Sep 13, 2007

Matters of Public Importance – Australia’s future

Matters of Public Importance – Australia’s future

13 September 2007

This is a government that is out of touch, out of ideas and out of time. This is a government that is at war with itself.

The Minister for Health and Ageing made an extraordinary contribution to this debate. He stated that the government had shown ‘exemplary candour and honesty’ when it comes to dealing with its leadership chaos that has engulfed the government.

This is a government that is no longer governing the country, because it cannot govern itself.

On Monday night, just two days ago, the health minister said this: ‘Dumping Howard would be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.’ That was the health minister’s position just two days ago, and yet this morning there has been a conversion on the road to Damascus.

The health minister said, about the Treasurer assuming the leadership of the Liberal Party: ‘What you’ll get in the future is the same kind of values and the same kind of policies that you’ve had in the past.’ Well, they cannot have it both ways.

On the one hand they are trying to say, somehow, that this is about renewal down the track. What we know is that this is a grubby deal to get them through this week’s parliament.

We know that this feud has been going for 11 years. We know this is because members of the government have told us.

Remember ‘walletgate’—Ian McLachlan’s meeting record of the meeting on 5 December 1994, in which he said: Meeting. Monday, December 1994. Undertaking given by JH at a meeting late PM in PC’s room that if AD resigned and Howard became PM then 1½ terms would be enough and he would hand over to PC. I McL.

That was the document that he carried in his wallet, year after year. Eventually, last year, due to the treachery of the Prime Minister in reneging on that clear commitment to the Treasurer, he made it public.

Did the Treasurer deny it?

No, he did not; he confirmed it. Indeed, he said the following at a doorstop on 11 July last year:

My parents always told me, if you have done nothing wrong you have got nothing to fear by telling the truth, and I told the truth. Now the public was entitled to know it and I have told the truth.

It is important that the truth is told not just about the past but also about the future.

Today, I asked the Prime Minister twice: was there an agreement as part of the political fix to get through the Caucus meeting yesterday morning that the Prime Minister would go onto TV and publicly say the ‘r’ word—publicly state that he would resign during the next term? And the Prime Minister fudged it, just as the Prime Minister fudged whether there was a deal to actually commit his support to the Prime Minister after that occurs, if the government is re-elected.

We have a Prime Minister who is standing for an election and saying he will talk about the future, when he has no vision and does not intend to be around in the future.

And we do not actually know who will be the Prime Minister of Australia on 1 January 2010 if this government is re-elected.

We do not know because it is a government at war with itself.

We know that the Prime Minister wants a gold watch election.

He wants a lap of honour, not for what he can do for the country but so that he can block the person who he has hated so vehemently for 11 long years, who he stood and frustrated.

The Treasurer today actually had the hide to talk about ticker. It is absolutely extraordinary. He had an opportunity this week. All he had to do was hold a press conference and say, ‘I’m running on Wednesday.’ The prize was there. But he failed to have the bottle to step up to the mark, as he has every single time.

This is a government in trouble.

It is in trouble because it has no vision for the future. With the Prime Minister’s rhetoric, you would think he would have come in here today prepared with the vision. We gave him the opportunity. We asked him about what his program was for early childhood education, in response to Kevin Rudd’s education revolution. He spoke for 10 minutes and said nothing about the future. We asked him about health and hospitals. Again, he said nothing about the future. And we asked him about the great challenge of climate change.

His only plan is to have a $23 million advertising campaign to be launched this weekend—the taxpayer funded advertising campaign they stood at the dispatch box and said did not exist.

The most extraordinary statement of the health minister’s was when he said that none of his colleagues were here to back him up because they have a country to run.

The problem is that they are no longer running the country. They are no longer concerned about the long-term policy interests and challenges for the nation; it is all about short-term political fixes. It is no longer about the future of Australia; it is about the immediate concerns of themselves. It is no longer about leadership; it is about weakness.

It is no longer about a clear direction for the nation, because they simply do not have one.

After 11 years, no-one knows what they stand for. They do not have an agenda for post the next election, because they have given up on the national interest. It is all about the party interest.

We have had this extraordinary situation whereby the Prime Minister has said to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, ‘Go away and sound out what my colleagues are thinking in the cabinet.’

So the foreign minister convened a meeting during APEC.

When they were supposed to be concerned about this most important meeting held in Australia, what were they doing?

They were talking about themselves, having a meeting in the foreign minister’s room with the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Minister for Justice and Customs, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Education, Science and Training, amongst others. What did they decide?

They decided they wanted the Prime Minister to go. They decided that time was up. So they went and gave the Prime Minister the message, and the Prime Minister said: ‘Only joking. I’ve consulted with my family. They want me to stay. Forget about what you want or what the country wants.’

We gave the Prime Minister an opportunity: if you forget about what your own cabinet and your own caucus colleagues who do not want you there, how about giving the Australian public a right to decide? At this time three years ago we were in the middle of an election campaign.

Over there they are so distracted from the future. There is no issue more important than climate change and water. We saw an extraordinary performance from the environment minister yesterday.

This is a bloke who has been telling people in Sydney that he would be the Prime Minister by the end of the week. That is what has been going on: an attempt to come through the middle of two hated people, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, who cannot stand each other. He had three attempts and could not get it right, and today he could not come to the dispatch box to say that he would not be a candidate. He did not have the ticker or the judgement to come to the dispatch box and say that he would not be a candidate.

This next election will be a clear decision between a united Labor Party with a vision for the future under the leadership of Kevin Rudd and a disunited Howard Liberal-National Party coalition government at war with each other, with no vision for the future and with no idea, even, of who will be leading them during the term if they are elected.