Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Turnbull Government

3:53 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today three proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following matter of public importance has been received from Senator Collins:

The inability of the Turnbull government to progress any coherent policy or legislative 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.

3:54 pm

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

I rise to address this matter of public importance regarding the Turnbull government. Unfortunately, this is a matter of public importance that could have been presented to the chamber on virtually any of the 780 days since the previous federal election, yet the disunity and chaos of the Turnbull government was on display more prominently today than usual. Ramping up its war on coherent policy and legislative progress yesterday, Prime Minister Turnbull ditched his third iteration of the National Energy Guarantee in an attempt to shore up support from the hard right wing of his out-of-touch government, but, true to form, he abandoned policy at the first sign of difficulty. That was followed by a resounding declaration of dissent from more than 40 per cent of his party. That's right: 41 per cent of Prime Minister Turnbull's own party voted against him as leader, only a day after he, in order to win support, junked what was supposed to be his defining policy priority. So, he was in trouble, and, to win support, he decided that the only way to try to shore up the Right of his party was to junk what he had already claimed was a defining policy priority. We know what happened then. People moved quickly to support Mr Dutton.

Nothing could more completely embody an absence of coherent policy than this Prime Minister, the Prime Minister, who stated, 'I will not lead a party that is not as committed to climate change as I am'—then going on to decide that he no longer supported an emissions trading scheme. What an embarrassment. The 'climate change Prime Minister' first decided he no longer believed in an emissions trading scheme and then that he no longer supported a clean energy target. Now, this Prime Minister doesn't even support his own National Energy Guarantee.

Writing for Fairfax newspaper this week, Sean Kelly summed it up best:

That the Coalition might be about to tear itself apart over climate again is an indication of insanity.

Insanity is exactly what it is, because this is the self-defined issue for this Prime Minister, and to walk away from this issue, simply for political expediency, shows just how little this Prime Minister is willing to fight for.

So, what exactly does this government stand for? We know that it does stand for division. Not only has this Prime Minister come to lead the government by throwing his predecessor under a bus; but he's thrown himself under a bus. There is so much division inside this party that the Prime Minister decided to call a spill motion, just to pre-empt his own colleagues. The nation is going through an incredible period of drought during winter, but, instead of taking serious action on climate change, this out-of-touch government is self-obsessed and focused on infighting.

Nothing will change the problems of this government. This government's problems are of its own making. It comes from a lack of a policy agenda and a complete bankruptcy of vision. We've stood by and watched as the Prime Minister has sold out principle after principle, ideal after ideal, and now we're left with no action on climate change, because the Liberal Party is being governed by its hard right wing. What a case of the tail wagging the dog. Perhaps that's why the government continues to dive in the polls and, by the Prime Minister's own yardstick, it's time for a change of leader. It's no wonder that the member for Dickson decided today that it was time to challenge the Prime Minister. And what a choice we had. We have a Prime Minister who believes in nothing and we have an opponent in Mr Dutton who believes in all the wrong things.

By his own measure, this Prime Minister has failed. He's failed to change the course of his party after 38 successive Newspoll losses. That's eight more than the number that he decided was enough to challenge the previous Prime Minister. It's no wonder that Mr Dutton decided it was time for a challenge. I can see why Minister Dutton, as a member of a government that has continued to show no coherence in its policy development, a government that's shown no sensible legislative agenda, had, in a very short period of time, more than 40 per cent of his colleagues decide that this Prime Minister isn't right for the job.

Considering this challenge has been put to bed for today, we can only wonder—and Australians can only wonder—what we can look forward to tomorrow. We can look forward to a government united in its commitment to give away money to big banks and big business. But where is the legislative agenda to deal with runaway climate change? Where is the legislation that's now been junked despite the Prime Minister's supposed commitment to climate action? It seems that all we have from this government is a commitment to infighting and rewarding its mates in the banks and big business. Perhaps that's why, aside from ditching its own energy policy and fighting amongst itself, what this government is best known for is it's $440 million gift to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and its gift to big business and the banks—gifts so unanticipated that the very recipient of the $440 million grant, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, described it as 'like winning lotto'. One really has to wonder where the priorities for this government have gone.

It's not just the Prime Minister's federal colleagues who are asking this question. His own Liberal Party colleagues in my home state of Tasmania have been left wondering. As little as 11 days ago, when the Hodgman Liberal government signed up to what was the energy policy of the federal government at the time, energy minister, Mr Guy Barnett, proudly stated:

The NEG is good for Tasmanian jobs and puts more downward pressure on power prices—


This important step continues to build the case for increased interconnection and Tasmania's position as the Battery of the Nation delivering clean, reliable and affordable electricity to Tasmanians and the nation.

What a slap in the face. When Minister Barnett signed up to the NEG publicly, little did he know that, less than two weeks later, the Prime Minister would ditch the very policy he'd signed up to. Unfortunately, he should have known. This government has stood for nothing other than political expedience. It throws out policies at the first sign of a challenge and focuses on nothing other than itself. This is a government that cut funding to schools and hospitals. It's a government focused on cutting funding to the ABC. But when it comes to an actual agenda, an actual set of principles that it's likely to achieve, we're left wondering. Why is it that this government insists on cutting funds to these essential services when it doesn't even have a coherent agenda that it wishes to fund as an alternative? What does this government stand for other than tax cuts to banks and billionaires and handing out money to foundations without a public tender process or any explanation? That's why Minister Dutton managed to garner over 40 per cent support in his own party, and it's why I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him.

When there's no vision to rally behind, what else are Prime Minister Turnbull's colleagues to do but look for an alternative leadership candidate? This matter of public importance couldn't have come at a more appropriate time. This is a matter that needs addressing immediately. As another former colleague of this Prime Minister put it recently:

If Peter Dutton is the answer, you have to ask yourself what the hell is the question.

4:04 pm

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

The presentation from Labor just then demonstrates exactly where they are in the broader policy debate. They've got one focus—politics, climate change—and that's about as far as it goes. That's all they're worried about. They're not interested in the economy. They're not interested in delivering jobs for Australians. They're all just interested in politics and climate change.

The government, over our two and a bit terms of parliament, have been focused on delivering economic returns for the Australian people, and we've been successful. The prediction, particularly after the 2016 election, was that we weren't going to be able to get anything done: this chamber was too complicated; the diversity of the crossbench would not allow us to get anything done. In fact, the opposite has been the truth. We've managed to get media reform through this parliament after a 20-year hiatus. We were told it couldn't be done. We have done it. It has been achieved. All credit to Minister Fifield for negotiating that process with industry, and then, of course, we negotiated it through the parliament.

We have delivered tax cuts for Australians. We were told it couldn't be done. The Labor Party opposed those tax cuts for Australians. They proposed instead to tax our nans and pops up to 30 per cent of their total income, raising billions of dollars over a decade to pay for their proposals for tax reform. It was: take money off your nan and pop to get a tax cut. It's a pretty average way of raising money when Nan and Pop have to have a reduction in their total income of up to 30 per cent to pay for somebody else's tax cut. That's not looking after the community like the Australian government has.

We've achieved tax cuts for small business. We were told we wouldn't get them through the parliament, and we have. While the Labor Party try to decide what a small business is—they still can't work out what that might be—we have achieved, passed through the parliament, tax cuts for small business. We've also passed through the parliament tax cuts for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million. Because we persisted, because we were prepared to negotiate with the crossbench, we got those tax cuts past the parliament. In the by-election campaigns recently, the Labor Party tried to pretend that they were going to match those tax cuts and wouldn't be reversing them or passing any legislation to wind them back. They lied to the Australian people. They lied to Australian businesses when they said that there wouldn't be any legislated rollbacks. They knew that their tax cut regime was going to be 27½ per cent, when the government had already legislated to reduce the taxation regime for small business, or businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million, to 25 per cent. The then candidate for Braddon, now the member for Braddon, Ms Justine Keay, said to a chamber of commerce lunch that I was at that there would be no legislated rollback. She knew that wasn't true. In a prepared speech she said it to the assembled members of the Burnie Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Devonport Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Central Coast Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She tried to con them into believing that they would pay the same tax rate under a Labor regime as they would under the coalition government's already legislated process. It was a lie. If Labor get elected, they will raise taxes for business from the legislated rate that currently exists, 25 per cent, up to 27½ per cent.

But we were told we wouldn't get those things through the parliament.

We've passed reforms to the Corporations Act. We've increased penalties for businesses who are misbehaving. We've passed legislation to ensure that international businesses operating in Australia pay their fair share of tax. We've put in place a range of economic measures that are paying dividends to the Australian people.

We've just heard again the lie that we're cutting funds to the health system. Even the ABC fact checker agrees that we are increasing health funding to record levels—an increase of 42 per cent in my home state of Tasmania—and yet the Labor Party continue to peddle the rubbish that we're cutting it. The fascinating thing is that the electorate is now starting to tell us that they know the Labor Party is lying to them. They know Bill Shorten's not being straight with them, and that's why they're not interested in engaging with Mr Shorten.

One of my favourites is in defence. When we came to government, we looked to see what the Labor Party had done in the Defence portfolio. The cupboard was completely bare. They'd done absolutely nothing—not a thing. They hadn't even commissioned a study on a canoe, to quote a famous phrase in this place. So what have we done? There have been 54 ships, including 12 submarines, commissioned since we came to government. The Land 400 project has been commissioned since we came to government. The training academy for shipbuilding is being developed in South Australia in conjunction with the Australian Maritime College in UTAS, I'm very proud to say—as would be Senator Bushby, as a graduate of the Australian Maritime College. It is one of the key partners in the development of that project.

These are all things that the Labor Party just kicked down the road for six years. They did absolutely nothing in the context of defence of the nation. Something that I'm very pleased to talk about—and I know Senator Bushby is also interested in it—is the feasibility work that's going on right now into a defence innovation hub based at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania. This is a concept brought to the parliament by the coalition. The other side is completely devoid. They are not looking at the future. They are not looking to see what positives the R&D that could be developed out of defence might have for the economy in Australia, let alone in the northern part of Tasmania. If we can get that defence innovation hub up and running, doing the R&D for the build of those 54 vessels, including 12 submarines, at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston, that R&D could then be commercialised and spun off into new businesses operating in the Tasmanian community. It would be a huge opportunity, and there would be potential for growth in employment.

These are all serious, solid economic proposals that this government has put into place. The other side of politics has given them nary a thought. I've been into the businesses that are already benefitting from the defence spend in Tasmania. Taylor Bros is a great business doing work in the accommodation space for Defence. Direct Edge in Burnie is looking for another 35 people—with 15 of those to be apprenticeships—as a direct result of the Australian government's decision to have a domestic defence-building capacity. This opens up opportunities for global export markets. These are real achievements. We are not trying to scare the Australian people with stories and misinformation around funding. We are working on and delivering an economic plan that has put a million jobs into the Australian economy since we came to government, and we're continuing to build proposals that will continue to grow the economy and will provide opportunities for businesses like Penguin Composites, whom Ms Justine Keay said she stood beside. In fact, she's standing in the way of them getting a tax cut. She's just standing in the way.

These are the things that this government is doing. They are practical measures. We were told we couldn't get legislation through the parliament. Yet under the leadership of Senator Cormann we have been continuously successful. In fact, we are still discussing tax cuts for larger businesses, because we know it's good for the economy. The Labor Party used to believe that. We still do, and we will continue to act in the interest of the Australian people.

4:14 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The item before us in the Senate at the moment, described as a matter of public importance, 'The inability of the Turnbull Government to progress any coherent policy or legislative agenda,' which has been put forward by the Labor Party as a chance for the Senate to spend an hour talking about the travails of the Turnbull Liberal-National Party coalition government, is very similar to what we had yesterday. As I said yesterday, I don't think that's particularly important; what is important is the horrendous and growing inequality in our community, the massive danger we are facing from extreme climate change, the lack of action in regard to dealing with that, the lack of action in regard to homelessness in our community, the refusal to increase the rate of Newstart, and the continuing punishment of the poor. Unfortunately, punishing the poor and favouring the wealthiest is a coherent policy of this government. The problem is not the internal enmity in the Liberal and National parties, who both have their own significant difficulties; the problem is that their ideological and legislative agenda, such as it is, specifically makes life much harder for the majority of Australians and, inasmuch as they can manage to implement it, assists the big end of town.

Some important things, though, are becoming even more clear as a result of the shambles that this government currently is in—that is, the very understandable and massive disillusionment of the majority of the Australian community with the entire political system. This government currently has huge difficulties, but that's just a manifestation of its internal philosophical incoherence and lack of solid value base that has been there for many years. That's why so many people, young and old, think our political system is broken. The public can see it every day. On days like today they can see it very starkly, but they know it's there every day. It's not because of the personal disputes, the leadership squabbles, the travails of the previous Prime Minister, or the accusations back and forth about section 44 of the Constitution; our political system is broken because the majority of people in this building—not just the elected representatives but so much of the press gallery as well—are so caught up in the irrelevant soap opera within this little bubble that they're don't care about what happens in the real world outside.

We see today the consequences of that: the suffering of so many people because of homelessness, poverty, inadequate wages, insecure jobs, massive financial pressures and inadequate health services; the people facing horrendous, unimaginable suffering on Nauru or Manus Island; and the massive environmental damage that is happening because of the lack of action—or, in some cases, deliberate action—that causes further harm to the environment. But it is not just a feeling; it is a recognition. People don't just sense things are broken; they know it and can see it. That is what is important, and it is important not just today; it is important every day. The fact that it's normally covered up by a veneer of nice words around the place hasn't stopped people from seeing that. Days like today are just when it breaks through the surface and people can see the political process in this country for the joke and shambles that it is.

A report today in The Guardian is headlined, 'Overwhelming majority of Australians believe federal politicians are corrupt'. That's a matter of public importance, not the squabbles amongst the Liberal Party at the moment. They believe that about federal politicians in general, all of us here. That's what we should be concerned about. That research showed:

About 85% of respondents said they believed some, most or all of the federal members of parliament were corrupt …

Perhaps that poll was a little bit rubbery. Perhaps it's a little bit larger than might reflect general public views—maybe 85 per cent is a bit high—but, frankly, if you're getting above 10 or 20 per cent of people feeling that, we're in big trouble. A clear majority of people feel the political process is broken, is corrupted. That doesn't mean they think everybody has money coming in in brown paper bags; they recognise that the process is corrupt and broken.

The soap opera stuff we're seeing today occupies the minds—I would guarantee—of 90 per cent of people in this building. That's all they're talking about right now: the latest piece of gossip about the internal machinations of the Liberal Party. We all know that a month or so ago, before those by-elections, it was all gossip about whether the Leader of the Opposition was in some difficulties, and everybody could talk about that. That this process works to focus on those sorts of things, so we can all just ignore the fact that this parliament is delivering outcomes that are not working for the Australian community, is the matter of public importance, not the failures of the Turnbull government.

Another extremely telling quote—anonymous but genuine nonetheless, I assume—came out today from a worried Liberal backbencher in a Sydney Morning Herald article by Peter Hartcher about the whole situation and why the minds of the members of the Liberal Party are so occupied at the moment:

A lot of our people are facing that fact that they are in the last six months of their political careers. They've got houses, school bills, cars that they've set up for themselves on the basis that they're earning $200,000 plus—

Of course, as we all know, federal parliamentarians get cars as part of the salary package on top of earning $200,000 plus—

What do they do if they're suddenly out of work?

Welcome to the real world! You're getting over $200,000 a year and a car and phones and everything else, and you're worried you might be out of work? That's what's exercising the minds of members of the government. How about exercising your minds about all of those Australians who are already out of work and all those Australians who are in full-time work and getting $40,000 or $30,000 a year and don't get everything with it? Exercise your minds about that for a bit! No wonder people think the system is broken. Of course people want to hang onto their jobs. I understand that—speaking as somebody who is about to give up their job at the end of this week in an attempt to try to change things by focusing on winning a lower house seat—

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Because you got rolled.

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will note the interjection there. As an informed intellectual, you would know I am under no obligation to leave at all. I was not rolled; I chose not to run, because I recognise the need to get rid of you lot, and the only way to get rid of you lot properly and get transformational change is to start winning seats in the lower house. I've chosen to step out of my job early to focus all my energies on winning lower house seats so we can totally transform this political system. I could have stayed here on that $200,000 a year salary with cars and all the things your people are reportedly so keen to keep; I'm not. I'm not seeking a medal for that; all I'm saying is we need to be focusing on what will create change for the Australian public, not on our own interests. That is why so many Australians have had enough of the political system overall. That's why they think the whole place is not working in their interests. They can see that, inside this bubble, people are focused on what works for them, their mates and their donors. That's the matter of public importance, and the thing we need to change.

4:24 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on this MPI:

The inability of the Turnbull Government to progress any coherent policy or legislative agenda.

This morning the Liberal government's caucus demonstrated to the Australian people once again that they're a disunited rabble. In fact, it goes further than that now. The Prime Minister himself called for a spill of positions; he no longer has the support of the government.

When Mr Turnbull was elected he promised he would deliver stable government. But what we've seen for the entire period for which he has been elected, from the last election, is disunity within the government. The old saying, 'If you can't govern yourselves you can't govern the country' is absolutely correct. There is no better evidence of that than when you have a caucus of your colleagues voting 35 to 48. That's just over 40 per cent of the Liberal caucus no longer having faith in the Prime Minister. I'd have to suggest that the clock is in fact ticking down. We're now waiting to see when the next caucus meeting will be called and when there'll be a further challenge.

Why do I suggest that? It's because, unfortunately, during our term in government we used the same playbook. But we have learnt from it. Those on the other side have been trying to suggest in the last 48 hours that the Labor Party, under Bill Shorten, is divided. Well, there's nothing further from the truth. We are more united than I have ever experienced, having been in this place for some 12 years. I'm very confident that under Bill Shorten's leadership we will have better policies. We've been able to listen to the community and we have taken on board their concerns. This government, election after election, in making their policy statements, have broken promises, one after the other. They've cut funding to our hospitals. That's had a dramatic effect in my home state of Tasmania. They have cut funding to schools, and there's been murmuring that the Prime Minister wanted to try to clean up this mess whereby the education minister put offside Catholic Education in this country. Why? Because they're hell-bent on doing what they do best, and that is trying to punish those people who can least afford to be punished.

We've seen the Prime Minister and this government attacking workers. They stood by when, on a number of occasions, legislation was put before them to stop any cuts to penalty rates. But what did they decide to do? They put their hands up in the air and said, 'You're on your own.' That has had a devastating effect on the workers in my home state. Those in the hospitality industry already have very low wages, and they rely on their penalty rates. People who work in shops, in retail, are some of the lowest paid workers in this country and they have been impacted. We know that the hairdressers around this country are next on the list. My real concern is for those people who work in the aged-care sector, because they're not covered. We already have a crisis brought about by this government. They've had three ministers for aged care. There has not been a minister for ageing in cabinet who has any real authority when it comes to the budget, and they've failed. What is it now? The home care package waiting list—although we had to wait three extra months to get the data, which was finally released on Friday. There are 108,000 older Australians who are vulnerable and who need to have support to be able to stay in their home but who have been failed by this government, because the government hasn't invested.

This government will be judged very harshly when we do come to the next election, whether that's under Mr Dutton or whether, by some miracle, the Prime Minister manages to survive. But my money is on having another caucus meeting where he will be challenged, and I believe that Mr Dutton will end up with the amount of support he needs. Then the country could expect to go to an early election before people start to realise how little Mr Dutton really has to offer and whether or not he is going to change the direction of this government and, once and for all, put Australians before the big end of town. We know they want to give $17 billion to the big banks and we know they want $80 billion to go to multinational— (Time expired)

4:29 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to rise to contribute to this matter of public importance debate this afternoon regarding the Turnbull government. Before I turn to the substantive issues in the debate, I just have one technical correction that I feel compelled to make, and that is that the Liberal Party does not have a caucus. It's not a mistake that only you make, Senator Polley; it's a mistake that many people in the media made. I have a rule of thumb that if you ever read an article from a journalist talking about what's happening in the Liberal Party caucus then they probably don't know what they're talking about, since we don't have a caucus. Senator Polley, for your future reference the Liberal Party has a party room. I think it is an important distinction. I know that you have a caucus.

Turning to the more substantive issue before the chamber this afternoon, I'm very proud to talk about the impressive legislative agenda and achievements of the Turnbull government. I particularly want to focus on the achievements of the government in the economic sphere, because, I think, they've been particularly significant, and because I know that they are of the most interest and the most importance to my constituents in Victoria. It is our economic performance and the results of the economic agenda that we've had here in the parliament that they care most about in terms of employment in particular.

One of the recent and most significant achievements of the Turnbull government is legislating quite significant personal income tax reform. This year, in fact, the Turnbull government has passed personal income tax reforms, which ensure that all working Australians are better off. Taxes in this country, as a result of this legislative change successfully passing the parliament, will now be lower, fairer and simpler. It is the biggest and most significant tax reform package since the Howard government. It provides tax relief to more than 10 million taxpayers, with 4.4 million Australians receiving the full $530 of benefit of the new low- and middle-income tax offset.

It also, really importantly, protects Australians from bracket creep. Bracket creep is a problem which has been a subject of much commentary in the media and even occasionally by those opposite. And, yet, they quibbled when our tax package effectively abolished the concept of bracket creep for low- and middle-income earners. What the package did is it took the $87,000 tax threshold to $90,000 in 2018-19—that is this financial year—and then to $120,000 in 2022-23. That tax relief provided, under the offset in step one, will also be locked in permanently from 2022-23 by taking the $37,000 tax threshold to $41,000 and lifting the low-income tax offset to $645. Effectively, what has happened here is an entire tax bracket has been abolished and removed. It ensures that 94 per cent of Australian workers will not face a higher marginal tax rate of more than 32½c in the dollar. This is a really important reform, because, as we know, bracket creep is one of the things that discourages people from taking on more work, it discourages people from taking risks and it makes our tax system needlessly complex and inefficient. For most workers, for most of their working lives, they will just face one simple, new, lower rate of tax than they did before. That is this government acting on a complaint often raised, including by those opposite, and addressing it.

We know that the Labor Party fought tooth and nail to stop the Australian people getting this important income tax relief. It's clear that if they are successful at the next election they will reverse much, if not all, of this tax relief for working Australians—meaning higher taxes for Australian workers and meaning a smaller pay packet every fortnight. Combined with the Labor Party's other $200 billion in higher taxes they've already announced, they're now seeking to impose around $300 billion in higher taxes on the Australian economy over the next decade. It doesn't require a PhD in economics to forecast what impact that will have on people's lives and the economy.

The government's also been successful in legislating the first stage of its enterprise tax plan, and that's something that I welcome very much. I know the small and medium-sized businesses who are the beneficiaries of it in my home state of Victoria also really welcome it. Australian businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million will now pay a lower rate of tax thanks to the Turnbull government, dropping to a rate of 25 per cent by 2026-27. That's around three million Australian businesses, and those businesses employ around seven million Australian workers. That is millions of people who will benefit from companies that are more competitive, more efficient and more able to attract investment from abroad. All of these companies, as we know, will face a higher rate of tax if the Labor Party is elected. It plans to increase the rate of tax remarkably on small businesses in this country. The government is committed to extending these tax cuts to all Australian businesses, and I hope that the Senate looks very favourably on that when we consider that question later today.

The government's also had a very comprehensive free trade agreement agenda, which works in tandem with the corporate and personal income tax cuts that we've delivered. We know that, since the coalition government was elected in 2013, we've completed and signed free trade agreements with virtually all of Australia's major trading partners that we didn't already have trade agreements with, and, for any trading partners that we don't already have agreements with, they are under negotiation, including the United Kingdom, the European Union and Indonesia. Those already enforced, negotiated and signed under this coalition government are, of course, the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership—something that the Labor Party told us not to bother with and to give up on; luckily, the trade minister, Steve Ciobo, did not take their advice and persisted with that—the Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations. That means more export opportunities for Australian businesses and farmers, it means a cheaper cost of goods for Australian businesses that need to import inputs, and it means consumers have more choice and lower prices for the things that they need to buy.

Those are the inputs. 'What are the outputs?' would be a fair question to ask. Very clearly, the major output of this is the record jobs growth numbers under the Turnbull government, something that this government is very proud of because it's something that changes people's lives for the better. Going from not having a job to having a job is one of the most profound improvements someone can go through in their life, and there are a million people that can say they did that under the coalition. That's a pretty amazing statistic—1,086,806, to be precise, in less than five years since the coalition came to office. Since September 2015, 770,000 new jobs have been created, and more than half of those, 410,900, were full time. In the past 12 months, 339,018 new jobs have been created. The jobs growth over the past 12 months, of 2.7 per cent, massively outstrips the growth under the former Labor government, of 0.8 per cent.

So the Turnbull government has a very comprehensive economic agenda. It has successfully negotiated it through the parliament, despite the difficulties that this chamber occasionally poses to governments seeking to legislate, and that successful agenda is leading to real change for real Australians in their lives. Their lives are better because of the successful economic agenda prosecuted by this government.

4:37 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we have seen a line-up of Liberal politicians facing the media one by one, telling the story about themselves, defending themselves, explaining themselves, and wondering if they have a job or don't have a job and who will be the leader—an extraordinary display that says more about the character and the content of the cabinet of the Turnbull government. We saw a government bleeding today—not bleeding for the country but bleeding for themselves and their own jobs. We see a divided cabinet. We see a government so hopelessly in disarray that the best alternative for a leader they could think of did not even support the national apology to First Nations people in this country. For shame! What have they become? They fight over energy, they fight over climate change, they fight over tax, they fight over industrial relations, they fight over education and they fight over principles that they have long since abandoned. They fight for their own jobs, but they will not fight for the Australian people.

While this internal bickering continues and the member for Dickson rallies his troops, the people of Australia suffer, and the people of the Northern Territory suffer because of the lack of housing. We hear the minister stand up in this house, talking about thousands and thousands of jobs that are being created across the country for First Nations people. Well, where are those jobs? Where I sit and where I travel across the regions of remote and regional Australia, they are not there. Industries are closing, businesses are closing and there are not enough houses—certainly for those who are homeless and certainly for those people who have been demanding their fair share and rights to homes in this country.

Last week in this place, we saw a vote against a bill to restore the rights of the territories. That is because the government only care about themselves. They certainly did not care about the people of the Northern Territory when we sat here last week in this parliament. Last week, we saw Senator Jane Hume say that, due to the Territory's small population, the people of the Northern Territory were incapable of making decisions on complex social policy issues. Why do I raise that? It is not because it was part of the debate in the political arena but because it was a statement that was made on Sky News after the debate and its devastating outcome for the people of the Northern Territory. It wasn't enough that the people of the Northern Territory felt enormously aggrieved, deeply hurt and completely betrayed by this house; they were then insulted. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound. It wasn't enough that you won the vote by two, mind you—and we're going to have another go at some point. It wasn't enough; you had to go out there and insult the people of the Northern Territory. I've written to the Prime Minister, demanding an apology, although I doubt he will have time to even think about the people of the Northern Territory now that he's busy trying to save himself.

On that point, the Prime Minister—Malcolm Turnbull, that is—stands in front of the press conference today and talks about how 'we must give back to the people of Australia', how 'we must govern for the people of Australia'. Yes, that's right, you must, Prime Minister. However, you very much contributed to eroding the rights of citizens in the Northern Territory and in the ACT, not because you believed that they shouldn't have equal citizenship but because you did not want to have that as a problem in the House. That's not governing for all Australians, and that's not doing it in fairness, for what this country stands for and for the values of democracy in this country. You were so busy trying to prevent a debate going to your House that you were going to do anything to make sure that, in this place, senators voted the way you wanted them to vote, even though it was a conscience vote. That is a clear example of your inability, and the inability of the Turnbull government, to progress any coherent policy or legislative agenda in either this place or the other one.

It is shameful that this parliament decided that the people of the Northern Territory are second-class citizens. We do deserve the same rights as all Australians. And, while we wait for the government to decide whom it should have as its leader, the Northern Territory suffers, just like every other jurisdiction in this country. And, while we wait and continue to wait, we wonder about the pieces of legislation and policy that this mob over there should be progressing to improve the lives of Australians.

The city deal for Darwin, for example, sits on the Prime Minister's desk, gathering dust. The funding for Central Arnhem Road and Buntine Highway remains unclear and unaccounted for, and yet you stand up here saying that it's in the budget. But the amount of money that's in the budget is only going to cover a couple of hundred kilometres. The Central Arnhem highway goes for 600 or 700 kilometres. So don't do us any favours in the Northern Territory. Be genuine and real about what you're trying to do. But you can't, because you're distracted. You're too busy looking at your own selves. The funding for our schools remains unaccounted for. The funding for our hospitals remains unclear. Every day that the government talk about themselves is another day that Australians pay the price of nothing getting done. Our costs for accessing health care are higher than ever. Energy bills and the cost of living—which you on that side cannot seem to get sorted—are skyrocketing under the Liberals, and wage growth is lower than ever.

These are not conditions in which the people of the Northern Territory, or the people of Australia, can thrive. These conditions only make our situation worse. This is a government that claims to stand up for regional and rural Australians. Really? Really? A pic fac out in Forbes says you care? Come on, guys, get your act together. You cut funding to ABC short-wave radio, allowing China to fill the void in the South Pacific. You cut funding to Charles Darwin University, damaging our future in the north. And don't let me go to the north Australia policy. What about the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility—$5 billion over nearly four years, and what have you got to show for it? You keep hanging it out in front of people who desperately need the infrastructure to build, the businesses to grow. You tease the people of northern Australia—you tease them—and then you come back here and you jostle for your jobs, you jostle for the leadership: who's gonna be in the cabinet? You're too busy wondering whether you're gonna get that extra dollar. And yet people out there are hungry. They're starving, they're homeless, and all you can do is think about yourselves.

You've stuffed up the NBN. You've cut funding to our primary schools and high schools. You've neglected even the First Nations media organisations, with no policy direction or new funding commitments and no support for creating real jobs and career pathways. And what about the royal commission into youth detention, which was caused by an incompetent Country Liberal Party government bearing your brand?

You continue to impose the disastrous and discriminatory CDP program in remote communities, despite empty promises of change and illusory improvements. What you're doing is entrenching poverty among the most disadvantaged Australians in this country. But you wouldn't be thinking about that right now, would you? The entrenched poverty out there can keep going so long as your wealth in here gets sorted.

This government is a shambles. Not only has this government lost the confidence of its own team, its own party, its own cabinet; this government has lost the confidence of all Australians.

4:47 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I start my contribution, I'll address a few of the comments from Senator McCarthy. She talked about the importance of improving the life of Australians. Well, getting the fundamental settings in the economy right to see a million new jobs created in five years is improving the life of Australians. Getting our welfare numbers down to the lowest level in 20 years is improving the life of Australians. That is solely what this government has been and continues to be focused upon.

This government has delivered lower, simpler and fairer personal income taxes for all Australians. The Personal Income Tax Plan, which was passed by this place earlier this year, means low- and middle-income earners receive additional tax relief of up to $530. That is significant. We've got changing of the tax brackets to address the issue of bracket creep, which has recently forced so many more hardworking Australians into higher and higher tax brackets. What's the final phase of the legislated plan, the plan that has passed through this parliament? It's to abolish an entire tax bracket so that 94 per cent of Australians will be paying no more than 32½c in each dollar of their personal income. That is a significant achievement of this government and shows that the priority of this government is to improve the lives of all Australians. It was a big win for hardworking Australians when we saw those personal income tax cuts passed by this chamber and the parliament. It allows people to keep more of their own money in their own pockets to make their own decisions. We've already seen the small and medium-sized business tax cuts, designed to keep Australian businesses competitive in a very highly competitive global marketplace, legislated through this parliament. We want the hardworking Australians, the small and medium-sized businesses of Australia, to be the absolute best they can be, and we do this through taking the burden of taxation off them.

We've still got before this chamber—perhaps somewhat surprisingly—a very important set of business tax cuts to extend the company tax cuts to all businesses. That is about extending the opportunity to more people across the entire economy. Our philosophy is based entirely around getting people off welfare and into jobs and around getting business to grow to get more people into work—to improve their wages, to improve their standard of living and to improve their opportunities into the future. That is what this government has been delivering.

We've delivered it in a number of other ways, such as through the signing of a record number of free trade agreements. We've seen the free trade agreements with China, Peru, Korea and Japan. We've seen the work on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There are also negotiations underway with the European Union and a post-Brexit United Kingdom, and obviously there's a lot more water to go under the bridge until those things are finalised. And those free trade agreements are not just pieces of paper. They deliver real results to people on the ground, particularly in the areas I'm interested in, the agricultural exports area. We've seen some phenomenal growth in some of those markets, particularly, for example, the Korean market, where we've seen individual commodities increase by up to 50 per cent per annum—quite extraordinary growth rates and wonderful opportunities.

I'll loop back around to where I started, which is record jobs growth. Jobs are what it's all about: 412,300 jobs created last year, 75 per cent of them full-time jobs. More Australians are in work today than ever before. That is great news for Australian families. That is what improves the lives of Australian families. Over a million jobs have been created in fewer than five years, since the coalition came into office. That improves the lives of all those Australians and all those who are supported by the people in jobs. There have been 770,000 new jobs created since September 2015—again, more than half of them full-time. There have been 339,000 new jobs created over the last 12 months. Jobs growth has been at 2.7 per cent over the last 12 months. Compare that with the 0.08 per cent growth over the last 12 months of the last Labor government. Female participation in the economy is at a record high, at 60.6 per cent. The number of Australians who are unemployed has fallen by 59,000 since September 2015, and the unemployment rate has fallen from 6.1 per cent to 5.4 per cent. In Labor's last year in office, unemployment rose by 33,000, and underemployment increased by 39 per cent.

So, you can see that there is a very strong track record of achievement, a strong track record of achieving very, very good results for the hardworking Australians who want to keep as much of their own money as they possibly can, through our Personal Income Tax Plan, and for growing small and medium-sized businesses, who want to keep as much of the money as they can from our company tax plan, to ensure the growth, the jobs of the future and the wage growth of the future and through all those things ensure that we have a successful and prosperous economy into the future.

Debate adjourned.