Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 February 2020


Morrison Government

8:38 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about an arrogant Prime Minister who is all spin and doesn't actually care about the long-term prosperity of our nation. The Morrison government is a government that does not know the meaning of the word 'truth', let alone practise truth-telling. It does not have any actual plan for government or the governing of our country. The fact of the matter is that the Morrison government fell into power and actually didn't even take a real plan to the election. They've been elected, and now Australians have seen the Prime Minister that they elected.

What a beginning to the year 2020 it has been for this arrogant government! It's directionless, it's floundering, and there is no-one at the helm who is demonstrating any leadership. The Morrison government is lurching from crisis to crisis. First it was Mr Angus Taylor and then the shonky Mr Morrison himself during the bushfire crisis. He made things even worse. Then, of course, we had Senator Bridget McKenzie. How could we forget about sports rorts and the Prime Minister's office's own involvement?

They think that by getting Senator McKenzie to step aside because she didn't report her pecuniary interests, as we all do, she will have the opportunity to come back when they think that it's going to be safe to bring her back to the front bench. This is a Prime Minister that is all spin. He has no plan for the economy, no plan to grow the Australian economy. This is a government that is seen for what it is. They're shonky, and they don't like to be called out on their shonky behaviour. There is no transparency whatsoever. Just one of the rorts this government has participated in is the sports rort. If you talk to people on the street, as I do, around where I live in northern Tasmania, you'd know that they see this government as being corrupt. That's how they see this government. That's how they see their Prime Minister—as somebody who is all spin. He's smoke and mirrors. He's all spin. He's Mr Marketing himself. Well, he's been caught out very short for his lack of leadership and empathy.

But let's go to another crisis that this government is responsible for—that is, the crisis around the robodebt. We know that, when it comes to the fiasco around the robodebt, this government has been again exposed. For example, just when we thought the government had finally got the message, a class action against the government isn't even going to stop them trying to take money from people who don't even owe money. The government don't care about the stress that they've put these people under. They have no concern for the mental anguish that these people have been going through. And we saw the minister yet again demonstrate, in this place, in question time, that they have no understanding of what these people, who don't even owe the government any money, have been put through.

The government would argue that this process of issuing debts had human oversight. But it didn't have human oversight when it mattered. In April last year, part of the robodebt robot that lay dormant was accidentally unpaused and it sent out 10,000 zombie robodebt letters of demand. We also know that this government's robodebt doesn't care if you've just gone through a traumatic experience, such as a natural disaster. After the Townsville floods last year, people in the disaster affected areas were still being hounded by the department for debts. Labor will also be monitoring the government's treatment of social security recipients in the fire affected areas.

The toll from robodebts has extended to stress, anxiety and loss of life. There are mothers grieving for their adult sons who took their lives because of the weight of being pursued by the robodebt system. Figures obtained through the Senate found almost 2,000 people died after receiving a robodebt notice. And, at the last Senate estimates, it was revealed that the department took money from 73 estates of people who had died, totalling $225,000. That's how this government prioritises. It goes after those vulnerable people—people who always try to do the right thing. At the same time, the government hide their own shonky rorting behaviour.

Even if the government admitted to checking if the scheme was legally watertight when they set it up, it is not as if they haven't had fair warning since. The Morrison government simply cannot claim they were ignorant of the shaky foundations of this scheme. They've had nearly three years of calls from legal figures, advocacy groups, community groups, unions, academics, two Commonwealth ombudsman reports, three Senate inquiries, a Federal Court judgement and legal advice given to their department. But what have we seen? The government, as usual, ignoring all of those reports. The longer they delay, the bigger the hit to the public because of the mounting interest liabilities.

I want to move on to the economy. The lack of economic management under this government is absolutely astounding. After six years of the Liberals and Nationals the economy is floundering and Australians are struggling, but the Morrison government has no plan to turn things around. Regional economies like mine in Northern Tasmania deserve a federal government that has a jobs plan. This government does not have a plan. It is too preoccupied with crisis after crisis and its own infighting. We've got a split in the Nationals. We saw the disaster and the chaos in the House of Representatives yesterday, when the Nationals and the government's own nominee for Deputy Speaker was done over by another National. No wonder they haven't got their eye on the ball. There's no confidence. We're just sitting back waiting for Mr Barnaby Joyce. We know that he has got at least one more shot in the locker to take on the Leader of the Nationals.

The chaos continues, and the people of Australia are suffering because of that. People in Northern Tasmania are suffering because they don't have jobs, they are underemployed and they don't have any of the investment that is warranted in their TAFEs, in their education system and in their universities to ensure that Tasmanians are job ready for not only the jobs of today but the jobs of the future.

If we turn back to the disaster that we witnessed from this Prime Minister during the fire crisis—let's talk about that again. Let's talk about a Prime Minister who has made history—the only Prime Minister in my lifetime whose popularity has plummeted during a national crisis. Normally the leader, whether it's the Prime Minister or a premier, is front and centre on the television cameras night after night after night, talking to the Australian people and showing some empathy. What was the Prime Minister doing? He was trying to force handshakes on people who had lost their homes. He turned his back on a young woman who had lost her home. He tried to force himself on a firefighter who had lost his property. He turned up on Kangaroo Island in South Australia and told people, 'Well, the good thing about South Australia is nobody has lost their life in these fires.' This is a Prime Minister who is not on top of his job. This is a Prime Minister who has lost the confidence of the Australian people.

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those on the other side don't like to hear the truth. This isn't just what I'm saying in this place. This isn't just what Labor senators have been saying in this place; it's what the Australian community are saying. They are seeing a man who is all spin and no substance. This is a Prime Minister without a plan, this is a Prime Minister without any empathy and the Australian people will not forget it.