Senate debates

Monday, 9 August 2021


Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021; Consideration of House of Representatives Message

12:21 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the committee does not insist on its amendment, to which the House of Representatives has disagreed.

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

I serve the people of Queensland and Australia, and I'm very proud to be the people's servant. As part of my job, I believe it's important to scrutinise government spending of taxpayers' money. That's the ultimate accountability. What Senator Patrick's amendment does, which the government has rejected in the lower house, is enable public scrutiny. Public scrutiny is far more intense than any scrutiny this parliament can give it, because people working within the companies that are receiving money actually scrutinise the spending that taxpayer money. We need to be open about shovelling tens of billions—hundreds of billions—of dollars of taxpayer money into companies. The government shows, by its actions in the lower house and by its lack of support for Senator Patrick's amendment last week, that it is afraid of accountability and public scrutiny. Why? That's the question I ask. Why is this government afraid of accountability and public scrutiny? And, when push comes to shove, the Labor Party is the same. We've had almost eight decades of shoddy governance in this federal parliament.

Let's look at the COVID history and where hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money is going. In March 2020, we looked at Italy, France, Spain and China and we saw thousands of people, reportedly, dying. We said to the government in March, when we had our first single-day sitting, 'We will support you.' We waved the JobSeeker measures through. Then, in April, we waved the JobKeeper measures through. We said: 'Get on with the job. But, in the face of uncertainty, we will expect you to come up with the data, we will expect you to come up with a plan for managing this virus and we will hold you accountable.' I started holding them accountable in May, gently at first. But look at the mess that has been and continues to be created in this country. There is a complete lack of leadership at state and federal level. These are the fruits of 80 years of shoddy governance, and now we see the federal government not willing to let the public scrutinise the spending of the public's own money.

Just last week we had two lawyers give their services in the High Court. The High Court ruled that the national cabinet is no such thing, and I commend Senator Patrick for initiating that. Why was the so-called national cabinet enacted? I told Senator Hanson right from the start that I believed there was a very strong and very clear reason for it. The government didn't know how to manage the virus. If the management of the virus went belly up, they'd be able to blame the national cabinet. If it succeeded, the Prime Minister would be able to take the credit. Remember: this Prime Minister was on his knees after the bushfire crisis. The only thing that saved him was the entry of COVID into this country. He was going downhill in the polls.

Last year, it was exposed that our country has been mismanaged for many, many decades. Our productive capacity is shot. We can't make basic essentials in this country. COVID exposed that. We are now dependent on other countries. The last 18 months has shone further light and shown the complete mismanagement of this virus. No state government has any idea what it's doing, with capricious lockdowns. There's a complete lack of leadership, and Labor have limped along. They're not a credible opposition. It is costing lives now and it will cost lives in the future.

I asked for the data and didn't get any from the government. I asked the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Health secretary, and they said the mortality of this virus is low to moderate. It is not as severe, relatively, as past respiratory diseases. The transmissibility is high. But there's been no plan. There's been no segregation of the data and no detailed plan. We know some people, like Senator Patrick, don't even feel it. They don't even know they've got it, because they don't have symptoms. For other people, it is a mild cold. For other people it is a flu. Other people have lingering ailments. Other people can die. So we look at a plan. There are seven components in the plan, and I went through these in the Senate last week.

First of all, what we're seeing instead of a plan is state governments blaming each other, state governments contradicting themselves, state governments blaming the federal government, and the federal government blaming the state governments. All the while we, as taxpayers, are paying for that mismanagement. On the basic practice of lockdowns, even the UN World Health Organization—crooked, corrupt, incompetent, dishonest organisation that it is—now admits that lockdowns are not the answer. Lockdowns are a blunt instrument for use initially to get control, which tells us that the state governments and their benefactors—their funders, the federal government—are not in control of this virus.

Secondly, we've seen countries like Taiwan have effective testing, tracing and quarantining. They are not locking everyone down and destroying the economy. Their economy is bubbling along fine. They are quarantining the sick and the vulnerable. That's the way to do it. We have seen people like Governor DeSantis in Florida, which has a large proportion of elderly people, apologise to the people of Florida for locking his state down the first time. It's never happened again. Florida is doing much the same as the other states with the response to COVID. The states, like California, that have shut down and locked down are doing worse.

But our country can't come up with anything better than this mishmash. We now see injections with vaccines that have only provisional approval and have caused tens of thousands of deaths overseas. We see a government for the first time in human history injecting something into people and causing deaths. We see in this country provisional approval for a not fully tested vaccine. But at the same time we see ivermectin, a known treatment, a known cure and a known prophylactic. It has been approved in this country for use for other diseases since 2013. It has been proven over six decades around the world as safe. It's proven to be affordable. It's now been proven in South American countries, Asian countries, Indian states and some European countries, I believe, as successful at treating COVID. There are 40 to 50 medical and scientific papers verifying that. A doctor here in Australia in Sydney treated 24 very ill patients in quarantine with it. They all survived. They all got well quickly. The two people that weren't treated died. Ivermectin is known and proven, and yet, while we can get vaccines provisionally approved in no time when not fully tested, we can't get on in approving the safe, known drug ivermectin.

Where is the plan? There is no plan. The core question is: how can a government refuse Senator Patrick's amendment? It is an inoffensive measure. It is not going to cost much. It is going to save money, as it is doing in New Zealand. But the government runs away. The objective of this mishmash and mismanagement of COVID is not health. If it were, they would be approving ivermectin. If it were, they would be very seriously questioning lockdowns, because lockdowns are costing lives.

We now see that the objective is not health; we now see that the objective is more along the lines of control. Think about this: there is talk of a 'vaccine prison'. Those are my words for a vaccine passport, because it's not a passport; it is a prison. People can't go to the supermarket unless they have been vaccinated. There is talk of that. It's proposed in New York and other places; it's been considered in this country. People's work—their livelihood—is being jeopardised by the 'vaccine prison' threat. I understand there are construction workers now under that fear in Sydney. People want to go to the gyms to be healthy. There's talk about the 'vaccine prison' not giving them permission to do that. There would be lack of mobility through public transport. It may be denied through the 'vaccine prison'. Basic freedoms already affected are the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, the freedom of exchange, the freedom of travel and the freedom of mobility. These are basic freedoms in our country. The objective, as I said, is not health.

Then we see Pfizer's revenue in the last quarter was $19 billion. That's a pure profit of around $4 billion in just three months. Is this why the government are protecting them by banning the use of ivermectin for COVID? Things just do not add up. This is not about health, or, if it is, it's very shoddy, uncaring incompetence. This is about freedom and control and accountability. (Time expired)

12:31 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to encourage the Senate to insist on the amendment. It is a very simple amendment. It's not offensive in any way. It requires the tax commissioner to publish the names of entities who receive JobKeeper, the number of individuals for whom the entity received the JobKeeper payment and the total amount that they received, with the option of also publishing information about how much the entity has paid back. For a company to profit from JobKeeper was never the intention of the fund. There are companies that have paid back JobKeeper because it is the right thing to do. It's a very simple amendment. It's really an amendment that was basically put together by looking at what happens on the New Zealand government website, where they basically display this information. Just to be very, very clear: it does not display any company information at all; it displays the amount of money that the taxpayer gave to the company to support them.

I heard Senator Birmingham on television this morning trying to justify the government's approach. It was a wet-lettuce-leaf attempt at a justification. Let everyone understand exactly what is happening here: after the taxpayer pays their tax, the money is taken and given to companies and some of them are funnelling that into dividends and into executive bonuses, and, sadly, Minister Birmingham thinks that is okay. He thinks that's all right. Don't worry; it is only taxpayers' money. I can tell you that the people of South Australia are really angry about this. It can be fixed by doing something that is relatively simple. It's what New Zealand has done, and it just involves the publication of the recipients and how much they received. This is what it's like to be in the Liberal Party: you have business mates and you get to support them at the expense of regular voters, regular Australians.

I introduced the motion and I thank the Senate for supporting it. It went to the other place and, unsurprisingly, because it is dominated by the Liberal-National coalition, they removed the amendment. The Senate has the ability to insist on the motion, and that's what we're being asked to do now. I'm happy for Senator Gallagher to stand up on a point of order and say I'm misleading the chamber, but unfortunately the Labor Party are not going to support it this time around. It's almost unimaginable. I've been contacted by a whole range of Labor supporters this morning that have indicated they will not be Labor supporters after this event here in the chamber. Basically, what's happened is the Labor Party were pretending to support a transparency measure. They were pretending to care about workers who pay tax. They were pretending to have high moral fibre and social integrity. And, of course, we now find out it was a ruse. There's no reasonable proposition or explanation you can have for the fact that over the weekend somehow the Labor Party has backflipped on this. I don't think they've backflipped; they just lack courage. They pretend that they support these things but in fact they don't.

Why are we seeing what's happening here? Why are we seeing Labor walking away from this measure? The answer's really simple: they don't want it to go back to the House and have the Prime Minister basically reject the bill. But they haven't even got the politics right. The reason this bill is necessary is that the Prime Minister failed Sydney. He failed through a lack of national quarantine and he failed because of the vaccine rollout, and that's left Sydney in lockdown. If the Labor Party think that Scott Morrison is going to reject a bill that helps Sydney get out of the mess that he created, then I say that they haven't thought this through. If there were ever a bill where the Labor Party could have said, 'You know what, we're going to stand our ground; we're going to stand up for the right thing to do,' it's this bill. What this tells the Australian public is that under no circumstances will the Labor Party stand up for Australians.

I think I said in the chamber last year that I was going to help you with your marketing. I'm going to buy you a dog. I am going to buy you a dog and it's going to be a dog that rolls over every time a Liberal Party member walks into the room, because that's exactly what you're doing here. I had a meeting with a senior coalition minister last year—it was about this time last year—and what this person said to me was, 'Rex, I love playing chicken with the Labor Party because they always swerve.' You have no courage. You need to stand up and actually support something that you believe in instead of getting worried about the politics. Instead of being incapable of explaining what's happening to your voters, to your supporters, you're simply saying, 'No, that's too hard.' It's much, much easier to reject the amendment, and the Australian taxpayer will suffer; the very workers that you claim are your constituents will suffer. It's not on, and the Australian public will hold you to account on this—certainly the crossbench will, but the Australian public are watching. I urge you, Senator Gallagher, to change position and support this amendment to insist that it stays in the bill.

12:38 pm

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

I want to make a correction. The national cabinet decision was not a result from the High Court. It was made in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by the Federal Court Justice Richard White. My apologies. I wanted the record corrected.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I can indicate that the Australian Greens maintain our support for Senator Patrick's amendment to the Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021 and we very strongly believe that the Senate should insist on that amendment. I also want to make the point that I was waiting for someone from the Australian Labor Party to get up and put a position—I hope we are going to hear a position from the Labor Party in this debate and they're not just going to sit there in an attempt to let it get through to the keeper. What is clear is that the Australian Labor Party are not going to insist that this amendment remain. They are walking away from the position that they held last week.

This is a sad day for transparency in this country, and it's a sad day for accountability. But, most importantly, it's an extremely sad day for the long-suffering taxpayers of Australia, who've forked out many, many tens of billions of their hard-earned dollars, which this government has thrown to its mates the billionaires and the big corporations. The Senate today, by the looks of it, is not going to insist on a modicum of transparency in regard to the biggest stimulus package in this country's history. So once again we see the Liberal Party shovelling billions of dollars to big, profitable corporations, and the Australian Labor Party, having made a few flapping noises last week, are going to give them the green light to keep ripping off Australian taxpayers.

You don't have to look far for a different approach to this. In fact, you don't have to look any further than across the ditch to New Zealand, where we know who got the taxpayer dollars because the New Zealand government put it all online in a searchable database. There's only one reason why, in Australia, the government and now the Labor Party don't support this information going online in our country: it's because they want to cover up which big, profitable corporations trousered billions of dollars of taxpayers' money.

Senator Lambie interjecting

I'll take that interjection from Senator Lambie. She mentioned political donations—the institutionalised bribery and the institutionalised corruption that are political donations in this country.

But back to this program. We have seen the highest levels of waste in history, with only about one-quarter of the $60 billion directly benefiting workers. The government allowed big corporations to make off like bandits and send this money off into tax havens, while hundreds of thousands of students, single parents and jobseekers are excluded from this latest scheme. Eleven of Australia's billionaires were enriched by JobKeeper, while universities, the arts and far too many casual workers in precarious jobs didn't get a cent.

Let's not forget that the Morrison government had to be dragged kicking and screaming by experts, the union movement and the Australian Greens to implement JobKeeper in the first place. But when Mr Morrison and Mr Frydenberg put their own personal spin on it—as they had to because, of course, it wouldn't be Liberal Party policy in Australia if it didn't exclude the people doing it toughest, whilst handing out billions of dollars in public money to some of the biggest corporations in the country so they could deliver record profits to their shareholders—75 per cent of the $90 billion that was ultimately outlaid didn't make it to working Australians. That's $68 billion that didn't make it to working Australians; it went to shareholders. It could have gone to those who most need it, but instead it lined the pockets of CEOs and wealthy investors. In just the first 24 weeks, $25 billion went to businesses which ultimately didn't satisfy the eligibility requirements. In that same time, $9 billion was paid to over 150,000 firms that ultimately recorded increases in their revenue. Sixty-six big corporations on the ASX 300 received JobKeeper. Fifty-eight of them reported positive earnings and 34 of these companies reported increases in underlying profits relative to pre-pandemic levels. What an absolute rort this was, yet the parliament and this Senate are not even going to insist on basic transparency measures.

Just yesterday the SMH reported that Lachlan Murdoch's Nova received $10.6 million in JobKeeper payments while recording, of course, a net profit of $16.88 million. That takes the total of billionaires' companies that have been profitable, that have rorted JobKeeper and that have refused to pay it back to 11. That is 11 of Australia's billionaires—10 per cent of the billionaires in this country. That is Lachlan Murdoch, for his company Nova. That is Kerry Stokes, through Sevenwest. That is Gerry Harvey, through Harvey Norman. That is James Packer, through Crown casino. That is Len Ainsworth, through Aristocrat poker machines. That is John Gandel, through the Vicinity property group. That is Brett Blundy, through Lovisa. That is Mark Besen, through Home Consortium. That is Nick Politis, through Eagers Automotive. That is Raphael Geminder, through PACT Group. And that is Dale Elphinstone, through Engenco.

One of those, Gerry Harvey, has been absolutely chortling all the way to the bank, with Harvey Norman keeping $22 million in JobKeeper payments despite its profits doubling to $462 million, in the middle of a pandemic, while 1.1 million working Australians were ineligible for JobKeeper. Around half the businesses in the arts sector were ineligible. Universities and their staff were deliberately excluded. Casual staff who had been employed for less than six months were ineligible. Basically, any group that is unlikely to vote in numbers for the coalition got shafted. New businesses missed out. Many small businesses missed out. Over the first six months alone, they missed out on $20,000 per employee.

What should we be doing here, when we are faced with this rort of all rorts? The very least we should be doing is insisting on basic transparency measures—as the Labor Party have said time after time after time. Here's Mr Andrew Leigh on ABC News Radio on 28 January: 'The information is at the fingertips of the ATO. They simply need to disclose it to the Australian people.' Well, the Australian Greens could not agree more. The information's there. Put it out so that the Australian people can see how their money was actually spent by this government. But no: the Labor Party is not going to insist.

Just last week we saw Mr Leigh standing in the House of Representatives calling for a transparency scheme. Okay, the threshold he was proposing might have been a little bit different, but it was basically, in effect, the same scheme as the one Senator Patrick proposed, which is the same scheme that is contained in the legislation that was originally drafted by the Australian Greens and tabled by me on behalf of my Greens colleagues and which is currently at a Senate inquiry. I say this to the Labor Party: if the government chose to delay the passage of this bill because the Senate insisted on some entirely reasonable transparency provisions, that would be on the government; it wouldn't be on the Labor Party. You would find that if you would actually stand up, grow a spine and mount that argument then the Australian people would be with you on it, and they'd be against the government on it. But you'll never know, because you're folding—again—as you fold on refugee policy, as you fold on progressive taxation policy, as you fold on every single law that walks Australia down the dangerous road to a police state and a surveillance state and as you fold on so much more. (Time expired)

12:49 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

We're here today because of the arrogance of the Morrison government. When faced with the will of the Senate, a vote last week, Mr Morrison ignores it, and that is how he constantly treats this place. Every non-government senator votes in support of transparency, a reasonable amendment. We send that view to the House of Representatives, and Mr Morrison gives the Senate, yet again, the proverbial finger.

Last week, the Senate passed an order for the production of documents seeking information from the Commissioner of Taxation, with the documents being due this week. That had a similar focus: the list of all employers with an annual turnover greater than $10 million that received a JobKeeper payment, the number of employees paid, the total amount paid and any amount returned. It will be interesting to see how the government responds to that order for the production of documents.

Mr Morrison is not a leader who works with others. We have seen the results of that with the failed national cabinet strategy, which never comes up with a national position. It is because he can't negotiate, he can't cooperate and he can't conciliate. Removing this amendment that the Senate passed last week is another example of that. We supported this amendment because it's good policy. It makes sense, and the Australian people, footing the bill for a $90 billion program, deserve to know where that money went and why. It has added billions of dollars in debt—debt for another generation—and still the government refuses a simple request for transparency.

We don't think it necessarily needed to be attached to this bill. We think the government should have done it when they brought in the JobKeeper program. We've been on the record about that. We don't think it should be secret. With the work that the PBO has done which highlighted—my colleague Andrew Leigh has been running this issue on the House side—that $13 billion of a $90 billion program went to firms that increased their profit, we think it is in the public interest to know that. It's also in the public interest to know when moneys have been repaid. We think that should have been part of the contract that exists between the taxpayers and the firms who were given a lifeline through the most devastating of circumstances.

So this response from the House of Representatives is classic Mr Morrison. When challenged, he has a pathological inability to resolve deadlocks. He's stubborn, he's arrogant and he's even prepared to let businesses and families in need of the support that is provided by this bill be collateral damage in a game of chicken between two houses of parliament. This government was too quick in cutting off JobKeeper and it was too late in giving businesses affected by lockdown, and the workers who rely on those businesses doing well, notice of appropriate support. Again, in classic Mr Morrison style, never taking responsibility for anything, he tried to make it the states' problem, claiming that the lockdown decisions were made by the states and therefore the states should manage those decisions and their financial consequences. The lockdowns that the states were putting in place were a direct result of his failure on national quarantine and the complete shambles that is the national vaccine rollout. Those were the things forcing states into lockdown. He then told them: 'Well, this is your decision. It's your problem. It's your budget that should fund the support.' Then there was an unseemly interaction between state premiers and Mr Morrison about who pays for what and what contribution the Commonwealth should make. That was the environment we were in that led to this bill

We know now that $400 million will be going to Victorian businesses and hundreds of millions of dollars will be going to New South Wales by the time their lockdown finishes. In fact, we don't know how much will go to those businesses in New South Wales, but it is safe to say it will be in the order of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the Prime Minister, 460,000 companies and three million employees of those companies will be getting business support in New South Wales. But this support isn't coming because Mr Morrison wanted to provide it or even because Mr Morrison believed he should provide it; it was because he was shamed into it by state premiers.

So, yes, we supported this amendment. We continue to support the substantive component of this amendment. We will look at other ways to continue the pressure on the government to provide this information. It should be provided. It shouldn't require an amendment from Senator Patrick to put this arrangement in place. The government should have done it. If not at the beginning of JobKeeper, when things were unravelling very quickly, it should have done it when it reviewed JobKeeper. It should have done it when it had a look at where the money was going. It should have done it when it realised how many firms were profiting from JobKeeper. Shine a light on it. Provide that information to taxpayers who, for generations, will be paying this debt off. The government should have accepted this amendment.

I note the free advice from my colleagues on the crossbench, making it Labor's problem. This is the government's problem. It is their failure. They are in charge. It is their failure to put in place appropriate transparency measures here. But they have rejected the Senate's amendment, and the Prime Minister is prepared to make those businesses collateral damage in his stubborn engagement with this chamber.

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's vindictive.

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Carr is right: it is vindictive. And it is arrogant, and Labor will not create uncertainty for those businesses. Before I hear the squeals from the crossbench, I doubt very much that any one of them engaged on the weekend with any business or any employee that is currently locked down in these jurisdictions. I doubt very much that any one of them spoke to a business and said: 'Do you know what we're going to do? We're going to have a bit of fun with this. We're going to kick it around, and, in the meantime, you won't have certainty about the payments that you deserve under these arrangements that will allow to you keep workers employed.' That is what they are asking us to do.

Senator Lambie interjecting

I've got a lot of time for you, Senator Lambie, but I doubt very much that you have spoken to one business, one worker or one family that is waiting for certainty about these payments. I doubt it very much. But I have spoken to MPs in the lockdown areas. I understand exactly their concern and their worry; they're dealing with businesses every day that do not know how to keep their door open. This is because of this Prime Minister's failure on the vaccine rollout and national quarantine. It is dire out there for these businesses. It is devastating. The last thing they need is a tick-tack between two houses of parliament on a transparency measure that we believe should absolutely be in place, but are we prepared to put the transparency measure above the needs of these businesses and these families who do not know how to make ends meet at the moment? No. That is the position we have come to.

We have consulted: we have reached out to MPs in south-west Sydney, in Western Sydney, in Sydney central, in Victoria and on the coast. We have spoken to those MPs, and what they are feeding back is that businesses are struggling, families are struggling and people are devastated by this virus. Yes, they would like a transparency register and we should keep fighting for it, and the order for the production of documents should come back on Thursday with all of that information. The government should bring a bill that puts in place a transparency register. Yes, we agree with that, but will we sit here and provide uncertainty to those businesses and those families relying on this parliament to do its job? No, we won't. We will take the criticism from the crossbench, who have the luxury of putting this position, because one vote doesn't matter here, but 26 votes do. We have consulted, and we have come to the right position. We do not resile from transparency. We will never resile. The government should do it. But these payments need to get to businesses and to the families and the workers who rely on them. (Time expired)

12:59 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute briefly to this discussion today on the Treasury Laws Amendment (COVID-19 Economic Response No. 2) Bill 2021. I think it is just absolutely appalling that the government are so stubborn—digging their heels in to refuse to allow what is a basic transparency measure to be implemented in this piece of legislation. This is the MO of our Prime Minister. Mr Morrison has to be dragged kicking and screaming to every solution. He has been dragged kicking and screaming to every solution during this COVID crisis and this pandemic, from the early days—when the Prime Minister told people it was fine to be shaking hands and going to the football, while the rest of the country was looking on in horror—to, of course, being dragged kicking and screaming to put in place JobKeeper and payments in the first place.

Now, after months and months of businesses and organisations across this country and workers struggling to deal with the fact that we're still in the midst of the pandemic, we see the Prime Minister dragged kicking and screaming again to put in place something. But, of course, it doesn't go anywhere near what is actually needed to ensure that we look after businesses—particularly small businesses, many of which, I might add, are part of the industries, such as the creative industries, the tourism industries and the hospitality industry, that have been hit the hardest in this country by the COVID lockdowns and the pandemic. But what happens when the Prime Minister gets caught out? His go-to playbook is 'dig in, be stubborn, be pig-headed, and say no'. Then, in a few months time, he'll flip and he'll pretend that that was his position all along. That is what this Prime Minister has done from day dot, and I put it to you that, in terms of the transparency measures we are debating here in this place today—which are basic, which are important and which put squarely at the feet of the government some sensible responsibility—the government's going to have to do this eventually anyway because they're going to have to fess up as to what has happened where and when, and how taxpayers' money has been spent and for what purpose. Meanwhile we have the Prime Minister acting in his usual pig-headed, stubborn manner. 'It's not my responsibility. I don't hold the hose and I certainly don't hold the chequebook,' seems to be his response, even though he is the Prime Minister of the country. In a few months time, we'll see something introduced or some small announcement where he pretends that this was his position the whole time.

The parliament is an important process of review, and, when the Senate chamber does its job properly, it needs to be respected. In this case, we saw an important piece of legislation come in. It wasn't everything we wanted, it doesn't deal with all of the workers who are missing out and it doesn't help all of the businesses that are struggling today, but it does something. In terms of the basic element of transparency of these payments, transparency of how the government is behaving and governing in this country is basic, and our job in the Senate is to make sure we do scrutinise legislation and fix it up where we can. Here, we fixed it; we actually made it better. We sent it down to the Prime Minister's chamber, and he got too stubborn, dug his heels in and said, 'No, bugger off!' This chamber has done its job, and it is about time that the Prime Minister and the government got off their high horse—because it's only a pony, anyway; it doesn't actually exist—and start understanding that, if you want proper governance in this country, you have to work with the people in this room. I am disappointed that Labor are going weak at the knees on this. I understand the argument, but it's disappointing. So thank goodness we have strong voices here in the Senate on the crossbench—the Independents and the Greens—standing for basic elements of accountability, because when you've got a prime minister who refuses to listen and who denies the truth and then pretends he does something totally different later on down the track, the only way you have any chance of holding this government to account is by making sure the crossbench has a long, strong and loud voice in this place. And that is why the Senate should be voting to insist on this amendment today.

1:04 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I actually found what Senator Gallagher said about her small businesses quite offensive. Let me tell you what's going on in Canberra, because I believe that's your backyard, and let me tell you what's going on in Tasmania. Even though we aren't coming in and out of lockdown and all the rest, it's like a domino effect out there. If we're not getting those visitors and those business personnel down there, and if we're not getting others out there, guess what? It means nobody is renting rooms in our hotels or motels, nobody is drinking in the pubs and nobody is playing any music. All the retail shops and small businesses—all those small businesses—are feeling the pain right across this country.

Let me tell you something else that those small businesses want: transparency. They want to know why they're on their knees out there and big boys like Harvey are getting all the extra JobKeeper payments and all the rest. But you don't want transparency to show how much you've paid their shareholders. Think about that with your small businesses in Canberra, because that's what they are telling me. It's a whole domino effect here, and we're all feeling it, whether we're in Canberra or Tasmania. Just because we haven't gone into lockdown as many times—we've only done it once—it doesn't mean they are not feeling the pain, Senator Gallagher. They are feeling the pain. They're not getting business and they're also not getting any dividends. They want to know why some of your donors out there can't be honest and give that money back if they've made too much money. How do you think they're feeling? It is a right slap for them today. It's a right slap.

Please show some courage. If you think the little boys over here aren't going to bend over by end of play Thursday to get this through, you are kidding yourselves. You are supposed to be the opposition. God, you've been doing it for eight years! No wonder you're still there! Stand up to them, because I can tell you that they won't be giving in by Thursday afternoon. Goodness me! Here you are, both Liberal and Labor, with all these staff, yet it takes the Independents and the micros to come up through the lot of you and call you out. It takes one person to continually put in FOIs, when you've got all these staff in your own Labor Party. Call out what's national cabinet and what isn't. What is wrong with you people in the opposition? You are not getting the job done. Quite frankly, you do not deserve to win the next election at this rate, and no wonder why. Start acting like an opposition, because it's not just those repeatedly going into lockdown that are feeling the pain. It's a domino effect. It's everybody across this country—every small business.

Don't talk to me about small business. I am watching the west coast and one of those towns down there, where 70 per cent of their damn street is closed down. We're all feeling it. We all deserve transparency. Every small business deserves a bit of that money, not just the big boys giving it out to their shareholders. That's a slap in the face. At least have the courage to stand up against these animals over here. Have the courage to stand up and say: 'Let's be transparent about this. Let's see who's getting all the money and how much money they made.' Quite frankly, you are slapping the little person, and I thought Labor was better than that. You've definitely lost your way. You're going to be the bridesmaids. You have been for eight years, and that will continue, because you just don't have the courage to stand up to the little boys on the other side. It's shameful!

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the committee does not insist on its amendment to which the House of Representatives has disagreed.