Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Jobs and Innovation (Senator Cash) to a question without notice asked by Senator Carr today relating to Telstra.
In doing so, I draw the Senate's attention to this extraordinary proposition where at quarter to five we get to discuss this matter. In 15 minutes, we'll have a first speech. We have yet to deal with some housekeeping matters. Then we will go back to the very, very brief, perfunctory discussion of the expenditure of $140 billion worth of expenditure on tax cuts! I want to say that in the context where some people have agreed, to ease their consciences for what they have done, that senators here, leaders of various parties, might get the chance to express their disappointment at what they have done and, as a consequence of that, rob themselves of the right to defend the people of this country from what is a shocking political abuse of the budgetary arrangements in this country whereby the very, very wealthy in this country, the most wealthy people in this country, get the benefit of a Liberal government seeking to distort the taxation system and undermine the progressive nature of our taxation system in this country to offer up a political bribe in the run-up to an imminent federal election. What is more, it is on the basis of a promise that might be kept two elections hence. That's the proposition that they have signed up to.
I am particularly disappointed by those senators from Centre Alliance, who, in many respects, have sought to come into this chamber and argue their case, particularly in defence of people in manufacturing areas and various others, on the basis they stand between the political parties. That is what they claim. Senator Xenophon used to say that all the time. He would not have agreed to a guillotine of this nature. He would certainly not have agreed to a guillotine of this nature while claiming to be the centre force without talking to both sides in this chamber. But what has happened is that an ambush has been inflicted upon this chamber, an ambush on the Labor Party and the Greens. Of course, Senator Storer has been excluded, locked out from even putting a point of view about the importance of protecting the revenue of this Commonwealth, $140 billion worth of revenue, in circumstances where the very wealthy in this country are getting a decided advantage from a very conservative government seeking to undermine the fundamental principles of a social democratic arrangement in regard to the provision of the funding of essential services in this country, such as education and health—the services that Centre Alliance say they're very interested in. Can you imagine if we talked about the shipbuilding industry and pulled a stunt like this, an ambush like this, without ever talking to the opposition? Can you imagine the consequences for the people of this country?
It is $140 billion worth of expenditure, over what are now going to be several election cycles, in which we'll see some people get a minimal tax arrangement whereby the very wealthy get a $7,000 tax benefit, which the government think is going to provide them with an electoral advantage, because of the circumstances of two elections hence. Frankly, I don't believe the people of this country are going to buy that argument. They're not going to buy it, because they know that this government is out of touch. They understand just how incredibly arrogant this government is. This is the merchant banker's view of politics. This is the view of Australian society from the foreshores of Sydney Harbour. This is not the view that protects the health services of this country, protects the schools of this country, protects the universities of this country, ensures that our pensioners have the necessary wherewithal to enjoy a decent standard of living. This is the sort of government that rends the social fabric of this country asunder. This is the sort of government we're seeing, which is actually driving deep hostility into the Australian people by making it clear to the Australian people that the politics and economics of this country do not work for ordinary people. They work for the very wealthy. They work for those with power and privilege. (Time expired)
I just have to take a second to compose myself from my laughter at hearing that last speech. Senator Carr is lecturing the chamber and lecturing the crossbenchers about the time management of this very important piece of legislation. He and the Greens political party continue to express outrage at how they could be restricted in the debate they have on this bill. I've been in this chamber for a while and, regrettably, I sat through the Labor years, the six dark years of Labor in charge. Do you know, Madam Deputy President, in the Labor years we had 188 bills through this parliament guillotined with the support of the Greens political party—188 bills, most of them with not even one word spoken on them, not one word. We were required to vote in a sausage machine style on 188 bills the Labor Party put up in government, supported, I might say, by the Greens political party, who always are holier than thou.
I had to compose myself. Everybody knows that Labor lie—that's becoming an accepted norm in this chamber and, in fact, right across Australia—but we now know that the hypocrisy of the Labor Party and their mates in the Greens political party knows no bounds whatsoever. They lecture the crossbenchers—they think they're still at the CFMEU union—and think that by shouting at them, bullying them and standing over them, as they do in a CFMEU meeting, they can bully the crossbenchers into submission and into agreeing with them. But they don't like it when we remind them of not one bill—important though this one bill is on taxation—but 188. Half of them were fairly routine; I'll accept that. The other half were very important bills, and they were guillotined by the Labor Party without proper debate.
Senator McGrath interjecting—
There were 53, as my colleague Senator McGrath says, in one week—53 bills guillotined in one week, and many of them with not even a word. The Labor Party are complaining that, with this bill, we're going to allow the leaders of the parties to speak. That's a privilege that we never got in the Labor Party's administration. Not even was the then opposition leader allowed to speak.
If the Labor Party were serious about wanting to debate this bill, they would have done away with the last three hours of time absolutely wasted on having procedural motions on which they called for a division every time, every time losing about ten minutes that we could have used to actually have the debate that they're now complaining they're not going to have time for. The hypocrisy is absolutely breathtaking—188 bills guillotined, most of them without one word being spoken. We could have had two hours of debate by now.
We would have had to interrupt it for—and I hope you'll listen carefully—what will be a wonderful speech by my colleague from Queensland Senator Stoker. You may learn something. I hope you listen intently, because I know Senator Stoker's speech will be enlightening. If you take some notice of it, you'll be better senators on that side. I'm very much looking forward to Senator Stoker's speech.
But again can I point out—as I say, it is a struggle for me to compose myself—the rank hypocrisy of the Labor Party in complaining about a limited time for a debate when they've wasted three hours this afternoon—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Can I just say, Senator Macdonald, that I'd much rather be associated with the CFMEU than I would with the latest Liberal Party meeting, where you had thugs abusing and threatening older women. What a disgrace! Don't you guys come in here and tell us what thugs you think the union movement are. You can't even go to a Liberal Party meeting without being abused in Australia these days.
Can I just say: the debacle of the last two hours, where we've been denied the ability to do our job, is atrocious. Our job here is not to rubber stamp. We are not here—
An incident having occurred in the gallery
Senator Bilyk, please resume your seat. Could the person who took that photo please delete it. It's against the standing orders to take photos in the chamber unless you're a media person. You need to delete the photo. Thank you.
Senator Abetz, you've just offended me there! Why would it not have been of me?
Can I say, though, that the last nearly two hours have proven, time and time again, that the government do not want to be held accountable. They do not want people to know what is in that tax package. They don't want people to understand. There is no rush, because it's a refund anyway. People have got until June or July 2019. There is no rush. For you guys to come in here all of a sudden and say it's a rush is just a joke.
Of course, we're here to take note of answers in question time. The answer we are to take note of is the answer from Minister Cash to the question from Senator Carr. Once again, what the government demonstrated in relation to the question about 8,000 Telstra workers losing their jobs was that it just doesn't care. The answer talked about causing the economy to 'prosper and grow', but under this out-of-touch government Australians are suffering. They're suffering from stagnant wages, rising insecurity in employment, soaring costs of living and cuts to penalty rates. The mechanism that the government's put into place time and time and time again is to ensure that wages are kept low and that workers lose conditions. Both Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison are more concerned with ensuring tax cuts for millionaires than they are about doing anything to help workers, especially those 8,000 workers at Telstra. The government has made its feeling towards Telstra workers known, and, can I say, it is pretty disappointing.
When the Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, Mr Paul Fletcher, was asked this morning about the 8,000 job losses, his response was, 'These things happen.' It's hard to imagine a more callous response to 8,000 job losses than a minister in the Turnbull government shrugging his shoulders and saying, 'Well, these things happen.' I'm pretty sure those 8,000 families don't consider that these things just happen. It's clear that the government's got no sympathy and no real understanding of what happens when thousands of families and the communities around those families need to deal with 8,000 job losses. I've seen what happens with job losses, and it's not happy, let me tell you. It's distressing. It causes great personal and economic toll. It's not pleasant to watch. It's certainly not pleasant to be part of. The government should be watching and helping, not just shrugging their shoulders. Perhaps, if Mr Fletcher and Mr Turnbull don't believe the government has any power to do any good when events like this happen, they shouldn't have the responsibility of being in government.
I'm not yet aware of the magnitude of the job losses for Tasmania, but back in 2015 Telstra announced 38 job losses in Tasmania as part of another round of 1,400 national job losses, so I expect that the 8,000 jobs that are going will have an impact in Tasmania. That will be a massive blow, of course, to the Tasmanian community, including to regional Tasmania, which you guys, especially the new Nationals senator, should be a bit concerned about. It's absolutely clear you guys don't care about regional Tasmania. Your policies are focused on the Sydney millionaires, Mr Turnbull's friends and neighbours, and you know that.
We've got a Prime Minister that told a 60-year-old aged-care worker from the north-west coast of Tasmania he could do better and he could get a better job. What a disgrace! What an absolute disgrace! What I want to know is: what is Mr Turnbull's measurement— (Time expired)
Order! Pursuant to order, business is interrupted to allow for the first speech of Senator Stoker. I ask senators to observe the traditional courtesies for a first speech.
Senator Bilyk interjecting—
Government senators interjecting—
Senator Bilyk! I was interrupting business and, while I am speaking, I am asking all senators—including those on my right; I could not pick their voices—to remain silent. Can we please interrupt business pursuant to order to allow Senator Stoker to complete her first speech. Senator Bilyk?