Senate debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Turnbull Government

5:06 pm

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

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, six 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 letter has been received from Senator Collins.

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Turnbull Government's relentless negativity and inability to focus on the issues Australians care about.

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.

5:07 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to rise and make a contribution on this very important matter of public importance. It's an easy subject matter to speak about—relentless negativity and inability to focus on issues that Australians care about. This government is a textbook example of this, from day one—from their first budget, when they sought to rip and tear at the ability of working Australians, retired Australians, people in health and people enjoying reasonable standards in education and expecting a little bit more. They put in place the most horrendous budget. At the time, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig said to me, 'I've been here a fair while, and six weeks after a budget most people can't recall it. They will never forget this budget. This is the most horrific budget of all time. People will work it out in an eye blink, and they will deal with the people who passed it.' The Hon. Mathias Cormann—who gets a guernsey in almost all of the media these days as a really hardworking gentleman, the epitome of fairness and ability in the coalition—was there with his big glass of wine and his big fat cigar, music playing—Best Day of My Life. When they copped the blowback that was necessarily coming from that horrendous budget, they thought: 'Well, it's easy. All we have to do is blame Labor. We need to pick out someone on the Labor Party side, keep chipping and hammering away, and try to blame Labor, because if we can distract the public, if we can distract the electorate, then perhaps we'll be able to sneak some of this appalling stuff through.'

It's just been a continual, relentless campaign of negativity. It ultimately ended up with Senator McGrath and others conspiring in the dead of night out at Narrabundah or perhaps even a bit further out, at Queanbeyan. They managed to concoct a plan which put paid to Prime Minister Abbott's career, and someone stumbled over the line of an election. We've gone—staggering, really—from pillar to post, with a government that has been unable to articulate a clear, concise, consistent policy to the electorate and gain support for it from all sectors.

We've got the Hon. Simon Birmingham in his role as education minister, who has left no-one offside. He has left no sector in education offside. He has picked a fight with every sector, and he has support from no sector, and he continues in that role. He continues to be a loyal supporter of the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, but the education sector is really a disaster area for the coalition. But then they go on to say Labor would be worse, as if that somehow can absolve them of their responsibility in education. The contender for Prime Minister today, the Hon. Peter Dutton, was voted as the worst health minister in 40 years. I struggle to remember 40 years back, to the minister who beat him as a worse health minister. But the answer is that it's Mr Shorten's fault. That's always the answer to a health problem or an education problem: 'It must be the Labor Party. They'll do you worse. Be under no illusion—as bad as we are, the Labor Party is worse.' I don't think it's cutting through any more. I have run a couple of campaigns, and I'm usually on the brighter side of things. I like to say what good work people do. But—and perhaps Senator the Hon. James McGrath will agree with this—people always get you to run negative. You can't win without a negative. This government runs negative every day, and it is appalling.

The electorate is saying: 'What is going on? We are blessed with natural resources in coal, gas and hydro. Why can't we get something done about the electricity prices?' What is the answer over there? They say, 'NEG.' We should probably should say 'negative'—'Negative, negative, negative.' Then they end up throwing the policy out the window. The Prime Minister goes from saying, 'I have total support in the party room,' to throwing the policy out the window—and probably throwing his minister out with it. You'd have to say that some people do work diligently in their portfolios. They get consensus. They get the Chief Scientist and other experts to come together with a plan—but, politically, they couldn't sell it.

The answer in the chamber is, 'Labor will be worse.' Well, you've got to realise you've been in government long enough now to start owning your policies and your actions, and you have to take responsibility for them. If you've lost 38 polls and you're going to lose 42, the electorate is telling you something. Relentless negativity about your opponents—who don't have the power, by the way—is not gaining you a vote. We don't have the power. You are the government. They are your decisions. You must own them, and you cannot defend bad decisions and bad policy by blaming your opposition. But you—this government—seem to think that that's the way forward. Well, keep going, because it's working for us. The electorate is seeing through it. You have been in power long enough to own your decisions in education and in health.

If there's stagnant wage growth in the economy, I know—the solution must be that we haven't cut taxes enough for big companies and banks! If people can't get a decent wage increase and they're struggling to pay their electricity bills—the solution is that big banks need a tax cut! I note the appalling hypocrisy of the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, who voted against the banking royal commission, railed against it, said it was all the fault of industry super funds—and then, the other day, came out and started giving the banks a bit of a shove and a bit of a kicking in the media. She said there was appalling behaviour. She used to work for a bank, so she probably knew all about it before the royal commission.

It's amazing that the government continues—like a dog returning to its vomit—on the same path of destruction. But keep doing it, because we're going reasonably well. The polls are looking pretty good for us. Keep going with the debacle you've got going on now. Keep it going right through to September. Actually, I hope you keep it going through to May next year. By then, it'll be 60-40 in the Newspolls—that's if you've still got the National Party in the coalition; they're threatening to join the crossbenches. This relentless negativity and inability to deliver for working Australians, whether it's small business or working families, is amazing, but keep doing it. You're led by a bloke that seems to have the Midas touch in making the wrong call. Whenever there is an opportunity to make a good decision, to show a bit of fortitude, to stand up as a Prime Minister and take some people on, he always folds. I'm not just guessing that. If you go back through Prime Minister Turnbull's history, you will see he has gone the wrong way every time. It has also been, 'If only we could have a plan for diminution of the Leader of the Opposition, if only we could have a plan that makes the Leader of the Opposition look bad, then, somehow or other, our fortunes will revive.'

Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash: 'If only I could nail the CFMEU and get them on something.' I walked around Melbourne the other morning and the place was buzzing. Building sites are overflowing with people working and they enjoy good wage and conditions—safe conditions. I didn't see any of the untoward activity the Hon. Michaelia Cash rails about, as if somehow a contribution in the Senate castigating a section of the union community is going to improve their vote. It doesn't work like that. Most working Australians look at unions as being fair play, fair wages and good access—everybody goes up with the rising tide. If $100 billion is invested in infrastructure in Victoria, people should get a lift out of that, and they do.

But when we come back into the chamber here there is this negativity. I hope you keep going with it, I really do, because it is working for us. After years of government, you can't blame the sins of all of your actions on the opposition. You have to own your own disruption, and that's where you're going. The real question is not who'll be Prime Minister in a month, or six weeks, or two weeks time. The real question is: in the coming election, how many of you will get tossed out and lose your seat in the Senate? You haven't captured government. You've focused on the opposition and haven't played the ball. You haven't been able to articulate your successes. Prime Minister Turnbull's period will go unremarked in history—no great progress, no great plan. (Time expired)

5:17 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not sure my friend Senator Gallacher meant to pay compliments to the government, but indeed he did. Perhaps I could just reflect on the part of his contribution where he said he had been downtown and the worksites were buzzing, with people working everywhere. He talked about a $100 billion investment in infrastructure in Victoria. Well, how does Senator Gallacher think that has come about? That's an endorsement of the efforts of this government. If you want to just rewind and go back to under Labor, if you want to talk about employment opportunities and sites buzzing, unemployment increased by 39 per cent under the former Labor government—39 per cent! In their last year in office, unemployment rose by 33,000 people. So, there wouldn't have been things buzzing down in downtown Canberra. Things wouldn't be buzzing and we wouldn't see cranes on the horizon in Victoria under a government that, of course, was crippled, and crippled us, with massive intergenerational debt. The reason the sites were buzzing and the reason we can do $100 billion of investment in Victoria alone, and that's just one state, is that this government, with its focus and its resolve, has increased jobs—over one million jobs: 1,086,806 at the time of the briefing, in less than five years. Compare the two: a 39 per cent reduction in employment versus over one million jobs having been created under this government. Let's do a comparison: since September 2015, a total of 770,000 new jobs have been created, more than half of them full-time jobs—410,000. That's why the sites in the middle of Canberra are buzzing. That's why you're able to do $100 billion of projects in Victoria. That money has come largely from the efforts of this federal government as it has distributed the wealth of the nation to the best it can in very, very difficult economic circumstances. In Labor's last year in office, unemployment rose by 33,000. That compares with new employment of 10 times that, just in the last 12 months—339,000 new jobs. Many of those employment opportunities have been created for those people who have relied for so long upon the Australian Labor Party to be their champion and to provide an environment where they can, with confidence, all get some work.

My interest has always been, and remains, in the areas of agriculture and what I call provincial Australia. Not only did we inherit a debt but we inherited a decision by the Australian Labor Party to cease the live cattle trade to Indonesia. I know you're tired of hearing me talk about this, but the impacts of that decision are still playing through the balance sheets of so many tens of thousands of family farms and enterprises around the country. It drove hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of head of cattle that were destined for overseas markets onto the domestic market—and, of course, it drove the commodity price for beef down as low as it's been for some 30 years, pound for pound. Then came the drought. Many of our people in provincial Australia would have been in a more resilient position to be able to deal with these long periods of dry—we've had 19 of them now, with 11 major droughts since we've kept records, I think, in the 1860s—but, of course, they weren't. The cupboard was bare because they'd been selling cattle, in some instances for as low as 58c per kilogram, which, if the drought were to break today, they'd have to pay $2.80 or $2.85 per kilogram to replace.

Those were the circumstances that we were left with, but what did we do? We supported that sector. We supported that sector well during that time. The government gave out almost $2 billion as part of our drought program. We created the RIC, which was supported here in this place, even though the Labor Party resisted it for a long period of time. There's $2 billion in that fund for water projects across the country, for local authorities and state governments to be able to apply for support to put in water infrastructure in those areas, which will make our provincial people far more resilient. We set aside $5 billion for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the NAIF, to provide opportunities for developing the vast expanses of northern Australia and provide finance for infrastructure projects up and down the eastern and western seaboard, north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Five minutes doesn't allow me to cover everything. There was an earlier motion like this about 12 months ago. We were given speaking notes—82 pages of single-line achievements, both financial and policy adjustments, for this country.

This government's having a tough week. It's got a stone in its shoe, and it will resolve that.

Senator Gallacher interjecting

I won't be lectured to by Senator Gallagher—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

or by the Greens. You've heard me say before: in the Greens, you go to bed as the leader and then you sit up in the morning, look down and your head is still on the pillow! At least we get out there and have a good old tussle-up as we try and sort out what we're going to do. But, can I say to you, I've been proud to serve in this parliament, and for 4½ years in this government—the Turnbull government, and, before that, the Abbott government—because of what we've delivered for provincial and regional Australia. It's massive. It's better. Those places are better. Those communities, those economies are better and stronger as a result of the efforts of this government. I've got to tell you: they want to lecture us on our inability to focus on issues that Australians care about—well, they need to go back and have a look at the report card.

5:24 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Turnbull government's relentless negativity and inability to focus on the issues that Australians care about has not come about because of the dysfunction of the last three days; it has been a hallmark throughout their time in government. No matter who takes the helm of the Liberal-National government, their policies will continue to wreak havoc on the Australian people. Their destructive agenda is one of a government that works for the big end of town at the expense of its people and the environment. It is a government that was in here just a few hours ago desperately trying to cut deals and appease big business with corporate tax cuts, and then the Prime Minister backtracked, focused entirely on trying to stay in power, but not until he had tried every tactic to pass his absurd handout to his corporate mates, which would have left millions of Australians worse off.

In a rich country like ours many are forced to live in poverty while the government puts the largest corporations and their profits before people. This is quite unbelievable. It is shameful that the government is out there indulging in political theatre while millions are barely making ends meet. The Australian Council of Social Service estimates that over 13 per cent of all Australians are living below the internationally accepted poverty line. That's a staggering 2.9 million people. We have a homelessness crisis in our country. Homelessness has jumped 14 per cent just in the five years between 2011 and 2016. Over 100,000 people have no permanent home right now. The Turnbull government should be focusing on what successive governments have failed to commit to—building more social housing and more affordable homes—but there is no serious political will to help those who need it most, those who don't have a roof over their heads and those who are standing at the brink of poverty.

A hundred per cent of my home state, New South Wales, is covered by drought. Farmers, regional Australians, our environment and our native animals all suffer while the Liberal Party indulges those who refuse to even accept that climate change is happening. They haven't delivered for regional Australia or, in fact, anywhere else in Australia. It is the narrow self-interest and the desperate desire to stay in power that has led to a system which fails, time and again, to find solutions to real problems and create policy that responds to the needs of people. Mr Turnbull and his colleagues haven't quite grasped that governments are there to serve the people, not themselves. Our challenges are many, and there is nothing more fundamentally important than facing these head-on and restoring public trust.

As we stand here 120 children are locked up on Nauru. Some of them have completely lost hope of ever leaving that tiny island in the Pacific and having a normal life. Make no mistake: these children have been imprisoned by the Australian government with the full support of the Labor Party. A 12-year-old boy has been on a hunger strike for over two weeks. Let that sink in for a moment. The children on Nauru are not referred to by their names; they have numbers instead. Some of them were born on Nauru and have never known a life outside the barbed wire of the island prison the Australian government has established for them. They are living in terrible conditions, in mouldy tents, with no access to proper medical care. There have been reports of suicide attempts by children on Nauru. This is something we would never accept for our own children, so why do we accept it for these children who are most in need? The community outside of this chamber and the hallways of Parliament House doesn't care about political theatre; it cares about the issues that matter, the issues that are life-changing, and where we can do so much better.

5:28 pm

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

A government that is tearing itself apart cannot be focused on the issues that Australians care about. We know that this Prime Minister is hanging on by a thread. It appears inevitable that, whether tomorrow or in a couple of weeks time, Mr Dutton will become Prime Minister of this country. Before I go any further with my contribution, I want to comment on Senator O'Sullivan's rather unenthusiastic defence of the government's record in relation to this matter. This government is focused on negativity. It has always been the case.

If you go back to the 2014 budget—that disaster of a budget!—we heard the rhetoric of the so-called budget emergency. And today I heard Senator O'Sullivan talk about the fact that they were focused on debt, and they thought that they were going to do a better job than the preceding Labor government, but what have we seen? We've seen debt crash through the half-a-trillion-dollar figure. This is a government that has failed on its own metrics. It's failed in terms of its own goalposts. So let's not hear anything about the achievements of this government, because there is very little to be said about the achievements of the Abbott-Turnbull government. One of the critical things that I think the average Australian is concerned about is the demise of manufacturing in this country, including the demise of the car industry. That is an aspect of this government's record that will go down in the history books.

The contrast between the government and the opposition could not be any more stark at the present time. You have a government that's focused on negativity and tearing itself apart. On this side of the chamber, we have an opposition which is united and ready for government and has been putting out positive policies for some years now. And I'm so proud of the leadership of the federal Labor opposition for not making itself a small target but being bold when it comes to policy development and making some of the difficult decisions up-front so that the electorate is well aware of those before going to an election.

Many people would not be aware that my electorate office is located in the electorate of Dickson. I bump into the member for Dickson every now and then, and I think I'm fairly well placed to observe what's been happening in his electorate over a number of years. I just want to take a few minutes to talk about his record. I think it's worth bringing to mind that, in 2009, Mr Dutton sought to dump his own marginal electorate of Dickson following a redistribution and jump into what he thought would be the safer seat of McPherson on the Gold Coast. He was unsuccessful on that occasion; the Gold Coast members of the Liberal Party chose to support Ms Andrews. I take it that she must have forgiven Mr Dutton, because I understand that she voted for him yesterday.

When it comes to the issue of health, as has been said previously, in 2015, in the Australian Doctor magazine, Mr Dutton was overwhelmingly voted the worst health minister in living memory. That's quite an achievement. He also set up the Medicare privatisation task force. The privatisation of Medicare was the brainchild of Mr Dutton, who got the ball rolling to set up the privatisation through the digital space. He was the health minister who froze the Medicare rebate, and he cut dental funding. Currently, Mr Dutton is supporting $17 billion being ripped out of Australian schools, including around $2 billion from Catholic schools and, in his own electorate of Dickson, taking $13 million out of local school budgets. Mr Dutton supported the measures to freeze funding to universities—measures that jeopardised the future of the new University of the Sunshine Coast Moreton Bay campus. And I want to take the opportunity to again contrast the government's approach to that of the opposition. We've said that we will invest more than $120 million in the University of the Sunshine Coast's new Moreton Bay campus, which is being built at the moment and which would transform the Moreton Bay region into a high-tech education hub—long overdue on the north side of Brisbane.

It's painfully clear from the record of Mr Dutton that he is bad for health, he is bad for education, he is bad for Dickson and he will be worse for Australia. The people of Australia deserve better. Again, I want to contrast that with what is happening on our side. We have been working hard with Labor's fantastic candidate for the seat of Dickson, Ali France, to make sure that we dump Mr Dutton. Ali has been working hard since her preselection. She has knocked on countless doors, talking to local businesses and meeting with struggling workers and families. As an amputee, Ali is a passionate and tireless advocate for the disability sector. She has had the courage to speak out against Mr Dutton on immigration issues, on cuts to health and education, and on the botched delivery of the NBN. Together, Ali, Corinne Mulholland—our candidate in the neighbouring electorate of Petrie—and I have been out there holding the government to account on their failures.

While I’m talking about Petrie, we can look at the representation there and at the record of the current member, Mr Howarth, who stayed quiet while his government prioritised banks over schools. He stayed quiet while his government prioritised big business over hospitals. He said nothing about the cuts to penalty rates. He said nothing about how energy prices and poor internet access have been hurting small businesses and households in his electorate. I know that these issues have been biting in the electorate of Petrie, because I have been there, with Corinne Mulholland, talking to businesses, workers and families—in both Petrie and Dickson. We've had mobile offices and held NBN forums and business round tables. I note that Mr Howarth did find his voice recently and spoke out against his own party's company tax cuts. He indicated that he wasn't in support of those being taken forward. Today, the Senate has voted no to the company tax cuts, and I'm proud that I was here to play a part in that. I suspect that Mr Howarth is also pretty happy about that, too. We see that he has also supported Mr Dutton in the leadership challenge. This is despite Mr Howarth saying in April that he wouldn't support a further leadership challenge. It appears that loyalty is dead in the Liberal Party, and that no-one can be taken at their word.

I want to reiterate a call today from our leader, Mr Shorten: while this government is tearing itself apart, while it is being motivated by self-preservation, suspicion, malice, revenge, personal ambition and fear—while it's engaged in all of that, it should hit the pause button. Out of respect for the people of Australia, it should pause any decisions which are intended to bind an incoming government, in line with caretaker provisions.

Australians are sick of the shenanigans. They're sick of the negativity. They're sick of having the national interest come after the self-interest of Liberal-National Party politicians who are just out there to save their jobs. It's time for some positive politics. While the Liberals and Nationals are focusing on negativity and getting nothing done, we on our side of politics are out there, as I've said, listening, and developing good policies—fair policies. We've already announced 150 policies. Time doesn't allow me to go through those. But, unlike those opposite, we know how our policies will be funded. We've been up-front and transparent. It's time for a Labor government to restore stability to government. (Time expired)

5:38 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance introduced to this place by our parliamentary colleague from the Australian Labor Party, Senator Collins. What an extraordinary joy and a privilege it is to be able to speak on this matter of public importance: the government's apparently relentless negativity and inability to focus on issues that Australians care about. I take personal offence at this one. Frankly, I still come to work every day with a pep in my step and a glide in my stride. If you're going to find relentless negativity anywhere, it's going to be on that side of the chamber, not on this side of the chamber. In fact, I would go so far as to say that relentless negativity starts with Senator Collins herself. Little Miss Sunshine of the Labor Party—doesn't she just add a little sparkle and glamour to every single day—comes in here and accuses us of negativity! How extraordinary. We heard from Senator Gallacher. Wasn't that a lovely 10 minutes? Gosh! It felt like it was so much longer. Senator Gallacher is a man who has all the gravitas of a personalised licence plate. Then we heard from Senator Faruqi, our newest senator, from the Greens. I had such high hopes for Senator Faruqi. However, sadly, just like her colleague Senator Whish-Wilson, she is forever trapped in a first-year Arts student mentality. But that's all right. Don't worry about that. She'll grow up at some stage, we hope.

Can I thank Senator Ketter, though—my good friend Senator Ketter, the deputy chair of the economics committee, with whom I work and whom I admire greatly. But let's be honest, Senator Ketter. For those few minutes you spoke—I'm not sure how long; again, it did feel like a long time—it was far more Eeyore that it was Tigger—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You're directing your comments through the chair, I imagine, Senator Hume?

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was far more Eeyore than it was Tigger, wasn't it? You didn't really let go the balloon of happiness, did you? Don't think you're doing your side any favours there.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hume!

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Your comments through the chair, please.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams. You're absolutely right. What I will now do is talk specifically to this matter of public importance, something which I take personal offence to.

What is it that makes people happy, what is it that makes people positive, in politics? Let me tell you what I think it is. I think that what makes people happy, what makes people positive, in politics is when their government delivers on its promises. And I make no bones about it: delivering on political promises is not easy. In fact, I have heard it said that political promises are a little bit like babies: they're very fun to make but hell to deliver.

Senator Ketter interjecting

I knew you'd like that one! So let's talk about what this government is actually delivering for the people of Australia, in a positive light. This government has been working hard for hardworking Australians. The coalition has delivered in areas which are important to Australia but forgotten by those opposite. Let's talk about the positivity of company tax cuts for companies with a turnover of under $50 million. That covers 3.2 million businesses, and they employ 6.7 million Australians. I think that's something that we can be extraordinarily positive about. What about positive things like $75 billion in infrastructure over the next decade—things like highway upgrades, congestion-busting road and rail projects, improved local roads, inland rail and, of course, a new airport and a new airport link in my home state of Victoria, in my home town of Melbourne? How about positive things like reducing growth in government spending? Let's recall that government spending increased year on year by more than four per cent under Labor. Under this government, it's now actually growing at a slower rate that it has in more than a quarter of a century—1.9 per cent. And we are returning the budget to surplus a year earlier than anticipated. Now, I think that's a very positive news story.

How about the positive news story of returning the rule of law to workplaces by restoring the ABCC and by the introduction of the Registered Organisations Commission? I can understand why that would potentially not be a positive news story for those opposite, but it is over here, and it is for anybody who has a child, a son or a daughter, who works on construction sites. They know now that their child won't be coerced, they won't be bullied, but they will be looked after and their employers can continue to employ them. I think that that's a very positive news story for the individuals who work on construction sites—an end to union lawlessness.

What about positive things like an increase in school funding of $23.5 billion over a decade, a 50 per cent increase for the average student? What about health spending, with record bulk-billing levels and new drugs appearing on the PBS almost weekly at this stage—life-saving medicines changing people's lives? I reckon that's a pretty positive news story. What about a million new jobs? I don't think you could get any more positive than that. Of that million, 400,000 were in the last 12 months alone, and the vast majority of those were full-time and the vast majority of those went to women. How about higher participation rates for women than ever before?

I think these are extraordinarily good news stories. I would suggest that, over there on 'planet Labor', they may think that these things are relentlessly negative, but that's because they have a pathological discontent. They don't really care what matters to Australians. They care what matters to Labor. They care what happens to their union mates. That's what matters to them. That's why the coalition is truly delivering.

Let's talk about what people do find negative. I think that people find two things negative: death and taxes. Yet I've heard on the grapevine that that's exactly what Labor have in mind. I think the real issue of public importance today is Labor's death tax. I read—and tell me if I'm wrong—that the ACTU has, as one of its policy platforms, an inheritance tax. Have I been fooled? Is this new? I was astounded. I thought that Labor's death tax was abolished more than 40 years ago, but it seems to have raised its ugly head once again. Let's have a closer look at this. I want to draw the chamber's attention to a remark that was in TheDaily Telegraphjust last month. It quoted from the ACTU's policy platform. It was buried in the policy document, but it did say:

Consideration should be given to taxing inheritances in the hands of the beneficiary.

It went on to say:

A lifetime threshold could be made available to the taxpayer with tax payable once cumulative inheritances exceeded the threshold.

So, yes—it is, in fact, the usual story: Bill Shorten will deny that Labor have a plan to whack a death tax on the elderly, the same way that Julia Gillard denied that there would be a carbon tax under the government she led. You've got to admire the shamelessness, the pathological discontent of a party that would do this to the population. I mean, it's not bright—don't get me wrong—but it is certainly audacious. It is an audacious and mean-spirited attack on the savings of those who have worked so hard. It is quite remarkable. I know that your union mates over there would happily see the savings of those who work hard—who do the right thing by others and who create jobs—confiscated by a government hell-bent on taxing and spending as the economy increasingly slows down. The death tax goes to the heart of the politics of envy that Labor are all about. Their union mates are actually designing policy to kill the concept of the family business. But why are we surprised? They've been trying to kill business for much longer than that. This is the most anti-business, anti-growth, anti-jobs opposition we have ever seen—I'd like to say since Whitlam, but I think that that's an insult to Whitlam.

Let's have a look at some of the taxes that they've already announced: a housing tax, a $20 billion tax on mum-and-dad investors through their plan to abolish negative gearing for established homes; an investment tax, a $13 billion tax increase on capital gains for all assets, increasing the rate by 50 per cent—I think we're going through some of the 120,000 policies that Senator Ketter has mentioned; their tax return tax, the $3,000 cap on individuals—they're going to get $1.5 billion from that one, apparently; a family business tax, $22 billion on family business trusts—heaven help us; the tradie tax, making changes to tax deductibility for 800,000 self-employed people; and, of course, their growth tax, because they will repeal the company tax cuts that have already gone through. Shame on them and their relentless negativity. If they want higher taxes, if they want to have— (Time expired)

5:48 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment and Water (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

Today in the chamber, and today in all the halls of this parliament, our nation is, indeed, beset with the relentless negativity and dysfunction of our coalition government. We appear to have a government that has simply stopped governing, overtaken by division and chaos. But the division and chaos we see is, in large part, the symptom—and not the cause—of much, much, much deeper problems inside the coalition, problems which wreak a heavy cost on the Australian public and on the Australian nation.

Let's drill down to see why we find ourselves in this situation. It's not just chaos and dysfunction. There's an absolute, fundamental, ideological divide inside the coalition that makes it simply impossible for them to find consensus and to govern. If we look very carefully at energy bills, which are skyrocketing in our nation, we have from this government a supposed plan that has been changed any number of times. Make no mistake: the ideological division, the chaos and the dysfunction in the Liberal Party mean Australians will now pay even more on their power bills. The policy uncertainty, the tussling between Turnbull, Abbott and Dutton over many years now simply mean power bills in our nation going up and up. This nation has forgone billions of dollars of investment in energy, both renewable and non-renewable, simply because the government have failed to put any policy settings in place—policy settings to deal with our electricity market, to deal with the role of renewables, or to look reasonably at our international agreements. Whether you agree with the directions or the ideas behind any of those elements is one thing. But the real nub of this problem and this issue is the need—whether you're a fossil-fuel or renewable energy generator—for policy certainty. This question has been done and undone by those opposite, over and over again. This means that, because of the Liberal Party, Australians will pay more on their power bills.

The government's approach to the NEG has been farcical. With the so-called National Energy Guarantee—or the national energy grid—the kind of conduct they've been up to includes things like cancelling Labor's briefing on this policy without even bothering to reschedule it. Now we can't even get access to the legislation. We were called on to provide bipartisan support, to make progress on these critical issues, but they would have needed to actually talk to us about their policy approaches. Who knows what the government's policy approach is? The draft legislation we've seen already seems to be obsolete. Why? Because of the division and chaos inside the coalition. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dropped the emissions reductions target from being legislated in parliament. Why did he do this? He said it was because he didn't have the numbers. The government won't show us the legislation. Without seeing the legislation, it's hard for us to say whether we would be prepared to support it. Because of the chaos and dysfunction that completely preoccupies this government, we can't make progress on these critical issues to serve the best interests of electricity consumers in our nation.

5:53 pm

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

It's a pleasure to join this debate, particularly after that very fine speech by my colleague Senator Hume. I must say that it was one of the best, most accurate and most perceptive speeches that I've heard for some time—certainly, that I've heard in this debate while I've been in the chamber. Senate Hume has quite rightly had a serious look at this proposed matter of public importance—which, I must say, most people don't ever look terribly closely at. It is proposed by the Labor Party that the matter of public importance is:

The Turnbull Government's relentless negativity and inability to focus on the issues Australians care about.

It's a proposed matter that is trite, inaccurate and dishonest—but, coming from the Labor Party, what else would you expect? That really describes the Labor Party: trite, inaccurate and dishonest. As Senator Hume so nicely pointed out, the negativity one sees in this Parliament House comes only from the opposition benches. I challenge anyone to say when they've ever heard the Labor Party say a positive thing. At question time, in speeches, it's always, 'Nag, nag, nag; debate, debate, debate.' Contrary, antagonistic—it's anything but positivity. The positivity in this chamber comes from the government. Senator Hume has so clearly set out examples of the positive actions of this government and the negativity of the Labor Party and their mates in the Greens political party.

I've said what a fine speech it was from Senator Hume, but she was wrong in one case. She accuses the Labor Party of wanting to bring back death taxes. I see some of the Labor Party's backers, the unions, are calling for that, but that is the Labor Party yet again adopting the Greens political party's policy. The Greens unashamedly want death taxes back. It seems now the Labor Party are, as usual, dancing to the Greens' tune, because the Greens give them preferences. The Greens run with their front, GetUp!, only to keep the Labor Party in power.

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

Sorry, Senator Siewert's laughing about that. Do you say that's inaccurate? In my state of Queensland the Greens exist just to keep the Labor Party in power. In Senator Whish-Wilson's state of Tasmania they went even further than that; they joined in coalition government with them until the people of Tasmania got a bit sick of the Greens and the Labor Party and booted them all out. The Greens were lucky to win one seat at the last election in Tasmania.

Contrary to the import of this matter of public importance, the government is full of positivity and good things for the Australian people, like over a million jobs that have been created by coalition governments in less than five years. That's not bad; that's pretty positive. How could the Labor Party even suggest that was negative? There are 770,000 new jobs that have been created since September 2015, more than half of which are full-time. These are jobs that people didn't have under the Labor Party. Almost 340,000 new jobs were created in just the last 12 months. There has been record jobs growth.

There have been business tax cuts for small and medium-sized businesses, a very positive initiative of the Turnbull government. Strengthening small to medium-sized businesses means more jobs for our fellow Australians. Childcare reforms by the Turnbull government are benefiting a million families. Those new initiatives started in July, meaning more families are able to access affordable and reliable child care, enabling the parents to go to work. How positive is that? Where is the negativity that this particular motion seems to suggest?

We've turned the corner on energy prices. A lot of work has been done by Mr Frydenberg, the energy minister, in getting together this national energy policy, and it's a pity the Labor Party are so negative that apparently they want to keep the electricity prices high. I understand why that happens in Queensland. The electricity company in Queensland that generates and sells the power in Queensland—and gouges businesses and residents alike—is owned by the Queensland government. It makes huge profits, which the electricity company then just channels into the Queensland Labor government, a government that's bereft of any financial expertise. They try to stay afloat by gouging money out of electricity consumers through their wholly owned electricity company, so I can understand why Labor's opposed to the Turnbull government's initiatives to keep electricity affordable and reliable.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is yet another in a long list of free trade agreements that the Turnbull government has been able to achieve. They're not just international treaties that someone has signed and that's it; they actually mean something. I will just briefly mention two aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that are so appealing to me, and they are beef and sugar, which are major exports from up in North Queensland, where I come from. Regrettably, Senator Watt wouldn't know where that is. He knocked off the only Labor senator in North Queensland, and, of course, the Labor Party now have no senators north of Brisbane. Senator Watt got rid of the one they had, and I understand he's going to put in one of his Brisbane staffers and pretend they're the northern senator.

Senator Sterle interjecting

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order on my left, Senator Sterle!

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

That TPP is great news for the beef and sugar industries, and the benefits of that are just magnificent. Unfortunately, time doesn't permit me to go through all the positives of the Turnbull government, which show that this proposal by the Labor Party in this matter of public importance is just as I said it was originally: very trite, very inaccurate and very dishonest, just like the party that proposed it.

6:01 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This matter of public importance is about the Turnbull government's relentless negativity and inability to focus on the issues Australians care about. Well, I can tell you that what Australians care about is immigration, water, farming, the sale of land and assets to foreign owners, the cost of living and jobs. That is what's on top of the list for Australians and what they care about.

Hopefully, I'm going to put a balanced view here. Of course, you're going to get the Labor Party, who want to be government, criticising the government without giving any credit where credit is due. And, of course, the government are going to stand up for themselves. I am in this place as an Independent and I voice the concerns of many Australians. I haven't been happy with the government's response in a lot of areas, but a lot of the time I have voted with the government on their legislation. They are the government; they put up the legislation, not the Labor Party. In two years I haven't seen any piece of legislation from the Labor Party put on the floor of this parliament for me to vote on. I actually look at the government's legislation based on its merit and what I think is best for this country.

What I am concerned about with the government is that they haven't taken any notice of the Callaghan report. This is very important to the people, because we are looking at the North West Shelf and the gas we have there. We need it. I've been talking about it, and I'll keep talking about it. The Callaghan report was handed down in April 2017. Not one recommendation of the Callaghan report has been implemented, including changing the gas transfer price mechanism, which would bring in $1 billion a year. Yet sales of our gas are now going up further from $35 billion, with another $22 billion expected this year, and no extra money is coming into the country. I'm concerned about that.

There has been too little done too late for the farming sector. We have farmers on their knees, actually having to cull or kill their livestock because they're dying from the drought. We have not seen a major dam built in this country since 2012. Water is everything. Water gives life to this country. Yet we see foreign aid going to other countries around the world. We are worried about them but we don't look after our own. Until we start building more dams and actually watering this country, we will not see farmers stay on their properties. They can't deal with it anymore. As I said, it's too little too late. Deal with the water issues.

There have also been the energy providers. We've allowed integrated energy providers, who produce and sell electricity, to gouge their customers. Labor is having a go at the government over this, about the emissions trading scheme. The government's emissions trading scheme is at—what, 26 per cent? Labor wants it at 45 to 50 per cent. I tell you what, you wouldn't be able to keep the electricity prices down either. They'd soar under you.

Let's go back to what the government has supported, the deal with the Australian building and construction industry, which they reined in. It gave the developers, the builders, the opportunity to go ahead without being controlled, run, dictated to and bullied by the unions. They have done that. They have created more jobs. They've reined in the childcare reforms. They've brought in the code of conduct for the canegrowers, which is great. They allowed the Defence contracts—not just for big business, but now the smaller businesses can tender for Defence Force contracts.

Let me remind Labor what they did. What about the pink batts? Wasn't that a debacle under Labor? What about your high immigration—over 300,000 per year. Let's talk about the run-up of your debt, from $50 billion to $270 billion, when you were in. What about the waste on the Building the Education Revolution—billions of dollars for sheds? That was another thing under Labor. What about the free digital boxes for pensioners and TVs that didn't even work? And you just decimated the TAFEs, and you haven't rebuilt apprenticeships. So, Labor, stop throwing, because you have actually destroyed this country as well. You've got nothing to crow about. It concerns me. You talk about leadership challenges. A couple of months ago, wasn't Albanese going to challenge Bill Shorten? Weren't you worried about that? Talk about dysfunction. Look inside your own party.