Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

G20 Leaders Summit

3:06 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Wong today relating to the G20 Leaders' Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a government now so divided, so chaotic and so riven by hatred and personal interest that it's actually no longer able to govern. It's a government that's unable to act on climate change, unable to agree on energy policy and unable to put the interests of the nation ahead of its own self-interests. Do you know what? The Liberal-National Party: trashing good government; that's what it's doing. It's a government that can barely go 24 hours without someone resigning or threatening to bring down the government. It's so lacking in confidence and purpose that it's not even prepared to let the parliament sit for fear its divisions will be exposed on the floor of the House. It's a government where a Prime Minister cannot even announce something as simple as the date of the budget without having the announcement wrecked by yet another member abandoning his team. And it is now increasingly apparent that the chaos and division that we see played out in this place and in the House of Representatives is damaging Australia's standing overseas and is damaging Australia's national interests.

During the Wentworth by-election we saw a Prime Minister so desperate to cling to power he was prepared to trash decades of considered bipartisan foreign policy on the location of our embassy in Israel. We know this was a decision that wasn't taken to cabinet and was contrary to advice. We know this was a decision of which the foreign minister was given less than 48 hours notice and the media was briefed before the head of the ADF. It was a decision that is now risking the free trade agreement with Indonesia, risking our economy, risking jobs and, as important, damaging one of Australia's most important relationships. And now we learn that the government is so divided and so chaotic it cannot even risk sending the Treasurer out of the country for a few days for fear the government will fall.

There are few more important events on the international calendar than the G20. It was a forum Australia helped create. In fact, Mr Costello was involved in establishing it as a meeting of treasurers and finance ministers in the nineties, before what the Obama administration's most senior US official on Asian policy, Kurt Campbell, describes as Kevin Rudd's decisive role in developing the G20 into a leaders' summit in the wake of the global financial crisis. In that process, Australia got a seat at one of the most influential and important tables in the world. The first leaders summit in Washington in 2008 and the follow-up in London some five or six months later was crucial to rebuilding confidence in the global financial system. And now the Treasurer can't go because the absence of a single MP for even a day might cause the government to fall, and instead we have the finance minister going in his place.

As people know, I have great respect for Senator Cormann, and I'm sure he'll do his best. But the explanation he gave for why the Treasurer withdrew says it all. He said, 'He's got some work to do domestically.' Well, he certainly does. Do you know what that's code for? It's code for dealing with the mess. It's code for dealing with the division. It's code for dealing with minority government. It's code for managing the fallout from the disastrous result in Victoria. It's code for trying to deal with the consequences of trashing good government, which is what this government is doing.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is heading off. But we're advised that he doesn't have any meetings with the President of the United States or the President of China. I very much hope the absence of these meetings does not signal that the chaos that has engulfed this government is now further risking Australia's national interest. And I genuinely hope this position changes before the weekend is out and Mr Morrison is able to secure these meetings with the leaders of these two nations—two nations that are so important to Australia: the US, our ally, and China, our biggest trading partner. The G20 provides a vital opportunity for Australia to advance our interests. It's disappointing that the meeting has not yet been secured. I hope it is. I equally hope that it is not because the Prime Minister has taken his eyes off the ball that a meeting has not been secured.

But, regardless of what happens in Argentina, there is no escaping this fact: good government in this country has been trashed by the Liberal and National parties—their division, their chaos, their dysfunction—and their desperate bid to cling to power is now damaging not only the interests of all Australians but also the national interest. That is entirely clear from not only what we have seen this week—an extraordinary spectacle of government voting against and then voting for a national integrity commission, losing government members, losing the seat of Wentworth earlier—but also creating the part-time parliament. (Time expired)

3:11 pm

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

It's always good to follow Senator Wong in a spontaneous debate about answers given by government ministers to questions without notice, without warning in this chamber. Most of us don't know what answers the ministers are going to give, but it's great to follow Senator Wong, who read every word of a written speech that she couldn't deliver by herself but had to read every word of to show the spontaneity of the motion to take note of Senator Cormann's answer! So, well done, Senator Wong—well read!—for a spontaneous response to Senator Cormann's answers. You should have just tabled your speech and saved us all five minutes of our day.

On the substantive issue Senator Wong raised, as Senator Cormann says, every time the G20 has met, for the last four times, who's gone to it? The Prime Minister and the finance minister. And what is happening this time? The Prime Minister and the finance minister are going, exactly as they have done on the last four occasions at least. And suddenly the ALP, with their huge hypocrisy, make an issue of this. Why didn't they make an issue of this the last time it happened, or the previous time it happened, or the previous previous time it happened? They didn't make an issue of it then because they show their rank hypocrisy by raising this matter today—raising as an issue something that has happened as a matter of course on the last four occasions. It shows the desperation of the Labor Party to get into government, to measure for curtains this afternoon. They are so arrogant. The hubris is just reeking, and you heard that prepared 'spontaneous' speech by Senator Wong then as an example of this. Every time on the last four occasions, Australia has been represented by the Prime Minister and by Senator Cormann as finance minister.

Senator Wong made some issue about Mr Frydenberg—who is the Treasurer, in case she hadn't realised—having to do some work. We all know the budget has been brought forward by more than a month. Those of you who have been in government—and I can't see any over the other side who ever have been—would appreciate that the work on the budget actually starts now. The Expenditure Review Committee has already met on several occasions, I understand. Ministers and their departments are working on it now—not on the week before the budget, as Senator Wong thinks might happen. The hard work is done several months before the budget.

Mr Frydenberg, as the Treasurer, will be working very hard, as Senator Cormann said, to get the budget in order, because we want to continue the sorts of budgets that we have brought down in the last five years. We want to deliver a budget that will take us into surplus next year, for the first time in years, including the six years of the Labor government and the five years for which we have had to try to correct the mess that Labor left us. Those of you who have been here for a while will know that when Labor took office there was $60 billion in credit. When Labor left office there was a debt that was approaching, and would have got to, $800 billion if there hadn't been a change of government.

Mr Frydenberg has a big job to continue the economic success that has been displayed by coalition governments over the last five years, and he's determined to do it. He will be working day and night from now until 2 April to make sure that we continue a budget that enables our Australian economy to move ahead. As Senator Cash said during question time, if you have surpluses, if you make a lot of money and your budget runs in credit, you can buy for hospitals, you can buy for schools, you can buy roads and you can buy infrastructure. You've got to have the money to do that, and that's what Mr Frydenberg will be working on over the next six months. (Time expired)

3:16 pm

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

Well, what an extraordinary contribution—a contribution that was in complete denial of the shambles that this government is. It was a complete denial of exactly what is happening in their caucus room. We have seen a member of the government leave and sit on the cross bench and we've seen another threaten to leave and sit on the cross bench. That contribution from Senator Macdonald completely ignored what was happening. But, unfortunately for Senator Macdonald, the Australian people are not ignoring the shambles that is this government.

Senator Cormann has obviously lost his mojo. He was very fond of his mojo. He used to talk about his mojo all the time, but now he doesn't because he's obviously lost his mojo. He has no idea what to do. He was a part of the group that got rid of the former Prime Minister. He picked the wrong side. He backed his friend, Mr Dutton. Since that time, the government has completely turned in on itself, with infighting and disagreements not only in their caucus rooms but also out in the public. I'm not even talking about the government's inability to handle policy or its inability to agree on energy policy or on climate change; I'm just talking about the fact that this government is more interested in itself.

If those opposite were fair dinkum in their contributions, they would say that Senator Cormann's response to Senator Wong's question today in question time was weak. He made no real attempt to say why Minister Frydenberg was no longer going to the G20. As I understand it, he was going but he is now not going, because he has to stay at home, batten down the hatches and try to keep a government going so the Prime Minister has one to come back to. All this is happening without any regard for the Australian people. This is what is actually happening. This government has lost its way. It lost its way on policy quite a long time ago, and it has now lost its way in attempting to have some semblance of a stable government.

They're in minority government. They do not know from one day to the next what next emergency is going to happen. We've had, as I've said, the member for Chisholm jump ship. We have had threats from other members to jump ship. We've also had a former minister calling a current minister an L-plate minister—one of their own caucus. What is not happening is good governance.

The adults are certainly not in charge No matter how many dorothy dixers they come in here and start sprouting, saying what they're doing, it's not the reality at all, and the Australian people know it. They know that this government has no focus on policy. They know that this government cannot control themselves. They know that this government is not interested in the concerns of ordinary Australians. What they see is instability, infighting and conflict. That is what this government is showing. So what do we do? What's their next plan to try to stop people jumping ship? They put out a sitting program that has 10 sitting days to the next budget. That's all they want to work on behalf of their constituency. The Prime Minister is saying: 'We're only coming here for 10 days, because we don't know what's going to happen when we get here. We're not in charge. That's all the work we're going to do for the Australian people.' Well, this government has to go. (Time expired)

3:21 pm

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

There's a saying that those in glass houses should never throw stones. I must say, I find Senator Carol Brown's comment about Ms Julia Banks leaving the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench disappointing, but I wonder where Ms Emma Husar will be sitting next week? I wonder what's going to happen there. The responses to questions in question time was unbelievable. The minority government—yes, I prefer a majority government by far, but what about 2010 when former member for New England, Tony Windsor, and former member for Lyons, Mr Robert Oakeshott, formed a multi-party climate change committee? They were going to change the planet. What did the Prime Minister of the day, Ms Julia Gillard, do? She said, 'There'll be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' And what followed? Nine billion dollars a year of tax growing and growing to change the planet. How outrageous!

Let's get back to the subject of Senator Wong's question. I'll look at some of the facts; I'm sure those opposite will be very keen to hear them. Minister Cormann attended the G20 meeting with his international counterparts in Bali in October. Okay? The Prime Minister will attend the G20 leaders meeting in Argentina, as one would expect for a leaders-level meeting. Finance minister Cormann will accompany the PM, as he did in 2015 in Turkey, as he did in 2016 in China and as he did in 2017 in Germany. Our Prime Minister has attended every G20 leaders meeting while we've been in office. I'll repeat that for those over there in case they're hard of hearing: our PM has attended every G20 leaders meeting while we've been in office.

We're talking about hypocrisy and those living in glass houses, so let's look at Labor's history. When they were in government they didn't even send the Prime Minister to the G20 leaders meetings in June 2010. They sent the Treasurer, Mr Wayne Maxwell Swan. Remember him? He was going to give us all those budget surpluses that we never ever saw. In September 2013 Labor didn't send the Prime Minister. Who did they send? They sent the foreign minister, Bob Carr. Why didn't you send the Prime Minister? This is just amazing. It's any wonder the public says, 'The hypocrisy of politicians.' You've got it all here again today from this question from Senator Wong to Minister Cormann. They're saying, 'Let's throw stones at the other side, but don't look at our side.' Senator Brown was talking about the economy and government's disarray. I'm very proud of the jobs that have been created since this government has been in place and how we support small business.

There were interjections in another question during question time, about the royal commission. I backed the royal commission for many years. I remember a great Western Australian senator by the name of Mark Bishop, but the factions kicked him out, of course. He chaired an inquiry we did into ASIC. We recommended a royal commission. What did Labor do then, in 2014? 'No, no, no, no, we're not having a royal commission.' When the Greens moved a motion in the Senate to have a royal commission into the financial sector, where were Labor? They were sitting over there with Senator Dastyari at the time: 'No, no, no, we're not having a royal commission.' They all teamed up as one. Finally, you did see the light, and the rest is history. Let's hope the royal commission fixes the mess that has been created over many years.

Can I say that it was the government that brought on the royal commission. There's no question about that. I'll tell you why: Nationals member Llew O'Brien said publicly he would back a royal commission, and so did George Christensen, another Nationals member for Queensland. The banks came forward to the government and said: 'Bring it on. The numbers are clearly there.' So the government brought on a royal commission. In that royal commission, we put the terms of reference to include life insurance and superannuation. You would never go near superannuation. You talk about doing the right thing about fines, penalties and criminal charges. When superannuation came in, there were no criminal charges for trustees in superannuation. When we tried to bring those penalties in last September—stiff fines and jail terms—what did you do over there? The Greens and Labor opposed the criminal charges for superannuation fund management and trustees who were stealing and doing the wrong thing. You wouldn't even support that, and you stand up here, holier than thou, saying, 'Where are the penalties?' The penalties are coming forward. We've got them through the House, and you're delaying them here in this chamber. Talk about that word 'hypocrisy'! It's unbelievable. Is it any wonder the public are so cynical? They can see now what you're really made of.

3:26 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the answer given by Senator Cormann to questioning by Senator Wong regarding the Treasurer's last-minute cancellation of his planned trip to the G20 in Buenos Aires. The G20 is one of the most important leaders meetings in the world. Instead of taking the opportunity to meet with heads of state and central bank governors, for example, from the world's largest economies, our Treasurer has instead chosen to insert himself in the unfolding drama within the Liberal Party in his home state of Victoria following the crushing victory of Labor's progressive agenda over the fear campaign run by the Liberal Party.

Senator Cormann can choose to keep his head firmly in the sand all he wants, but this is not going to change the fact that this week his government was thrown further into minority. You would think that, following the historic swing against the government in Wentworth, some lessons might have been heeded, but oh, no. That would be asking too much from this government. There's been a wave of denials all morning. 'Nothing to see here; move it along,' they say. Indeed, Craig Kelly, the member for Hughes, tipped to be the next to go to the crossbench, when asked if the decision of the Treasurer to cancel this trip was a reflection of a government that had lost control, replied, 'Not at all, not at all.' There would be some beautiful synchronicity if they lost one from their left flank on Tuesday followed by one from their right—a visual representation of former Prime Minister Abbott's arch-conservatives at war with former Prime Minister Turnbull's moderates. They are destroying everything in the process. Of course, the Liberal Party is in existential crisis, with the member for Higgins throwing petrol on the fire. She is reported as saying in a meeting of Victorian parliamentarians with the Prime Minister on Monday—the details of which, of course, were leaked almost immediately—that the Liberal Party is seen as homophobic, antiwomen and riddled with climate deniers.

Just when we all thought that this government couldn't get any worse, this week has unveiled the depth of the shambles that this government is in. The inside of a butcher's slaughterhouse might be a prettier sight than that of the coalition party room this week. This Liberal government isn't working. It's not just damaging the reputation of the main conservative party in Australian politics. Canberra is sneeringly called the coup capital of the democratic world. Ministers of the Commonwealth are so busy worrying about the internal stability of the government that they are not able to participate in international discussions vital to the stability of the world. This is utterly ludicrous.

Of course, it is some politicians' instinct to hang on to office, but Australians are entitled to expect more than just self-interest to motivate those who position themselves as our leaders. The G20 is important, and this decision proves that this is a government that should be put out of its misery. It has proven itself incapable of governing its own affairs and scarcely interested in governing the nation's affairs. Scarcely interested in parliament sitting more than the barest minimum, they've made this into a part-time parliament—and this from a party whose MPs, like Andrew Laming, dared suggest hardworking teachers worked part-time hours. This is a go-slow government trying to eke out every last day in the ministerial wing, every last day of hearing public servants say to them, 'Yes, Minister.' Meanwhile, they have doubled federal government debt, failed to address climate and energy policy, brutalised so many Australians with Centrelink robo-debt calls—remember that cruelty, that debacle?—allowed wages to flatline and penalty rates to be shredded, made deep cuts to health and education, and allowed a whole generation of young people to be cut out of home ownership, all on their watch.

One of Labor's and one of Australia's great prime ministers—and probably our most party-reforming opposition leader, as he purged our party of destructive extremists—was Gough Whitlam, and the words from his famous 1972 campaign speech echo through the ages to this day and to this place. He said:

My fellow citizens‚

I put these questions to you:

Do you believe that Australia can afford another three years like the last twenty months?

He said this in 1972. He asked:

Are you prepared to maintain at the head of your affairs a coalition which has lurched into crisis after crisis, embarrassment piled on embarrassment week after week? Will you accept another three years of waiting for next week's crisis, next week's blunder?

(Time expired)

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Wong to take note of answers be agreed to.

Question agreed to.