SUBJECTS: Prime Minister Morrison’s improper functioning of Parliament; Morrison’s removal of public service heads; cuts to public service; Medevac legislation; New Zealand resettlement of refugees.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: What has occurred, the extraordinary events in the House of Representatives just a short time ago, are not about the Ensuring Integrity Bill. They are about the Prime Minister’s integrity. The Prime Minister has shown a streak whereby he is not prepared to allow for the proper functioning of the Parliament. He regards democracy as an inconvenience. No, it is not. The fact is that whilst 42 per cent of Australians did vote for the Liberal or the National Party, that means that 58 per cent of Australians did not. They are entitled to have their views heard as well. And to shut down a debate in which they say these issues are so central is a tantrum from the Prime Minister as a result of losing the vote in the Parliament last week. The Government’s response to that has been to abuse Pauline Hanson and the crossbenchers for having the temerity to not just agree with him. When the Prime Minister speaks about quiet Australians, we now know that what he wants is silent Australians. He wants the whole of Australia to just shut up and listen to him. Well, we will hold this Government to account. On the day that the Prime Minister has sacked five departmental heads and centralised power in the Australian government bureaucracy, we now have in terms of the Parliament, the introduction of legislation and the putting of it to the Parliament without a single word from anyone apart from the minister who introduced the legislation yesterday, being introduced. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: On the Public Service staff, what is your early view (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: This is about centralising power. That’s what the Prime Minister is into. And we’ve seen that writ large, on the floor of the House of Representatives. We’ve seen it with the removal of five departmental secretaries. We’ve seen it in the way in which he hasn’t allowed for any debate whatsoever. We’ve seen it in terms of the gagging of speakers continually, the refusal to debate Angus Taylor. The refusal, might it be said, to answer your questions as well. This is a Prime Minister who doesn’t want scrutiny from the media. He doesn’t want scrutiny from the Parliament either. And we’ve seen that today.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister does say that this is about efficiency and better delivery of services and there won’t be any budgetary impacts. What’s wrong with it?
ALBANESE: Well, have a look at the centralisation that has occurred. This Prime Minister has been making cuts to the public service continually since they were elected in 2013. If you, for example, have an issue on the environment put together in the way that it is with agriculture, there is real issues behind the centralisation that has occurred as a result of these changes.
But of much more significance, frankly, is what is going on the floor this Parliament. We have now had the Parliament shut down because the Government is incapable of running a basic democratic process. So, here they run in, they gag device, they refuse to allow anyone to speak, to push through legislation. To what end? So that they can make a point that whilst they lost in the Senate last week, they won on the floor of the House of Representatives. We know they have a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. But this is not, or should not be, a totalitarian state. The right of people to represent their electorates has been shut down today. This is a Government that’s refused to allow for any debate about Angus Taylor.
I’ve been here for some time. John Howard never did this. Kevin Rudd never did this. Julia Gillard. Tony Abbott. Malcolm Turnbull. Robert Menzies would not have done this. On the day that Gough Whitlam was dismissed, on the 11th of November 1975, there was a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. This Government shuts down any debate. And here we have the extraordinary circumstances whereby it can’t even get its act together to show people to have copies of the legislation which they want not just to be debated but voted and pushed through without a single word being uttered of debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. This is unprecedented. Its authoritarian. And it should be rejected.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister was goating you the other day about you being more interested in parliamentary procedures than the issues that confronts the Australian people.
ALBANESE: The fact is that a democracy exists for a reason. We are not a one-party state. And the Prime Minister, in his actions today, shows contempt for democratic processes. This is how we sort through issues, not just short-term issues and legislation, but the long-term challenges of the nation. We need more inclusion, less division. And I’ve said that since I became Leader of the Labor Party. What we’ve got from this Government is just ‘keep quiet, listen to us, let us do whatever we want, and we won’t cop any debate whatsoever’. The truth is, you get bad outcomes.
There’s a reason why we have Parliament. This institution isn’t just about processes. It’s about outcomes. And I’m a firm believer that democracy produces better outcomes than totalitarian regimes. We actually have Parliament being suspended in terms of the House of Representatives. So, they are the issues that I’m discussing today. Can we stick to this? And then if the bills don’t ring, I’m happy to keep going.
JOURNALIST: We have heard Jacinda Ardern today saying that if Australia wants to block refugees resettled to New Zealand from coming to Australia (inaudible). It was also reported in the past that if Australia could do that, then the New Zealand offer would be one that the Government would seek to take up. The Government has put legislation into the Parliament to do that, but Labor doesn’t support it. Are you happy to continue to block that legislation which, if it passes means that the Government accepts the deal and resettles refugees to New Zealand?
ALBANESE: What I’ve heard from Jacinda Ardern is that the Government hasn’t bothered to even talk to her.
JOURNALIST: Would you be willing to have a look at that bill again if it meant hundreds of people coming off those islands?
ALBANESE: What I’ve heard is that Jacinda Ardern hasn’t even had the courtesy of contact from this Government. What I also know is that we don’t know what the deal is in the Senate. Jacqui Lambie says there is one. Mathias Cormann says there isn’t one. I’ve long argued that Australia should accept the New Zealand arrangements. Thanks very much.