Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Matters of Public Importance
I have received the following letter from Senator Gallagher:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The Prime Minister's lack of authority and lack of agenda.
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 clocks accordingly.
I am very pleased to be able to make a contribution in this important discussion. I will go firstly to the matter of an agenda. I think it is really important that people in this place deal with facts, not supposition or, in the case of some of the One Nation contributions, pure fantasy. So I am going to go to the actual fact of the number of bills passed in the 44th Parliament, which was provided by our good friends in the Parliamentary Library. In 2013 there were 40 bills passed and assented to, in 2014 there were 135 bills passed and assented to, and as at the end of the winter session in 2015 there were 112. I raise this because you can talk about an agenda but the business of politics is what you can actually achieve, and a measure of what you can actually achieve is what gets through the parliament. I think that is self-evident.
If we go back to the 43rd Parliament we can see that in 2010 there were 36 bills passed. The total for the 43rd Parliament in 2010 was 150 bills passed and assented to in one year. In 2011 there were 190 bills passed and assented to in one year. In 2012 there were 206 bills passed and assented to in one year. In 2013 there were 134 bills passed and assented to. My point is: a measure of success in politics is getting legislation through. You can have an agenda as big as you like, but if you cannot get it through the parliament you are not going to be deemed to be successful, and clearly this Prime Minister has not been able to get his agenda through the parliament.
We look today at the red, and on the red, at item 6, we see 'Governor-General's opening speech—Address-in-Reply'. That is what we are back to: time filling. The government are filling out the business time of the Senate because their agenda cannot be progressed. It is very clear that the agenda of this Prime Minister cannot be progressed.
Let us go back a bit further and ask: why is that so? The Prime Minister went to the Australian people with a double dissolution election. He came back basically with his tail between his legs, with a much reduced majority in the other place and a vastly different Senate. If there is one thing that Australian political history will record of the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, it is that he was the architect of his own demise. He went to a double dissolution election and he created a Senate, by virtue of the lower quota, the like of which we have not seen.
May I say this: the One Nation Party legitimately take their place in this Senate on the number of votes that they got. The decision that allowed them to get that number of people in here is all down to Malcolm Turnbull. He was the man who caused the double dissolution, which allows the One Nation people to enjoy the Senate spots they have. Senator Hanson probably would have got here under her own steam, but that is not true of the rest. In a normal half-Senate election they would not have got the number of senators who currently sit here. We had a contribution from one of those people in statements by senators earlier today which said some quite astounding things. This was the contribution we got:
In fact, speaking of blowing things up, the South Australian government deliberately detonated a coal-fired power plant, and Senator Back was correct in talking about the energy security that is being destroyed—the Taliban is at work in the government of South Australia.
That was the contribution in this chamber. It is absolutely amazing to suggest that Alinta, which is a private sector company, has somehow had its power plant detonated by the South Australian government and that the Taliban is at work in our parliament in South Australia. No wonder the Prime Minister cannot get his agenda through if this is the level of contribution coming from some sections of the Senate—which he created! Make no mistake: the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull is responsible for the state of the Senate. It was his decision and his decision only to go to a double dissolution election, and now we are dealing with an impasse in terms of legislation.
In talking about his lack of authority, where do I start?
His support for the republic he has put on the backburner. His support for climate or emissions trading schemes is on the backburner. His support for marriage equality is on the backburner—in fact, it is not on the backburner; it has been specifically ruled out in a deal between the Nationals and the rest of the coalition for the balance of this term. So the only authority he has is to be Prime Minister, and he is enthralled to people he has made arrangements with.
Clearly, with the $200 million wasteful, hurtful, divisive plebiscite on marriage equality, he is not able to exercise any prime ministerial authority. He is not able to go to his party room and say: 'Enough of this; I'm making the call. I'm your leader. Support me. We're going this way.' He traded it for his position. He traded that authority for his position. Very clearly, he entered into an agreement in his coalition that he would do certain things which are contrary to his own instincts and his own beliefs. So his authority is mortally wounded.
Look at the situation with respect to 18C. I did nine street-corner meetings on the weekend with a local member of parliament. I have to tell you that the average elector out there is not coming to a street-corner meeting and asking about 18C or anything about that. They are more likely to ask about how the lighting is going, the security aspects of their suburb or the state of their footpath and the rest of it. They are not coming up to us about 18C. But there is an incredible amount of time consumed on it in here. Now, under pressure from his party room, he has set up an inquiry into 18C. Once again, he cannot exercise prime ministerial authority, he is enthralled to divisive elements in his party room and he succeeds in being a Prime Minister only when he acquiesces to their wishes.
This lack of authority is extremely damaging to the whole country. I actually believe that when you win an election you get on and govern. When we look at it here, their agenda is poor. That is fine; that is my view. But they cannot get any legislation through both chambers, evidenced today by the fact the Governor-General's address-in-reply is back on the Notice Paper. Goodness gracious me. It is a time filler while they deal around in the shadows, talking to people who have very colourful views of the world. I remind you of the statement that the Taliban is at work in the South Australian government and the statement that they detonated a power plant. These are the people that the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull needs to deal with to get his agenda through this parliament. I do not know how he is going to exercise authority with these people because clearly there is a good-sized crossbench there. His one reliable vote no longer sits in the Senate. He has resigned and his actual eligibility has been consigned to the High Court on the basis of whether he had a pecuniary interest in a building which was rented by the Commonwealth.
The Prime Minister has no agenda and no authority. His government is an absolute shambles. We are back to the Governor-General's address-in-reply in this chamber. Make no mistake, towards the end of the year they may cobble together a deal or two with this disparate group of people in here and they may well then say: 'We've got to pass this. We need additional hours.' If they come to us at the end of the year and ask for additional hours we should say: 'Where was your agenda? Where were you on these days you used fillers in debate in this chamber?'
That was an interesting speech by my Labor colleague. He mentioned the same-sex marriage debate and said, 'The Prime Minister lacks authority.' Sorry, Senator Gallacher, the authority for that issue is with the people of Australia. Lest you have forgotten, we actually took to the election a policy that on same-sex marriage we would have a plebiscite within, I think, probably six months of the election. Rightly, we failed the six months, if that was it. But certainly we would have had a plebiscite by February had it gone through this chamber. Opposition senators should understand: this is not Mr Turnbull's proposal, this is not my proposal, it is not the Liberal Party's proposal and it is not the National Party's proposal. It is the proposal of the people of Australia. What more authority does Mr Turnbull and the coalition need than the imprimatur of all voters in Australia to that particular proposal? I only mention that as an aside, but it was mentioned by Senator Gallacher. It is good that he did because it clearly demonstrates the paucity of any value in the opposition's proposition in this debate. There is clear authority.
Senator Gallacher has been speaking about the address to the Governor-General. That speech set out a very full legislative program. It had a direction for the government and a direction for Australia for the next three years. It was a very detailed plan and it was a plan that was evolved because we won the election. Sorry, but we did. We won by two seats, actually—one officially, and that illegitimate result in Herbert that we will be hearing more about in other venues as we go along. The Governor-General's speech actually sets it all out—a very, very detailed plan.
Mr Turnbull is leading a coalition that is cohesive, that works together and that has different views. I always like to point this out, particularly if anyone might happen to be listening to this debate. Within coalition parties we are not 'lobotomised zombies', to quote Senator Cameron referring to Labor Party senators and backbenchers in this chamber. On our side we are encouraged to be individuals representing our constituents. That sometimes means that individual ones of us have a different view to the executive government. On our side of politics you can have a different view, you can put that view, you can vote on that view and you can cross the party line. And that is accepted because that is what we are all about in the coalition. Compare that with Labor. Of course, if you publicly oppose anything that the collective—that is, the union collective—have told Mr Shorten they want as their policy then you are automatically expelled from the Labor Party. There is such a difference.
And so members of the opposition confuse their own situation with that of government members. Sure, we do have very robust debates in the party room and in our policy committees—very robust. And they are fully considered, and eventually the majority rules on those. And so Mr Turnbull's authority and indeed the coalition's authority come from a collective view from all coalition members. But that does not mean to say, of course, that individual members do not have a different point of view, and very often we exercise that view.
We were elected for two principal reasons: firstly, that the people of Australia understood that we had an economic plan. They understood that we could not go on with Labor's wasteful, spendthrift policies that led us to a debt approaching $700 billion, so that in the time that I am speaking now the Australian taxpayers have spent a couple of million dollars paying interest to foreign lenders because of the debt run up in the Labor Party's time. We pay something like $300 million a week in interest on loans borrowed by the Labor government, because of their inability to control their economic outlook.
And so people voted for us at the last election because we have an economic plan. It is well known around the countryside: go into any pub and they say: 'Oh yeah, we've got to have Liberal governments every now and again because they're the only ones that can fix the economy. We put in Labor every now and again because they give everybody everything they want, but someone has to pay for it. So we've got to vote the Liberal governments back in every now and again so we can get the ship back in order.' That is one of the reasons why people trust us and voted for us.
The other area, of course, in a broad sense, where the people support us and where we have the authority to act is in the area of border protection and security. I regret to say that until a couple of days ago border security and our national security were issues beyond party politics. There was a bipartisan approach to the proper management of our borders. But, unfortunately, the Labor Party have now been rolled over by the left-wing unions and the left wing of their party and we now have this position where Labor are not going to support the necessary action to keep our borders safe.
We will go ahead and do it, and I hope we have enough support from the crossbenchers. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the crossbenchers not agreeing with us on this latest piece of legislation that we are introducing to secure our borders and to make it clear that we will not accept people smugglers. We will not accept those who would jump the queue in front of the genuine refugees waiting to get into Australia.
So that is the authority that we have. We have the authority of the imprimatur of the Australian public. Senator Gallacher was saying, 'Oh, they've got to go to the crossbenchers—it's the crossbenchers fault.' Well, sorry, it is not. The blame for any dysfunction in not being able to implement what the Australian people voted for us for does not rest with the crossbenchers; it rests with the Australian Labor Party. I just wish the Australian Labor Party would understand that they did not win the election. They lost the election, and the people elected us to govern. They gave us the authority to govern, and it is Labor that is standing in the way. Do not try to blame individual crossbenchers.
The other element of this rather fatuous debate before the chamber this afternoon is lack of agenda. Well, as I said, the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech is all about that agenda. That speech from the Governor-General at the opening of the parliament set out clearly the agenda and what we wanted to achieve. But we have been held up by a recalcitrant opposition, who support thuggery in the union movement—and we hear about that every question time. We hear about the Health Services Union and we hear about the CFMEU: action and activities that are simply theft from their members, and thuggery and assault at the highest degree. And these are the people who run the official opposition. These are the people who set the agenda for the Labor Party.
The people who set the agenda for the coalition government are the people of Australia. They knew what they were getting when they voted for us, and they set the agenda. What we developed in the run-up to the election was a clear agenda for Australia.
If I might just digress, with the indulgence of the parliament I will talk about one agenda that we have which was clearly enunciated to the people of Australia, and that was our proposal for Northern Australia. To his credit, Mr Turnbull has implemented the plans we set out in that Northern Australia white paper. It is something that will lead to the development of the North in the years ahead. I often say that Northern Australia only has about five or six per cent of Australia's population but it produces something like 50 per cent of its export earnings.
I see Senator Watt laughing at me over on the other side. Well, you shouldn't, Senator Watt. You are only here at the expense of the only northern representative the Labor Party had in this chamber, and that was Senator McLucas. Now, I did not often agree with Senator McLucas, but at least when she got up in the debate she would run a line about Northern Australia. She understood, as I do, that there is huge potential in Northern Australia and that it should be tapped and developed by Australia—not for the benefit of Northern Australia but for the benefit of all of Australia. Regrettably, within the machinations of the Labor Party, poor old Senator McLucas was dumped by her Left faction in favour of a—
I have already said that, Senator Marshall. You are quite right, and no disrespect to Senator Watt, but I do publicly call him a union hack from Brisbane, a failed state Labor member who not only does not represent the North, living in Brisbane, but has gone even further south now, down to the bright lights of the Gold Coast. That shows how much the Labor Party have any interest at all in Northern Australia.
There is another example—just one. I do not have time to go through the coalition's full plans for Australia. They are in the address-in-reply, but it clearly shows the coalition has the authority. The Prime Minister leads a united team with authority and with the authority of the Australian people, and he is doing that exceptionally well, implementing the agenda we took to the public at the last election. So congratulations to Mr Turnbull and the government for your leadership, your authority and your agenda for Australia. (Time expired)
Knocking off a Prime Minister takes a bit of effort. It is hard work. There are those months of meetings in dark corners and those whispering phone conversations all done under the cloak of darkness. It is a really tough thing to do and it takes quite a bit of effort. You have to really want the job if you are going to knock off the Prime Minister to get it. Now that it is done, people are asking themselves: what the hell was the point of that? What was the point?
For a while, it looked like things would be different—yes. The tone of the debate changed. We saw some of the rhetoric soften. We saw some of those extreme fringe policies that Tony Abbott took to the Australian people abandoned in those first few months, and it was like a breath of fresh air. The country was relieved that Tony Abbott was gone. Now here we are, just a little more than a year after Malcolm Turnbull decided he wanted Tony Abbott's job, and what we have seen is the return of the Tony Abbott agenda.
Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Di Natale should have been here long enough to learn that you refer to the Prime Minister by the correct title with a bit of respect, please, not just by their Christian name and surname.
Tony Abbott is no longer Prime Minister—Mr Abbott. The Abbott agenda is now well and truly on display. We have seen a change in Prime Minister; we have not seen a change in policies. It is remarkable when you think what is dominating the current coalition party room at the moment. It is: how do we make it easier for racists? How do we give the green light to hate speech? It is not housing affordability, not the fact that people are struggling to afford decent health care and not the fact that young families are struggling to get an education for their kids. It is: how do we make it easier for racists in this country? That is what is dominating the coalition party room right now.
You look at what the Prime Minister promised when it came to climate change, something that he staked his leadership on only a few short years ago. We saw the government—it must be said with the support of the Labor Party—take half a billion dollars away from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. They are the cheerleaders for the Adani coalmine, the biggest mine in the Southern Hemisphere. We have seen them forcing young Australians into the streets by stripping them of Newstart. They want to remove the charity status of a number of organisations. They want to weaken environmental protections. They wanted to slash Medicare-funded dental care for young kids; in fact, the department was putting out misleading information telling them the scheme was already closed. Then we had the joke of the plebiscite—a plebiscite that was going to unleash the homophobes and bigots in the community and give them a platform to say to those young people that how you feel is something you should be ashamed of.
And then, of course, in recent days, we have seen this announcement to say that no innocent person seeking asylum in this country who is found to be a genuine refugee would ever come to Australia. It is remarkable, when you consider that they keep touting how successful their policy is, that they want to take this debate further into the gutter. We have just today voted to impose control orders on 14-year-old children. Let us think about that: 14-year-old kids, who can be rounded up by the Australian Federal Police and not be told about what evidence is there before them and be deprived of fundamental liberties, and if they breach a control order there is a five-year imprisonment sentence waiting for them. This is the agenda of the new-look coalition government. This is Tony Abbott light. What we are seeing is a continuation of that agenda which belongs in another century.
What the Prime Minister needs to learn is that you cannot negotiate with those far right extremists within his own party room. You give them a little win; they will want another one. They will never be satisfied, and they have the Prime Minister right where they want him. What we have now is a government with a Prime Minister who is a hostage inside his own party room. What that means is bad news for the country—no agenda, no plan and no vision for what this country needs to create jobs, to address the growing gap between the rich and poor, to do something about the climate crisis that lies ahead of us, and to do something towards those innocent people who are looking for a humane approach when it comes to trying to make a life in this country. What we need to see from the Prime Minister is leadership, and it is lacking. There is no agenda, there is no vision, there is no plan, and it is about time the Prime Minister stood up, grew a backbone and took on those extremists inside his own party room.
I would also like to join in this debate today, which is about something that is pretty obvious to anyone who watches Australian politics, and that is that we are led by a Prime Minister who has no authority and no agenda. The other day in talking about this government I made what some thought was an unflattering comparison to the Muppets—and, when I say 'unflattering', a lot of people thought that was unflattering to the Muppets rather than to this government. I would like to expand on that somewhat. There is one of our Muppets sitting over there now. I have not quite worked out if you are Statler or Waldorf, but it is one or the other.
I withdraw. As I was saying the other day, this government is led by its very own Kermit the Frog, the Prime Minister. As I was also saying the other day, the most famous Kermit the Frog song is 'It's not easy being green', and that is the position which this Prime Minister finds himself in. It is not very easy being very green in the modern LNP—the Liberal Party or the National Party. Once upon a time, this Prime Minister paraded himself as a bit of a green. He believed in climate change. He believed in taking action on climate change. But he has found that it is not very easy being green if he wants to be Prime Minister.
Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, there are a few other new Kermit the Frog songs that he could sing as well. He could sing 'It's not easy being pro marriage equality'. That is something else that he had to abandon—something that was a really long-held belief of his, which he had to walk way from in order to retain the prime ministership. The song could also be 'It's not easy being sensible about refugees'. Just this week he was led, yet again, by his appalling immigration minister, Peter Dutton, to another ridiculous policy about the treatment of refugees rather than doing something sensible about resettling people from the hell holes of Manus and Nauru. The song could in general just be 'It's not easy being moderate in the Liberal Party'. The Prime Minister, despite apparently being a moderate, has somehow found that it is not easy to remain being a moderate. And even just this week the comments made by one of his backbench members, Russell Broadbent, have also shown how hard it is to be a moderate in the Liberal Party these days.
This Kermit the Frog of a Prime Minister has been upstaged. The show has been taken over by his support acts. We have got our very own Fozzie Bear, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton. I was reminding myself what it was about Fozzie Bear—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I think it is fair enough to make a comparison in a light-hearted way to a TV show. It happens all the time in this place. I will refrain from calling any individual a Muppet, if that makes the senator happy. But surely some analogies are allowed within the robust debate that we have here.
I am happy to refer to the immigration minister as having the characteristics of Fozzie Bear, if that is more parliamentary language. The thing about Fozzie Bear, which is a similarity held by this immigration minister, is that poor old Fozzie Bear is known for his disastrous and, frankly, weird attempts at comedy. We saw one such attempt from the immigration minister this week when he tried to make some sort of weird joke that fell completely flat. I remember the creator of Fozzie Bear saying that what distinguished Fozzie was that he cannot afford good joke writers and he cannot write good jokes himself. That does seem to sum up the actions of the immigration minister this week.
We also have an Attorney-General who resembles the characteristics of Dr Bunsen Honeydew, the bespectacled scientist. Attorney-General Brandis is prone to experiments and inventions that typically go wrong. We see that every time the Attorney-General gets to his feet. Whether it is about taking out the Solicitor-General or whether it is about his ongoing attempts to take out the President of the Human Rights Commission, he really does have the touch when it comes to experiments that go wrong, just like Dr Bunsen Honeydew. We have our very own senators who resemble the characteristics of Statler and Waldorf—one of whom I see in this chamber with us right now—
in Senators Macdonald and O'Sullivan; the grumpy old men who like to heckle everyone from the peanut gallery have been doing it even while I speak today. Statler and Waldorf are very good at heckling, but also very good at undermining the authority of this Prime Minister.
In addition to that, we have the member for Dawson, George Christensen, who resembles the characteristics of Animal. I must admit that Animal was one of my favourite characters from the Muppets when I was a kid, but I do not really like to see our parliamentary version of Animal. Animal is the crazy drummer who drums out of control and goes nuts every single time. We have seen that time and time again from the member for Dawson. As he was walking out of the chamber today, I noticed that he was carrying Donald Trump's autobiography—yet another crazy action from the parliament's very own Animal.
The team which undermines this Prime Minister's authority is capped off by a senator who resembles the characteristics of Sam the Eagle, and that is one Senator Bernardi—the upholder of conservative values, lecturing people about what they should do. The Senate's own Sam the Eagle is in America at the moment, presiding over what appears to be a very, very worrying development, which is the possible election of Donald Trump as President. Some people agree that that is a very worrying development. As I was saying on Twitter earlier today, if the Prime Minister is worried about his authority having been undermined by Senator Bernardi, or someone who resembles the characteristics of Sam the Eagle, he had better watch out for what happens. You can feel Senator Bernardi's head swelling from across the Pacific, across the Atlantic and even across the galaxy. He has learnt how to win an election. He has learnt how to bring down democracy in America, and he is going to bring it down here when he gets back. Look at the havoc that he has been wreaking from thousands of kilometres away. Can you imagine the havoc he is going to wreak when he is sitting only a few metres away from me on the other side of this chamber? This Prime Minister's authority has been completely undermined by this ragbag of characters from the Muppet Show, or people who resemble the characteristics of people from the Muppet Show—if that is a more polite way of putting it.
All jokes aside, this is actually a very serious issue because, apart from being undermined and having no authority, as days pass it is being revealed that this Prime Minister has absolutely no agenda for this country. We went through the longest election campaign this country has ever experienced, with a Prime Minister who went out day after day to talk about jobs and growth. He had no policies to back that up. Unfortunately, what we have seen from this Prime Minister since the election is exactly the opposite of jobs and growth. That is where this issue becomes serious. Not only does he not have an agenda; but what little agenda he has is actually taking Australia backwards, particularly when it comes to jobs and growth. All we have seen from him in the last few weeks is refugee bashing, deals about guns, legalising racial hatred—all sorts of fringe issues that are designed to appeal to people like his own Sam the Eagle, Senator Bernardi, and Animal the drummer, George Christensen.
But what is the government actually doing to help the average person in the street in Queensland and all other parts of Australia? What they are doing is presiding over a catastrophic collapse in the number of full-time jobs. Just last month alone, Australia lost 53,000 full-time jobs. That is the biggest monthly fall we have seen in Australia in five years. I think the tally for the year as a whole shows that up to about 112,000 full-time jobs disappeared under this government. It is no wonder when they are presiding over the collapse of the car industry, they are seeing the mining industry fall apart, with no action being taken to do anything about it, and they have no plans whatsoever for how we grow new jobs. They are bringing in a backpacker tax which is killing the tourism industry. Every one of Queensland's main industries is being torn apart by this government, and people are paying the price through full-time jobs falling apart.
In regional Queensland, in particular, we have a growing unemployment crisis. Almost every part of regional Queensland is struggling through unemployment rates well above the national average. We have youth unemployment well above 20 per cent in many parts of regional Queensland, and what do the government have to offer? Nothing at all. They are bringing in a backpacker tax which is actually going to make things worse. They have all the infrastructure plans and all the infrastructure funds where they do not spend a single dollar. They like to get out there and talk about regional roads. They have buckets of money—hundreds of millions of dollars that they put out press releases about—but they have the inability to spend a single dollar. They have no plans for how we can deal with regional unemployment. Really, what it comes down to is that this is a government that is beholden to free-market extremists. They do not believe that government has a role in the economy and, unfortunately, people are paying the price. What we are seeing from the government is that it is led by a Prime Minister with no authority. He is being led by a bunch of people who resemble the characteristics of The Muppet Show characters. He has absolutely no agenda, and ordinary Australians are paying the price.
As I make my contribution, might I open by saying that, whilst I do not believe in fairies, if a fairy ever visits me and gives me three wishes I will strike two of them and just take one, and that is that I get to follow Senator Watt every time he makes a contribution in this place. I came in here a bit worried that I would not be able to fill my 12 or 13 minutes, but you have filled my speech from top to bottom. Just in case someone is watching—and Australians do not watch the nonsense that you go on with, but in case they are—let me fill in the gaps.
Let me start with Manus and Nauru. What you forgot to tell the Australian people, of course, is that the policy of isolating people on Manus and Nauru was the policy of the Australian Labor Party. It was a Rudd special. He went to bed one night and he did not have a clue what to do about immigration. He did not want to duplicate the policies of the Howard government that had been so successful and have been reinstated by this government. That is the authority that this government and Malcolm Turnbull have: the reinstatement and the reinforcement of policies. Now people are not drowning at sea. I have not heard the word 'drowning' come out of the mouth of any Labor or Green contribution in this place on the question of immigration, notwithstanding that over 1,200 souls—some whose names are not known, some women and children—drowned under the policies of the Australian Labor Party. So Manus and Nauru are products of the Labor Party.
Here is a really sad feature that you forgot to mention, Senator Watt: the backpacker tax at 32.5c. I will call upon my colleague here to assist. I am going to ask a question and I bet Senator Williams has the answer. Who created the 32.5 per cent backpacker tax?
The Australian Labor Party did, in 2012. So you need to go back. The Australian Labor Party lifted the rate for that class of tax from 28c to 32.5c in 2012, so it is another product. I honestly know that is inconvenient.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Williams, you can hear the shrills when that fact is being given. We have to keep this comparison up. What you forgot to mention was, of course, the significant trade deals that have been done. Seven years under the Australian Labor Party and not one single sheet of paper was dirtied on a trade deal. Not one in seven years. They were too busy at that time not supporting our defence industries and manufacturing—the things that they give a shrill cry about now. That was in seven years, and what did we do? When the best trade minister in history, I think, since Federation came in, Andrew Robb, he closed those deals in less than two years—Korea, Japan and China. You think that eggs come out of a carton and the carton comes out of the fridge. People like Senator Williams and I know the importance of these things and know the importance of the work that this government have done to increase the trade. We have value added billions upon billions and billions of dollars of opportunity for people in agriculture right across the country.
Opposition senators interjecting—
You want to talk about an agenda? We had an agenda to strengthen agricultural industries. I have been producing beef for 35 years. The biggest contribution that you guys made to beef, of course, was your policy to shut down a billion-dollar trade. You killed a trade; you killed industries; you killed sectors; you killed entire economic communities. There are hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of longstanding, generational farming businesses that remain in trouble because of that decision. But what have we done? Do you want to know what our agenda was? Our agenda was to restore confidence. Our agenda was to restore growth and fix the economy and the beef sector. I can tell you now that beef for which we were getting $1.50 and $1.60 a kilogram only two years ago is bringing well over $4 for producers. Of course, not everyone can take advantage of it because some of them are still reeling from the impact of the live cattle trade that was coupled with the drought. I have not found a way to blame you for the drought, but I have not given up on the prospect of that either. I will continue to work on that question.
In the meantime, you want to talk about an agenda and you want to talk about delivery by this government. Let's start to have a talk. You do not even have a member in northern Australia, with the exception of, I think, one member in the Northern Territory, so it has been ignored by the Australian Labor Party for decades.
That is true. What has our government done? Our government has put a $5 billion stimulus in place—a $5 billion package to promote northern Australia. That is going to lift some of those communities up and bring them some of the prosperity that the rest of us enjoy—those who live in postcodes ending with three noughts.
We put the Sky Muster system in. We had an agenda to build a communication base so that our businesses in the bush right across Australia were able to compete. These are people who used to have to get up at two o'clock in the morning under the old system to try and fill out a form online to send it back to their accountant or to one of their customers.
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
Listen, I bet it has been a long time since you have been out bush, Senator. I bet you it is a long time since you have been out in the bush. I have never cut your tracks out there; I promise you. I am telling you that in country Australia they are over the moon about the introduction of Sky Muster. There are new enterprises and there are new investments going on, because now they can—before they could not.
Under Labor not one bit of attention was paid to the people in the bush with respect to communications, so our agenda to fix the communication issues in the bush is working a treat. Before that we had families divided. They were trying to get schooling via the internet. You did nothing—not one thing—to support isolated families financially to enable them to give their children an education. That was something that they could only dream about. It is something that you take for granted around the corner from where you live. We put $44 million into that recently. So we do have an agenda to build circumstances in regional and rural Australia to give those young ones an equal chance at education, which is something that you and your mob take for granted.
Senator Watt from Queensland talked about our investment but that nothing was happening with it. Well, I tell you what, Senator Watt: I intend to make sure that the Hansard of your speech goes to everybody in the Darling Downs, because they are seeing tractors, dozers and graders, using the $1.7 billion investment from this government, to deal with the bottleneck on the range crossing. Sixty-six per cent of our country's beef that is exported comes off the Darling Downs and down the range crossing. We have invested $1.7 billion into that. That is part of our agenda. Our agenda is to invest in that part of the economy, where Senator Williams and I have a particular interest—our deputy agriculture minister is also in the chamber, so they are well represented on this side of the chamber here today. We are investing in them. We have not forgotten them. Just because they will not vote for us in certain areas does not mean that we forget them like the Australian Labor Party has done. We are investing the $1.7 billion to increase productivity on the Darling Downs to bring all those commodities down to the Port of Brisbane.
Our people supported the development of the first private airport on the Darling Downs—the first in something like 30 years to be developed. We are bringing enabling infrastructure around that out at Charlton and with the Warrego Highway. Another half a billion dollars is being spent there. We have committed $100 million to the Outback Way, and there is another $500 million to be distributed. We have found $500 million in our budget to get the arterial road systems in the west moving again, so that we can get more of these cattle, more of this produce, more of this wheat, more of these chickpeas to the Port of Brisbane and get our terms of trade in order.
I have been sitting patiently since this government was returned waiting to hear anybody from that side of the chamber ask a question or offer something constructive in the field of education, particularly education for rural Australia—not a single word. I have waited to hear your contribution on health—
Senator Sterle, you are going to trip me up now! Senator Sterle will no doubt make a magnificent contribution, if he is the next speaker. But the fact of the matter is that there has been not one word on health nor a question. On the economy—this is my favourite—you need to look it up in the dictionary. It is the thing that underpins everything within the government's capacity. You left it in a complete and absolute mess. Between you and the Greens you left the biggest debt that this nation has ever seen.
As I pin my big ears forward, listening for something, anything, even a squeak, from that side of the chamber to contribute to the development of health services, education services and the economy in this country, do you know what I hear, Senator Williams? I hear nothing every time. We sit together, Senator Williams and I, and we bet a carton of stubbies every time one of you people straighten your legs: 'Are they going to ask a question about education?' No, they are not. They default to Bobby Day. It is a Bobby Day question. Then Senator Williams asks: 'Are they going to do something on the economy?' No, they are not—not one word—because they are illiterate on the economy.
The Labor Party is an empty vessel. Since we returned to government they have not made one constructive contribution. Do you want to talk about your backpacker tax? We engaged with industry until we settled on a position that industry wanted and that we felt was fair and equitable. The industry has been subject to a number of inquiries—and I have criticised my own mob, standing right here, about the time it has taken us—but we got there. We took away the uncertainty in the agriculture and tourism industries and in general services, particularly in the bush, and what do you do? This will not be resolved by Christmas, because you want to join with a couple of these dandies here and bring in some tax rate that means that a young Australian who is standing right beside them—
An opposition senator interjecting—
I tell you what: I did not think I could attract a crowd like this! It is terrific, Senator Williams. Look at this! They are coming out of the woodwork now because I am stimulating their thoughts on issues about the economy. They are looking to me for little gems to hang onto and build on, so that they can develop policies and articulate them in this place. The vacuum has not gone. There is a little bit in the vessel now because they started to have listen up. Well, I am really pleased. I could not even pull a crowd like this when I was putting on a free barbecue! Well, there you go. That is fantastic.
The fact of the matter is that at the end of this presentation I can tell you: we do have an agenda. I do not have the time today to go through it line by line; it would take me a week—not only to talk about our agenda but to talk about the delivery of our agenda. Australia is a better place under us, and it will continue to grow and prosper under the Turnbull coalition government.