Transcript - Senate Chamber - 14 March 2012

What a pitiful contribution we have just witnessed from the Leader of the Australian Greens. He spoke about anything and everything but why he and the Australian Greens are going to contribute to this ruthless guillotining of 16 pieces of legislation. Senator Brown can talk and talk and talk as much as he likes, but he used all of his time without once seeking to justify why the democratic process of this chamber should be curtailed; why 16 bills should be guillotined and why some of those bills should be dealt with without a single word of debate being spoken. This is because, let us make no mistake, some of these bills will only have 10 minutes allocated to them.

By supporting this guillotine Senator Brown is adopting the same Keating-esque arrogance of the Manager of Government Business in this place by saying, 'I am Senator Brown. I am Leader of the Greens. I will speak on certain issues that every other single private Senator in this place will be denied the opportunity to because I, Senator Bob Brown, know best.'

That is the arrogance, and that is what is implicit in what the Leader of the Australian Greens is saying. This Green-Labor alliance is denying the rightful role of this Senate.

We were accused earlier in this debate that we were wasting the Senate's time by wanting to refer the private health insurance issue to a Senate committee. One of the reasons we do is that somebody said, in a letter to the editor of Senator Bob Brown's own home newspaper, 'I grow tired of saying this. Labor is committed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.'

Now, Senator Brown might not know who wrote that, nor might those opposite so I will give them a hint: it was the same person who said that they would not knife off the then existing Prime Minister. And if you do not know at this stage, I will give you another hint. It was the same person who promised the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. Yes, it was none other than Ms Gillard.

So, given that this was Labor policy, something that she grew tired of saying to the Australian people, then I think it is appropriate for the Senate to ask, 'Why is it that there has been this policy change?'

We know why there has been this policy change: it is the politics of envy, and we have now a convergence between the Left of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens.

The sad thing is that you cannot put a cigarette paper between the two of them. They are in lockstep, ideologically. They are back in that time warp of socialism and that time warp of envy—the politics of envy. We heard it spewing from Senator Brown's mouth during this debate, that some people allegedly want to look after 'the wealthy'.

Do you know what this place ought to do? In fact, we ought to celebrate the wealthy. They are the people who actually pay the taxes of this nation. They are the people, usually, who have worked exceptionally hard and achieved. But it is this politics of envy, this desire to cut down the tall poppy that if it is allowed to take hold in this country will deprive this country of an ongoing wealthy future.

The fundamental difference between the Green-Labor Alliance and the Coalition is this: we celebrate people's wealth. We celebrate if somebody gets on and makes a dollar. The Labor Party and the Greens would cut them down.

We want more people to be wealthy in this country; we want everybody to achieve. We want everybody to succeed. Clearly, Labor says that equality is achieved by bringing everybody to the lowest common denominator.

And in the private health insurance debate, let us make no mistake—and I outlined this yesterday—it is not the apprentice, as is so falsely asserted, that subsidises the so-called millionaires' private health insurance rebate, because that so-called millionaire pays over $10,000 per annum in the Medicare levy. That is just forgotten, airbrushed out of the argument, hoping that the Australian people will not wake up.

Now, this ultimately will cost the public hospital system. There is no doubt that as private health insurance shrinks as a result of the proposed measure we will have an extra 800,000 people in public hospital beds. How is the current public hospital system, that is already so overworked, going to cope? How is it going to cope?

Let me turn to the inquiry that we as Senators on the Coalition side wanted in relation to the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The Law Council of Australia has come out in a most unprecedented way, condemning Labor-Green amendments moved at the very last minute in the House of Representatives, saying that they undermine the rule of law. Talk about protecting the wealthy!

In fact, what the Labor-Green amendments will do is say that if you can come to a deal with somebody that you have offended—somebody against whom you have broken the law—that if you can pay them off you will not be prosecuted.

It would be akin to somebody running a red traffic light, causing an accident and then paying off the person into whom they ran—slinging them some extra money—and, as a result of that, denying the police the opportunity to charge that person with running a red traffic light.

Bribery, pay-offs and sweetheart deals will become the order of the day yet again on building and construction sites around Australia.

The Law Council has come out condemning this move, quite rightly so, in a very principled way.

The Greens and the Labor Party do not want that ventilated. They do not want that to be heard at a Senate Committee. They do not want the Law Council of Australia to be allowed to put a submission to the Senate as to why this is such a fundamental breach of all the principles of law that we have upheld in this country for such a very long time.

Legislation is part and parcel of this Senate's role. It is also part and parcel of this Senate's role to air other issues, and the standing orders provide for that.

Might I interrupt my own flow in this speech to observe the Pecksniffian attitude of Senator Brown yet again.

Remember how only five minutes ago he condemned Senator Chris Back for walking out of the chamber during a debate? Guess what? Senator Brown has just walked out of the chamber and now we have flushed him back into the chamber. We have flushed him back into the chamber because we have just exposed the hypocrisy of that criticism.

Why do we as a Coalition air other issues? Of course we, as a responsible Coalition in this place, will air in matters of public interest and matters of public importance the government's wholesale breach of trust and faith with the Australian people in introducing a carbon tax.

The Labor Party and the Greens are saying that we should not be raising the dishonesty of their campaign or the dishonesty of the Prime Minister in saying there will be no Carbon Tax; we should not use the forums of the Senate to expose that deceit.

We are told that we should not use the forums of this place to expose their weak border protection—overnight another 37 people arrived at huge cost to the Australian people—and a border protection budget that has now blown out by over $1 billion. That is one thousand million dollars that the Australian people will have to pay in circumstances where this incompetent Government is borrowing $100 million every single day just to keep the country ticking over. But Labor and the Greens say the Coalition should not expose this waste; the Opposition should not expose the profligacy of this Government. Well, I am sorry, but that is our role and, what is more, we will continue to pursue those issues.

The Greens and Labor Alliance says we should not be talking about pink batts and exposing the horrid waste that was, not to mention the loss of lives. Labor and the Greens say the Coalition should not mention that. Nor should we mention the solar panels debacle, the Green Loans debacle, the live exports debacle. The list goes on and on and on. Labor and the Greens would assert that that is a waste of the Senate's time. It is not.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—

Senator ABETZ:  Senator Collins unwittingly interjects that it is a waste of time.

Senator Jacinta Collins:  It is tedious repetition.

Senator ABETZ:  Even more she says, 'It is tedious repetition.' The Australian people heard repeated time and time again before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a Labor government—

Senator Edwards interjecting—

Senator ABETZ:  and that they would not touch the private health rebate, as Senator Edwards rightly interposes. This is a government that has lost the trust of the Australian people, a Prime Minister that has lost the trust of the Australian people.

Do not take my word for it: Labor leadership aspirant Mr Rudd, the Member for Griffith, is on public record as saying that the Prime Minister has lost the trust of the Australian people.

I wonder why when Labor looks down the barrel of the TV camera for the evening news and says: 'There will be no Carbon Tax. We won't muck around with the definition of marriage. We won't muck around with the private health insurance rebate.' The list goes on.

When the public sees that Government and that Prime Minister break each and every one of those solemn promises, Senator Brown—the absent Senator Brown, missing-in-action Senator Brown—and Senator Collins say the Coalition should simply take it on the chin, not be critical of the government and simply pass the legislation.

There are big issues facing this country. We will air them and use every forum available to us in this place to ensure that these issues are ventilated on behalf of the Australian people. The Carbon Tax should be put to an election.

Why were we promised no Carbon Tax? Why were we promised no fiddling with the health insurance rebate? Why were we promised no change to the definition of marriage? Because Labor and the Greens knew what would happen at the 2010 election.

After the 2010 election we were told there was a new paradigm which somehow allowed breaches of promise. We as a coalition will never sign up to the suggestion that a new paradigm is one that allows deceit to rule, that allows broken promises to be undertaken as some type of virtue. We will not accept that as a coalition and we will continue to fight for honesty and integrity in Australian public life when it comes to these sorts of fundamental issues—issues that were put to the Australian people before an election and then so brazenly broken afterwards.

In this new paradigm that we were promised, the Independents—so-called—from New England and Lyne, in particular, promised that the forms of the Parliament would not be abused. Well, where are they today? Where were they at the end of last year when 19 bills were guillotined through—because they had to be rushed through—and then, in one of the most brazen and cynical manoeuvres ever, Labor and the Greens combined to cut the sitting period short by three days? Three scheduled days of Senate sitting were cut off the Parliamentary timetable and they simply guillotined legislation through without debate. Excuse me, but I could not for the life of me hear the member for New England or the member for Lyne expressing their concern that this was a fundamental breach of the new paradigm, where every individual member of parliament would be allowed to speak.

It is now so very, very obvious that the Australian Labor Party in this place will allow the Greens to talk ad nauseam on the radioactive waste disposal site in the Northern Territory. That was spoken about ad nauseam—no need to guillotine the Greens. As I looked through this list of bills that are going to be guillotined—and I looked and I looked—I thought, 'Where is the Stronger Futures bill on this list?' Oh, I forgot; the Greens are opposed to it, so we cannot guillotine that one. We cannot guillotine that one because the Greens want to use their time on that.

What we are seeing yet again is the double standard being applied, especially by the Australian Greens. The forms of the Senate can be used and time can be used in this place for the Greens to ventilate their concerns about legislation and Labor will be complicit in that. Senator Fifield made the point that Senator Xenophon will be denied his opportunity in this sitting fortnight to make a contribution that was rightfully his. An Independent senator, a one-man band, who should be entitled to use the forms of this Senate as well, will be denied by this ruthless exercise of numbers by the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party.

We as a Coalition believe that issues such as private health insurance, the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the mining tax all need to be ventilated—and ventilated fully. But we also believe very strongly that we should be ventilating issues such as the Australian Research Council, for example.

Remember the time when Labor used to tell us how important research was—that this was the future of Australia; that we should celebrate research? Well, we have an Australian Research Council amendment Bill and Labor are so committed to this that they are going to give us 15 minutes to debate it—15 minutes. One second reading contribution is 20 minutes. So not even one Senator will be able to make a speech in the second reading debate in relation to just that one bill. And of course the list goes on.

Let us be very clear on this. This is arrogance writ large by the Green-Labor Alliance using their numbers in one of the most arrogant displays I have witnessed in my 18 years in this place.

Senator Collins suggested to us that, when it comes to the end of a session, one should try to time manage. As Senator Fifield so eloquently put it, we are just nine days into the sitting year and we are applying the guillotine in this most ruthless and unprincipled manner.

The Australian people can see once and for all today that last year's guillotining of 19 bills and the cutting short of the parliamentary timetable by the Green-Labor alliance was not simply an aberration. That sort of behaviour has now become core business and indicative of their approach to this place and the parliamentary forum. Their arrogance shows no end. We as a coalition will seek to end it at the next election.

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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