Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Liberal Party Leadership

3:02 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific (Senator Fierravanti-Wells) and the Minister for Regional Communications (Senator McKenzie) to questions without notice asked by Senators McAllister and Gallacher today relating to the Turnbull Government.

We saw something quite extraordinary in the chamber earlier today. The government introduced amendments to amend its own legislation, which used to seek to extend the tax cuts to the banks but now excludes the banks. Who would have thought it? Who would have thought that we would see this government turning its back on the two things which can truly be said to define it—a love of the banks and a love of corporate tax cuts. Unbelievable! These seemed to be the two issues that this government was willing to take any amount of political heat on to pursue. They resisted the royal commission until the banks had the good sense to understand that, unless they asked for one, unless they wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, this wouldn't come to an end. But now tax cuts for banks seem set to join the pile of policies that the Prime Minister has sacrificed to try and save himself.

Think about the republic. Just reflect for a moment on this. After the referendum, Mr Turnbull said, of the then Prime Minister John Howard, that he had broken the nation's heart. Now that Malcolm Turnbull is in the Lodge, what has he done? In the last 12 months he floated briefly the possibility of a plebiscite after Queen Elizabeth ceases her role. He was forced within 24 hours—within 24 hours!—to burst his own thought bubble, because he is willing to put aside anything and everything he believes in if a backbencher raises his or her voice against it.

On climate change Mr Turnbull once said:

Climate change is real, it is affecting us now, and it is having a particularly severe impact on Australia. And yet, right now, we have every resource available to us to meet the challenge of climate change except for one: and that is leadership.

The Prime Minister used to say that he offered leadership on climate change. In fact, he crossed the floor 10 years ago to vote for the emissions trading scheme. He said, 'I will not lead a party that is less committed to climate change than me.' Well, not yesterday, because yesterday he capitulated again—again to those who had a fundamental beef with science, who urged him to drop any reference to the Paris commitments, to the commitments to emissions reduction, in his redesign of the energy system, and he just gave in. He gave in to save his own skin. What does this man stand for? I will tell you: he stands for absolutely nothing except himself. The only project that the Prime Minister has thrown himself into, without equivocating, without holding back, is himself—the Turnbull project—and despite this project consuming all of his political energy, he hasn't even done it that well. Thirty-five members of the Liberal Party party room don't want him as leader. If you add in the National Party, it starts to become a much bigger number indeed. But even for the Liberal Party that's 41 per cent of the party room, which is almost as much as the 55 per cent of Australians who don't want him as Prime Minister, according to the latest Ipsos poll.

It is often said of Mr Turnbull that he does not lack confidence—that he's possessed of extraordinary self-belief. Well, it is good that he has confidence in himself, because nobody else seems to at all. Today in question time we saw minister after minister falling over themselves to avoid saying that they supported him. Senator Fierravanti-Wells wouldn't even repeat his name. She couldn't even bring herself to say his name out loud when I asked her if she supported him and what he stands for.

I don't know where we go from here. How does the Prime Minister stand in the parliament without flinching, knowing that the member for Warringah and the member for Dickson are sitting behind him. Worse, how does he stand in front of the mirror, looking at himself and knowing that selling out everything—everything that he once believed in—doesn't seem to have won him a single vote from the Right. In fact, the great lesson in all of this is that the more you capitulate to the bullies, the more you give in, the more they ask for. You can never win by capitulating. I say this to Mr Turnbull: have the courage of your convictions and call an election.

3:07 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not quite sure what the republic and climate change had to do with the questions asked. But what I do know is that every minister who was asked indicated that they supported and continued to support the Prime Minister. As Senator Smith just whispered to me, if that's the strength of the attack by the Labor Party on a day like today, well, we're looking pretty good for the next election.

Sorry, Senator McAllister, I meant to start by congratulating you on your appointment as yet another shadow assistant minister. It's interesting that in opposition you can just keep appointing shadow assistant ministers. Is there anyone over that side—apart from you, Senator Watt, and I can understand why you haven't!—who doesn't have a job? When Mr Shorten has problems, when he knows Mr Albanese is snapping at his heels, what does he do? He buys off a few more members of the caucus by saying, 'Look, I will appoint you to an important job'—yet another shadow assistant minister. And so it goes. You can tell why Mr Shorten chose to do this today—I'm not quite sure. But clearly he is worried about Mr Albanese, and quite frankly I'm worried about Mr Albanese. I just hope you keep Mr Shorten there, because Mr Shorten guarantees us success at the next election, whereas Anthony Albanese, nice fellow, would be a good campaigner. I'm pleased you keep him well under wraps, and long may Mr Shorten continue appointing shadow assistant ministers. You might even get a job, Senator Watt! He must eventually get down there.

But it's interesting that the question of climate change was raised, because the CFMEU, which is not a union that I usually quote—Senator Wong's union, of course—I'm pleased to see has joined forces with the coalition, just as Michael O'Connor did back in 2004 in the forestry debates. I remember, as forestry minister, I sat with Michael O'Connor in the cabinet room and we plotted together to win the election so that we would create jobs for workers. That's what he was interested in, that's what I was interested in and that's what Prime Minister Howard was interested in.

But I see the CFMEU are now back on my side, on our side and on Mr Turnbull's side, saying that the Labor Party's 50 per cent renewable energy target is 'not realistic' and that Labor should instead be backing clean coal options. These are exactly the sorts of comments and urgings that I and most on my side have been making for some time, which I'm pleased to say will be part of the new National Energy Guarantee project as it comes forward. The newspaper report I have here by Jared Owens—I think it's from The Australiansaid, quoting the CFMEU:

"The 50 per cent renewable target is not realistic. Whilst you can build solar and wind generation to achieve the target on paper, what do we expect is going to happen at night?" read the advice to Treasury, released under state Right to Information laws. "During the summer months it is still very warm into the evening … you will have high demand, no solar and potentially little wind generation."

So you'll have to go with base-load clean coal power stations. I'm delighted that the CFMEU have come to that conclusion. If I recall correctly, I think the AWU is also on that trajectory. I wonder how my Queensland colleagues on the other side—Senator Chisholm and Senator Watt—are getting on in their Queensland caucus meetings now that the unions in Queensland are starting to understand that coal generation is important for their members. As we've been saying for years, it's all about jobs for working Australians and for the families of those working Australians. That's why we support a wide mix of energy, but we include clean coal in that. I wonder if the Labor Party is going to continue their opposition to that in the face of a strong campaign by the CFMEU and the AWU, and I think the ETU were also in on the same campaign. It's good to see the unions are eventually joining us in looking after jobs for Australians.

3:12 pm

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

It's good to see that Senator Macdonald has still not gotten over being dumped as a minister all those years ago and is still obsessed with people on this side of the chamber getting promotions. I do feel for you, Senator Macdonald. You never know—you're going to be around for a few more months, or maybe weeks—you might get looked after. There's going to be a reshuffle now that Peter Dutton has stood down. We know other ministers are probably going to have to stand down. Finally, your talents might be recognised by your party and you might rise to the lofty heights of assistant minister for something quite irrelevant.

Again today, on display here in Canberra, we've seen what an utter shambles the Turnbull LNP government has become. The Longman by-election was only a small number of weeks ago, but ever since that night this government has been absolutely falling apart. I was very pleased to be at the Longman election night party with a number of my colleagues when we pulled home a great win—and, again, congratulations to Susan Lamb and all of her team for winning that by-election. You could actually feel the temperature change; you could feel the atmosphere change in Australian politics that night when, after months of pressure on our side of the politics, we actually came through. The people of Longman were good enough to return Susan Lamb as the member for that electorate, and all of a sudden the pressure was back on the government, having lost the by-elections. And have they not coped! Haven't they fallen apart ever since that by-election loss that night! They were immediately at each other's throats and immediately worrying about their primary vote falling below 30 per cent. Then it spilled into their policies about energy. Then it spilled into who should be their leader. Ever since that night they have not been able to hold a single policy together or stand together on any matter whatsoever.

We saw it reflected again here today in question time, when Senator Fierravanti-Wells was unable and unwilling to say who she had voted for in this morning's leadership ballot. She was given an opportunity to assure the Senate that she had stuck by her Prime Minister and voted for Mr Turnbull in that leadership ballot, but she refused to take that opportunity and refused to say who she voted for. We can only assume that she was one of the 35 people who voted for Mr Dutton, and I expect that before too long we should see her resignation as a minister if she so lacks confidence in Mr Turnbull. She was so unwilling to back Mr Turnbull as the leader of the Liberal Party that, when asked what the point of Mr Turnbull was, not only could she not give us one example of anything that Mr Turnbull has done as Prime Minister but she couldn't even begin to use his name, could not let the words 'Malcolm Turnbull' cross her lips. That's how far she wanted to be removed from this dying and mortally wounded Prime Minister.

We then moved to Senator McKenzie, the Deputy Leader of the National Party, who was asked about reports from her own side of politics that the health minister, Mr Hunt, had not only voted for Mr Dutton but was also planning to stand for Deputy Prime Minister as his running mate. This is the Mr Hunt who not that long ago was swearing at and scaring older women who hold elected positions in the Northern Territory. She wouldn't take the opportunity to say where Mr Hunt lined up. More importantly, as the Deputy Leader of the National Party, she would not reveal whether the National Party stands behind the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, at this point in time. We know that Mr Turnbull has only barely hung on as the Leader of the Liberal Party, and we're starting to find out from comments by Senator McKenzie and in the media today by the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, that they want to see a leadership change as well.

Unfortunately all of this shows that the Liberal and National Party members of parliament in this place have completely forgotten why they are here: to work hard for people back in their electorates and home states. They have become so desperate to hang on to their own jobs that 35 members of the parliamentary Liberal Party today voted for Mr Dutton—a man who has been voted the worst health minister in Australia's history, who cut hospital and dental funding and tried to introduce a GP tax—to become their new leader. This is the best person this party has to offer as an alternative to Malcolm Turnbull as their leader.

Fortunately, back in Queensland there is one candidate focused on the real issues facing Dickson. Her name is Ali France. She is already out there knocking on doors to win back the seat and provide people with the representation they deserve. (Time expired)

3:17 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We see from the opposition a complete failure of leadership. All they can do is throw slurs backwards and forwards across the chamber. That's what the Labor Party, particularly Senator Watt, has been reduced to: not really interested in doing anything other than casting aspersions on other members of the parliament, regardless of their considerable contributions to the Australian people. If you look at the achievements of the Australian government since we were elected in 2013 but particularly since the election in 2016, you'll find that this government has delivered and continues to deliver for the Australian people. Over one million Australians are in new jobs since we came to government in 2013. Strong economic management and leadership, despite all the other circumstances we've had to manage over the last five years, have put us in a strong position economically, where the Australian economy has created over one million jobs, 770,000 of which were created since September 2015 and 339,000 in the last 12 months. It's one of the best periods of jobs growth on record.

In my patch, where jobs are important, that sort of economic leadership makes a difference. During the Braddon by-election campaign, in which I participated quite closely, over a period of three weeks 800 new jobs were announced, which shows that there is business and economic confidence in the community. The biggest threat to that is the complete failure of leadership from the Labor Party. They no longer believe the things that they believed while in government.

I watched Bill Shorten on a polling booth. He stood there for 30 minutes and nobody wanted to talk to him. He spoke to three people in 30 minutes—

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

That's not true—

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You weren't there, Senator; I was. Three people spoke to him in 30 minutes. In fact, one of them turned around and abused him as she walked away. She wasn't impressed with Mr Shorten. While Mr Turnbull was walking with us through the streets of Ulverstone, taking selfies and welcoming people outside their stores, Mr Shorten was sitting on his own outside Banjo's in the mall in Devonport. Nobody wanted to talk to him. The business community in Devonport spoke with their feet—in fact, with their wallets.

When the Devonport Chamber of Commerce invited businesses to come and speak to Mr Shorten—with three weeks notice of when Mr Shorten was coming to Devonport for a business lunch—15 people signed up. The Devonport Chamber of Commerce even warned the Labor Party a week and a half out that they had only 15 people who wanted to come and see him. They did nothing about it. The function was downgraded to the downstairs unit as a working lunch over sandwiches. The Labor Party, obviously, did a bit of a ring around the night before and they got it back to 30, which was the benchmark to move back upstairs into the restaurant.

A similar event for the Prime Minister was sold out in 24 hours. People came in to speak to the Prime Minister to understand our policies.

Senator Chisholm interjecting

What happened at the by-election? Effectively a zero swing. It's a very different circumstance to Queensland. But I can tell you there is no interest in Mr Shorten, and that's because he no longer believes the things he said in government. He will not repeat the statements that he made in government.

He used to believe in tax cuts for business. He doesn't now. He used to believe in a whole range of things that would benefit the Australian economy, but now, for purely crass political purposes, he just walks away from that. He has sold out. He doesn't believe in workers, he doesn't believe in growth of the economy and he doesn't believe in the things that will make a difference. All he's interested in is cheap, nasty political pointscoring. That's all he's interested in. He's like Senator Watt. That's all he's interested in doing—nothing constructive, just cheap, nasty political pointscoring, like Senator Watt. Unfortunately, Senator Watt gets a bit tetchy about these things but that's the life of this place. We have a record of delivering for the Australian people, much unlike the ALP.

3:22 pm

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

I would ask that Senator Colbeck check the scoreboard, because the scoreboard in Braddon told a completely different story. We know that Justine Keay is sitting as the member for Braddon. We know, as Senator Watt talked about, the great result in Longman. For what we've seen over the last few days, I have got three words that I want to use. Over Friday and the weekend, we had the capitulation. Then today we had the humiliation and what we're seeing is the consequence of this, a debilitating effect on the Australian government. There are so many policy issues that give cause to the effect of this, that are going to have an impact and that need to be highlighted. What also needs to be highlighted is the Prime Minister's role in how this has played out over the last 12 months and, indeed, the five years of a Turnbull-Abbott government.

When you look at energy policy, the fact is that they have been working on it for 12 months and the sole No. 1 aim of their energy policy was to get it through the backbench. That was their No. 1 aim. Everything else—families, Australians and workers—came a distant second, third and fourth. Their No. 1 aim was to come up with an energy policy and get it through their caucus room, and they failed at that. They have been working on it for 12 months and still we are no clearer today as to what their energy policy is. That's in this chamber, let alone what Australian people think of this—Australian families, Australian businesses and those workers who rely on and need energy for their workplace to create jobs and to support their families, which is so important. With this mob opposite, despite having been in government for five years and despite having been working on this policy for 12 months, here we are today none the wiser and seven votes off Peter Dutton becoming Prime Minister. This is the sad state of affairs. We saw the capitulation from the Prime Minister over the last four days. It is a really sad state of affairs for something that he has been saying was his signature policy. We sit here today none the wiser.

We also know the moves that he made at the end of last year and the beginning of this year to secure his leadership. He went down the path of getting rid of former Senator Brandis overseas so Senator Cormann could take over. He created the Home Affairs portfolio to keep Peter Dutton in check. Here we are, eight months on, and that has all blown apart. Peter Dutton is on the backbench. There's going to have to be a new home affairs minister. Every trick and manoeuvre that Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister made to keep his government and hold them together has been blown apart—and the actual losers in this have been the Australian people.

We know the government can't piece together an energy policy. The only thing that unites them is giving a tax cut to big banks and big business. That's the only thing that is keeping these guys together: the fact that they want to fork out money to big business and their corporate partners, because that is something that unites them. What we saw during the by-elections—what we saw in Braddon; what we saw in Longman—is that the Australian people rejected them. And the Australian people are increasingly losing faith in the government.

I think you've got to compare where they are when it comes to tax with where they are on energy. The backbench are so disunited when it comes to energy policy, but, when you compare that to where they are on tax policy, they are hand-over-fist eager to support big business and the big banks. Yet, when it comes to looking after Australian families and Australian businesses, ensuring that they can get ahead on energy policy, they just fight like cats. They are not putting the Australian people first when it comes to the important policy areas.

This comes to how debilitating this is for the government. It is absolute dysfunction and chaos when it comes to policy. We know that they're seven votes away from having Peter Dutton as Prime Minister. Imagine if an empty chair had run today. How many votes would an empty chair have got versus Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister?

The reality is that they are a government that are rudderless. The Australian people are seeing through them. They are a government now without an agenda. They don't have an agenda when it comes to the economy. They don't have an agenda when it comes to energy. On two of the most important issues that the government have been saying that they have been working to tackle now for months and years, they do not have an agenda. They have absolutely no direction from the Prime Minister, someone who has been humiliated through the course of today, and the government are suffering as a result.

The Australian people will come to the only conclusion that is necessary, and that's to send these guys to opposition, because that's the only way they are going to be able to sort out their problems. They have no faith in their ability to govern. They need to send them to opposition to sort out their problems. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.