Prime Minister: Statements Relating to the Senate

I move:

That the Senate notes the Prime Minister’s continued unprincipled attacks upon the Senate.

The Labor Party’s continued unprincipled attacks on the Senate are regrettable. The Senate is a vital part of Australia’s parliamentary democratic framework, which is in fact the envy of the world. Some would say the Senate should be thankful for small mercies because we have not been spoken about in the same way as the Chinese officials in Copenhagen. But when a Prime Minister speaks to demean the Senate in the way this Labor Prime Minister has and this Labor government has, the Australian people need to simply ask a one-word question: why? The answer is that the Prime Minister and his government are desperately thrashing around, drowning in a self-made quagmire of incompetence and duplicity. So as the Prime Minister and his government’s collective head is sinking beneath the surface, they thrash around desperately thinking that unprincipled attacks on the institutions of this parliament, namely the Senate, will somehow provide them with an electoral lifebuoy by distracting the Australian people from their self-made fiascos. I have a message for Labor: attacking the Senate will not be a lifebuoy, but working with us could in fact have been a lifebuoy. Let us have a look at what the Prime Minister has been saying. Just this week he has said about the Senate:

So we have a very simple message for the Senate, which is get out of the road, guys, just get on with it.

The following day he said about the Senate:

No delays, no stuffing around, get on with it.

Mr Albanese was trotted out as well to say:

… the Senate is being so obstructionist …

They are the lines. It is a wonder that Labor have not in fact been reflecting and saying, ‘Isn’t it a pity that we haven’t in fact listened to the Senate more.’ If Labor would have listened to the coalition in this place, they would not have wasted the $78 million they did on that cash splash by sending it overseas. The Building the Education Revolution would not be wasting billions and billions of dollars on overpriced buildings. We would not have the $850 million blow-out on solar panels. We would not have the Green Loans debacle. And we would not be having house fire after house fire all around Australia courtesy of the pink batts debacle. Indeed, if Mr Rudd would have reflected more seriously, he would have realised that the Senate, and in particular the coalition, had saved him from the debacle that Fuelwatch would have been. Do Labor still seriously say Fuelwatch is part of their policy agenda. No, they do not talk about that at all anymore. And I am sure that privately they say, ‘Thank goodness for the coalition for knocking off that debacle.’

I am sure they say exactly the same thing about GROCERYchoice. Remember that wonderful scheme where consumers would be able to compare prices. In my home state of Tasmania the state was divided into various sections and you could compare the price of groceries in Strahan in the one region with Swansea. One is firmly placed on the west coast of Tasmania, namely Strahan, and Swansea is firmly placed on the east coast of Tasmania.

Senator Fifield —Very convenient.

Senator ABETZ —A very helpful guide for consumers, Senator Fifield. You would have to have driven for about four or five hours and the $5 you might have been able to save on your grocery bill would have been more than spent on increasing your carbon footprint and on petrol. Talking about the carbon footprint, I am sure the Prime Minister is now breathing a very heavy sigh of relief that the Senate did not pass the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, because it would have caused so much damage to the Australian economy and in fact to the world environment. We all know why I say the world environment: because there would have been carbon leakage to other countries courtesy of that badly thought-out proposal.

So what we have got is a government drowning in its self-made sea of incompetency but still telling the Senate in a most arrogant manner to get out of the way. The arrogance of Mr Rudd and Labor can be likened to a drunk going up a one-way street the wrong way and saying to all the traffic coming the other way, ‘Get out of my way, get out of my way,’ and then, when finally crashing to a halt, blaming the law-abiding drivers. Let us have a look at the facts about the Senate’s role. In all of Mr Rudd’s lifetime, the Senate has never sat for lesser periods than it has during the Rudd government.

Senator Brandis —Neither has the parliament.

Senator ABETZ —Let us have a look at the trifecta of promises, Senator Brandis, just made in relation to the parliament. Remember when Mr Rudd won? The first promise was, ‘We will sit the parliament before Christmas, because we’re rolling up our sleeves.’ Did that ever happen? No—broken promise. He then said he would sit on Fridays. Did that happen? No—another broken promise. Then he said he would sit the parliament and make it work harder. Did that happen? No. They have deliberately constricted the number of weeks that the Senate sits to avoid scrutiny. But, if they had had the scrutiny that they so desperately seek to avoid, they would not have to send hapless backbenchers in here in this debate to try to justify the pink batt debacle.

So what we have here is the fact that the Rudd Labor government has presided over the lowest number of Senate sitting days in a non-election year since 1952. That is in the totality of Mr Rudd’s life and more. The Senate is sitting a full week less each year than it did under the Howard government. And do you remember the Labor Party complaining about how the coalition was allegedly reducing the role of the Senate in the Australian parliament? Well, if we were bad, what does an extra week or a week less mean? What it means is that Mr Rudd, as he did with so many other things, made the big statement—the grand statement and the grand promise—and then, of course, was unable to deliver.

This is the arrogant government—this ‘say anything’ government—that says to us in the Senate, ‘Get out of the way.’ But it was this government which was left with a very, very rich legacy. This was a government that was left with the coffers overflowing and Christmas Island empty. In three short—or, indeed, long—years, Labor, through all its cleverness, its ‘programmatic specificity’ and its crafty policy expertise, has been able to turn around the overflowing coffers and the empty Christmas Island to empty coffers and an overflowing Christmas Island because of its incompetency and its refusal to listen to the coalition in the Senate.

Every other area of government endeavour—between the coffers, Treasury and immigration and border protection—that Mr Rudd and Labor have touched has turned to disaster. Indeed, they seem to have the opposite of the Midas touch: everything they touch, be it Fuelwatch, GROCERYchoice, border protection, pink batts or solar panels—and the list goes on—does not turn to gold; it turns to dust. It is an absolutely terrible reflection. Yet they continue with this arrogance: ‘Get out of our way. We know what we’re doing. The fact that we’re going up a one-way street the wrong way is beside the point. Give us our head. We know. We have a vision for the future.’

I never thought that I would be placed in a position where I would say in this place that the Whitlam government was not the worst government this nation has ever seen. I have said it a number of times previously, but I must say that, on reflection, one thing that Mr Rudd can claim No. 1 first place on is being the worst government that this country has ever had. To outdo the Whitlam government, I must say, requires more than just ‘programmatic specificity’: what it requires is an arrogance and an incompetence unparalleled in our nation’s history.

That is why it is so important that our founding fathers saw and thought about the importance of a house of review, a place where legislation could be considered in detail. Indeed, today in the Australian we had an article saying that paid parental leave was being deliberately delayed in the Senate by the coalition.

Senator Fifield —What rubbish!

Senator ABETZ —Absolute rubbish, Senator Fifield; you are right. Why? Because the government were forced to bring their legislation not only to the other place but to the Senate as well, they themselves got mugged by the reality that they had to move amendments to their own legislation. But, deceptively, the Labor spin doctors go to the press gallery and tell them it is all the coalition’s fault. They do not say: ‘By the way, we introduced amendments without warning to the coalition, and do you know what the irresponsible coalition did, especially that irresponsible Senator Fifield, who had carriage of the matter on behalf of the coalition? He was so irresponsible as to say, “I actually want to read the amendments before I ask my colleagues to vote for them; I want to consider the impact of these amendments on the whole legislative scheme.”’ Did the Labor spin doctors say that? Of course they did not. This is yet another example of this government that will say anything, irrespective of its robustness. So what we have is a very important role that this house, the Senate, plays in Australian democracy, where the Labor government itself took the opportunity of review of this legislation to amend its own legislation but then, when it was delayed because of that, blamed the coalition.

Senator Fifield —Not on!

Senator ABETZ —Senator Fifield, you are right: it is not on. That is why we as a coalition have moved this motion today: that the Senate take note of the unprincipled attacks—because they are unprincipled. When you sit the Senate for the shortest time in over half a century and then demand that it hurry up, it is tantamount to deception of the Australian people.

The government simply seem to have no restriction on who or what to blame in relation to their failures, and I think that, after all these years of listening to Mr Rudd, the Australian people will not accept this nonsense that is now being peddled by Labor in relation to the Senate somehow being obstructionist. The Senate has a role—and a vital role. Let us not forget that up until just a few decades ago—not that long ago—the Labor Party still had in their platform the desire to abolish the Senate. They knew it was politically unsaleable and unpalatable to the Australian people, so they said, ‘Yes, we’ve got rid of that from our platform’. But everything else about their actions in this place tells us that, if they could have their way, they would abolish the Senate. They do not want us to examine legislation.

Indeed, this morning, on the airwaves, Mr Albanese was saying that the Senate was trying to scrutinise the legislation too much. Oh, that Labor themselves had scrutinised the pink batts debacle! Four more Australians would be alive, one person would not have severe deformities as a result of injuries and 174 house fires would not have occurred. That is the legacy of not scrutinising programs properly, trying to bypass the Senate and the proper way of doing things. If the Labor Party had considered the impact of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme more carefully, they would have realised what a bad scheme it was. And it was courtesy of further review in this place that a lot of the faults became exposed.

Senator Pratt interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —And—and I hear a Labor senator interjecting—if it is still the greatest moral challenge of our time, take the parliament to a double dissolution on it.

Of course, what this shows us again is that the Labor Party will say and do anything to win votes. In 2007 the CPRS was the greatest moral challenge of our time, but when focus groups started telling them that the Australian people did not believe it, the greatest moral challenge of our time was discarded like a used tissue by the Labor Party. Where is the morality in that? Where is the integrity in that? There is nil—absolutely none. We in the coalition said that there were problems and it would make good sense to wait until there was international agreement. That was such a morally bankrupt position to hold before Copenhagen, yet now all of a sudden it makes very good sense to have this position until not only after Copenhagen and the next election but the one after that as well. We will not be getting a scheme now under Labor until 2013.

Senator Brandis —Where is your climate change policy? Come on!

Senator ABETZ —That is a very good interjection from Senator Brandis. We have a direct plan on climate change. Labor have no plan. But that is what happens when you use the capacity of Senate committees to explore and examine issues—things come to light. And Labor have been saying, day after day, this week that they do not want that sort of scrutiny.

Labor would have taken this country down the path of a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme costing thousands of Australian jobs and, indeed, having a worse outcome for the world in relation to pollution. This is exactly the same attitude that they took in relation to the resource profits tax, the RSPT. Who did they consult on that? The RSPT was in fact the brainchild of the RSGT: Rudd, Swan, Gillard and Tanner. They did not even ask Mr Ferguson, the Minister for Resources and Energy, about it. And we know what he thinks about this, because he has been busily leaking and backgrounding to say, ‘Don’t blame me. I knew nothing about this.’ Nor did Senator Hutchins, Parliamentary Secretary Gary Gray and others. That is what happens, I say to the Labor Party, when you do not consult.

The Labor Party still have the audacity—with the experiences of the pink batts, the green loans with solar panels, Fuelwatch and Grocery Choice; a list as long as your arm of their own experiences in 2½ years, making them the most incompetent government in Australian history—to this week still be saying to the Australian people, ‘This is such a good government that we do not need the scrutiny of the Senate in relation to our legislation.’ I say to the Australian people: we in the coalition believe in the role of the Senate. It is a vital role and it is a vital part of our democratic process. The Senate saved Australia from the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. A number of years ago, it saved Australia from Labor’s Australia Card, if you remember. That was because these things were scrutinised. We believe in the role of the Senate and oppose the Prime Minister’s demeaning of the Senate. (Time expired)

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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