Senate debates

Monday, 27 November 2017

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Queensland Election

3:04 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Prime Minister (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Chisholm today relating to the Queensland election.

Once again, we see in question time on display, on the other side of this chamber, a government in disarray. We see on the other side a government in disarray—perhaps in terminal disarray—and I think the results of the Queensland election paint a very stark picture. There is the principled approach taken by the Queensland Labor government and, in contrast to that, we see the hopeless division on the other side when it comes to critical issues that are important to the Australian people. I want to pay tribute to Premier Palaszczuk for her principled position of putting One Nation last and making it very, very clear that there would be no deals in relation to One Nation. This is quite different to the other side of politics, where Mr Nicholls put One Nation ahead in 49 seats. I think Mr Nicholls has paid the political price for that unprincipled position. I know that the Attorney-General in his response today indicated that to deal with One Nation is 'poison'. He's made that comment himself, and that is to his credit. However, in Queensland, we saw this flirting with One Nation—the deal with One Nation—for which I think a political price has been paid. As I understand it, we are now looking at Labor winning 47 to 48 seats across Queensland and the LNP suffering a 7.8 per cent reduction in their vote, ending up with 40 to 41 seats. Under the circumstances, this is a very good outcome.

The questions in question time today related to the comments from Mr Christensen, who's Senator Brandis's Queensland LNP colleague. He has quite clearly identified that there is a fault here with the Turnbull government, that the concern that One Nation voters are expressing comes out of the lack of direction and lack of leadership of the Turnbull government. We know that Mr Christensen himself, in his own electorate, has championed the concept of a banking royal commission. It's quite different when he comes to Canberra, of course, but he has made comments in support of a banking royal commission. He has also made comments in his electorate about supporting penalty rates and he has supported changes to the law which protect penalty rates. Again, these are two issues which put Mr Christensen and some of his Senate colleagues from the LNP against the leadership of this government. This is clearly what Mr Christenson is pointing to—that we're not seeing leadership from Mr Turnbull on these critically important issues for the Australian people, and this is feeding into the concern of voters.

When it comes to the issue of a banking royal commission, I reiterate the point that we have a government that's hopelessly divided on that particular point. In this place, we see Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Williams adopting a principled position of seeking to advance the cause of having a royal commission. They understand the pain that's been caused to ordinary Australians and ordinary Queenslanders in that area. They want to see a change there. But we're seeing steadfast support for the major banks by the Turnbull government, and the Australian people are very concerned about that.

On the issue of penalty rates, we know that low wages growth is one of the huge problems for our economy. In fact, the Treasurer himself has indicated that low wages growth is the greatest threat to our economy, but we see a government that, whilst making that point, is not prepared to lift a finger to stop the cuts to penalty rates that are going to occur and that will affect 700,000 workers across Australia. How can that help our economy if we're seeing the earning power of ordinary people, low-paid workers, being impacted? It's quite clear. Also, Senator Macdonald has been reported to say that the federal leadership doesn't appear to be terribly interested in what's going on in North Queensland. It's time for this government to wake up to itself. The people of Australia have already woken up to it.

3:09 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

There will no doubt be much discussion and analysis of the Queensland state election over coming days, weeks and months, but I want to draw to the attention of the chamber one phenomenon that was apparent during the Queensland election and, in particular, on polling day. Senator Ketter claims that the Queensland branch of the Labor Party took a principled stand of putting One Nation last. That was certainly their cover story, but, as is so often the case with the Australian Labor Party, you have to focus not on what they say but on what they do.

I can tell you, Madam Deputy President, as someone who spent a good part of Saturday handing out how-to-vote cards in three different electorates, that Labor Party booth workers, plainly operating under instructions, were saying to each elector who entered the polling booth, 'Put the LNP last,' and that was in seats where there was a One Nation candidate. So the how-to-vote card may have made a public recommendation, but the private recommendation of Labor Party booth workers and operatives was not to put One Nation last.

Furthermore, the Labor Party cause was supported at the polling booths not merely by the Labor Party booth workers but also by their surrogates, people from the various trade union movements and from the trade union council, handing out their own leaflets. They, of course, have as much right as anybody else to participate, express their point of view and make a recommendation to electors, but they as well, surrogates for the Australian Labor Party, were contradicting by their conduct the public message of, 'Put One Nation last,' by saying to electors, 'Don't put One Nation last; put the LNP last.' That's what they were saying, plainly as a result of a deliberate strategy. As we heard Senator Ian Macdonald say in a contribution to the adjournment debate some weeks ago, that was of a piece with conduct that he observed in North Queensland, where the Queensland Council of Unions mounted a campaign saying, 'Put the LNP last,' in seats in which there were One Nation candidates. So, as I say, don't be so concerned with what the Labor Party say and what their public position is; see what they do. I witnessed it with my own eyes and I heard it with my own ears on the ground in Queensland on Saturday.

I might also make the point that if Ms Palaszczuk forms a government, which seems likely, she will form a government on the basis of having won seats in Brisbane from the LNP—seats such as Mansfield, Mount Ommaney and Aspley—on the basis of One Nation preferences. I don't know what deals were done secretly behind the scenes between the Australian Labor Party and One Nation, and, by the way, I am not making that accusation, but it is a fact that, if the Labor Party in Queensland and Premier Palaszczuk form a government, it will be because they won seats from the LNP off One Nation preferences in at least three cases in the city of Brisbane that I can reference—Mansfield, Mount Ommaney and Aspley.

So be careful what you wish for, I say through you, Madam Deputy President, to those Queensland Labor senators opposite. Senator Hanson dobbed you in earlier in the year when she pointed out that your state secretary, Evan Moorhead, had made an approach to her for a mutual agreement whereby One Nation and Labor would run dead in certain seats, we have the phenomenon of Labor booth workers and their trade union surrogates saying, 'Don't put One Nation last,' and we know that three Labor MPs at least were elected on the basis of having received One Nation preferences. Those are the facts. (Time expired)

3:14 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That was an unfortunately sad contribution from the government Senate leader, George Brandis. What he knows and what, more importantly, the people of Queensland know is that the Queensland Labor Party have consistently put Pauline Hanson last. No matter what incarnation, ever since Pauline Hanson has been on the political scene in Queensland, we have put her last. When Pauline Hanson has been a threat in Queensland, we have benefitted from that because we made a principled decision to put her last.

It was interesting on Saturday night that, when this was a topic of conversation, Senator Canavan said of Tim Nicholls, who was happy to preference One Nation in 49 seats and happy not to rule out forming government with them, 'He was just being honest.' Unfortunately, I think he was. They were happy to preference them, and that sent a message to the people of Queensland. More importantly, they were happy to form government with them if they needed them to form a majority. This is what actually cost them seats in the south-east corner. It has happened before; it happened in 1998 and it happened in 2001.

When those opposite do deals with One Nation, they pay a price, but they don't get any benefit out of it. This is the point. They didn't do well in regional Queensland. They didn't pick up seats en masse from Labor in regional seats where One Nation did get a significant vote. But it hurt them in the south-east corner. It hurt them in Aspley, Mansfield and Mount Ommaney because people in Queensland—particularly in the south-east corner—understand the damage that would be done to Queensland's reputation if we had a government at the state level of an LNP and One Nation coalition. That is what cost them seats. That is what those opposite didn't understand 20 years ago. They've had numerous lessons and they still can't understand it now.

We have seen since the election result the differences of opinion. We've seen the member for Dawson, George Christensen, basically say that we need to appease those One Nation supporters. We saw Senator Brandis in question time, to his credit, say that any time you touch them you are damaged by it. But the state ALP failed to heed that lesson.

What we've seen from a Senate point of view as well—this is was a factor during the state election campaign—is that 85 per cent of the time in this place One Nation vote with the LNP. This was an issue we ran hard on, particularly in Ipswich. I just want to particularly make note of that election result, where my good friend Jen Howard convincingly beat former senator Malcolm Roberts. I want to dispel once and for all the myth that Ipswich has somehow been a One Nation heartland. Sure, Senator Hanson won a seat there more than 20 years ago, but the Labor Party has been representing that area for a long time. We've had some fantastic representatives at the state and federal levels, and I was particularly pleased to see Jen Howard's emphatic victory on Saturday night.

The discussion we have seen since shows that they have taken no lessons from that election campaign, and this goes to the chaos and dysfunction of those opposite—with the decision to cancel parliament and Senator O'Sullivan pursuing a banking royal commission. The divide between the Libs and the Nats in Queensland is only going to get larger as a result of this election campaign. That's why they performed so badly in regional Queensland. That's why they performed so badly in the south-east corner, where the swing against them was eight per cent on primary. That's why the principled stand of Annastacia Palaszczuk and her leadership, where we said, 'We will put One Nation last; we will not do deals with them', resonated across the whole of Queensland. In an environment that is really tough for political parties to win, it was an outstanding result for the Premier. She is someone who was prepared to stand on her record and was prepared to put principle before politics.

It shows how desperate those opposite are that Senator Brandis is prepared to throw around accusations that are baseless. They are absolutely baseless. We made a principled decision to put them last. Every Labor how-to-vote card in the state had One Nation last. Until the LNP realise that, they are going to continue to suffer from their relationship with One Nation. It happened in Queensland on Saturday and it's going to happen federally as well. We know that in most places in regional Queensland they actually came third; they were beaten by One Nation. (Time expired)

3:19 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Madam Deputy President. It's great to have you back. I too rise to take note of questions asked at question time, specifically by Senator Chisholm, around the Queensland election. What we know—having been up in Queensland over the course of that state election—is that this was definitely a state election fought on state issues. For Labor Party senators to come into this place and argue otherwise merely misrepresents what happened on the ground. There are still many votes to be counted, and we should wait until all the facts are in and we have a full analysis before those from the other side start crowing. It's too cute by half.

Once again, we had a policy-free zone in the Senate question time from the Labor Party. It's very rich to come in here and talk about the principles of the presumptive Premier of Queensland when, yet again, we had from those who seek to be in government a question time in the Senate that was devoid of any issue that any Australian gives two hoots about. There were no questions on health policy, no questions on our record investment into education, no questions around energy policy—the No. 1 topic for those out in the community—on how to bring power prices down and how to actually ensure businesses can invest in creating jobs, and not paying off their power bills. Again, there was not one question today from the team who seeks to lead this nation on anything of interest to anyone in the nation.

Really, it encapsulates what's wrong with politics right here today. We're talking about the ALP crowing about a potential election result in Queensland and of a potential Premier elected on the back of One Nation preferences. They want to talk about a principled approach. Well, let's talk about the fact that you're very happy to take the preferences if that leads you to the premiership palace. You want to walk around pretending you're principled when, meanwhile, you're stacking those preferences in your back pocket and marching into the premiership. If you succeed in winning majority government, it will be riding on the coat-tails of One Nation, and you will owe them everything if the Labor Party wins a majority government in Queensland.

I went up to Queensland to look at some things with universities and some Defence issues. I had the opportunity to get into the state seats of Keppel and Rockhampton and I spoke to people on the ground in Townsville and in Emerald. They were not concerned about the issues that the Labor Party has raised here; they were concerned about power prices, regional jobs, energy prices and our meat processors. For Rockhampton, the meat capital of Australia—but, please, don't tell my producers down south—that is the No. 1 issue.

We saw the phenomenon that assisted the state Labor government throughout the weekend—the use of trade unions and GetUp! in state election campaigns—in my home state of Victoria, with the use of firefighters, in particular, through the last state election campaign. Daniel Andrews is still paying the debt back to the UFU, and we see that played out in our state issues around the CFA day in, day out.

North Queenslanders aren't afraid of regional mining jobs. The backflip by Ms Palaszczuk during the course of that campaign was absolutely reprehensible. In the former safe seat of Rockhampton, you guys are under pressure there, because in the preselection you rolled Margaret, the candidate that supported the Adani mine and supported regional jobs. You rolled her in the regional state preselection and you put big bad Barry in there. Do you know what? Margaret is ahead in the polling in Rockhampton. That shows that regional Queenslanders, particularly in the north, support mining, support jobs and know how to grow their regional economies. It's a pity that the state Labor team actually backflipped on growing those jobs in North Queensland.

I really hope that the Labor Party tomorrow can dig deep and give us some policy questions, because we are very keen to talk about what we have planned as a legislative agenda. (Time expired)

3:24 pm

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

This month we've seen a repudiation of the myth that Queensland is actually comprised of 4.9 million clones of Senator Canavan. And, actually, that didn't just happen once: it happened twice. First, there was the postal survey, where Queenslanders voted strongly for marriage equality. And now, in the state election, Queenslanders have shown that they're not sitting in their homes quietly hoping for a ferociously conservative government.

Those on the other side need to stop projecting their own hopes and their own desires onto the people of Queensland. Note to you: nobody else is pining for the Bjelke-Petersen government—nobody but you. The results on the weekend do lay bare a real crisis in conservative politics. You could call it a clash of ideas, but it's not really that. In truth, it's a clash between a group of moderate Liberals, who have few ideas and even fewer convictions, and a group on the far right who strongly believe in a lot of ideas that simply aren't very good.

I recognise that in politics there are going to be people who don't agree with me. It's healthy; it's how politics works. What is worse is to have people who don't believe in anything. And that's unfortunately the fate that has befallen the Liberal Party. There are large swathes of the Liberal Party that simply don't stand for anything anymore. Entire sections of their party room are populated by careerists whose ideology is nothing more than a hollowed-out managerialism combined with a deep and entitled belief that they deserve power.

We saw an example of it in action last week. It is astounding the Prime Minister cancelled parliament, and the excuse he gave is also telling. The government is waiting for the Senate to deal with marriage equality. Was there nothing else that could have been debated in the other place and passed in the meantime—not a single other initiative? I tell you what, Madam Deputy President, during the Gillard government a week in parliament was a chance to get something done. Parliament wasn't a chore, it was an opportunity.

The problem, of course, with this collapse in ideas in the Liberal Party is that the far right have taken the opportunity to fill the vacuum. Our country faces real challenges. How are we to deliver health care to an ageing population? How should we respond to stagnant wages? What work will people do in an age of automation? What should be the future of our energy policy? Well, I tell you what, we know the LNP's answer, because the Queensland LNP, under Nicholls, had exactly the same policy as that advocated by Senator Canavan. They want a government-funded coal-fired power station in the north of Queensland—an old technology that nobody thinks would be funded by the market, instead funded by the government.

The so-called thought leaders on the right of Australian politics are not equipped in any way to answer serious questions. And it doesn't matter whether they're in the right of the Liberal Party, whether they're in the Nationals or indeed, if they're in One Nation. They have spent too long mucking about in the culture wars. They've learned the wrong lessons, fighting about school curricula and fighting about halal certification instead of thinking seriously about the real problems that confront us and the problems that concern the people of Queensland: jobs and education. You would think that Prime Minister Turnbull, who famously claims to value calm, methodical, grown-up policy debate, would have the good sense to reject this nonsense out of hand. Instead, he actually cuddles up to them. He cuddles up to One Nation. Perhaps it's actually just too difficult to reject the far right's vision when you have none of your own.

The far right are in no position to deal with our challenges. Good policy does actually make good politics. But the converse is not true, and far-right solutions are either the types of glib quotes that look good on a fundraising email sent into your base or they simply deflect attention off to the social issues where they feel more comfortable fighting. These are not real solutions; they are fake solutions, and the results from Queensland show that Queenslanders, like the rest of Australia, see straight through it. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.