The US Republican Party has been dubbed the ‘Party of No’ for its program of perpetual obstruction. Or, as former presidential hopeful Sarah Palin helpfully described it, the ‘Party of Hell No’. The Republican how-to manual seems to be firmly in the grasp of Tony Abbott as he sets out each day to rally his Noalition troops. There is nothing constructive in this manual. There is nothing in it about building a better Australia. Its sole instruction is to oppose everything and, hopefully, destroy the government in the process. And, just like in the US, the conservative leader is aided by his friends outside the Parliament with very deep pockets.
It’s hard to imagine the despair then, at the conclusion of the autumn session, as Coalition troops head home for the recess. For the Gillard Labor Government has just achieved something of a milestone with the passing of the 300th bill through the House of Representatives. All the bluster, all the raucousness, all the desperate opposition to everything, has not actually translated into any parliamentary success for this Opposition which has failed to knock back one single bill.
Prime Minister Gillard promised the Australian people a year of delivery and that is what they have been given. Most recently, we passed the Mining Resources Rent Tax, spreading the benefits of the mining boom to everyday Australians. The money raised will fund a major tax break for Australia’s 2.7 million small businesses, cut company tax, give more superannuation for all workers particularly the lowest paid, and fund critical new roads, bridges and rail lines for our mining regions.
We also passed legislation giving the nation’s truck drivers better protection and entitlements, something that’s been called for since 1979. This will cut the incentive to chase dangerous deadlines, making our roads safer not just for them but for the rest of us as well. And then there’s the means testing of private health insurance, a commonsense change that will mean working people will no longer be funding the medical insurance of people like me who can afford to pay our own way.
Sticking to his Noalition principles, Tony Abbott has taken on the historic mission of repealing just about every piece of Labor legislation. Goodbye mining tax, pension cuts, extra super for low paid workers. No more investment in clean energy technology, the end of the National Broadband Network, trade training centres and computers in schools. And that would only be the beginning.
As we advance our legislative program the Opposition’s tactics have become ever more desperate and disruptive. Already this year, 48 Coalition MPs have been thrown out of the House by the Speaker. The worst offenders have been Bronwyn Bishop and Joe Hockey (four times) closely followed by Christopher Pyne, George Christensen and Kelly O’Dwyer (three times). We even had the spectacle of Tony Abbott’s chief of staff being threatened with expulsion following her vocal heckles from the staff benches.
Then there’s the near daily attempt by Tony Abbott to suspend standing orders. This action, intended for only the gravest matters, has been trivialised by this Leader of the Opposition who sees it as nothing more than a chance for a night-time news grab. But by cutting short Question Time, he avoids what has until now been the Opposition’s traditional job: holding the Government accountable.
His demands for suspensions have cost this 43rd Federal parliament 12 full question times that could have been spent challenging the Government on the economy, our health reform, infrastructure investment, anything really. Of the first 100 questions they have asked, there were only three on jobs, one on the surplus and one on the cost of living.
In a few months, this Government will reach its second birthday. The question all Australians should be asking is when will we see an Opposition that puts their interests first? When will we see an Opposition that treats the Parliament with respect? Shrill carping and scary slogans are no alternative to intelligent debate and policy. It’s time the Opposition did its job.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.