were more. We know the 1,200 because they, regrettably, were pulled out of the water. We do not know how many more people died. Of these maritime arrivals, a total of 8,000 children were in detention during the time the Labor and Greens were in government. It peaked in July 2013, just before the last election, at 1,992. On behalf of the government, I am proud to announce today that this year, from the figures given to me, as of 3 April there are no children of illegal maritime arrivals in detention in Australia. What would be the situation should Labor get back into government?

Finally, I just simply want to contrast the two leaders. I want to contrast to the people of Australia who they will be voting for and who should be privileged to be the Prime Minister of the country after July 2016 and lead this country. In Malcolm Turnbull we have a person with an exemplary business background, a person who, at all phases of his professional life, has been an employer, stimulated employment and activity, been in the law, and operated internationally and nationally. In his opponent, Mr Shorten, we have a union hack, a person who has done nothing other than be in the union movement. He has never run a business. He has never employed staff. This is the choice before the people of Australia on 2 July 2016.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to express my disagreement with the perspectives expressed during this address-in-reply debate around the purpose of the recall of this parliament. The couple of days of sitting so far have been a farce, with today seeing absolutely no legislation placed on the Notice Paper from the government for debate in this chamber. What was the rationale for recalling people? The logic provided to the Governor-General was that industrial relations on construction sites is an issue of national importance because, amongst other things, construction is a large part of the Australian economy, so productivity on construction sites is important. I think that is the essence of their argument. Let's take a look at that piece by piece.

It is true that construction is significant, but it is by no means the largest industry in our economy. If the government were truly concerned about significant areas of the Australian economy, it would do well to look a little more closely at the finance sector. It is certainly much bigger than the construction sector and it is certainly more systemically important than the construction sector. It was not industrial relations in the construction sector that jeopardised the entire global economy just eight years ago. Hundreds of thousands of Australians did not lose on their retirement savings because of misconduct on building sites. And, despite the very best efforts of the Minister for Employment at every question time for the last 12 months, it has not been scandals in construction firms that have decorated the front page of our newspapers. The scandals that have been on the front page, the scandals we do hear about, go to the culture inside our major retail banks and our investment banks. Those scandals speak to a culture of risk-taking that, in the very recent past, has led banks to make investment decisions that pose systemic risks to the whole Australian economy. It is for that reason that the Australian Labor Party has proposed that a royal commission be undertaken into the practices of our banks, to make sure that it is in the best possible shape to serve the Australian economy in the way that we understand is so important.

What is the second limb of the government's argument? It is that a lack of workplace productivity in the construction sector is holding us back. The statistics tell another story, because in fact labour productivity across the economy has grown, not fallen, over the past decade. In fact, the Productivity Commission reported a few years ago that slow or negative multifactor productivity growth in manufacturing and finance and the insurance services in recent years has been a major drag on the economy-wide result. It is not actually making comment about the construction sector and it is not the case that labour productivity is really the problem that we are facing. Even if it were, the next part of the government's argument, I think, is that the reintroduction of the ABCC might do something to lift productivity. It did not last time. What did the Productivity Commission say in May 2014? It said:

The evidence that the ABCC stimulated material improvements in aggregate productivity or achieved cost reductions is weak.

The Productivity Commission, not a particularly left-wing body, said that the evidence for improvement in productivity as a consequence of the ABCC is weak. The evidence is not there, and yet this is the argument relied upon by the government to establish the basis for the economy-wide effect of introducing one new regulator. It is ridiculous. It is a fabrication and it just does not stand up when you look at it closely.

Let's take it to the next part of their argument. Even if the government were right about the impact of productivity on construction sites, we do not need the ABCC to improve that. We have existing bodies that can and do investigate corruption and misconduct by union officials. The Minister for Employment as good as admitted that yesterday. Yesterday during question time—and I will observe that it is not for the first time; this has become a rather predictable aspect of question time, in fact—once again the Minister for Employment was reading examples of what she claimed was union misconduct into the Hansard. Where did those examples come from? She was quoting from court judgements. Senator Back, in his contribution—Mr Acting Deputy President Back, there you are now in the chair—did exactly the same thing: he read from court judgements. These are court judgements that have only come about as a result of police or Fair Work taking action, doing the job that they were set up to do: investigating misconduct in not just in this industry but in industry. The system works. We do not need a new body that has coercive powers that fly in the face of 600 years of English legal tradition. I can confirm my views. I do think that the police and the courts ought to be allowed to get on with the job that they have been tasked with. We do not need a special body with extraordinary powers to deal with what are quite straightforward issues in workplaces.

The fact that the government believe that industrial relations on construction sites is the biggest challenge facing the Australian economy should tell us something about their vision. It is a vision that lacks imagination and it is a vision that is extremely limited. The coalition, unhappily, has a simplistic view of the Australian economy. Out of one eye they see their corporate donors, whose interests they will support no matter what. Out of the other eye they see unions, which they will attack no matter what. That is not really the way we ought to treat economic management. The coalition's blindness to the economy as a whole is irresponsible. It endangers the nation's economic future and it should disqualify them from government.

There is nothing on the Notice Paper today in this House. We hear that the Senate may not be sitting after today, despite a promise of three weeks of extra sitting. It is a sign of a government with no ideas and no plans and offering no hope to Australia's people. With an extra three weeks here in the Senate and perhaps in the House of Representatives we could have debated same-sex marriage—something we know most Australians would like us to act on. We could have talked about a proper solution to climate change—something to address a very real and scientifically validated challenge that poses real threats to the nation's economy. But, of course, we do not see any legislation or any plans brought forward into the chamber today. Maybe, closer to the static concerns of the coalition, we could have discussed a comprehensive plan to lift the nation's productivity.

What would that look like? Let's start with No. 1. It might be that we would seek to remove distortions from the nation's tax system. It might be that, as Labor has proposed, we start to look at the overly generous superannuation tax breaks that are provided for very high-income earners—people who earn more than $300,000 a year who are, nonetheless, subject to very generous tax breaks on contributions that they make to their superannuation, allowing them to accrue balances in those super accounts that go well beyond what could reasonably be imagined as a comfortable standard necessary for retirement.

Perhaps in the time available we could have gone after multinational tax cheats and had a look at who pays their taxes and what we might do to make sure that everyone in this economy pulls their weight, not just the pay-as-you-go earners—the ordinary mums and dads—but the multinationals who benefit from our educated workforce and infrastructure. We could make sure that they paid their tax and made their contribution to the Australian economy. Maybe we could have had a talk about negative gearing and capital gains tax, because the current tax breaks, which previous speakers to the debate have referred to, support investors to buy their sixth home. They do not support couples who are buying their first home; in fact, they place those young couples who go to an auction at a positive disadvantage to the person who is standing there, buying their sixth home and seeking to enhance their investment portfolio. The consequence of this distorting tax framework for housing is that it pushes people into the outer suburbs of our cities, where there is not proper infrastructure—and that does create a drag on productivity. It creates a drag on the economy as a whole.

We have really good analysis about Sydney, in my home state, from the Grattan Institute. In some suburbs in Sydney, only 14 per cent of the total jobs available can be accessed by a 45-minute car trip. Think about that. You set out and you might drive in any direction for 45 minutes. What percentage of the available jobs do you think you can access? The answer for many people in Sydney's suburbs is just 14 per cent of all of the jobs. It does not help people find work and it does not help them find work that will advance their careers and allow them to contribute to the nation's economy. The situation is even worse if you are on public transport. In many outer suburbs of Sydney, you can access fewer than one in 10 of the city's jobs within an hour on public transport. Just 10 per cent of the city's jobs are available to you, even if you are willing to travel for an hour on public transport.

It is a national disgrace that people are living in this way, and it has important impacts, interestingly, on women. Women's workforce participation falls massively in Sydney's outer suburbs. Men and women in the eastern suburbs and the inner west participate in the workforce at relatively similar levels, but, in parts of Sydney's outer west and the south-west, women's workforce participation falls to more than 20 per cent below that of men. One of the reasons is that those women understand that, if they have to travel for an hour on public transport or 45 minutes in their vehicle to access a very small number of low-paid jobs, that is not a realistic way of combining work and family. So we have real productivity challenges that this parliament should be addressing but is not.

It brings me to my second point, which is the significance of our nation's infrastructure. The Prime Minister has promised to focus on cities, but his Minister for Cities and the Built Environment lost his way sometime—he lost his focus in a bar. By 2025 we will have an extra 4.5 million people living in our cities, and we need to provide infrastructure for those people in a non-partisan way. The approach we would take in government is to put Infrastructure Australia at the centre of capital investment, to bring some rigour, some transparency and some authority to the process of infrastructure planning, to make sure that this process is not politicised and to make sure that there is always a business case when Commonwealth money is spent on public infrastructure in any of our cities.

What else might we do? A Labor approach to the economy might see us actually focus in a serious way on improving women's workforce participation. Australia as a whole is, supposedly, committed to lifting female workforce participation. We signed on to a G20 process to lift it, in fact, by 25 per cent by 2025. The Grattan Institute has calculated that, if Australia lifted its workforce participation just to match Canada's, we could add $25 billion annually to GDP. But the only way that we can realistically do this is by having mothers come back to work earlier. We need to think carefully about what it is that is preventing women from returning to work—and the answer is very clear. It is childcare costs, it is the failure to provide for career paths to develop the skills of these women and it is how our tax and transfer systems interact to create serious disincentives for women returning to work. That is something I might have put on the agenda if I wanted to have a serious debate about Australia's economic prosperity, instead of the narrowness that we have witnessed in recent days in this chamber.

Item 4—I have a long list—is that maybe we ought to think about education. Maybe we can think about properly funding higher education. This government has had an ideas boom in how we might strip funding out of universities. It has had an ideas boom in innovative ways to undermine one of our most profitable export sectors. But it certainly has not demonstrated any interest whatsoever in genuinely improving the educational capital that is held by the vast bulk of the Australian workforce, and it is a very great shame that that was not listed for debate in the Senate sittings that were proposed for this week.

Item 5 is a high-tech workforce. Maybe that would be part of a productivity agenda for Australia. Two out of five science and maths teachers for years 7 to 10 do not have degrees in that subject. Twenty thousand teachers in science, maths and IT did not actually study those subjects at universities. We have put forward, in recent months, a very clear plan to start addressing this problem, because it is critical that we start to train our young people in science and technology. We need to encourage more women to enter the field and we need to boost the skills of existing teachers. The truth is, unless we can build a workforce full of young men and young women who are capable of participating in the technology jobs of the future, we will struggle to maintain the lifestyle and the standard of living that have made Australia such a wonderful place to live in recent decades.

I put all those things on the table because I think that they do draw a stark contrast with the narrowness of the vision expressed by coalition senators in recent days and the narrowness of the vision expressed by Prime Minister Turnbull. It defies belief that we would reduce the performance of the entire Australian economy to a handful of issues in one sector of the economy. It defies belief that we would recall a parliament to debate only that issue for three weeks, at enormous expense to the Australian taxpayer.

I would say to anyone listening: Australia really deserves to have a government that actually has a plan. The coalition seems absolutely determined to squander the chance it has been given—a golden chance—to improve the lives of ordinary Australians. Instead, its priority is satisfying its myopic obsession with trade unions. Given the infighting we have witnessed since Christmas, it may be that this focus on unions is because it is the only thing that members in the coalition party room can actually agree on. They certainly cannot agree on the approach to tax reform. They certainly cannot agree on how they should approach anti-bullying programs in schools. They certainly cannot agree on how they might approach same-sex marriage. They do not seem to be able to agree on whether or not they agree with the National Water Initiative and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

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

They're just so disagreeable!

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They are a disagreeable bunch, Senator Cameron!

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

Order! Please don't disturb the speaker!

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It may be that the only thing that the coalition party room have in common with one another in these times is a dislike of trade unions—a dislike of the organisations which represent ordinary people and protect their interests and their standards in the workplace. I do not believe that that is a winning proposition with the Australian people at an election. The Australian people have rejected exactly that proposition, put in exactly those terms, by this same group of people at a previous election, when people very rightly rejected the Work Choices legislation of the Howard government and booted the coalition out of office.

These guys might want to structure an election entirely around an industrial relations proposition, but I say to coalition senators that this is a bad idea. I think it is a bad idea tactically, but I guess that is their business. More importantly, it is a bad idea because it fails to address the very real challenges facing Australia, and it fails to capitalise on the very real opportunities that we have.

Only a Labor government will have a real plan for Australia. Those things have been laid out clearly, well in advance of an election, by our leader, Bill Shorten. I am very proud of the work that Bill, his shadow cabinet and all of my colleagues in caucus have done in the period we have had in opposition. I look forward to fighting an election—to taking that conversation to the Australian people in the coming months.

1:40 pm

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to engage in this debate. It has been said over the last few days that there has been a whiff of 1975 here in this place. Well, I will not have that, because I think that is an insult to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. He was somebody who had a bold and exciting vision for the future of our country. Fast forward 40 years, and the contrast could not be clearer. What do we have? I am looking here at the Senate order of business: a blank sheet—a metaphor for the Turnbull government's approach, because it is clear they have no ideas and no vision for the future of our country.

This is supposedly the ideas boom, but really it is more bust than boom because they have come into this place with no ideas for the future of our country. Let us consider the way in which Mr Turnbull has dealt with some critical policy questions since he got the keys to the Lodge just six months ago.

I am going to start with the issue of marriage equality—one of my portfolios for the Greens, but also an issue that I know many, many Australians are concerned about. People believed, when Mr Turnbull became Prime Minister, that he would offer a different direction to Tony Abbott on this issue. They believed that he was someone who supported the cause of marriage equality and would actually make it happen. But what we have seen is him wedding himself to the absurd policy position of holding a plebiscite, with all of the cost to the Australian taxpayers that comes with that: a $160-million price tag to ask a question we already know the answer to. We know Australians support this reform and they want the parliament to deliver it. Yet Mr Turnbull is kowtowing to the conservative forces on his backbench—the likes of Senator Abetz and Senator Bernardi—who are really ruling the coalition roost and dictating the policy position of this Prime Minister. So, rather than providing a free vote for his colleagues, he has wedded himself to this toxic Tony Abbott plan—

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

Order! Refer to those in the other place, Senator Simms, by their correct title, please. That is twice now.

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I apologise. He is wedding himself to this toxic former Prime Minister Tony Abbott plan, rather than allowing a free vote here in the parliament to deliver marriage equality. But, really, the way that he has approached that issue is emblematic of the way he has approached a range of issues affecting LGBTI Australians.

Let us consider the approach to the Australian Christian Lobby. I understand that Mr Turnbull's Treasurer, Mr Morrison, will be speaking at the ACL's conference this coming weekend, sharing the rostrum with bigots and homophobes. These are people who express some of the most profoundly offensive views, and are totally out of step with mainstream Australia, yet we have a senior figure in the Turnbull government going along and sharing the rostrum with these people. There are people speaking at this event who want to criminalise homosexuality. They actually go around the world and advocate for that policy position. Does Mr Turnbull really think that that is a view shared by mainstream Australia? Most Australians would be horrified by that policy position and horrified to see Mr Morrison legitimising that kind of hate lobby group—and that is all the ACL are. They do not represent mainstream Australia—

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order—standing order 193: imputation of improper motives. Mr Morrison is not going to ratify what Senator Simms has claimed to be the views of those groups, and he should withdraw.

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

On the point of order, Senator Simms.

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The point I made was that, by his attendance, Mr Morrison was legitimising the views expressed. I think that is a fair debating point to make, Mr Acting Deputy President.

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

There is no point of order. These are debating points. Continue, Senator Simms.

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, the ACL are an extremist, fringe organisation, and their views are being legitimised by the Treasurer and, by extension, by Mr Turnbull. He is the leader of this government. Why hasn't he taken action to bring his Treasurer into line? We know that he failed to do so when Mr Abbott flew to the United States to speak to a similar hate group earlier this year. Mr Turnbull sat back and said nothing because he is captive to the conservative forces on his backbench.

We saw that same approach used on the issue of Safe Schools as well. We had this ridiculous situation where Senator Bernardi came into this place and made a range of outlandish and bizarre claims, and, rather than condemning them—and a leader of vision and courage would have done that; he would have stared Senator Bernardi down and told him that he was on the wrong course—what we saw Mr Turnbull do was capitulate to Senator Bernardi, cave in and force an inquiry into Safe Schools.

Lo and behold the inquiry came back and said that, actually, this is a good program and it does not need significant change. But that was not enough to appease the conservative forces on the coalition backbench. That was not enough to appease them. So what did Mr Turnbull do? He did not show leadership. He did not stare them down and say, no, we are going to support this program because it is about making schools safe for kids; it is about supporting LGBTI young people. No, of course he did not do that. He backflipped. He flip-flopped. That is his modus operandi. He caves in and supports the likes of Senator Bernardi, who is coming in here now. This is emblematic of the approach that has been taken by Mr Turnbull on so many issues.

Senator Bernardi interjecting

That's right. The man behind the throne walked into the room dictating the policy agenda of Mr Turnbull. That is his approach. We know who is calling the shots, Senator Bernardi. But that brings me to the issue of higher education, another portfolio of mine and the key priority for the Greens during this election.

When Mr Turnbull took on the Prime Ministership many Australians said that we might see a different direction—maybe we will see Mr Turnbull drop the appalling, unpopular agenda for deregulation of university fees. This Senate played a critical role in defeating that appalling agenda, one that was going to price people out of university in this country. We saw the Senate knock it back. But now we see the Liberal Party under Mr Turnbull electrifying that cause, bringing it back from the dead. Deregulation will be back on the agenda after this federal election.

We have also seen the Liberals talking a lot about wanting to hike up student fees even further, lowering the threshold so that you start paying back university fees at an earlier point but also by hiking up fees for HECS and HELP. We saw the consequences of that in the PBO costings that showed that the HECS liability in this country could blow out to $180 billion. Well, the Liberals like to talk a lot about debt, don't they? They talk a lot about debt, but they do not mind shifting the debt burden onto young Australians so that they leave university with a HECS debt that is bigger than a house deposit. They have no hesitation in doing that and shifting the debt onto individuals. They have no problem with that.

The education minister may not be able to remember what his HELP or HECS debt was, but he is ensuring that every Australian who goes to university will never forget their HECS and HELP debt. They will be paying it for a generation, if the Liberals get their way with $100,000 degrees. That is the agenda of the Liberal Party that is being pursued by Mr Turnbull. That is the agenda that we are seeing as part of the vision of this new government—talking a lot about innovation, talking a lot about job creation, but when it comes to putting the ideas on the table, putting the meat on the bones, having the investment in universities that our nation requires and making universities accessible and affordable to everybody Mr Turnbull is missing in action, as he is on so many issues.

But let's also consider the issue of climate change. When Mr Turnbull was opposition leader he was rolled by his party over the issue of climate change. For many Australians he has often represented some leadership on this issue. But what does he do when he finally gets the opportunity to pursue this issue, which is a key priority for our nation and our planet? What does he do? He does nothing at all. We see the Liberals still pushing these pathetic targets that the climate sceptic Tony Abbott endorsed as Prime Minister. We have Mr Turnbull still pursuing that same policy agenda. This is in stark contrast to the vision and the courage shown by the Greens on this issue. Just recently the Greens announced our plan for a national renewable energy target of 90 per cent by 2030 to stimulate investment in renewables but also to create thousands of new jobs across our country at a time when we desperately need them.

The Greens have also been leading the debate on negative gearing. Obviously we welcome the Labor Party's interest in the issue, but it was the Greens who kicked off this debate some time ago. But we have the Liberal Party under Mr Turnbull once again showing no leadership, no vision, no courage on that issue. We have young Australians being priced out of ever being able to afford to buy a home, and we have the Liberal Party sitting on their hands and doing nothing about it because they continue to be captive to the big end of town. That is Mr Turnbull's leadership model. They continue to be captive to the big end of town in business and they continue to be captive to the conservative forces on their back bench, the likes of Senator Bernardi, who is smiling and laughing, no doubt relishing the power and authority he has over our Prime Minister as kingmaker and someone who is dictating so much of the vision of this Prime Minister during this term.

The Australian people are looking for a better approach from this election. They are looking for politicians that have leadership, that have vision and that have the courage to offer new solutions for our nation's future. The Greens have a positive vision for the future of our country and we look forward to talking to the Australian people about that in the coming days.

1:53 pm

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

It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate on the address-in-reply, not simply because I am following Senator Simms and it gives me an opportunity to rebut some of the interesting interpretations of the Greens' policy and other assessments of government policy but also to recognise that we are I think in a unique circumstance in this country. We are in a circumstance where I think on only four times in the last century or so has the parliament been prorogued in the manner in which it has. We are heading towards a double-dissolution election in the new financial year. It is an opportunity to provide a very clear choice between the tired old politics, the crusty politics, of the past that we saw under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, however many there were, and the new approach of redressing the imbalance—the fiscal imbalance, the social and emotional imbalance—that is so endemic and inflicted upon the Australian people by the left side of politics.

I know the Labor Party is in full and complete denial about their role in the machinations that have gone on that have so discredited politics in this country, the accumulation of hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of debt which is sentencing our children to a lifetime of servitude, if you will, to repay the excesses of the past. Who out there is celebrating the fact that the Labor Party spent tens of billions of dollars on school halls when there is much-needed infrastructure. If you wanted to spend that sort of money you could have got something more substantive, that was going to grow and develop our economy, because that would provide jobs for the future. You could have built water pipelines to assist in the fertility of the soil and the growing of crops for export or domestic consumption. You could have looked at very fast rail networks to improve the ease and speed of transport, to ease congestion in places like Sydney by perhaps extending a rail network through to Canberra. There are any number of things that could have been done had the minds been open, but of course they are not. Those on that side of politics only think through the prism of self-interest: their own self-interest and the interests of the unions, how they can coerce power and increasing influence and dominance in those sort of collectivism ideals and the collective ideals.

I am here to say that the great socialist experiment of the last 70 or 80 years is failing. It is failing before our eyes. It is an absolute disaster and a debacle. We have a circumstance where about half the people in this country are dependent on the toil of the other half. It is simply not sustainable. If we listen to those on the other side of politics and in the Greens party, the half that is dependent will become even greater. It will become 55 per cent or 60 per cent or 65 per cent or 70 per cent, because they want government to be the conduit of everything into people's lives. They want the working masses to become economic units to provide taxes for their largesse. That is the shame of it. They are indoctrinating our youth, those who are responsible for the future of our country, in a manner which is almost unprecedented. It was said many, many decades ago that the Left are going to proceed with their long march through the institutions. We are seeing that.

Senator Simms in his contribution talked about the Safe Schools program. It sounds so lovely and light, 'Safe Schools'. It is about safe schools. It is an anti-bullying program. What Senator Simms neglected to mention is that it is an indoctrination of our youth into a circumstance they are not ready for. They are getting 12-year-olds and sending them to websites, encouraging them to bypass school filters to access websites which link to third-party websites which deliberately encourage them to enter into bondage parties or to visit sex stores. And these people opposite are in denial about it. The author of the Safe Schools program is an avowed Marxist who said that gender—

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Mr President, you can hear the chirping birds in the Greens party, can't you.

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I raise a point of order. The statement made by Senator Bernardi is completely untrue and a completely false reflection on the program.

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

That is not a point of order; that is a debating point.

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

He should withdraw these comments and drop this ridiculous fixation.

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

Order, Senator Simms! There is no point of order.

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

Senator Simms, I suggest it is your fixation on me. Nary a speech can transpire in this place without your indecent obsession and focus on me.

I know that Senator Simms has a particular focus at the moment, and that is trying to get rid of Senator Hanson-Young in a preselection contest. I know there is a secret ballot there. I am prepared to say that Senator Simms is more open minded than Senator Hanson-Young and deserves the support of the Greens party in the No. 1 preference, because Senator Hanson-Young has been so callous in her cavalier disregard for the people travelling here on boats and the people who have been drowning at sea. But it is incumbent on Senator Simms to stop focusing on his own self-obsessions. It is time for him to focus on the Australian people. It is time for him to confront the reality of the circumstances that he is now endorsing. There is no doubt the Safe Schools program was implemented by an avowed Marxist named Roz Ward. There is no doubt whatsoever that Senator Simms—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

You want young gay kids bullied, don't you, mate!

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

Sorry, Senator, I beg your pardon. Here we go, now we have Senator Wong, whom I note also failed to condemn the invaders of my office, who threatened my staff. You have not condemned them, Senator Wong. That is how callous and cowardly you are. You come in here—

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

Through the chair, Senator Bernardi.

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

and you carry on like you are some sort of precious petal, and what we know is that you are a hypocrite. Sorry, I will withdraw that. It is wrong.

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

You have to withdraw that, Senator Bernardi.

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

I withdraw that. We know that the rhetoric that is put out by Senator Wong is not consistent with the rest of it.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, on a point of order.

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

He did withdraw, Senator Moore.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

I am a bit worried about 'callous' and 'cowardly' as well.

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

Order! It being 2 pm we now move to questions without notice. You are in continuation, Senator Bernardi.