Monday, 26 November 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
Victorian State Election
That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.
I begin by just making clear that due acknowledgment of the Victorian election result has to be given to Premier Daniel Andrews, the state parliamentary Labor Party and the Victorian branch of the ALP. Having said that, I think those in this chamber would be aware of my involvement in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party. I can say with some certainty that, since August and the removal of the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, there's been no doubt that the Liberal vote has collapsed in that state. We only have to look at the published polling in that regard, because back in August the published polling in regard to the differences between the parties was roughly fifty-fifty, and ever since that time the gap between the political parties has simply grown wider and wider. This is an emphatic victory, of course, for the Andrews Labor government because of the policy directions that government has followed, but it also is a complete rejection of the policy positions that were taken by the Liberal opposition in Victoria, which reflected so clearly the positions that had been taken in Canberra in regard to race baiting, division, and extraordinary social and moral conservatism that's reflected a view of society which is more reminiscent of the 1950s than of 21st century Australia.
A social democratic government, as we see in Victoria, is able to have a very strong record of getting things done, predicated on the assumption that if you've got massive growth in the population—and Victoria is growing probably at the fastest rate anywhere in the Commonwealth, and Melbourne is growing to be the largest city in the Commonwealth and may well be one of the fastest growing cities in the world—then the people of that state, Victoria, are looking to government to do its job and to ensure that the services that are provided in education, health and infrastructure are able to meet the challenges. So it's no good talking about how we're going to restrict the rights of people to live in Victoria by saying we're going to cut immigration or we're going to restrict people's rights as to where they live, because that doesn't change the fundamentals in terms of what people are looking for. The fact that there has been neglect in recent years in terms of spending by governments, planning and providing the necessary services doesn't change the fact that now people are looking towards government to make sure that they work hand in hand to secure the future prosperity of the state, and that's exactly what the Labor government and the Labor Party has argued. It has been able to demonstrate to the people that there is, in fact, a really clear vision of the direction the state should be going in.
The contrast couldn't be sharper. The division in terms of the opportunities that have been presented and then missed—totally missed—by the Liberal Party in Victoria is only too clear for all those to see. There are people like Michael Sukkar, Minister Hunt, who was the running mate for Mr Dutton, Alan Tudge—and, of course, Senator Fifield. Who could forget that infamous press conference out in the courtyard here, where out of sheer panic, they chose to move towards a much more conservative view of the way in which the Liberal Party should operate. That was completely rejected by the people of Victoria.
We know the cheer squad within the Murdoch press has been urging this government to take forward a position even more to the right than has actually been adopted. The main complaint is that this government is not right wing enough. What we have seen is that the once great Liberal Party has now degenerated into a group of warring ideological sects driven by ambition and not committed to any deep-seated ideological position in terms of the advancement of a progressive agenda in this country. As a consequence you have got areas across the eastern belt of Melbourne—the so-called Bible Belt of Melbourne—rejecting the Liberal Party so comprehensively that you can't help but be surprised at the extent to which the Liberal Party is so out of touch. Of course, it's the same Liberal Party driven by the same groups of people in this city at the national level, whereby the people in suburbs such as Box Hill and Glen Waverley, from Frankston through to Carrum, to Mordialloc and Bentleigh—thoroughly middle-class communities—are rejecting the Liberal Party. (Time expired)
What extraordinary irony we have on display today from the Labor Party. There were four questions here about the Victorian state election. Four questions! There were four questions about quotes, about interviews, about articles. Not one question today was about the economy. Not one question was about health, education, hospitals, schools, drought relief, trade, tax reform, welfare reform. You accused us of not listening, and yet did you hear yourselves today? Did you hear yourselves banging on about the inconsequential? Clearly Labor senators were penned and counted in the Senate lobby and given a series of questions with no objective other than to unnecessarily poke the bear. You regurgitated the same self-indulgent, ignorant, combative and entirely unconstructive drivel.
Of course, the irony of the last weekend was that Daniel Andrews won an election on the basis that he is building things in Victoria, but he is building things with $75 billion worth of infrastructure investment from this coalition government. Daniel Andrews was lauding the fact that 350,000 jobs had been created in Victoria under his watch. Well, 1.2 million jobs have been created under the watch of this coalition government. Daniel Andrews has ridden on our coat-tails. Daniel Andrews was lauding his strong economy in Victoria—a strong economy that is riding on the coat-tails of 3.4 per cent economic growth that was delivered by this coalition government. Five free trade agreements have supported it. Three AAA credit ratings have been reaffirmed. Daniel Andrews's strong economy is the federal government's strong economy.
Daniel Andrews has been riding on strong housing prices, but just wait until the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, gets his hands on those housing prices. Just wait until Mr Shorten gets an opportunity to introduce negative gearing changes and capital gains tax changes. Let's see how pleased the Victorian voters are when they watch the prices of their properties plummet. Let's see how pleased the Victorian voters are—already being the highest taxing state in the land—when there are $200 billion worth of new taxes introduced by the opposition leader, Mr Shorten. Let's see how happy Victorian voters are when they see debt set to double as a percentage of GSP. They have already announced that.
This is, yes, an emphatic victory for Victorian Labor, but you will be a profound disappointment. Yes, this is a test of character. A test of character is grace in defeat. I pay tribute to my colleagues and my friends that are no longer members of the Victorian state parliament. I won't mention them by name. There are many of them. I will mention Robert Clark, who, as the member for Box Hill, had a career of over 30 years in state parliament and has served his party extraordinarily well. I am very proud of the candidates that we ran at this state election and very proud of the work that they put in.
What I would like to say today is that not only is there grace in defeat but also that the best test of character is humility in victory—and you have not shown that today. The call from Victoria, the call from the electorate, was to listen. Your behaviour today proves that you are unable to listen to them, to stop talking about yourselves and to get on with the job. We will listen; we will act. I want to tell Labor today: don't get too comfortable and don't get too smug. The message to Mr Shorten should be to remind him that he remains profoundly unpopular, and that endless lies in campaigning will only take you so far. My message to Victorian Labor and to those opposite me in the chamber, with your unctuous smiles today, is: don't measure for the curtains just yet; this race is no way near won.
I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Cormann today. Of course, Senator Cormann not only has former Prime Minister Turnbull's blood on his hands; he now also has Matthew Guy's as well. He's like the boy who played with matches, and he's burnt the whole Liberal house down. A smouldering ruin is left in what was once the jewel in the Liberal crown—104 Exhibition Street is being sold; a decent Liberal leader in Victoria is now gone. I know Matthew Guy. He is a decent and talented person, but his campaign was hijacked by federal errorists. These are the same bunglers who declared Melbourne, a very safe and very liveable city, to be unsafe at night, even though our nightlife is the envy of many—perhaps especially those in Sydney—and it has very little trouble. Even on long dark winter nights in Melbourne, hundreds of thousands of people come into the city on weekend nights to watch the AFL, to dine in some of the best restaurants in the world and to have a nightcap in some of our laneway bars, and, in summer, hundreds of thousands of people are out for the cricket, the tennis and the myriad of other events that are run in Melbourne and to enjoy the beauty of the city.
The errorists in the federal Liberal Party, the bungling federal Liberals who came to town, wanted to create fear, and we could hear it in Senator Cormann's responses today. They wanted to create economic fear, social fear and racial fear. In Victoria, they wanted to divide Victorian against Victorian. Bungling federal Liberals came to town and they demanded Victorian Liberals be more extreme on every issue. But don't take my word for it; let's go to the front page of The Australian and Chip Le Grand's article today. Underneath the headline 'Puffer-jacket squad delivers pained message', it said:
Along the beaches of Sandringham, beneath the lush, elm-tree canopies of Hawthorn, from dress-circle addresses in Brighton, they marched into polling booths to deliver a message that will send political shockwaves from Melbourne to Canberra. The Liberal Party, their Liberal Party, no longer spoke to them. In Daniel Andrews, they saw a Premier promising to deliver more of the essential services and infrastructure that a fast-growing city needed.
Then there are many quotes from Liberal voters and an expose of some of the seats where some of the candidates fielded by Labor nearly won. That included Brighton, where a very young candidate, a 19-year-old still on his drivers permit, nearly won against someone who should have had no contest in that seat.
By contrast, what did Daniel Andrews and Labor talk about? They talked about schools and hospitals. They talked about TAFE colleges. They talked about kindergartens and child care. They talked about trains and trams. They talked about how Labor has removed 29 level crossings in four years. And I want to pay tribute to a friend of mine, Fiona Richardson, who, as many here know, died of breast cancer. When she was shadow public transport minister it was her policy idea to remove those level crossings. And those policy ideas, the policy development that goes on in the Labor Party—as opposed to the thought bubbles to which we have all been subject to from the Liberal Party recently—is what we do in the Labor Party. Daniel Andrews and the Labor team set out concrete, practical plans to meet the needs of a rapidly-growing Victoria. They talked about inclusion and equality, not exclusion and division.
Senator Cormann himself might not be able to draw any lessons from Saturday in Victoria, but we have. I noticed that some of the contributions from the other side have talked about smugness et cetera—we're not smug; we know this is going to be a tough campaign—and then there's talk that we 'don't understand'. But you can see from the campaign that the Labor Party ran and what we have done, and from the fact that the Premier is back at work at 1 Treasury Place today, that we do listen, we do take action and we do care about what people think. And we know that if you offer voters a program of moderate, sensible, practical reforms, reforms that address problems and help Australians, they will respond positively. (Time expired)
I too rise to take note of questions to Senator Cormann today. As Senator Cormann said, we will, as a party, consider what happened on the weekend in Victoria—as every political party should. But, just to give those on the other side a little civics lesson, it is important to remember that Australia is a federation. We are a federation of states and a Commonwealth, and there are state elections that are fought on state issues and there are federal elections that are fought on federal issues. I'm sure Senator Watt knows very well that the people of Queensland consider very carefully the policies of Queensland state governments when considering how they vote at their state elections—as do the citizens of Western Australia. I'm sure we wouldn't want to do any disservice to the people of Queensland to say that they are not considering the ramifications at a state level of electing a state government, so we have to take that as the pre-eminent factor.
But what we have heard today, as Senator Hume so eloquently pointed out, is Labor yet again asking the 'inside the beltway' questions, the political questions—not focused on policy, not focused on the needs of the Australian people, but focused only on a cheap political victory, a cheap political stunt targeting this government. We are a government that's getting on with the job of delivering a stronger economy for Australians.
In the September quarter, we saw the economy growing at 3.4 per cent, surpassing pretty much all market expectations of economic growth—27 years of consecutive economic growth. I know we've all heard it a lot, but that's no accident. It comes from the hard work of a number of governments—and, particularly, the Howard-Costello government. But the current Liberal-National government has also added to that—the highest growth rate in the economy since 2012, which was of course the height of the mining boom.
A strong economy, as I have said before, is not just about a number in the budget papers; it's about delivering jobs. It's about delivering jobs on the ground. This government came to office promising to deliver a million jobs over five years and it has delivered those jobs. Those jobs changed the life of real Australians. They changed the life of real people, giving them opportunities and hope for the future. This is what governments should do: get on with the job of doing what is right for the Australian people, what is right for the Australian economy.
There were 412,000 jobs created in 2017 alone—the most jobs ever created in a calendar year on record; the unemployment rate, declining to 5.3 per cent—the lowest level since 2012 and well below the level we inherited from Labor in September 2013; participation rates at 65 per cent—a record level; more women participating in work; more seniors and more young people finding employment; and youth unemployment at its lowest level in over six years. Personally, I think this is one of the key statistics in any set of ABS figures and any set of budget papers, because getting younger people into work as early as possible sets them on a pathway for a successful life. That is what we should all be trying to achieve in this place.
Those opposite love to play politics. They love to do political stunts, but what we need is a government that is getting on with the job and delivering for Australians out there in the community—building those small and family built businesses that allow people to get the jobs that they need when they're young and to have successful and full lives. Obviously, there are so many other things that we could talk about in terms of the positive record of this government. From my home state's point of view, the GST reforms obviously were an absolutely fundamental change to our federal structure that were long known to be needed. Those opposite said they were politically impossible, yet this government managed to see them through this place in our last sitting. So, as I've said, we are getting on with the job; we are delivering for the Australian people.
I also rise to take note of the answers from the Minister representing the Prime Minister to questions on the Victorian election results. From the answers provided by the minister earlier today, you would believe that the election result in Victoria was a fair dinkum, dinky-di, anomaly and that the sole influences on the results were local; that somehow the Victorian people were out of touch with the rest of Australia, and everything is actually quite ridgy-didge. Even Senator Hume's speaking notes seem to have changed in the last few days.
Now, full credit, of course, must go to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and his team. Premier Andrews ran a strong campaign, backing up a strong record in government, and has been rightly rewarded with a second term. The voters in Victoria, like voters everywhere else, know when they've got a good government and can see through the rhetoric and bluster coming from the other side, and vote accordingly. But to pretend, as some federal Liberals have been doing, that this result has no federal implications suggests that those opposite have learnt nothing.
This result was a massive repudiation of today's Liberal Party—of politics that seeks to divide Australians with fear campaigns rather than focusing on the needs of the community. This wasn't the first time that voters have sent this message. We saw it in the repudiation of the Liberals in the Super Saturday by-elections. We saw it in the New South Wales Wagga Wagga by-election. We saw it in Wentworth just a few weeks ago after the Liberals had knifed Malcolm Turnbull. The voters don't want cuts, chaos and division; they want better schools, better hospitals and investment in renewables—all issues on which the contrast between the Morrison government and the Labor Party is, at all levels, there for all to see.
It is possible that the result on the weekend was a consequence of a sustained, deliberate campaign, as reported in The Shovel. I can't be certain that this is accurate, but The Shovel reported:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Labor is to blame for the Coalition’s abysmal showing in the 2018 Victorian State Elections, warning voters that Labor may also influence the outcome of the upcoming federal poll.
According to The Shovel:
Mr Morrison said it was clear who was responsible for recent events. "What you've seen over the weekend – this truly terrible result – is the result of a sustained campaign by the Labor Party. Voters shouldn't forget that," Morrison said.
"If you've woken up this morning to find your local Liberal member out of a job – that's Labor's fault. If you're wondering why Matthew Guy will soon be stepping down as leader, you'll find the seeds of his undoing in Labor".
"This has been a sustained, deliberate campaign to defeat us. I think that's pretty clear".
The reality is that it was actually the result of a federal government that's as out of touch as the Victorian state opposition is. But it is clear that at a federal level we also need change and that there's a clear difference between what is being offered by the current federal government and what Labor will offer in government.
Unlike the Morrison government, Labor under Bill Shorten's leadership has policies focused on improving our schools and our education system. Labor will deliver an extra $14 billion for public schools over the next decade—the biggest investment in public schools in Australian history. Unlike the Liberals, Labor under Bill Shorten's leadership has policies focused on improving our hospitals and healthcare system. We will invest in every single public hospital across the country. Unlike the Liberals, Labor under Bill Shorten's leadership has policies focused on renewables and addressing climate change. Labor is committed to ending national energy policy uncertainty and achieving 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Labor will supercharge the Clean Energy Finance Corporation by providing an additional $10 billion over five years from 2019-20, doubling its original capital investment. Labor will slash power bills, improve grid security and support new jobs in local industries by setting a new national target of one million household battery installations by 2025. Unlike the Liberals under the Morrison government, Labor under Bill Shorten's leadership is looking forward to fighting the next election on policies that address the needs of the Australian community. That's the lesson from the election on the weekend, and that's a lesson that those opposite are still not ready to hear.