Senate debates

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:06 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wong) today relating to the Turnbull Government.

Here we are, the last take-note of the year, and we still have, as we had for the first take-note of the year, an absolute rabble of a government—a weak government, a government that can't deliver for this country, with a Prime Minister that is hidebound and locked into the worst elements of the coalition. We heard Senator Brandis talk about the jobs that are being created, and we look at the bill that's before the Senate today which is attacking people on social welfare, people, as Robert Menzies used to say, who had fallen through the cracks and who should be looked after. Robert Menzies would not recognise the Liberal Party that we have today. Robert Menzies would be disgusted by the approach of the Liberal Party these days. Robert Menzies always knew that the Liberal Party should be looking after everyone except those who could look after themselves—the multimillionaires, the banks, the chief executives. Menzies didn't say you had to look after them. In fact, he said they could look after themselves.

But what do we get from this rabble of a government? What do we get from this weak Prime Minister? We get $65 billion of tax cuts to business—the very people who Menzies said could look after themselves, the very people who don't need any help, the people who have not fallen through the cracks, the people who are living on the shores of Sydney Harbour in their magnificent mansions that are off the grid, with a range of batteries and solar panels, like the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. These are the people who are going to get the tax cuts. These are the people who don't need them. We heard Senator Brandis today talk about job creation. This bill attacks people who can't get a job. We hear about the issue of mathematics in politics. Well, there are mathematics in unemployment as well. The mathematics are clear: for every job that is available, six Australians are looking for a job. The government haven't dealt with that. They don't understand that that's a real issue. They don't care, because all they're doing is looking at the top end of town—to give them $65 billion of tax cuts and impose more taxes on middle-class, working-class Australians. That is the rabble of a government that we have.

This is a Prime Minister whose claim to power was 30 negative Newspolls for the former Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott. He knocked him off because there were 30 negative Newspolls. Where are we now? Again, it's mathematics: 24 Newspolls where this Prime Minister and this rabble of a government have been behind the Labor Party. Not by a small part; it's by a long way. That is locked in. Is it any wonder that their heads are down behind the Attorney-General every time we have question time here? Is it any wonder that they don't look up? Is it any wonder that they are despondent? If I were a backbencher in the government heading off for Christmas, it might be my last time ever here. This government should actually resolve the problems and resolve the chaos: go to an election and get tossed out—that's what would happen to this mob. That's what would happen to them, because they've got no answers on unemployment, they've got no answers on energy, they've got no answers on climate change, they've got no answers on health and they've got no answers on education. The only answer the Prime Minister has is how to try to defend his job. This is a weak Prime Minister and a jelly-backed Prime Minister; this Prime Minister is probably the weakest we've ever had in this country.

3:12 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate Senator Cameron on emptying the galleries of the Senate! Not a single person remained to listen to the ugly vitriol that spews forth from Senator Cameron's mouth each and every day when he takes note of answers. Was there a display of an alternative policy put forward by Senator Cameron, a leading frontbencher of Mr Shorten? No. What does he do? He spends his time in this place defending the likes of Luke Collier and seeking to denigrate the government. But does he put an alternative policy on the table? Not at all. When the Australian Labor Party has the opportunity to ask questions about jobs, job creation, household budgets, the cost of energy and even health and education, what do they do? They go to the default position in the absence of a policy agenda: to simply play politics, to denigrate the Prime Minister and to denigrate the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It is a game of denigration rather than an opportunity to lift the nation and to say, 'Here is an alternative platform.' Why is there no alternative platform? Because the Australian Labor Party, day after day, play cheap, opportunistic politics rather than developing a blueprint that would be appropriate for an alternative government.

As we come to the end of 2017, the last day of school for those opposite, I've got to say to them, the scorecard is a big F for fail. They have not been able to produce an alternative blueprint. Indeed, in the spray that we heard from Senator Cameron, we were told that, somehow, those of us on this side rub shoulders with multimillionaires. Excuse me? What a home goal! How about the good Senator Dastyari? With whom has he been rubbing shoulders of late? Oh, not a millionaire or billionaire, per chance? Indeed, who else turned up at that home that Senator Dastyari visited? It was none other than the would-be alternative Prime Minister, Mr Shorten. He himself visited the mansion.

What is dripping from Senator Cameron's commentary, day after day, when he talks about these mansions and millionaires, is an ugly display of envy and jealousy. It is envy and jealousy that seeks to motivate the Australian Labor Party. It again shows that they are motivated by class warfare, motivated by division. Rather than celebrating that some people may or may not be doing well, they simply seek to denigrate. And this nonsense that, if you are in business, you are somehow a millionaire is just to misunderstand the Australian people and, especially, the small business sector, which has gained from the government's tax cuts.

Can I say to the Australian people, and to those opposite, remember when Labor were in government and Mr Shorten was actually the Assistant Treasurer, he day after day in the House of Representatives would assert, and assert correctly, that tax cuts for small business directly translated into—the Labor Party won't answer that question anymore, but in those days, when they were in government, they did answer that question, with the term 'job creation'. It would create jobs for those of our fellow Australians who have fallen through the cracks, who have been denied the opportunity of self-esteem and all the wonderful benefits that flow from being able to be independent of government because you are in gainful employment.

So Mr Shorten and the Australian Labor Party know, because it issued forth from their own mouths, that these tax cuts would deliver jobs and lift people from social welfare into self-reliance and the capacity to look after themselves—a worthy goal and something which we supported Labor on whilst they were in government. This should be bipartisan policy, but the cheap politics that has now infected Labor has also infected them to the extent that they now repudiate their own policies. (Time expired)

3:17 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

We heard that quiet and reasonable apology for the way the government is treating Australia that Senator Abetz tried to put forward, but what they cannot hide is that this is a totally dysfunctional government that is eating itself alive as we go into Christmas. There'll be no Christmas pudding down there; they've already enjoyed feasting on one another throughout the year.

Let's talk some of those numbers that Senator Cameron was mentioning—numbers that matter in terms of what the Australian people believe about the viability of this government. I think there's a very important number that we should discuss, the number 7, as it relates to this government. We should figure out what is in common with these seven people. I see there are a few here in the chamber who might be interested. This is the quiz for the afternoon. What happens with this list of seven: Jamie Briggs, Mal Brough, Sussan Ley, Stuart Robert, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan? What do they all have in common? I'd love to be able to ask Senator Anning to give us the response. It's hard to keep track of how many things fall out of this government and how many things fall apart. But, just for those who'd like to know, what do these seven people have in common? They all resigned. Every single one of them, each ministers, has resigned from Malcolm Turnbull's ministry since he became the Prime Minister just a little over two years ago. That's a pretty impressive rate of losing ministers.

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

It's a big list.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a big list of seven. What a long two years it's been—seven ministers resigning. It is seven in total so far, but who knows what may be around the corner? Barely months into his prime ministership, this crisis began to engulf Mr Turnbull. It started in December 2015, a little over three months after Mr Turnbull had become the Prime Minister. Jamie Briggs was forced to resign after a female public servant made a complaint against his behaviour.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neill, I remind you to refer to people in the other house by their correct titles.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Briggs was forced to resign after a female public servant made a complaint about his behaviour. The Prime Minister didn't lose just one minister on that day; there was a second minister that he lost on that day, and that was Mr Mal Brough. He was stood down due to an AFP investigation into the well-known James Ashby affair—you should remember that. A few months later, in February 2016, he was forced to formally resign. That was No. 2 of the seven.

Let's continue with the list. Literally just a few days later, under the leadership of Mr Turnbull, who promised so much in that day that he took over from Prime Minister Abbott—a first-term Liberal Prime Minister—Stuart Robert breached ministerial standards, and, of course, he was forced to resign. No. 3. Three down.

Senator McAllister interjecting

Well, I don't know if we should believe there are any on the record, there are so many questions around the departure of Mr Robert. But I do believe it was that significant trading interest that we have with China. Just when you thought there were no more resignations and our new year's present for this year was going to be stability, instead we had the resignation of Ms Ley. She was forced to resign because of the scandal that developed from her use of travel expenses and entitlements. So we're down to No. 4.

There are a range of reasons why these ministers have had to leave. There's no theme that I can see that connects them; it's just another sign they can't even be unified in the theme of departure. They've all left over a multitude of sins. We know what happened to Mr Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister—and I'm happy to acknowledge him as so. Now he has returned after his period of exile, having been the fifth minister to resign. Then we lost Senator Nash and Senator Canavan as well. All of this, just in a matter of a few months. So, seven it is. As we come to the seven days of Christmas, maybe there could be a moment to recall each one of those as they leave.

But today we have seen, in the question that Senator Wong asked, a list of the things that are characteristic of this chaotic, dysfunctional and disunified government under Mr Turnbull. All they know is how to divide, not how to deliver. These resignations really beg the question: how can Mr Turnbull possibly lead a nation when he cannot even lead his own ministry? He can't keep his team together, he can't keep the ministry together and he's certainly not keeping the country together, as we see with the passage of legislation after the most disunifying effort of engagement with the marriage equality matter. (Time expired)

3:22 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of the answer provided to Senator Wong's question. Listening to those opposite, all I can think of is How the Grinch Stole Christmas! On the eve of Christmas, all you can find is things of doom and gloom to steal Australians' Christmas. Well, let me provide a little bit of Christmas cheer. I would rather go to the 12 days of Christmas—the 12 wonderful things in the lead-up to Christmas—and give Australian people a little bit more hope and cheer than that provided by those opposite.

You talk about lists and you talk about facts. This is the first day of Christmas, and the thing to celebrate is that it is unequivocally true that more than 355,700 Australians are now in work compared to last Christmas. Almost all of those people are in full-time employment. All of them will be celebrating the fact that they have a job that they didn't have last year and that they can afford to celebrate with their families and buy Christmas presents and do all of the things that the rest of us take for granted. Far from being an example of a rabble of a government, I think it is demonstrating that this is a government of success and achievement. That is only the first thing.

The second thing is that we have delivered a National Energy Guarantee, which, when implemented, means that people, especially in South Australia and Victoria, won't lose their power over Christmas. They will be able to celebrate with the power on and with their fridges and their businesses intact. So that's the second one: great Christmas cheer. The other thing that all parents should be celebrating this Christmas is the fact this government has delivered the biggest reform to needs-based school funding across the country—a uniformly great Christmas present for all Australian families with children at school. But it doesn't end there! Fourthly, we're investing just under $40 billion in childcare and early learning facilities over the next four years—again, a great Christmas present and great news for all working families.

Those opposite were talking about big business and businesses. Clearly, they have absolutely not a shred of knowledge about what it takes to generate wealth in this country and to employ people. I know they like to think that governments generate jobs and generate our national wealth; they simply do not. It is the millions of small business men and women in this country who get up every day and put their families and their lives on hold to generate income to employ other Australians. In fact, in my own home state of Western Australia over 278,000 small businesses are preparing for their own Christmases. There are thousands more new businesses in Western Australia this year. It is a mixed blessing for some of them, because it means they will probably have to work through the Christmas season, but for others it means they can have the confidence and optimism to employ other people to look after their businesses and share Christmas with their families.

There are so many other things that this government has done this year for our nation. Those Grinches opposite want to end this year denying absolutely everything this government has done. But jobs, economic growth, paying back debt, better health, better education, better child care—they are things for all Australians to celebrate.

Unlike those opposite, I would also like to thank senators on all sides of this chamber. One of the great sadnesses I have in this place is that so rarely do we acknowledge the work we do together in a great spirit of cooperation, bipartisanship and multipartisanship. So what I would like to do with my final words is say thank you very much to the senators—and some of them are here in the chamber—I have had the absolute pleasure and honour of working with. Despite what you read in the media, this parliament and this Senate have achieved a great deal. Shortly we'll be tabling the Senate committee's report on modern slavery, which is a landmark report globally. I thank my Senate colleagues on all sides of the chamber for your support, your friendship and for the wonderful work we have done on behalf of all Australians. Merry Christmas! (Time expired)

3:27 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I expect this may be my final speech for the year, which I'm sure everyone in the chamber is very happy about—

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

particularly Senator Reynolds. It's therefore proper to reflect on the year that we've had and, in doing so, take note of the answer to the question from Senator Wong.

What a year it has been! Australia has faced many challenges. It's been a good year for some, a bad year for others. But you'd have to say, if you had been following Australian politics this year, that Australian politics has not had a good year, and in particular this government has had an absolute shocker. If you look back over the course of this year, all you can see is one crisis after another from this government. The list of achievements is very small, very bare, but when it comes to the chaos that has enveloped this government the list is very long.

I've got to the point over the last few sitting weeks that when I have arrived in Canberra I've been expecting a crisis for the government. You can always sense it when there's something bad that's going to happen to the government, usually because they've spent the week beforehand leaking against each other. Things have become so bad for the government that you start the week expecting one crisis and, by Tuesday at the latest, find that something completely different has come up for this government, because they've so lost control of their agenda and their own internal ranks. It really has been a year of chaos and crisis for this government, and, unfortunately, Australia has paid the price for that.

There's the citizenship crisis, which has enveloped so many members of the government and has meant that they've taken their eye totally off the ball of governing for Australia and doing the right thing by the Australian people. We've obviously had months and months of division within the government. I was trying to think how we'd started the year, and it was with division over changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, where the free speech warriors within the government were out there saying people should be able to racially insult other people, while some more moderate elements within the government opposed it.

We then had the incredible levels of division, which we're still seeing on display today in the House of Representatives, about marriage equality. Of course, there's been the incredible division, particularly between the Liberal and National parties, over whether we should be having a banking royal commission. On top of all of that, there is the constant division, the constant leaking, on each other. We had another kind of leak, being the leak out of Senator Cash's office, about the police raid on the Australian Workers' Union offices. So, whether it be on policy issues like racial discrimination or marriage equality or whether it be just the way the government is being run in leaking information to the media, it really has been one crisis after another for this government. As I say, the tragedy in this is that the people of Australia have been the losers.

It's not as if our country is without challenges. We do have some serious challenges facing us right now and in the future, but because this government has been so distracted by the crises that have enveloped it, unfortunately these challenges remain unaddressed. I'm thinking about things like wages in this country growing so poorly that it is the lowest wage growth on record that we have ever seen in Australia. It's no wonder that people are feeling the pinch with cost of living pressures and worried about their future when their wages are just not growing. That's directly a result of this government's policies that it actually implements in terms of its own workforce within the Public Service.

In regional Queensland, we have a really big problem around insecure work, with people being unable to find permanent full-time jobs. Increasingly, their only options are casual positions, contract positions or labour hire. It is another issue which this government has just taken no action on and which regional Queensland members have done nothing about at all as well. Of course, penalty rates is another thing which so many people heading up to Christmas really depend upon to be able to put a bit of money aside to buy presents for their kids. This government has nodded and supported all the way along as those penalty rates stood to be cut.

In Queensland terms, you have to ask yourself: who is responsible for this? And we can look no further than the regional LNP members from Queensland, who come down here, stay absolutely mute about all of these things that are happening in their electorates that are hurting average people and just line up behind Prime Minister Turnbull time and time again to back in the cuts that he's making. Australians do have one party on their side. Labor have put forward policies to deal with each of these challenges: wage growth, labour hire, permanent jobs, secure work for people and restoring penalty rates—and we'll do it again next year. (Time expired)

3:32 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I also seek to take note of the answers to Senator Wong's question on the government's agenda. The government's agenda has been and will be into the new year to do over the charities and the not-for-profit sector in this country. It is very obvious from the appointment of Mr Gary Johns that that is exactly what they want to do. When Senator Brandis was talking earlier in the chamber, he said that he didn't know of the comments that Mr Johns had made. I don't know which planet Senator Brandis has been living on. The comments that Mr Johns made around charities, the work that charities do and advocacies are extremely well-known, as are his comments on contraception for women who are on income support, where he said—and, unfortunately, the government won't let me table this document at the moment:

Some families, some communities, some cultures breed strife. Governments cannot always fix it. Compulsory contraception for those on benefits would help crack intergenerational reproduction of strife.

He posted that on 31 December 2014. He also wrote an opinion piece in The Australian, as he does regularly, in which he extols similar comments. At the bottom of it, it says: 'Mr Johns' book No Contraception, No Dole will be published by Conner Court later this year.'

Mr Johns is a well-known critic of charities and charities' work. He has also publicly criticised Beyond Blue for the work that they have done on mental health, particularly for the work they have done on mental health for the people in LGBTIQ community. His being appointed as the head of the ACNC—the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission—is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. It is clearly the government's intention to undermine the effectiveness, the work and the operation of the ACNC. It is absolutely clear! Why else would you put somebody in charge of the ACNC who has such a poor opinion, and, not just a poor opinion, has been a constant critic of charities? In fact, he has written a book about it, extolling his comments on charities, calling it The Charity Ball: How to Dance to the Donors' Tune.

The ACNC has as its responsibility maintaining, protecting and enhancing public trust and confidence in the sector. He has spent his career undermining public confidence in the sector. What a joke that the government has appointed this particular person to head up the commission! It can only be for one reason—that is, to try to destroy it and to try to destroy our charities. There can be no other reason! Representatives of the charity sector have called Mr Johns's appointment 'bizarre'. I echo those comments. David Crosby has said, 'It's a continuation for us of a theme that says the government wants to silence the voice of charities.' Again, I concur. When you look at the sorts of things that Mr Johns has said about charities and the not-for-profit sector, you can draw no other conclusion. The blurb for his book The Charity Ball: How to Dance to the Donors' Tunestates:

Too many charities in Australia do little or no charity work, too many receive most of their income from government, and too many lobby government for more.

He has criticised charities, as I said, including Beyond Blue, for raising concerns about the welfare of LGBTIQ Australians. On the day that we will finally get marriage equality through this place—a person who has used the work that Beyond Blue do to support LGBTIQ Australians—they announce the appointment of Mr Johns to head up charities. This will undermine the operation of ACNC. There is absolutely no doubt that that is their agenda for next year: kill charities and undermine their work!

Question agreed to.