Feb 13, 2020

Matters of Public Importance – Coalition Government – Thursday, 13 February 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (15:26): Members will recall that when this Prime Minister knocked off Malcolm Turnbull—just before he said he had his back in the Prime Minister’s courtyard, after Malcolm Turnbull knocked off Tony Abbott—he described Turnbull’s government as a muppet show, day after day after day. Now the muppet show is back—the sequel. It’s not a 30-minute episode but a full-length movie. We can see it playing out with the PM, Fozzie Bear, as its director. There’s no question who is Animal: it’s the member for New England, trashing things up and wrecking things as much as he can, although Senator Abetz did apply for the role, and audition. And, of course, Statler and Waldorf: who else but Senator Canavan—although there are a number of other opportunities—and the member for Flynn. There he is, going up to his spot on the balcony. And, of course, there’s Gonzo: the Minister for Energy. Who else! Disaster after disaster, but he just muddles through and somehow survives. It is always brave, of course, to reboot an old series, but early reviews are not promising. The mistake, of course, was to remake ‘Pigs in space’, as ‘Pork in sports’, but that’s what they’ve done.

The fact is that this government are led by an ad man with no plan—no plan for the economy, no plan for wages, no plan for climate change and no plan for the aged-care crisis. And they certainly had no plan for the bushfire crisis. Remember what they said, day after day, week after week, month after month? They said: ‘It’s a matter for the states. We don’t need a national response to this.’ When I went with the member for Page to his electorate, we were told—certainly, I was—by the volunteer bushfire firefighters that they needed economic compensation. They’d been working on the North Coast for months, since the Rappville fire. What did the Prime Minister say? He said they wanted to be there. That’s what he told them. What was his response finally when there was a national approach? He made an announcement and he did an ad—a marketing response—with all the military assets, the jingle, and the link to donate to the Liberal Party button as part of the ad.

He couldn’t pick up the phone to Shane Fitzsimmons, the New South Wales RFS commissioner but, of course, he could pick up the phone to the police commissioner in New South Wales about the fraudulent document that was given to The Daily Telegraph by the Minister for Energy’s office. He could do that. The fact is that, if you care about people, you listen and you engage. You don’t have to force people to shake your hand. You don’t have to run out of town. The fact is that, if you listen to Australians and treat them with respect, you will get it back, but this Prime Minister continued to evade his responsibility as our national leader when there was a national crisis. It is no wonder that he has been written down because of it. The fact is that this government is only concerned about its own political interests. We saw the doctored document. We’ve seen sports rorts mark 1, and now volume 2: $150 million put in the budget in May, that was brought forward in March then announced—so it’s real money, not election commitments, real money that was in the budget—$150 million for women’s sports, except it didn’t fund women’s sports. It funded their marginal seat election campaign.

This government doesn’t understand the difference between taxpayers’ funds and LNP funds. This government had candidates who aren’t even members of parliament, with oversized cheques with their photos on it, pretending it was their money they were handing over. No wonder they’re obsessed with integrity when it comes to industrial relations but don’t want a national integrity commission. They don’t want one. They promised one in 2018, but they know that if there were a national integrity commission it would have been right after the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction; it would have right after the former Minister for Sport; it would have right after those people pretending that taxpayers’ money was their money right around the country, such as the candidate in the member for Morton’s electorate. He’s a member, but he doesn’t get to make the announcement or be at the announcement made by a minister, even though he lobbied for the project, and yet the candidate does. We’ve got women’s sports rooms for teams in South Australia that don’t have any women players. And at the same time in the member for Kingston’s electorate she can’t get proper funding.

The fact is that we saw it all week: a government of chaos and division. A government in which the Nationals thought it was a terrific idea, on the day when we commemorated the victims of the bushfires in regional Australia, to have a ballot for the leadership of the party—a circumstance whereby, on the floor of the House of Representatives, there were 67 votes for the government’s candidate and 75 for the candidate not backed by the government. He’s a fine candidate, and you’re doing well, Mr Deputy Speaker O’Brien. I was proud to vote for you.

The fact is that, unlike the government, we on this side of the House are making it clear what our principles and values are and how we would be guided into a Labor government after the next election. Next Wednesday in Brisbane I’ll be giving the fourth vision statement, speaking about respecting and valuing older Australians; speaking about the need for superannuation and proper retirement incomes and the important place of older people in the workforce; respecting blue-collar workers and not expecting them to work until they drop; respecting the position with regard to aged care. The issues that we raise today, which we asked about flat, were about the sorts of circumstances like residents lying or sitting in urine and faeces; half of the people in aged care being malnourished; a quarter of young people dying in the first year; 30,000 people over two years, who had been assessed and approved for their aged-care package, who died waiting to get a place. What was the response of the deputy leader of the Liberal Party? He said it was a distraction. That’s what he said when we asked questions about those issues.

Labor will continue to advance our positive agenda. The five themes I outlined at the National Press Club were: jobs and an economy that works for people; creation of wealth and its distribution; jobs and skills in Australia; good action on climate change creating jobs, reducing emissions and reducing power prices. What have those opposite had to say about these issues? This is what the minister here, who is going to respond, had to say. This is the bloke in charge of resources, ‘We have got a real risk, particularly with solar panels and lithium batteries, that they could turn out to be this generation’s asbestos.’ That is what they have said. What a disgrace. Matt Canavan said, ‘Renewables are the dole bludgers of the energy system.’ And when Senator Molan went on Q+A—and we encouraged Q+A to invite more Liberals, because there were two of them and none of us; but we’re not complaining—when asked, he said, ‘I’m not relying on evidence.’ Well, we will rely on evidence, which is why one of our themes is to take action on climate change.

We want a fairer Australia—no-one held back and no-one left behind. We’ll support aspiration to education and opportunity. We’ll make sure that we build infrastructure, including high-speed rail. We want to deal with our place in the world, where Australia is a proud nation, where we punch above our weight, not like when we go to international climate change conferences and say, ‘What we need is a fiddling of the books and an accounting trick, rather than actually reducing emissions.’ But this Prime Minister has been even worse. He went and spoke about ‘negative globalism’, in criticising the UN and other international bodies, but there he was this morning: happy to come to the UN International Women’s Day breakfast. He was happy to do that!

The fact is that this government have been on a victory lap since May. They don’t have an agenda for the future, which is why every single answer to a question today was about the Labor Party. They need to understand that they’re actually the government, and they should start acting like it. (Time expired)