Jul 24, 2019

Matters of Public Importance – Morrison Government – Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (15:39): The coalition like to tell us that they’re about tradition, but this government is establishing a new tradition. They win power and then they don’t know what to do with it. They’re like the dog that catches the car. Tony Abbott, the first Prime Minister of the ATM government, was a Rottweiler. He knew how to bark. He barked, ‘No, no, no,’ to everything. He turned the coalition into the ‘no-alition’. What happened was that, when he got to government, he had no plan to actually govern. He had no positive agenda. He acted like an opposition leader in exile on the government benches.

We then had Malcolm Turnbull. He had one idea, which was to become Prime Minister. That was his only idea. He gave up all of his ideas and values that he’d held over decades, such as support for climate change and being strong about recognising people in same-sex relationships. He abandoned all of his values and beliefs in order to secure that position. He even abandoned his commitment to an Australian republic. The member for Dickson stepped forward. He had three ideas. To become PM was the first one. He was going to smile more—remember that? But he had a third idea that was really bad. It was to outsource his numbers to the Minister for Finance. Step sideways, and we have the current Prime Minister.

There is some considerable irony in this Prime Minister—who keeps talking about which side you are on, including about national security—attempting to argue that, somehow, one side of this chamber is more serious about tackling terrorism than the other. It is totally divisive nonsense and quite clearly not in the national interest. Also, I have to say, it is a poor choice of words from a bloke who stood next to Malcolm Turnbull at the Prime Minister’s office and said, ‘I’m on his side!’ We know how that ended up. As Niki Savva’s book Plots and Prayers demonstrates, this was at the very same time as Mr Morrison’s supporters were tactically voting for the member for Dickson, Peter Dutton, in order to undermine the very Prime Minister who they were saying that they were supporting out there. We won’t be taking lessons from this turncoat, who sits in this chair, whose integrity is skewered so effectively by Savva’s detailed analysis in that book, which is from direct Liberal Party sources.

What we’re stuck with now is a third-term government with no agenda. We have the busted ATM government. They have no output and are wondering what to do. The clue is in the first two syllables of the word ‘government’. It’s gov-ern. That’s what they should be doing. But they have no plan for economic growth, they have no plan for lifting consumer demand, they have no plan for productivity and they have no plan for dealing with the skills crisis. They certainly don’t have a plan to deal with the recommendations that remain outstanding from the banking royal commission, as we saw today. They have no legislation to put forward before the House. They just sit on their hands over there with that born-to-rule mentality that they have, which they have been raised with from birth. They think that they have a right to rule and that working people should just know their place. We saw that with attack after attack on the trade union movement in this chamber today.

They don’t have a plan for climate change. There’s no energy policy still. They come out with rhetoric from the back bench—remember that coal-fired power station that’s going to be built—but nothing actually happens. They then have said that they’re going to go nuclear. They’re going to have nuclear power plants, but they won’t be just anywhere. I’ll give you a clue: they can be somewhere where there’s water. That’s right around the coast and right around the rivers. We’re waiting for one of the members opposite to put their hand up and say that they want a nuclear power plant in their electorate. They say they support dams, but they haven’t built one. But they are upholding some tradition. John Howard said, when Prime Minister, that ‘they’ve never had it so good’. Do you remember that?

The member for Petrie, of course, has cranked it up a notch, because he has said, as the minister responsible for homelessness, that homelessness needs a positive spin. He’s gone on about the vacant properties that are there as the evidence. Well, it’s hard not to think that there’s a vacant property above the member for Petrie’s shoulders! Maybe that’s what he’s referring to.

Who else wants to play ‘You’ve never had it so good’? The person responsible for pensioners—come on down, Senator Ruston!—said that for pensioners to receive $66 a day is generous. That’s what she said. And the next contestant: down lumbers the member for Hughes. He doesn’t think pensioners have ever had it so good; he thinks they’ve had it too good! He wants the family home to be included in the pension assets test. For a mob who talk about retirees, they don’t like pensioners. They now want to cut super rather than increase it to 12 per cent—the Liberals retiree tax.

This follows the short-changing of pensioners through not worrying about deeming rates until there have been five decreases in interest rates by the Reserve Bank. This is the same mob that changed the pension assets test, in conjunction with the Greens, which led to 88,000 pensioners losing their pension and 370,000 pensioners having their pension cut. They tried to scrap the energy supplement. They cut $1 billion from pensioner concessions in 2004. The one thing that you won’t hear from this Prime Minister is, ‘How good are pensioners?’—because he doesn’t defend them.

Who else is out of touch? The Deputy Prime Minister says that if people are struggling for work then they should just move—move away from their community or move away from the connections that they have. Say what you like about his predecessor, Barnaby Joyce, the member for New England: he moved from St George to Tamworth to chase a job opportunity. He took it to heart, but that hasn’t worked out all that well!

This is a government that is arrogant and out of touch. They have forgotten that it is their responsibility to govern. In the lead-up to just the second parliamentary sitting week, what did they say about the legislation they were introducing before this parliament? It was not that it was in the national interest, not that it was going to drive economic growth, not that it was going to create jobs, not that it was going to create social equity and not that it was going to deal with the environmental challenges in this country. What they said was that it was a test for Labor. It was all about them once again acting like an opposition in exile, a government in search of an agenda, a government in its third term searching for a reason for its very existence.

Yesterday, on the second day of the second sitting week of the 46th Parliament, the Senate ran out of business—no agenda. Imagine seeking political power just so you can get in white cars and sit on the ministerial benches, not so that you can change the country for the better, not so that you can make a difference to people’s lives. That’s the problem with those opposite. They define themselves by what they’re against. We know they’re against unions. We know they’re against staff. But the problem is that they’re against the Australian people when it comes to the need to lift living standards, the need to address the very significant challenges that are before this country at the moment. So they’re sitting over there, after six years, three prime ministers, three deputy prime ministers and countless numbers on the front bench, and all they do is spit the dummy when Labor actually chooses—has the temerity—to question legislation and to try to improve it. Their very reason for existence is a question mark that’s not just before us and before the nation but before themselves. We see that every answer in question time, year after year, starts with, ‘Well, what Labor is doing’—what the other side are doing.

They need to create a positive agenda because they’re presiding over an economy that is flatlining, an economy where interest rates are at one-third of the level they were at the GFC, an economy with low consumer demand, an economy with real issues with regard to security at work and an economy with productivity growth going backwards. This is a government in search of an agenda, and it needs to start acting like it rather than like an opposition in exile.