Governor-General's Speech - Address-in-Reply - 43rd Parliament

I congratulate Senator Pratt on being chosen by her colleagues to move the address-in-reply. Her Excellency’s address to this place yesterday highlighted the ongoing deficiencies of this ongoing Labor government—a government that failed when it had an absolute majority in the House of Representatives and is already continuing to fail without a majority. In the speech yesterday there was no mention as to what the government was going to do for the thousands of Australians that still have electrified roofs and living in danger of their houses burning down because of Labor’s bungled pink batt and insulation scheme. It has been simply airbrushed out of the pages of history. That is what Labor thought. Not so, because we as a coalition will continue to make the government accountable.

Similarly, there was no mention in the speech about the Green Loans scandal. It has been simply airbrushed out. No way: we will put it back onto the agenda. Similarly with the waste we saw with Building the Education Revolution. On the ‘quality buildings’ that Senator Pratt referred to, I recall campaigning in the seat of Riverina during the election campaign and seeing one of these quality structures absolutely and utterly absolutely collapsed. It was an absolute debacle. But, according to Labor, this is a quality building of which they stand proud. I wonder which Labor minister is going to be opening that one!

The speech provided to Her Excellency by the government was full of spin and not of substance. Indeed, at the very beginning we were told:

... the remarkable circumstance of our nation having its first female Governor-General and first female Prime Minister.

This historic conjunction should be an inspiration not only to the women and girls of our nation but to all Australians.

Great words, great inspirational stuff, but what did Ms Gillard do as soon as she left this chamber? She went to the House of Representatives with a deliberate ploy to sack the female Labor Deputy Speaker in favour of a male coalition Deputy Speaker. There you have it. Absolute gender equality with the Labor Party! Why did they do this? Because it was worth a political stunt. As a result, by a deliberate decision of Ms Gillard and Labor to remove the existing female Labor Deputy Speaker from her position, the three speakers in the House of Representatives are all male. Where is Ms Kirner, where is EMILY’S List, where is the Women’s Electoral Lobby—indeed, where is Senator Kate Lundy—on this issue? Deathly silent, because when it comes to Labor Party political stunts or looking after women in the Australian parliament, it will always be Labor Party political stunts that come first. That is where we have so very early on in the Governor-General’s speech an indication that this Labor government is just a continuation from Mr Rudd—all spin and no substance. When the acid test is applied, are they going to live up to being an inspiration to the young women and girls of this country? What they will have to point to is one very, very disappointed Ms Anna Burke, who yesterday, with virtually no notice—in fact, some would say an unfair dismissal claim could be lodged here—was dumped as Labor’s Deputy Speaker. So here we had this spin above substance.

Then we were told about transparency, a new paradigm, and that everything would be open for the Australian people to examine. Well, Ms Gillard has another test today. Graham Richardson—no friend of the Coalition—as I understand it has indicated that two ministers refused to be sacked by Ms Gillard, who said she chooses her ministers, and said to her, ‘Dare to sack me, because if you do, we’ll resign from the parliament and we’ll create by-elections for you, which you might lose, and as a result deliver government to the coalition. So you’ve got no choice but to reappoint us.’ I make this claim today. The chances are it may have been the Attorney-General and the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, but I fully accept I might be wrong.

Senator Ronaldson—Mr Garrett.

Senator ABETZ—Mr Garrett, by the way.

Senator Lundy interjecting—

Senator ABETZ—But of course, Ms Gillard can get rid of all that by levelling with the Australian people and telling them exactly what happened. Let us see if this new era of transparency applies to her government and ministerial appointments.

Senator Lundy—Tony Abbott’s new world of made-ups.

Senator ABETZ—Senator Lundy has finally found her tonsils again, but she was unable to defend the decision on Anna Burke, was she? Very interesting.

This government started breaking its promises before it was sworn in. It was already dealing with the Australian Greens, making a deal in the vexed area of whether or not this nation should have a carbon tax. Let us just recall for history how Ms Gillard and her deputy, Mr Swan, ran the last election campaign. On 15 August he said this:

... what we rejected is this hysterical—

mark the word ‘hysterical’—

allegation that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax ...

That was six days before the last federal election. Five days before the last federal election Ms Gillard said:

There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

Then on the day before the election—and this is how hot a topic this was during the campaign—on the very last day of the campaign, on 20 August, Ms Gillard said:

I rule out a carbon tax.

Where is that promise today, given the grubby deal that they have made with their new alliance partners, the Australian Greens? Now, after the election, after having been sworn in again, Ms Gillard was asked by a journalist:

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you ruling out a carbon tax? Is that something you will look at?
PM: Look, we’ve said we would work through options in good faith at the committee that I have formed involving, of course, the Greens, and it’s my understanding that Mr Windsor will also seek to participate in that committee. We want to work through options, have the discussions at that committee in good faith.
JOURNALIST: So you’re not ruling it out then?
PM: Well, look, you know, I just think the rule-in, rule-out games are a little bit silly.

Well, if ruling in and ruling out was ‘a little bit silly’ after the election, why did she specifically rule it out before the election? If it was a silly game after the election, it was a silly game before the election. But she knew that she was headed to electoral oblivion unless she gave that rock-solid guarantee that there would be no carbon tax—a carbon tax which will inflict even higher prices on the cost of electricity and the cost of living for each and every Australian, inflate food prices and, if Australia goes it alone, have the perverse impact of making the world’s carbon dioxide emissions even greater. Why? Because, as we price out our manufacturing industry with a carbon tax, they will simply move from Australia to those countries without a carbon tax. Indeed, in my home state of Tasmania we have a zinc works—I use this example on a regular basis—producing one tonne of zinc for two tonnes of CO2. In China they create that same tonne of zinc for six tonnes of CO2. So if you price our manufacturing sector out of the world marketplace, the world will start buying their zinc from China—no longer from Tasmania and South Australia—and, as a result, the carbon footprint on the world will be even greater. That is the perverse outcome of Australia going it alone with a carbon tax. Ms Gillard knew that. She knew the threat to jobs in all these manufacturing sectors, and that is why she specifically ruled it out. Six days before the election, five days before the election—on the day before the election, she ruled it out. And yet now it is a silly game to play, asking her to rule it in or out.

What it means is that Labor thinks they can break every solemn promise they made to the Australian people by virtue of the fact that they had to sell their political soul and their principles to cobble together a government of such diverse colours, from the extreme left of the Australian Greens to country conservatives. They try to sell it as a rainbow coalition. Yes, it is a rainbow coalition. Rainbows, as we all know, look pretty—but they are illusory. If you try to touch them they are not there. The closer you get to them, the further away they get.

Senator Cash interjecting—

Senator ABETZ—And, Senator Cash, at the end of this one there is definitely no pot of gold. In fact, there will be one huge deficit, the exact opposite, at the end of this particular so-called rainbow.

So, Madam Acting Deputy President, what we have is a government that said one thing to squeak its way back into office and is now doing the exact opposite. It is nearly doing the opposite of a Kevin—a ‘Nivek’, I suppose we will have to call it. Remember the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’? Nothing was more important. We needed the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I must say that Nivek nearly has a nice Russian sound about it—but we will not go there. Anyway, that was the big moral issue of our time, and then—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crossin)—Senator Abetz, I want to remind you that, if you are referring to people in the other place, they do have a correct title other than their Christian name.

Senator ABETZ—You are right, Madam Acting Deputy President, but it would spoil it somewhat. But you are quite right.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT—And you could address your remarks through the chair occasionally. That would be useful, thank you.

Senator ABETZ—I do not think I was addressing any senator directly, Madam Acting Deputy President, but if you want to hear ‘Madam Acting Deputy President’ scattered a few times in my remarks I am more than happy to oblige.

Senator Fifield—She’d like eye contact.


Senator ABETZ—What I was saying was that the Labor Party under then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time. Then, all of a sudden, it could be dumped. Now Ms Gillard has done the exact opposite. She went to an election saying, ‘I specifically rule out a carbon tax,’ and now, after the election, all of a sudden she is going to bring it back in, so she is doing the exact reverse of that which the honourable member for Griffith undertook.

Madam Acting Deputy President, we were also told about a stronger economy in this speech. We recall that, when Ms Gillard took over from Mr Rudd, she was also going to become a converted economic conservative. She promised the Australian people that there would be spending cuts—a very wise policy move, one which we endorsed. During the election campaign, can anybody recall any spending cuts that were announced? Were any spending cuts announced in Her Excellency’s address to the parliament setting out the government’s agenda? Not one. But there were expenditure announcements relating to the $10 billion deal that Ms Gillard did with the country Independents. There we have it: before the election, Ms Gillard promising cuts so that we could have fiscal responsibility; straight after the election, delivering a further $10 billion completely and utterly unfunded.

Talking about things unfunded, we have the celebration in this speech of the National Broadband Network. What were we told about that? We were told, amongst other things, that it would be affordable. What is the price? What is the cost? There has been no business case presented. There is no price on it, yet they just make this bold claim, the spin, that it is affordable. But, when you ask Senator Conroy, who usually sits opposite, what the price will be for a connection and the monthly rental, he is unable to answer. So how can they make the assertion that it is somehow affordable?

If you want another insight into this government, all you need to do is read about the minerals resource rent tax. Do you know what is celebrated in the speech? That it was agreed with our nation’s biggest miners. What about the country’s small miners—

Senator Cormann— That’s 99 per cent of the industry.

Senator ABETZ—and medium-sized miners who make up—as Senator Cormann quite rightly interjects—make up 99 per cent of the mining companies in this country. They are completely and utterly discarded and considered irrelevant, because this government does deals with big business and big unions and they love big government. We on the coalition side do not subscribe to that. We think a better outcome would have been to get a consensus with the other 99 per cent, not with the one per cent and trumpeting that as a triumph. But, no; for Ms Gillard and Labor the spin always has to be with the big companies; do a quick deal and the rights of small business can simply be trampled on and forgotten. It is not so on this side. We will continue to fight against that tax, which will impact on every Australian. Make no mistake: mining is a world activity these days. People will decide where to invest, and Australia has now slid ‘something chronic’ as a place for investment in the resources sector. The sovereign risk is now so great that many South American companies outdo us, courtesy of the economic genius of Mr Rudd and now Ms Gillard.

There are many other matters that I could canvass in relation to this speech. One thing I am pleased about is that on our side of politics disabilities is now looked after by a genuine shadow minister. It has been elevated in our thinking. It is the appropriate thing to do. The Labor Party talks about an inclusive society but disabilities remains with a parliamentary secretary. If Labor genuinely wants to call itself an inclusive government, let it follow our example in that regard. There are many things wrong with this government. I move the following amendment to the Governor-General’s address-in-reply:

The Senate regrets that the Gillard Government has already broken its promises to the Australian people by, among other things:

  1. announcing a carbon tax, contrary to the Prime Minister’s express assurances both during the election campaign and immediately afterward that there would be no carbon tax;
  2. instead of seeking a consensus on measures to deal with climate change, instituting a committee, the conclusions of which are predetermined;
  3. failing to announce any measures to deal with the influx of asylum-seekers arriving by sea;
  4. failing to provide for a dedicated Minister for Education;
  5. failing to provide for a dedicated Minister for Disability Services;
  6. failing to clarify its position on the private health insurance rebate;
  7. failing to announce economically responsible measures to deal with housing affordability; and
  8. announcing to the Australian people that the Government would not be bound by the promises it made to voters during the election campaign.

And further notes that the Government has outlined no credible plan to:

  • bring the budget into surplus
  • to cut waste
  • pay off the debt
  • to stop the boats
  • or to stop new taxes, such as the mining tax.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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