Jan 17, 2012

Abbott’s stunts no substitute for policy grunt – Opinion – The Australian

When Parliament resumes next month, there will be a different atmosphere from that of just one year ago.

The Opposition spent 2011 acting as if the Government would fall the next day and some in the media encouraged the delusion. Indeed Tony Abbott declared at the 2010 Press Gallery end of year drinks that he would host the 2011 drinks in the Lodge.

Of course, we know that represented a triumph of ambition over reality.

2011 was a year of decision and delivery for the Gillard Government. In spite of the minority status of the Government, 254 pieces of legislation passed through the House of Representatives.

Many big ideas are now a reality.

The Clean Energy Future package, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the National Broadband Network, structural separation of Telstra, national health reform, plain packaging for cigarettes, a Parliamentary Budget Office – all done.

In my own area, we have passed legislation to protect the marine environment from the Great Barrier Reef to the Antarctic, improved the security of air cargo following the attempted Yemeni terrorist plot and introduced a safe rates bill to eliminate incentives for truck drivers to speed and engage in unsafe behaviour on our roads.

These are all significant reforms to build a more prosperous economy, create new and better jobs, protect Australians and deliver a cleaner and healthier future for our children.

Every bill, every amendment has had to be negotiated, consulted on and fought for, both within the Parliament and on the public stage.

Yet, we have not lost a single one, nor has a bill been amended without the Government’s support.

The Coalition’s only strategy has been to say no. Tony Abbott has turned the Coalition of yesterday, into the Noalition of today.

For example, the Opposition wasted more than 18 hours of the Parliament’s time with pointless stunts and attempted suspensions of the Standing Orders.

These stunts meant that Tony Abbott gave up the opportunity to ask nearly 340 questions of the Government during Question Time – one of the key roles of an effective opposition in the Westminster system.

Despite the Opposition’s stunts, we have delivered a transparent and better functioning Parliament.

During the nearly 12 years of the Howard Government, 627 private members bills and motions were introduced into the House.  Only five of these were ever put to a vote.

In 15 short months, 51 private members bills and motions have already gone to a vote.

Every day, Tony Abbott has run the same mindlessly negative scare campaign, hoping that a new election is called tomorrow.

Often, this involved ducking out of Parliament to scare the bowling clubs, mechanics, and small businesses of Queanbeyan by holding press conferences on their premises – 13 of them at last count.

It’s claimed that Albert Einstein once said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

At 254 not out for the Government, it is time for Tony Abbott to reassess – not just because the only political Party to lose a Member is the Liberal Party.

After all, it was former Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, who said that the duty of an Opposition “is not just to oppose for opposition’s sake”.  He warned that “ it is unwise, when in Opposition, to promise what you cannot perform; that a quick debating point scored in Parliament against some Government measure will be a barren victory unless you are confident that, in office, you would not be compelled to do, substantially what the Government is doing.

The Government will continue to advocate a positive Parliamentary agenda in 2012.

We will continue to work constructively with the cross bench Members and respect the Parliament that the people elected. We would welcome a more constructive approach from the Opposition who are now further away from Government than they were this time last year.

After all, Robert Menzies also said: “There is no room in Australia for a party of reaction. There is no useful place for a policy of negation.”