Something extraordinary happened in Australia’s parliament yesterday – the nation’s decision makers came back to work after a week off and the Senate had nothing to do at the start of its working week.
Two bills scheduled for debate were held up in the House of Representatives, which meant that when Senate debate began at 10am on Monday, with government business due to be discussed up until 2pm, 12 government senators, including defence minister Marise Payne, plus a number of backbenchers, were forced to give 20-minute speeches to fill in the four hours.
Of the dozen, senator Payne made best use of the time to discuss defence issues
While communications minister Mitch Fifield, the manager of government business in the Senate, blamed Labor for what had happened, backbenchers given the chance to be part of national debate discussed their love of the Last Night of the Proms music, chia seeds, favourite places in Western Australia, flags and flagpoles, and one backbencher even went against her own government’s policy to argue that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should be repealed.
Officially, the senate was responding to the governor-general’s speech a fortnight ago at the opening of the 45th parliament with an address-in-reply.
For posterity, from the proof of the Senate Hansard yesterday, here is what they said. All 34,000 words over four hours:
Senator SMITH (Western Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (10:04): I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the address-in-reply, which plays such an important part in affirming our longstanding parliamentary traditions in this country. This address-in-reply debate comes about because the Governor-General, as the representative of Her Majesty the Queen, comes to this Senate chamber and officially opens parliament after each election. During those formalities we are joined by our colleagues from the other chamber and all of us, no matter what our political colour, join together in this chamber and hear the Governor-General speak. That in itself is a powerful symbol of the Crown being above partisan politics. Moreover, it is a powerful way to acknowledge the traditions upon which our parliamentary democracy rests. The office of Governor-General holds a sacred place at the heart of our democratic system. The Governor-General in Australia is a symbol of the continuity and permanence of the Crown, and I sincerely hope that that forever remains the case.
May I also say what a privilege it is to have been returned as a senator for Western Australia. The federal election held on 2 July this year was the first occasion on which my own name was on the ballot paper. I came to this place first in May 2012 to fill the vacancy left by the passing of my predecessor, Senator Judith Adams. It is worth noting that no matter where I travel across regional Western Australia people still talk in the most glowing and gracious of terms about the contribution Senator Adams made in her time here in the Australian Senate, representing the hopes and aspirations of regional Western Australians.
So as I begin my first term as a senator elected in my own right I would like to thank the people of Western Australia for the faith and trust they have placed in me. I would also like to thank the members of the Western Australian Liberal Party for their continued support and trust. I am a proud Liberal, and I am acutely conscious that I could not do this job without the support of my own political party. I will strive at all times to defend those values that bind Western Australians together: the pursuit of lower taxes, creating job opportunities for others; a strong commitment to federalism; and a belief that, to the fullest extent possible, Western Australians should make their own decisions about what is best for their state and for their futures.
I remain optimistic that what once seemed to be inevitable drift towards centralism can be resisted. That is why defending the integrity of our Constitution and of our parliamentary institutions is of the utmost importance to me. Of course, these are not just Liberal values. I believe they are Western Australian values, and I believe that is why the 2016 federal election campaign again saw such strong levels of support for the Liberal Party in my home state. There was a lot of procrastination about Western Australia in the lead-up to the federal election. Much of this, it has to be said, emanated from commentators on the east coast, some of whom were very bolshie in their predictions of the electoral outcomes in July—almost as bolshie as senior figures in the Labor Party. We kept hearing in Western Australia about the Labor Party briefing that they were on track to gain four or five seats in Western Australia at the election. We were told that there would likely be a statewide swing against the Liberal Party in the order of eight to nine per cent. We even had Senator Dastyari riding shotgun across the Nullarbor in Bill Shorten’s campaign bus to lend his star power to the Labor campaign in the seat of Swan.
Well, I am happy to report that none of it came to pass, not even closely. Once again, the WA Liberal Party proved that it is the best grassroots campaigning outfit in the country. This election was one fought in challenging circumstances for the WA Liberal Party, unlike those in which recent campaigns have occurred. In 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013 we were aware that a swing to the Liberal Party was occurring across Western Australia. In politics, historically high levels of support will last only for so long, and WA Liberals knew that this time we were fighting to maintain our ground. Our campaigning team in WA did not disappoint. The national swing against the Liberal Party on primary votes on 2 July was just 3.3 per cent. In Western Australia the swing against the Liberal Party was recorded at 1.6 per cent—about half the rate of the national swing. Western Australia again returned the highest Liberal primary vote share in the nation, with a statewide primary vote of 45.7 per cent. In the end, the Labor Party was able to defeat only one incumbent Liberal MP, in the seat of Cowan. In that instance, the count went right down to the wire, and Luke Simpkins was very much in the hunt for a couple of weeks after polling day as postal votes were counted.
Given the circumstances we faced, this is a remarkably strong result and a tribute to the focused campaigning efforts of Western Australian Liberals and our supporters across the state. Special congratulations are due to our new state director, Andrew Cox, who is fighting his first campaign in that role, having succeeded our former state director, Ben Morton, who is now with us in this building as the member for Tangney. In very challenging circumstances, Andrew Cox proved that he was a very worthy successor to Mr Morton and has set the gold standard for state directors in Western Australia. The WA Liberal Party is fortunate to have such a consummate professional leading our campaign efforts.
I want to focus on two aspects of the WA election result in particular. The first is in the seat of Perth, for which I was patron senator, along with my Senate colleague Senator Cormann, the Minister for Finance. For the first time since 1980, the Liberal Party has beaten Labor on primary votes in the seat of Perth, with our first-preference tally around four per cent higher than that of the Australian Labor Party. In an election where the overall national and statewide swings were to the Labor Party, this is a significant result. For the Liberal Party to achieved a swing on primary votes is a momentous and historical occasion, and it was good to be part of the campaigning with the former federal member for Perth, Mr Ross McLean.
This did not occur through accident or by chance. The strong result for the Liberal Party is a result of having preselected an outstanding candidate in Jeremy Quinn and having run a strong, focused and consistent campaign over the eight weeks leading to polling day. Our local campaign was fortunate to have had the support of key ministers in the Turnbull government, several of whom visited the electorate during the campaign. I was particularly pleased that the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, could find time in his busy campaign schedule in Western Australia to meet personally with Jeremy Quinn to hear about projects that were important to the electors of Perth. Indeed, I am reminded that the Minister for Communications, my colleague Senator Fifield, came to the campaign on a number of occasions to lend his enthusiastic support, which no doubt was among the winning ingredients.
The Perth campaign’s strong grassroots approach to campaigning clearly wrong-footed our Labor opponents, and a recurring theme across the federal electorate of Perth during that long election campaign was how ordinary electors in Perth had felt neglected, first by Stephen Smith and subsequently by Alannah MacTiernan. Mr Tim Hammond does have a very strong job ahead of him, if he is to be a successful member for the federal electorate of Perth.
It is telling that at the pre-poll centre in the days leading up to the election Labor was forced to deploy Alannah MacTiernan, forced to deploy the former member Stephen Smith and the state Labor leader, Mark McGowan, in the Perth electorate to shore up Labor’s candidates and Labor’s failing support. Bear in mind that this is the party that at the start of the campaign had Mark McGowan in Swan and at the end of the campaign had Mark McGowan in Perth. I think that says much about the strength of the WA Liberal Party’s efforts across the federal electorate of Perth.
As a party, our challenge now is to continue the work in the Perth electorate so that the gains made in this campaign become the foundation for further success next time. Above all, the Liberal Party in Western Australia owes enormous debt to Jeremy Quinn and his family and his team of supporters. Jeremy Quinn is one of the most outstanding candidates we have had in our party for a long time.
But, moving beyond the federal electorate of Perth, I think it is also worth looking at what occurred across regional Western Australia, especially in the federal electorates of Durack and O’Connor. The election campaign in regional WA was characterised by the WA Nationals making big promises but failing to back them up with any specific details of exactly how they would go about getting a better deal for regional Western Australians in Canberra. For the second federal election in a row, the WA Nationals’ hollow and opportunistic approach has been soundly rejected by voters across regional WA. It is a tribute to the effective representation being provided by both Rick Wilson, the member for O’Connor, and Melissa Price, the member for Durack, that both of them achieved significant increases in their primary votes on election day, exposing the hollowness of the WA Nationals’ claims about regional WA being ignored by the Liberal Party. Moreover, the WA Nationals’ bizarre decision to preselect a serial Greens candidate to head its Senate ticket indeed backfired. The WA Nationals’ Senate vote has fallen significantly and it is now at its lowest level in six years. As we prepare for next year’s WA state election the very clear message here is that the WA Nationals can no longer take regional Western Australians for granted. The Liberal Party can absolutely take ground from the WA Nationals by running focused local campaigns that properly address the concerns of regional communities. And the way we do that is by demonstrating that, while other political parties talk, the Liberals can actually deliver.
In that connection I would like to say a few words about some of the commentary that has abounded over the past few days regarding the Turnbull government. The latest ‘gotcha’ game in politics, it seems, is to ask people to name the Turnbull government’s achievements, as it is just 12 months this week since the Prime Minister came to the leadership of the Liberal Party. The thing is, this is not new. I will recall the same sorts of games being played after Mr Abbott had been in office, and Labor and the Greens had spent that entire time blocking the government’s agenda in this chamber. I recall the same thing being said about Julia Gillard a year after she took over as Prime Minister. The only thing people could point to was having lost Labor’s parliamentary majority and having introduced a carbon tax that she swore she would not introduce. I recall the same complaint about Kevin Rudd—that aside from the 2020 Summit meeting, and having spent a lot of money, there was not much to show for his first year in office.
I think it is worth sharing with the Senate a couple of other observations I found in preparing for this contribution over the weekend: ‘There is more to political honesty than living up to a raft of focus group driven election promises. It includes following up on election promises to repair the key structural weaknesses in Canberra’s economic management, explaining to voters along the way the longer-term costs of not doing so.’ And then there is this quote: ‘The federal government is a far cry from what many of its supporters expected. The business community, for example, complains about the slow pace of reform.’
The first of those quotes is from TheAustralian Financial Review of 3 March 1997, and the second is from the NT News—I do not often quote the NT Newsin this place, but on this occasion I will—of 1 March 1997. Both are about the Howard government, which was marking its first year in office. You are beginning to sense the pattern I am trying to paint. It seems that using the first anniversary of a government to goad it about its lack of achievement has become a national sport. That is not a complaint; it is just how things are. But it does not make the charge accurate.
Indeed, the Turnbull government does have some significant achievements. If you are a Western Australian, the Prime Minister’s announcement that this government is going to implement a floor below which no state or territory’s level of GST can fall is significant, is an achievement. No other Prime Minister has done it previously. If you are a South Australian worker, this government’s investment in your state in steel, in defence industries, which are also important to Western Australian workers, is significant. It is an achievement. If you own and operate a small business in our country, the government’s changes in relation to section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act are significant, are welcome, are an achievement. We know that this reform will help Australian businesses to flourish, enable new and innovative firms to get started and help new technologies to be introduced, and it will ensure that consumers can receive the best-quality products and services at the lowest price.
In November last year the government announced its response to the competition policy review, known as the Harper review. The government’s response set out a competition agenda that will boost innovation, open up new markets and ultimately lead to increased choice and better services for consumers. Better prices for consumers, more choice, more growth opportunities for small businesses: these are not minor considerations. And the government is continuing to tackle the task of budget repair—something on which those opposite remain spectacularly unhelpful. But reality is starting to catch up with them. The Australian people are beginning to accept that this task cannot be delayed any longer, and the attempts by the Leader of the Opposition at misdirection—banging on about banks and the evil of the big end of town—are ringing more hollow than ever.
So, as we reflect this week on the anniversary of Mr Turnbull’s ascension to the leader of the Liberal Party and to the Prime Minister of this country, I think it is important to be circumspect when discussing success so far and achievements to date. It is true that in this country at the moment it is very hard to please everybody all the time. But the government has been able to meet the needs, challenges and demands of particular parts of the Australian economy. As I said, support for section 46 reforms, supported by the small business community, as well as GST distribution reform and the establishment of the principle of a floor in the GST distribution arrangements, are very welcome initiatives—achievements—that are important to the Western Australian community, and support for Australia’s defence industries and for workers in those industries in South Australia is very important for South Australians.
When you scratch the surface, there are indeed reasons to be positive about what the Turnbull government has been able to achieve thus far, in the first 12 months of his tenure. It is important to note too that in previous governments, under previous prime ministers, it has been commonplace—it has become a national sport—to try to decry those achievements over just one 12-month period. We must remember that governing is difficult. But if we are to reflect on what achievements might be possible, on what we might be able to foresee into the future, then this Senate chamber will have a very important role to play in making sure that it does its bit, primarily on the issue of budget repair. As Glenn Stevens remarked as he came to the end of his tenure as Governor of the Reserve Bank, and as Mr Costello, the former Treasurer, has remarked, the challenge facing this country is real. The challenge facing this country is stark, and it is very important that we as a Senate chamber put our mind to finding the consensus that is going to move this country forward so that we are able to tackle the task of budget repair and to repair the financial position of this country—not for ourselves, and perhaps not even for our children, but for their children—and the consensus that this country cannot continue to afford the largesse that it has enjoyed over such a long period of time, that the challenge of fiscal repair is stark, that the challenge of fiscal repair is real.
Even if we do not want to wake up to that claim in this Senate chamber, we cannot ignore the fact that out there in the community more and more people—whether they be in the small business community, whether they be commentators, whether they be the Governor of the Reserve Bank or the former Treasurer—are now coming to the conclusion that fiscal repair for this nation is demanded. And that is a responsibility that we have in this Senate chamber: that in 12 months time, when we come to reflect on the success or otherwise of the Turnbull government, part of that responsibility, part of that success, could be attributed to an opportunity in this Senate chamber to find consensus. It has been done before. It is worth noting that the success that is often remarked in relation to Paul Keating and Bob Hawke was a success to which John Howard, as shadow Treasurer, contributed, putting the opportunity of partisanship aside to support some of the important reform initiatives that both Mr Hawke and Mr Keating were able to deliver that have ensured that our country has continued to enjoy high levels of prosperity over the past 20 or so years. But those high levels of prosperity cannot be taken for granted. The onus is on all of us to do what we can— (Time expired)
Senator McGRATH (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) (10:24): It is an honour to be re-elected as a senator for Queensland and to represent the people of Queensland in this august chamber. I am also humbled to have been reappointed by the Prime Minister as his parliamentary secretary, or assistant minister. It is an absolute privilege to be part of the returned Turnbull-Joyce government—the coalition government—the only team in this place with a plan to provide jobs and growth and a secure future for Australian families.
But before talking about what happened during the election campaign, I want to touch on something that is very close to my heart, and that is the national flag of Australia—our flag. On 3 September it was National Flag Day, and that was a day to celebrate the anniversary of our Australian national flag. For the past 115 years our flag has accompanied Australia on its journey of nationhood, a symbol of our historical ties and a symbol of our achievements. On 3 September in 1901, at approximately 2.30 in the afternoon, a new Australian flag, featuring stars and crosses, was hoisted for the first time above the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, which was the site of our first federal parliament. Prime Minister Edmund Barton announced it as the winning design of a competition which attracted more than 30,000 entries worldwide. Four Australians and one New Zealander were pronounced joint winners of the competition. One was a well-known female artist from Perth, one a Melbourne schoolboy of just 14, another an 18-year-old optician’s apprentice, one an architect and another a first officer with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand.
They were from different backgrounds and had different skills, yet those different perspectives led them all to a nearly identical design combining the Southern Cross and the Union Jack. Even before this competition, Australians had begun to raise unofficial flags, often featuring the Southern Cross in place of the Union Jack. They wanted a flag that would represent them and their fledgling nation, a flag that would unite all Australians. Today our flag is part of our identity as a nation. We are a country with a diverse population, yet the flag connects us all. We express pride in our country with it. Wherever it is flown, it signifies to others where we live in the great land under the Southern Cross.
Last night I was watching Last Night of the Proms, which is one of my favourite TV programs every year. It is a fantastic music spectacle.
Senator Fifield: There’s no surprise there!
Senator McGRATH: There is no surprise there. It was a fantastic spectacle. And it was great to see that in this huge mass of people in the Royal Albert Hall you could see the Australian flag flying proudly—not just once, not twice, but numerous times you would see the Australian flag being hoisted aloft by Australians enjoying the best of British music that is around.
We raise the flag in triumph at sporting events, we wear it on T-shirts and we paint it on our faces to let the world know who we are cheering for. With the Olympics having only recently wrapped up in Brazil, the first time an Australian flag flew at an Olympics was at the St Louis games in the USA in 1904. In that year the Australian team had a whopping total of one athlete! The first time it was raised to celebrate an Olympics medal win was at the London games in 1908, for our Rugby team. Our flag is displayed as a mark of respect and remembrance for our service men and women who have served under it; 1914 was the year the new Australian flag was first flown in an act of war, when it flew over the army fort at Queenscliff, Victoria, when the fort opened fire to prevent a German steamer from leaving port. One flag fact which is particularly close to me, as my great-uncle was a prisoner of war in Singapore during World War II, is that our flag was the first flag of freedom to fly over liberated Singapore in 1945. That particular flag was one secretly made by prisoners of war in a prison camp.
The Australian flag is our foremost national symbol, a symbol of a peaceful, democratic and just country. It has been a constant while our society, our nation and our world has undergone monumental change. So, not just on National Flag Day, which is 3 September, but on all days I would urge all Australians to fly the flag, to be proud of the flag for what it represents for all of us Australians.
I now want to touch upon the election campaign, and I am going to focus particularly on Queensland. I am a Queenslander first and an Australian second, and I am very proud to say that, in Queensland, the coalition—or the Liberal National Party; we are one party in Queensland—received 54 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, a very strong endorsement in Queensland of the plans and the policies of the coalition government. It was a very strong endorsement of the plans and policies of Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce to build a strong Australia, focusing on jobs and growth. At the election, we returned 21 members out of 30 in the House of Representatives, a very, very good result. Sadly, two members who are good friends of mine were not returned: Wyatt Roy and Ewen Jones. They are very different people, but both were united in their desire for a strong Queensland and united in their desire to ensure that their areas, areas that in many aspects have been doing it tough, received the eye of Canberra.
I want to talk about Wyatt. Wyatt, when he was first selected and then elected as the member for Longman back in 2010, was the youngest member ever to enter either chamber, the Senate or the House of Representatives. It is fair to say that many people held Wyatt’s youth against him, particularly those from the left of politics, who have quite a patronising approach to youth. Those on the left of politics think that young people are drawn to so-called progressive politics because that is what the young always want to achieve. But Wyatt, I suppose, disappointed the left in that he put forward the idea that young people were attracted to and could deliver on the notions of a smaller government, of lower taxes and of greater freedom. In his six years as the member for Longman, Wyatt delivered massively for the electorate. He delivered for the suburbs of Caboolture and Morayfield. He delivered for Bribie Island. He delivered for Woodford. He is someone whose edifice will be felt by generations to come. The work that he undertook with neighbouring MPs and with the coalition government from 2013 included delivering on the D’Aguilar Highway and the Bruce Highway upgrade and the work he did when Caboolture was hit by floods about 18 months ago. Wyatt will be missed by the people of Longman. In a conversation with him the other day, he mentioned that he could come back into politics in 10 years time and would only be 37. Needless to say, I punched him! Wyatt is someone whose best days are still ahead of him. What he achieved for Longman shows what he can achieve for Australia. I wish him the best.
Ewen Jones is probably the funniest man alive. I was his campaign director—as well as Wyatt’s, actually—back in 2010. After I had a couple of meetings with Ewen, I realised he was extremely funny and I issued an edict to him as his campaign director. That was: please, stop making jokes because the left do not have a sense of humour and they will not see that you are just a funny person; they will use political correctness to attack you. The good thing is that Ewen totally ignored me and continued making jokes. I suppose a good thing and a bad thing about Ewen is that, as this larger than life, funny person, people often mistook him or failed to see that underneath Ewen’s skin is someone who strongly believes in the concepts and the power of the individual and of liberalism. He often upset his own party with his views.
What I liked about Ewen was that his ideas about liberalism did not come from a university textbook or from being involved, as I was, with Liberal students or the Young Liberals. His ideas about the individual came through the university of life. This is someone who was a single father who moved to Townsville about 20 years ago to restart life. He is someone who understands what it is like when you go to Coles or Woolies and you wonder whether your card is going to allow you to buy food that particular day. He comes from the university of hard knocks. And it was because of that that he was so particularly forthright in his views. And I think the seat of Herbert and Townsville will be the poorer for his loss. And I can say to the voters in these seats—and voters always do make the right decision; I am a strong believer in democracy—Ewen and Wyatt were strong advocates for their particular seats.
Senator Macdonald, my colleague to my right here, has been in this place since 1990. His office is in Townsville. He is the uncrowned king of the North. He has said that he has never seen Townsville receive so much support from a federal government as it has under this government that was elected in 2013. That is due to the work of Senator Macdonald. It is particularly due to the work of Ewen Jones and his forthright advocacy for Townsville and for the greater region. Whether it is the stadium, whether it is the rail line extension, whether it is the fantastic multibillion-dollar deal with Singapore that will enhance the regional economies of Townsville and Rockhampton, Ewen Jones should be very proud of the work he undertook in the six years that he was in this parliament. He is missed and, like Wyatt, I hope he does come back, sooner rather than later, because this place is a lot quieter and there is a lot less laughter in this place in Ewen’s absence.
Also in Queensland we lost Senator Lindgren who, sadly, was No. 6 on our ticket. Senator Lindgren had been here for only a short period of time. She is someone who travelled throughout the state and brought with her a perspective on Queensland that added to the senators’ team. She is a teacher by training. Neville Bonner was her great-uncle. She was our second Indigenous senator from Queensland, following in her great-uncle’s footsteps. Joanna was a strong voice for those who were less well-off. She is someone who comes from southern Brisbane, someone who understands what it is like to deal with children who come from a background that is dissimilar to that of many people who happen to live in this place at the moment. Senator Lindgren is someone who will be missed and someone who I hope will return to this place sooner rather than later.
One of the things I will touch upon is the Queensland Liberal-Nationals Senate team. The members of this team are all very different people. You could not get two more dissimilar people than Barry O’Sullivan and myself, or myself and George Brandis. We all come from different backgrounds. What is interesting about our team is that we have not been chosen by factional lords; there is no deal like that. The LNP is a particularly strong and vibrant democracy. We have 14,000 members who choose who will run on behalf of the party in its state seat, in the federal seat or in the Senate. We do not have factions. If you join our party and wait for 12 months you can vote in your local preselection. I know that in some other divisions of the Liberal Party across Australia the idea of what are called plebiscites is quite controversial, but we have that in Queensland and it works perfectly well. The party, through this democratic process, chooses people who represent all of Queensland.
I look at our team of senators. We have Ian Macdonald, who comes from Ayr, a local solicitor and former councillor elected to this place in 1990. His office is based in Townsville. All of us LNP senators in Queensland have a physical office—mine is in Nambour—but our real offices are where we happen to be that day. The LNP Senate team do a horrendous amount of travel around the state. Ian Macdonald is always travelling over North Queensland. Senator Canavan is now in the cabinet. His office is in Rockhampton and he lives in Yeppoon. He takes a very strong interest in Central Queensland. We had a particularly good result in the federal election, with Michelle Landry and Ken O’Dowd holding tough seats. Against a ferocious, unruly, disgraceful, despicable, disgusting campaign by Labor and the unions, Michelle Landry and Ken O’Dowd were able to hold those seats, and Senator Canavan certainly deserves credit for assisting them.
Senator O’Sullivan is based in Toowoomba. I call him the senator for the great west. He knows so much about Western Queensland, particularly about our farming and agricultural sector. Senator O’Sullivan speaks a language that I think is dying in Australia. I call it ‘old Australian’. He has the best turn of phrase of anyone in this chamber. I am slightly terrified of Senator O’Sullivan—please do not tell him this—because he is a former Queensland policeman and I do not really want to end up in the boot of his car! But Senator O’Sullivan is a massively strong voice for rural and regional Queensland. Senator Brandis is Leader of the Government in the Senate and, I think, the first Queenslander to hold that position for decades. An amazing intellect, he is based in Brisbane and is probably the most intelligent Attorney-General we have seen in Australia for a considerable period of time. And, of course, we have yours truly, based in Nambour, on the Sunshine Coast. The five senators we have in Queensland are all very different people and provide a very strong level of service to the people of Queensland on behalf of our party, the Liberal National Party.
The Liberal National Party is a fantastic party. I love my party. If there was a party that I had to design and it was not to be called the ‘James McGrath party’, I would design a party called the Liberal National Party. It has the best of liberalism and the best of nationalism, or of the Nationals, as such. We are a very strong, hardworking election machine. Our new president, Gary Spence, along with the vice-presidents and the other members of the state executive, all elected by the party members, have a particular viewpoint on why we exist as a political party, and that is to fight and win elections to implement our manifestos.
We can do that because we have wonderful volunteers, who humble me every time I speak to them—I get paid to do this and the volunteers in the Liberal National Party do not get paid. To those who worked on the election campaign in 2016, thank you for your support. To everybody at headquarters, led by Michael O’Dwyer, Lincoln Folo, Ben Riley, Rebecca Docherty and Angela Awabdy, thank you for your support and for what you did to return 21 out of 30 members and five senators, with the Liberal National Party receiving 54 per cent of the two-party preferred vote in Queensland.
Queensland is a strong bastion of support for Malcolm Turnbull and for Barnaby Joyce. We understand that the economy of Australia is far too important to be left in the hands of reprobates and union thugs like Bill Shorten and the other members of the Labor shadow cabinet. Australia deserves better. It has got better under Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce and will continue to grow.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Lines ): Senator McGrath, I remind you to please refer to members of the other place by their titles.
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (10:45): I would like to congratulate you, Senator Lines, on your ascension to the role of Deputy President. I am sure you will do your party and the Senate proud. We have particularly noticed the change in demeanour during question time as you put forward a bipartisan approach, which obviously our President and Deputy President need to have so that all senators within the chamber can be assured of your consistent approach in the application of the standing orders so that we can debate appropriately here.
It gives me great pleasure to rise today to give my contribution in the debate on the address-in-reply to our Governor-General’s address at the start of the 45th Parliament. And what a day that was. We had gun salutes, we had the Governor-General, we had the House of Reps coming and going, we had new senators sworn in. And how different our chamber looks as a result of the people’s choice for Senate elections this particular parliament. But it gave me great joy. It is incredibly humbling to be re-elected as part of the coalition team as the Nationals senator for the great state of Victoria, where I think it is fair to say we had a ripper result. Victoria has returned five coalition senators, which is an incredible result. We are very excited to see Senator Jane Hume get our No. 5 result and to see Ministers Fifield and Ryan returned, as well as to see Senator Paterson, who is already making such a strong contribution to the chamber and to the parliament in the time he has been here, returned. I obviously am the one National in that coalition team, and we work very cohesively across the state of Victoria to ensure that the needs and interests of not only those who live in Melbourne but those who live outside the capital city are represented in this place.
Victoria has had a strong manufacturing base in terms of its industries over its history, and it started out as a fantastic mining state, with the gold rush. But today our major industries—we are a huge exporter in agriculture, particularly fruit and horticulture from the Goulburn Valley, but we are definitely the powerhouse for the dairy industry and the export of that product to the ports and the communities around the world. It is fair to say that through the election campaign, campaigning in regional Victoria as I was, we heard quite a lot—and fairly so—from the dairy industry and their representatives about the crisis, particularly with the decision by Murray Goulburn and the subsequent decision by Fonterra not only to drop the milk price but to actually seek to claw back some of that in the forward year, which caused some significant angst and a lot of issues for our dairy farming community in the north-east and the west.
We are also a state that prides itself on delivering high-quality international education to so many young people, particularly, from our region. It is one of our greatest exports as a state, and I think it is an area that we can continue to grow in. I look forward to getting more of those young people from around the world studying at those institutions, not just in Melbourne but out into our regional capitals as well, and experiencing some of the cultural activities that are sometimes different between the urban and the rural experience in Victoria.
I think it is fair to say when we look back on the election campaign that the Nationals in Australia had a fantastic campaign right throughout the country. We were able to see all of our members returned, despite a swing away from the government during the election. Members like Michelle Landry and like Kevin Hogan, on very thin margins in their seats, showed the worth of being connected to your local community, of representing those views in this place and of having a very sharp understanding of how to translate, if you like, sometimes the macro complex conversations we have here into language and policy initiatives that everybody can understand and appreciate and see value in, and that is why they were returned. So well done to the National Party team.
We said goodbye to a couple of great Nats. Bruce Scott, the former member for Maranoa and Deputy Speaker in the other place, is no longer with us, but I am sure he and his wife, Joan, who gave so much to public life, will continue that contribution in Queensland and internationally as we go forward. We wish them all the very best.
We also had all our senators returned. Senator O’Sullivan, from Queensland, who now chairs the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, is a great advocate for issues around rural and regional Australia and is not afraid to make his opinion on any issue very fairly and squarely felt and heard. I congratulate Senator John Williams, from New South Wales, on his election to the office of Nationals whip here in the Senate. I am very excited about it because he is actually a great whip. He has that wonderful capacity to be across the detail of legislation. He is connected and communicating with us regularly so that we are where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, but he also has a great approach to pastoral care, which I think is so important for whips in this place. Obviously, there is Senator Canavan—what can I say? What a rise he has had to the cabinet. He is an absolutely worthy candidate to sit there in his new portfolio as Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, which he cares deeply about and has a great contribution to make towards. Congratulations to Matt on his re-election.
Our deputy leader, Senator Fiona Nash, has been such a trailblazer when it comes to female representation in the Senate and in the National Party. She supports both Michelle and I incredibly, as well as other women, particularly in New South Wales. She has been championing fifty-fifty representation between men and women in her home state’s organisation and I wish her all the very best with that. Her performance during the election in the regional development portfolio was fantastic. She was everywhere. Our leader is Nigel Scullion, from the Country Liberal Party. He does absolutely brilliant work in the Indigenous affairs portfolio. He is a strong Nat and a deep thinker—you would not think it, but he actually is. We have a great team here and I am looking forward to growing that over coming years.
Going to the National Party’s result in Victoria during the election, we saw the return of another cabinet minister, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, from Gippsland. Darren has a deep passion for road safety and ensuring that our commitment to infrastructure is rolled out in an equitable way and that the regions also receive a fair lick of that commitment. He has been great in that portfolio. He also gave significant support to other candidates, particularly in Victoria, and I know Damian Drum will attest to Darren’s assistance throughout his own campaign in Murray. Before I finish on Minister Chester, I do not know how it is possible to increase your margin in a place like Gippsland, but he managed to do it. So well done to Minister Chester. Indeed, Andrew Broad, in the great seat of Mallee, another cornerstone of the Victorian National Party heartland, also held his seat. Mallee is very different from Gippsland. They are probably two extremes of electorates in my state, but Andrew also was able to increase his vote, so well done to him.
We ran in four other seats in the state of Victoria. We ran in Bendigo, Ballarat and McEwen—bearing in mind we had not run in Ballarat at a federal election for over three decades. We had a great candidate there, Paul Tatchell, who was the Mayor of Moorabool Shire and is a great local advocate and local champion for that area, particularly around Ballan. It was through my interactions with Paul that I was able to meet with the Ballan Country Fire Authority volunteers during the election campaign. They called a few different brigades together and we were able to discuss their concerns about the state Labor government’s decision to bully their own ministers, bully the CFA board and bully the former CEO of the CFA, Lucinda Nolan.
So, it was great to actually get that on-the-ground knowledge from those CFA brigades about their view of the EBA being put forward—how it would affect emergency service provision in regional Victoria particularly. And I think more damaging for them was what it did to the relationships between them and the paid firefighter group. These are two groups who are fundamental to the provision of emergency services in my home state, and it is imperative that they are able to work together cohesively and collectively, and this particular issue is incredibly divisive for the culture of the firefighting organisations and their capacity to work together in times of stress.
In Bendigo we ran Andy Maddison, a stock and station agent and a very strong advocate for typical National Party values. He was very well received, and I am sure he is looking forward to staying involved and having his say over future election campaigns. And in the seat of McEwen we ran Andrew—his name will come to me! He runs a stock feed store in—sorry, Madam Deputy President; it is a place starting with T, just down from Yea and Seymour. He and his young wife have just opened that business. He has left a corporate job in Melbourne and returned to the country—Tallarook!—to start in small business, and he is doing a fantastic job there and really bringing forward the conversations around the National Party, again around the CFA, again around regional development, and I am sure he will stay involved.
But the great story for the Nationals, other than winning back the seat of Murray after 20 years of its being in Liberal Party hands, was running in the seat of Indi, where Marty Corboy was our candidate. He is a father of seven and working in the family business. He spent the last year doorknocking Wodonga and being a very strong advocate for small business and for National Party values in that seat. It was tough. It always is tough to fight against Independents, such as Cathy McGowan, who solidified her hold on that seat. And I know that the Liberal Party’s candidate, Sophie Mirabella, who had been a long-term occupant of that seat, similarly fought a very hard campaign. But Marty chose to go to the people with a positive face and a positive message for the coalition voters, and he was roundly rewarded with an 18 per cent primary vote. So, well done to Marty—and to all our volunteers right across that seat. It stretches from Wodonga down to Benalla and up into the Alpine National Park, and really he did some miles during that campaign.
Senator Payne: James Anderson!
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, Minister—James Anderson, in McEwen, owning the stock feed store in Tallarook. Anyway: the three-corner contest in Murray was absolutely totemic for the National Party in Victoria, to win that seat back. And I know Damian Drum, as the local member, will do an absolutely fantastic job in representing that community and their needs and interests in this place. He has a strong sense of community. He was born in Congupna, just down the road from Shepparton—but don’t try to tell him he’s a Shep boy; he’s very much a Congupna boy. He went on to play AFL for the Cats—the mighty Cats. Thank you very much for that result on Friday night.
Senator Payne: Go, Cats!
Senator McKENZIE: Go, Cats! And he has obviously done a lot of work back in the community, using sport as a facilitator of social cohesion and to break down barriers.
What really resonated on the ground in regional Victoria for the National Party was our commitment to ensuring jobs in local areas. Our voters out in regional Victoria were not concerned about a whole range of issues that maybe those voters in Brunswick were. What they wanted to know was whether we were going to get the economic settings right to ensure that their communities could grow and prosper, not only in their traditional industries but also in the new industries and the adapted industries of tomorrow, so that their regional communities would not be left behind in the 21st century but would grow, prosper and provide jobs for their young people. As we know, whilst nationally our unemployment rate is not bad, it can be incredibly high in certain regional areas for our young people. That is why the National Party under Senator Nash developed a specific, targeted regional jobs program that will be trialling local initiatives developed on the ground. One thing we do know in the National Party is that a ‘one size fits all’ policy does not work. People out in the regions, from Echuca to Eildon, were very keen to hear how we as a government were going to assist them to grow jobs and maintain the jobs that they already had.
These people were also concerned about the provision of education and how their children would be able to access university. We hear this time and time again: many families in the regions have to stump up upwards of $30,000 per child per year for their young person to shift away to the city to take up their choice of university degree. These families in typical households—a police officer and maybe a mother who might work part time as a nurse—were unable to access any support to assist with that additional cost, which only went up as you had more children going off. We were able to deal with that issue. We were able to offer a package at the election campaign that went part way to assisting those families. I am very proud to have been part of that.
To enable people to access education and all the opportunities of the 21st century and overcome some of the challenges they face, we need to ensure that we are providing digital infrastructure out in the regions. Our government is not just getting on with the NBN; it is providing a suite of technology options to ensure that every Australian can have access to that digital technology. When we were travelling around during the election, we heard so many times about young people at the local state school who, by the time they got back out to the farm to do their homework, did not have enough internet or they had used all their download for that week et cetera. That was really making it hard for them to achieve in their secondary school education, and that had a flow-on effect on their ability to undertake tertiary study. There is a whole suite of options there, and I know our mobile black spot program is just so welcome out in the regions. We have to ensure that country Australia has access to the same sort of technology, the same sort of provision of services, that is available in our cities.
I would also like to thank the ministers in the National Party who assisted us in Victoria during the election campaign. Minister Barnaby Joyce was down there several times, going through the seat of Indi and the seat of Murray, making significant announcements and making sure these communities understood our commitment and our promise to them and our pact with them. I have already mentioned Darren Chester. Fiona Nash made regular visits to all of the electorates that we were fighting in during that campaign—again, specifically Murray and Indi—and her presence was very much appreciated. Michael McCormack came down and, in his former role, looked at defence manufacturing industries and the local jobs that they provide out in regional Victoria. Also, Keith Pitt, who at that time was assisting the Deputy Prime Minister, talked about the agricultural programs and the Landcare issues that we were championing. All in all, the Victorian Nationals had a fantastic election campaign. I am very proud of all of our candidates and particularly of our volunteers in the National Party. We turn 100 this year; we had our centenary last month. We are still going strong and we are still standing up for regional Victoria. I would just like to thank our president and all of our organisation for getting behind our candidates and our members and senators and ensuring that we had the support we needed to represent them and our values in this place.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator McKenzie, and thank you for your congratulations.
Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (11:04): Can I start, as I think all of us in this place should, by thanking my electors—the people of the ACT—for their re-endorsement at the election. It is a great honour to be elected to serve the people of the Australian Capital Territory. It is a great honour to serve such a wonderful city, such a wonderful community—the community that I have called my home for all of my 39-odd years. It is a great pleasure, and I thank all of those who gave me their confidence at the election. It was great to see a swing to us here in the Senate in the ACT, and I think that that was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people over a long period of time. Certainly I am very grateful for that endorsement, and it is one that I do not take for granted. I want to continue to work very hard to advocate for a great city and a great community. I thank the people of Canberra again for the opportunity to do that over the next three years.
I would like to note also that we did not just have a swing here. Our main rivals, I guess, for the seat in the Senate here in the ACT—the Greens—had a swing against them for a second time in a row, which has put a significant distance between us and them. I think that that is a response to some of the policy offerings of the Greens. Certainly I would hope that it is a response to some of the positive policy offerings and implementations that we have been able to deliver nationally and, of course, for the people of the ACT in particular.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge a couple of our House of Reps candidates and our second Senate candidate here in the ACT. Jessica Adelan-Langford did an outstanding job in the seat of Canberra. She bucked the national trend by a fair way. The swing against the Liberal Party here was about 0.95 per cent, which I think is a very good effort. Jessica is standing in the ACT election as well, and I wish her well. She is one of the 11 female candidates, out of 25, put up by the Liberal Party for the ACT election. That is 44 per cent, without a quota. That is something we are very proud of, and it comes from having a very democratic party, where people from a diverse range of backgrounds feel welcome and feel able to contribute. So I wish Jessica well in the upcoming ACT election, which is a little under five weeks away.
Robert Gunning was our candidate in the seat of Fraser. Robert worked extremely hard and also had a very strong result which bucked the national swing. So congratulations to Robert on an outstanding effort. My second Senate candidate, Jane Hiatt, who is well known, particularly in the south of Canberra, is a small business owner and someone who is particularly involved in her community. Jane is just one of those infectious personalities and everyone who meets her likes her. She is one of those people who does great things wherever she is. She took on the seen-as-unwinnable second Senate seat, but she did not see it in that way. She certainly worked very hard to promote the Liberal cause during the campaign, and I congratulate and thank her for it. In addition, we have some amazing volunteers, led by party president Arthur Potter and so many others. Arthur does an outstanding job leading the ACT Liberal Party, and I congratulate and thank him for his work.
Just briefly, before I go on to some national issues, I would like to talk about a couple of the key policy offerings that we are delivering for the people of the ACT. The $76 million lake clean-up is very, very important. There is no doubt that, as an environment issue, the quality of our waterways here in Canberra leaves a lot to be desired. The $76 million that the coalition is delivering for the clean-up of our waterways is something that I am very, very pleased with. I had significant feedback from the community about the importance of cleaning up Lake Burley Griffin, Lake Tuggeranong, Lake Ginninderra and the waterways, ponds and streams that run into those waterways. These waterways should be a jewel for the ACT. In some cases they are, but there is a long way to go to make them better. This really significant investment from the Commonwealth is something that I think has been very well received.
I would like to also make mention of one of the promises we took to the election, which is that for the first time we will see a Commonwealth government office relocated to Gungahlin—the growing town centre of Canberra. I think this is a great result. This was not delivered by the previous Labor government, even though they occasionally talked about it, and this is something that we intend on delivering on in this term. It will be a great boost for that town centre. It is great to have the, I guess, anchor tenants. That is why it is so important. That is why I worked very hard to make sure that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stayed in Belconnen and the Department of Social Services, which has a new building being constructed at the moment, stayed in Tuggeranong. Those departments are very important to the town centre model here in the ACT. Economic growth does flow from those areas. It is important for small businesses but it is also important for the liveability of a city. It is great to have job opportunities close to where people live. It certainly fits in very well with our broader cities agenda and what we would like to see nationally, in ensuring that people have genuine, real job opportunities close to where they live and so not everyone has to go to the CBD necessarily. So I think that is a great result.
One final one I would like to mention in speaking on some of the local issues is in relation to the planning reforms which we completed just before the end of the last term. I congratulate Minister Fletcher and his predecessor Minister Briggs in the portfolio for significant planning reform of the National Capital Plan. This is of course the document that governs planning in the ACT and under which the ACT government’s rules and the Territory Plan sit. We have cut a lot of duplication and we have opened potential new areas for affordable housing, which I think is critically important. This is, in my opinion, a far better way and a far more sustainable way of dealing with housing affordability than the Labor Party approach, which is to make everyone’s asset lower, when it comes to their house, through Labor’s proposed negative gearing changes.
The much better response is to actually provide land so that people have the opportunity of an affordable price to buy a home or a rent home in Canberra or anywhere else in the country. That is something that so many state and territory governments, particularly Labor state and territory governments, do not seem to have grasped. Here in Canberra there is a particular problem, where the Labor government are a monopoly provider and developer. They have squeezed land supply to the extent where we are now seeing on the outskirts of Gungahlin, in Throsby, $1,000 a square metre blocks in greenfields developments—$1,000 a square metre. That is not affordable housing, and that is not what you would expect when the ACT government say that part of the reason for them having so much control is so they can deliver affordable housing options. Well, they have not done that. The National Capital Plan changes are a significant push in the right direction and hopefully will lead the way for other responses from the ACT government and other state and territory governments.
There is no doubt that what we saw nationally at this election was a continuation of a massive difference in approach between the coalition and the Labor Party, and I want to go to some of those key differences. It was not that long ago—probably only 15 or 20 years ago—that people used to say, ‘There isn’t really that much difference between the major parties; they pretty much agree on so many things.’ When it came to the economy, we certainly agreed on more when people like Paul Keating were in government. We certainly did not agree on everything, but there was a range of things that we did agree on. Part of that was about the importance of economic growth. That seemed to be bipartisan back then, but it no longer is. The Labor Party have abandoned any pretence that they support policies which lead to economic growth.
The Labor Party’s policy platform these days consists of higher taxes on business, higher taxes on individuals, higher taxes on electricity, more regulation through things like a 50 per cent renewable energy target, a tolerance of union corruption in almost whatever form we find it—and certainly in the construction industry. We know the impact that has on our economy. One of our biggest industries, the construction industry, which is about eight per cent of our economy, is weighed down by union corruption. That is something we are seeking to deal with through things like the ABCC, which we took to the election and received an endorsement for, as we were re-elected to government. We are looking forward to the opportunity to bring that reform to the parliament and have it passed by the parliament, because it is a critical reform.
So whether it is the economy, attitudes to small business, attitudes to budget repair, attitudes to union corruption or attitudes and policies on border protection, there is a significant and gaping difference between what the coalition offers and delivers, and what the Labor Party is now offering in its policies. We know what it delivered when it was last in government—massive debt and deficit, open borders, a slowing economy. We have seen it before. We saw what happened. Of course, the Labor Party abolished our union watchdog—our building industry watchdog—and we see what happened on our construction sites. So we see a very clear difference.
I want to go to some of those economic indicators which show that difference. This is a government focused on growing the economy and providing jobs to Australians. We do it in all sorts of ways. We do it by cutting taxes for small business. We do it by cutting red tape. We do it by increasing productivity measures, including things like the ABCC. And we do it through things like free trade agreements, which are a key part of our economic future, as we see the opportunities in our region changing. The opportunities in our region are changing, and we need to be responding to them. People talk about the mining boom being over. That is not quite right, but the mining boom has moved to a new phase. We are seeing a different phase of significant mining exports, but we are not seeing the same sort of construction boom and investment boom that we saw over the past decade or so. But, as we see the transition, that is a reflection that our key trading partners are changing what they are consuming. They have had massive construction phases, particularly in places like China. We are seeing that the massive Chinese middle class, the growing Indian middle class and, of course, the existing strong economies like Korea and Japan have a strong demand for our services, in particular. The free trade agreements go to that point. That is where they are going to be so critical to economic growth.
Just look at the figures. Real GDP grew by 0.50 per cent in the June quarter and a strong 3.3 per cent through the year. This puts us right up near the top of developed economies. That is something we should be very proud of. When we see those kinds of figures and when we see that over 200,000 jobs have been created in Australia over the last year under a strong coalition government, there are hundreds of thousands of stories and hundreds of thousands of individuals. Hundreds of thousands of families have a breadwinner because of strong economic management. If you want to look at the alternative, just look across the chamber or to other parts of the world where they have lost control of their budgets; they have not had ongoing policies that strengthen economic growth and they have not responded to those challenges. When you see unemployment rising in some of those economies and when you see long-term unemployment and long-term welfare dependency, these are not what any leader would ever want to see. It is absolutely devastating for communities when we see stagnant jobs growth or jobs being taken away. What we have been delivering on, and what we intend to continue to deliver on, is a strong economy. You do not do that if you take the Labor Party approach.
Let’s take a couple of examples of what the Labor Party offer. I have mentioned the issue of union corruption. They tolerate the kind of behaviour which slows a significant contributor to our economy in our construction industry. That is one Labor policy. Another Labor policy, of course, was to lower the value of people’s assets through its negative gearing changes—raise rents and lower asset values. What does that do for confidence as people see their main asset reducing in value? What does that do for investment? What does that do for confidence? If you want people to invest in something less, you tax it more. That is what the Labor Party are proposing on housing. So we see another key difference. They support and tolerate union corruption, they want to see asset values come down and then they refuse to recognise the importance of cutting taxes for small business. They simply refuse to recognise it. They claim it is some sort of handout to lower taxes for small business when they know, and they have said it many times, that, in fact, cutting taxes for small business—well, let’s see what they have had to say, because this shows how far away the Labor Party have gone from strong economic management and a focus on growing our economy and growing jobs. Bill Shorten in 2011 knew it. He said:
Cutting the company income tax rate increases domestic productivity and domestic investment. … More capital means higher productivity and economic growth, and leads to more jobs and higher wages.
That was well said in 2011 by Bill Shorten! That was a reasonable summation of what we all know to be true.
Senator Payne: That’s extraordinary.
Senator SESELJA: It is. It is extraordinary, isn’t it? There was this insight that Bill Shorten had back then which, for whatever reason, he has now completely abandoned and rejected. So when he said that cutting company tax leads to more jobs and higher wages, we can only take him at his word that now he does not support more jobs or higher wages. He supports suppressed wage growth and fewer jobs. That is a reasonable assertion when you read his own words. Julia Gillard said the same thing and Wayne Swan said it.
The Labor Party, for all of their failings in government, know that this is strong policy and they have chosen to walk away from that. They have chosen to say that now the way to economic growth, under the Labor Party’s new platform, is to run bigger deficits—because that is what they were offering at this election: significantly higher deficits, a far longer return to surplus under the Labor Party and all of the drag on economic growth that goes with that. The Labor Party’s path to economic growth is tens of billions of dollars in increased taxes—higher taxes on the family home, higher taxes on electricity, higher taxes on individuals and higher taxes on companies. That is the Labor Party’s other prescription for economic growth. We know that it does not work.
Senator McKim interjecting—
Senator SESELJA: I hear the interjection from Senator McKim on behalf of the Greens. He is in fundamental agreement with what the Labor Party are offering. I think he said it does work to increase taxes for higher economic growth. I think he said it does work to have higher electricity taxes for higher economic growth. Well, it is difficult to find a credible economist who agrees with the Greens’ position, which is now being more and more adopted by the Labor Party.
It is all well and good for the Greens to have those kinds of policies, because the Greens are never going to be in government unless they are pulling the strings of a Labor government. But the Labor Party do, from time to time, occupy the Treasury benches, and Bill Shorten puts himself up as the alternative Prime Minister. He is promoting policies which he knows are bad for economic growth and which lead to lower jobs growth and lower wages. He knows it to be true, yet he pursues those policies. This is now the fundamental divide amongst a number now between the coalition and the Labor Party. Fundamentally, at this election—and we can talk about the lies on Medicare and a range of things—that is what was at stake. We have been endorsed to get on with that strong economic plan and we intend to relentlessly pursue it on behalf of the Australian people.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Seselja. I remind you to refer to members in the other place by their correct titles.
Senator HUME (Victoria) (11:24): It truly was an honour and a privilege to move that the Senate agree to the address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s speech delivered on 30 August of this year. As is often said—and it is perhaps better understood in the parliament than in any other quarter of Australian society—the Australian people do not get elections wrong. The Australian people have seen the work this government has done in their service. They have seen its vision for this country and the work that it has already completed. They have placed their trust in us again, and this trust is well founded. They have given the coalition a mandate to continue its good work.
This Turnbull coalition government has much to do and much to get on with—indeed, that is the business of government. We get on with it, despite the heckling, the obstruction, the sideshow and the smokescreens that those on the other side of the chamber often engage in. So how do we ensure Australia remains a high-wage, first World economy with a generous social welfare safety net? This is the question that this government has asked itself. It has driven our policies and it inspires our work.
The Turnbull coalition government believes in a just society where our prosperity as a nation is shared, and strong economic growth is experienced by all. It is well known that with success and prosperity comes immense responsibility: a responsibility to ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable are not left behind. This is part of the Robert Menzies legacy. Robert Menzies once said:
… we believe in free enterprise; not enterprise free of social obligation …
Our actions as a government, our policies and our initiatives are not just about the present. Yes, we have been elected to government in the present, but we can never forget about the future. Our actions here will be remembered by—and will, indeed, impact—future generations of Australians. We need to recognise this and never forget it, for the sake of our children and our grandchildren. The Turnbull coalition government are a government that are deeply committed to fiscal discipline. Fiscal discipline is indeed part of the coalition’s DNA. We are committed to this through the importance we place on strong, stable economic leadership. Through fiscal discipline and restrained spending, the Australian economy will prosper. To this end, we are committed to strengthening the solid economic growth that has occurred in Australia—indeed, 25 years of consecutive economic growth.
This is a government that will reduce the growth of government spending and will make sure that taxpayers pay their fair share of tax. It will crack down on tax avoidance by large corporations, and it has already substantially increased the penalties for engaging in this sort of behaviour. Despite Labor opposing the legislation, this government introduced the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law with effect from 1 January this year, to stop multinationals artificially avoiding a taxable presence in Australia. The legislation forces offending companies to pay back double what they owe, plus interest. The government has also introduced country-by-country reporting to give the ATO greater access to multinationals’ transfer pricing information as well as establishing a new tax avoidance taskforce which will raise $3.7 billion over the forward estimates.
This coalition government is also helping small business by reducing the company tax rates for businesses turning over less than $10 million per year, easing the burden on them and allowing them to thrive. This government is also deeply committed to better targeting tax concessions for workers. Small business employs millions of people in this country, and this government fully recognises, understands and appreciates their contribution to our economy.
This is a government that is making the largest investment in the Navy since World War II—$195 billion in our defence capability. This investment will generate jobs and growth, and cement our nation’s position as a sound and reputable producer of defence materiel.
The Turnbull coalition government are constantly working to keep all Australians safe from the threat of terrorism—from those who would threaten the free and democratic way of life that we all enjoy in this country. Our counterterrorism framework must be effective and it must be robust, and this government aptly recognise this fact. In an age where technology is part of everyday life—indeed, our everyday lives are almost entirely dependent on some form of technology—the Turnbull coalition government are driving the Cyber Security Strategy.
This government has already made substantial achievements in the trade portfolio, and I acknowledge the good work in this space of Andrew Robb, a Victorian of great note. We have secured landmark free trade agreements with China, Korea and Japan, as well as concluding the Trans Pacific Partnership. These agreements have opened up export markets to Australian businesses like never before, allowing for an ease of access and an ability to do business that few nations in the world enjoy today. But our work in this area does not end here. Rather, we will work to boost our exports and also to attract new investment to Australia. This government will pursue further free trade agreements, because we understand the immeasurable benefits that they bring to our nation, and we will also strive for greater regional economic integration.
The Turnbull coalition government has a well-renowned commitment to infrastructure. Our record in this space speaks for itself: we have invested in major road, rail and airport projects across the country, and we will continue to do so. Infrastructure is the greatest driver of productivity. It makes people’s lives much easier in so many ways. I just wish that the Victorian Labor government understood this fact. Perhaps, if they did, they would have worked with this government to deliver the East West Link instead of wasting over $1 billion of taxpayers’ dollars on not building it. This is a travesty. Infrastructure Australia, an independent body, has urged the Victorian government to build the East West Link as a high priority. It is a travesty that ideological pigheadedness has seen productivity priorities subsumed.
The Turnbull coalition government is committed to making our cities more liveable. We are coordinating investment in our cities and towns at all levels of levels of government—state and local—through our Smart Cities Plan and City Deals. Better outcomes and less waste will be the result—the two elements that should be the cornerstone of any government.
The Turnbull coalition government understands and respects rural and regional Australia. We have a plan to boost regional jobs through our $200 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package, which will help our regions to flourish. We have fixed thousands of mobile phone black spots and we will not stop there—we have many more to fix, but we have made a very good start. Labor did not invest one single dollar in fixing mobile phone black spots during their time in office. What does that say about Labor’s commitment to rural and regional Australia?
The Turnbull coalition government is supporting our farming industries. Agriculture contributes so much to this economy. We are working through the implementation of our landmark Agricultural competitiveness white paper,and we are investing in water security in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Under a Turnbull coalition government, we will meet our 2020 emission reduction targets. We are promoting a more efficient energy market and continuing our investment in the National Landcare Program and the new solar communities program. This government has realistic targets, and Australians will not be slugged with a costly and ill-considered carbon tax by this government.
This is a government that is prioritising education, science and innovation. We are investing in the National Innovation and Science Agenda to create the high-tech jobs of the future. To skill Australians for these jobs of the future, we are providing record levels of funding for Australian schools. I will repeat that: we are providing record levels of funding for Australian schools. We will raise student standards and we will reward excellent teachers—those who excel in their chosen fields. This government are expanding P-TECH pilot schools to help students get the skills they need to enter the workforce. We are restoring confidence in the quality and integrity of vocational
education—confidence that seemed to evaporate and vanish under those opposite.
Our Youth Jobs PaTH program will create jobs for up to 120,000 young Australians, and this government’s investment in innovation will also create jobs—think of that; 120,000 jobs for young Australians. This would allow young Australians to enter the workforce and earn a living, and do the things they want to with dignity.
The Turnbull coalition government’s commitment to health care is well-known. It is a commitment that no misleading scare campaign could ever fault. The government is strengthening Medicare and is establishing Health Care Home trials to support those Australians living with chronic diseases, an initiative that will better manage their care and keep them out of hospital, where they want to be. The government is working with the states and territories on funding for public hospitals and has delivered record levels of investment in the public hospital system. It is investing more to improve access to mental health services, with a particular focus on suicide prevention. Mental health care will be tailored to the needs of the patient rather than a one-size-fits all-approach. The government is working with communities and the health sector to provide more flexibility in home based aged care, so that people can stay in their homes for longer.
The Turnbull coalition government will roll out the fully-funded NDIS scheme by 2019-20, a scheme that focuses on transforming the lives of around 460,000 Australians who are living each day with disability. The government has addressed domestic violence and is protecting women and children in danger. It is continuing its important work to close the gap in health, education and employment between the first Australians and the rest of the population by working with Indigenous communities.
The Turnbull coalition government will allow all Australians to have their say on same sex marriage via plebiscite as soon as possible. Those opposite should not obstruct this as the government has a mandate to continue on this course. The Turnbull coalition government is a government with a vision. It has the best interests of the Australian people at heart, and at the forefront of everything it does. It was elected to govern for all Australians and that is exactly what it will do despite the obstruction and the unhelpfulness of some.
The legacy of the Turnbull coalition government will be higher growth, more jobs, less debt, reduced deficit, and a more prosperous and productive Australia for this generation and for the next.
Senator DUNIAM (Tasmania) (11:40): I thank my opposition colleagues.
Senator Polley interjecting—
Senator DUNIAM: Yes, we make up most of the senators in the chamber so we should pass some laws, I think, that favour Tasmania—what do you reckon? In commencing my contribution to this debate, I have listened to the previous speakers. It is interesting to note they have all congratulated, commiserated and thanked many people. Having delivered my first speech on the last sitting day, I do not really get the opportunity to do that again. I will move straight to a number of things that I think are important that I have been reflecting on since the election and to the opportunities that lie before the 45th Parliament. Some of those things are tough issues and some of them are a little bit easier, particularly with regard to my home state of Tasmania.
Firstly, throughout the election campaign a number of promises were made by all sorts of politicians all over the place. Some of the promises were big and some were small but all of them were for something for various parts of our community. Community members asked for things they thought were important for their small towns, for their organisations, for their community groups.
In Tasmania, the coalition had put together a fiscally responsible package of election commitments—
Senator Polley: It was rejected.
Senator DUNIAM: that was designed to help the community to grow economically into the future—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): Order!
Senator DUNIAM: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President Whish-Wilson, for your protection.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Do not fall for their bait, Senator Duniam. Direct your comments to me.
Senator DUNIAM: Yes, I will, Mr Acting Deputy President. Those commitments were to provide amenity for the community. A couple of the things that the coalition committed to in Tasmania during the election campaign were important small local community projects, including the Exeter community precinct in the north of the state. A million dollars will bring together council, library, sporting facilities, recreation and community services in one location, providing jobs and opportunities for locals and better access to essential community services.
Those of us who spend time in rural and regional Tasmania, who get outside of their office—
Senator Polley: Who have their offices in rural and regional Tasmania.
Senator DUNIAM: who have their offices in rural and regional Tasmania, who get out and talk to the communities, understand the importance of having access to services in the small towns. That is something the coalition understands because we are a friend of rural and regional Tasmania.
Senator Polley interjecting—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Duniam, just resume your seat. I remind senators that Senator Duniam has the right to be heard in silence.
Senator DUNIAM: I will do my best to try and not upset others in the chamber by speaking the truth. The Tasmanian tourism industry is a gem in our crown. It is a huge economic driver, something I think all sides of politics can be proud of with regard to the state of Tasmania and the growth we are seeing them.
The coalition made a number of commitments during the election campaign, including $5 million to make investment ready the Cradle Mountain masterplan. It is a wonderful part of our state and something that does need work. It will be a very exciting project, when it is up and running and when we see what the final result is, in a region of Tasmania that needs this investment. The Three Capes Track, which I have not walked myself but I look forward to doing in the future, will complete this stunning and world-class walking experience down the Tasman Peninsula. The coalition also backed the ‘Geeves Effect’, a study into the demand for a wilderness experience in the World Heritage area at Lake Geeves, which I think we could all agree is a spectacular part of the world.
There was also investment into a world-class fermentation centre, Fermentasmania—which is adding to our reputation as a world leader in food and beverage—and the north and north-west winter events program. We talk about the importance of events and recreational activities in regional Tasmania. They are an economic driver, and we will be committing to replicating the success of events like the Devonport Jazz Festival and Dark Mofo. There was the New Norfolk riverfront revitalisation—a $600,000 investment for cycleways, walkways and visitor facilities and for relocating the rowing club. This is a spattering of small projects around small communities across the state of Tasmania, but they are important to each of these communities, and I am proud to have been associated with them during the last election.
Returning to the point I made earlier about the promises that the coalition made at the last election about being fiscally responsible, some criticise the fact that we were not promising to spend taxpayers’ money like there was no tomorrow. If you compare the money promised by the coalition in Tasmania to the money promised by the Australian Labor Party in our state, you can see the point that I am making here. The thought that I think runs through people’s minds every time they approach the ballot box is: who can be trusted to manage the Australian economy? The coalition promised just under $270 million in Tasmania; Labor promised over $1 billion in election commitments. There is a whopping $750 million difference between the levels of commitment.
As I have come to learn in life, now that I have grown up, had my kids and had to get a job to pay the bills and my mortgage and to start putting money away for my children’s future, money does not grow on trees. It is a difficult argument to sustain sometimes—especially in the face of a cash-splash bonanza from your opponents. I think people will reflect, though, as I am sure they did the morning after the 2 July election, on just how close we came to having a repeat of the years 2007-2013 and what that would have meant for our country, its economy and the direction we are heading into the future.
Again I will reflect on the great honour of being able to go out into the electorate, listen to my community and bring back here their concerns or talk about the positive ideas they want to share with me as a community representative. The government has a commitment to rural and regional communities, as I have already said, through its election commitments and through the $200 million Regional Jobs and Investment Package.
Last Friday, I was privileged enough to have met a core group of committed and passionate locals from the beautiful north-west town of Waratah and I was joined by one of the hardworking local members from the Tasmanian state parliament, Joan Rylah. For some time now, I have been keeping an eye on the work of this group of residents from the town of Waratah and the ideas they have for making this town hum like it did 100 years ago.
Waratah, for those present—probably not many—in the chamber at the moment who do not know, is about one hour south of the coastal town of Burnie. It was home to the great Mount Bischoff tin mine. This mine was one of the economic powerhouses for the state of Tasmania in the 19th and into the 20th centuries. This town was the first Australian town to have electric streetlights back in the year 1886. I was also told at this meeting that, taking into account inflation, over the years the mine would have produced the equivalent of $2.8 billion worth of tin in today’s terms. But if you drive into Waratah today, while it is still a beautiful town on the edge of some spectacular wilderness and sitting around the top of a valley with a waterfall in the middle, you can see it is not quite the town it used to be. The population has dropped from over 5,000 to just 298, according to the 2011 census. There is only one hotel and most of the buildings have gone or are on the way out, and the town is slowly being reclaimed by the untamed wilderness of western Tasmania.
Like we have seen successfully executed in other states, including Western Australia and Victoria, the group I met with is pushing to preserve and promote some of the amazing mining heritage as a tourism drawcard. The proposal includes great bushwalks, camping sites and unique interactive heritage experiences—all tied into the exquisite Cradle Mountain and Tarkine regions. Anne Dunham, Winston Nickols, Ivan Johnston and the other committed locals are to be commended for their hard work and enthusiasm to do something for their community.
We also discussed the ancient Aboriginal pebble path that stretches from the small town of Temma through to Valentines Peak on the north-west, which is also being promoted by another passionate local, Mr Chris Hawkins. With the bushwalking craze as it is in Tasmania and across the world, this is a project that excites me and many in the community as a new offering in Tasmania for the bushwalking fanatic. These people were buoyed by their own ideas and passion for their place. If I could bottle the enthusiasm they have for our state, I know I would not need to work—I would be a very rich man if I could sell that sort of enthusiasm. This is representative of the resilience and the up-and-at-’em attitude that many Tasmanians have, which I talked about in my first speech. This community has been hit by more than its fair share of hard times, but, by banding together to do things their way with a view to making the community strong again, they are on the up.
There are number of issues that continue to crop up in my travels around the state, particularly in rural and regional communities. One of the issues that came up in recent times was the issue of mobile black spot funding and the government’s program to address weaknesses in mobile coverage across the country. It was interesting to note that not one cent had been spent by those opposite to fix this problem in the years they were in government—compare this to the commitments and, indeed, to the rollout of the black spot program for base installations or upgrades underway at the moment. In Tasmania alone, 31 locations that are to be rolled out were announced. They include Apslawn, Bicheno, Bothwell, Brandum, Cramps Bay, Eggs and Bacon Bay, Elliott, Gawler, Goshen, Hamilton, Highland Lakes Road, Loyetea, Lulworth, Lyell Highway, Melrose, Miena, Mole Creek, Nunamara, Okehampton Beach, Pyengana, Rossarden, Sisters Beach, South Riana, Swansea, Takone, Targa, Tarraleah, Tasman Highway, Verona Sands and Whitefoord.
Given the importance to the communities I have just mentioned or the people that use the transport routes that will be covered by these upgraded or expanded base stations, I was interested to read an article in the Launceston newspaper, The Examiner, reporting comments by the member for Bass, Mr Ross Hart. In that article Mr Hart made what I feel are outrageous claims with very little basis in fact—claiming, quite separate to the findings of the ANAO report, that base stations were erected on the basis of politics, not community need. I ask the member for Bass whether he understands that many of the areas he is talking about as having been held by Liberal or National MPs are actually rural and regional communities where blackspots most often occur. Does the member for Bass understand that these include places in his neighbouring seats of Braddon and Lyons? Does he understand that some of these sites I have just listed are actually in his own electorate of Bass? And I have to ask Mr Hart, the member for Bass, which ones he would like to see removed from the list. I would be happy to take Mr Hart out to any part of our state which he thinks should not have solid and decent mobile phone coverage and allow him to justify why he thinks people there do not deserve it. Getting out into the community in the limited time we have is incredibly important.
Two of the shining lights in the Tasmanian context, as I have already said, are the tourism and hospitality sectors. Over a long period of time, I have had the honour and privilege to have worked with these industries on their plans for the future. The Tasmanian government, led so ably by Premier Will Hodgman, who happens to also be the Minister for Tourism, Hospitality and Events, has done a great deal in conjunction with tourism and hospitality operators across our state. The strong relationship between that government and those industries came about because that government listened. It decided that the people who knew best about how to tap into the amazing growth and potential, and to capitalise on the increasing visitor numbers and build the momentum we needed, were those in the industry itself—the hoteliers, the cafe owners, the restaurateurs, the vignerons, the tour guides, the over 37,000 people that have employment thanks to those industries in Tasmania.
It is important to point out that 60 per cent of tourism businesses are outside our major population centres, in rural and regional communities. The Tasmanian government has set a goal of attracting 1.5 million visitors per annum by the year 2020 and is well on track to achieving that goal. The Tourism Industry Council Tasmania has said that that goal would bring in an extra 8,000 jobs for Tasmanians. It would also result in growing an industry already worth in excess of $2 billion in terms of visitor expenditure. And this increase is needed, particularly in rural, regional and remote communities. Tourism Research Australia stated that Tasmania’s west and east coasts were the fifth and sixth most tourism dependent regional economies in the country. Growing this industry is supporting our rural and regional communities and giving people, including younger people, the chance to live and work in the communities they love.
As I mentioned in my first speech, Tasmania is the ‘it’ location. People from all over the globe are hearing about our great state, its fine food and produce, its amazing wines and its spectacular scenery. Indeed, the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in late 2014 is still having a positive effect on our state. The number of Chinese visitors to our state has increased at an incredible rate. And the Chinese demand for our first-class food and beverages has also grown exponentially. We have a 37 per cent increase in exports. Cherry exports are up by 46 per cent, with reports that an individual Tasmanian cherry will achieve a sale price of $1.50.
This growth and increased demand are great—great for jobs, great for the economy and great for the community. And it is positive to read the comments of the Tourism Industry Council’s Luke Martin in today’s Hobart Mercury, which say that if we are to keep growing demand, and to keep up with demand from overseas in particular, there will need to be another five or six hotels built in the next three years in Hobart alone. This is a massive turnaround from the days of decline and nosediving tourist numbers in our state. I look forward to working with the Tasmanian government, particularly Premier Will Hodgman, the minister for tourism, on ensuring that Tasmania remains one of the great destinations on this planet and that the Tasmanian people can continue to invest and work in this boom industry.
I turn to Tasmania’s status as the gateway to Antarctica. While Tasmania, in the eyes of some, is disadvantaged by its remote location from the rest of Australia, it is this remoteness that puts my state in the prime position to be the home to all things Antarctic. Coming up to parliament for my attendance at what is known as ‘senators school’ a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Jeff Ayton, who is the Chief Medical Officer in the Polar Medicine Unit within the Australian Antarctic Division. Jeff was travelling to attend meetings of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, otherwise known as SCAR, in Kuala Lumpur, at which they were bidding to host the 2020 series of these meetings. I was thrilled to learn a week or so ago that Tasmania will be hosting these meetings in 2020. That is great news. It means that over 700 Antarctic scientists and academics will be coming to Tasmania from over 40 countries around the world. As the Antarctic Division has stated, this will showcase Tasmania as a key Antarctic hub, a gateway insofar as our country is concerned.
Additionally, as a bonus, the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Program—which also has a terrific acronym, COMNAP—will host its annual general meeting in Hobart, which will bring over 100 Antarctic program managers to our state. These are great announcements, and I commend the AAD, in particular Nick Gales and Jeff Ayton, for their efforts in securing these events for Tasmania, and indeed Australia.
With countries like China and the US continuing to increase their focus on the Antarctic, Tasmania is a place that has great potential for servicing their needs and providing a base for them to work from. There is an active community in Hobart promoting Tasmania as a place where international partners can come and base themselves to continue their Antarctic exploration and scientific research. During my time in this place I look forward to supporting that community in putting Tasmania more firmly on the map when it comes being ‘the’ gateway to Antarctica.
I would also like to commend the Minister for Employment for her work across the country, particularly in my home state. The minister has provided me with a briefing on a specific project funded under the program known as Empowering YOUth Initiatives, and the first round of that program. The project I was briefed on, run by an organisation in the state’s north-west known as BIG hART, is called 20 in 2020, which I am told works with young people to increase their employability and enhance their pathways to social and economic participation, while at the same time supporting them to effect positive change in their community. It is targeted at people between the ages of 15 and 19 and identifies people at risk of becoming long-term unemployed if they are early school leavers, from a jobless family, experiencing violence, in out-of-home care, likely to leave school before year 12—and the list goes on. There are a number of categories there. The communities they focused on were Burnie, Wynyard and Smithton, which many have identified as disadvantaged communities with regard to youth.
So this project, known as 20 in 2020, run by Big hART, needs to be commended, as does the Minister for Employment, Senator Cash, for rolling out this program. I look forward to seeing the results of this and future projects rolled out under this particular program. I also look forward to working with Tasmanians to promote the next round of funding for this program when it is open for applications.
I have spoken a number of times of the Tasmanian government, and it is important to point out that there is a strong working relationship between the Tasmanian and Australian governments. They are working cooperatively together. We always come to the table with different points of view but, as two mature governments, I think we are working together very well to get the best outcomes for our state, and I look forward to doing that on into the future.
Senator CANAVAN (Queensland—Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) (12:00): It is a great privilege to be in a position to contribute to replying to the Governor-General’s address. I have that privilege, of course, because I was fortunate enough to be re-elected a senator for Queensland at the last election, and it is a great privilege and honour to be elected to this place. Just coming back into this place after some four months away, sitting in these chairs and looking up at the galleries to the schoolchildren and other people coming through, it does come home to you a bit more what a privilege it is to sit in this place and what a great privilege we all have as senators elected to this chamber.
I would like to particularly congratulate the new senators elected—like Senator Duniam, who I am following today. There is a lot of change in the Senate, and it is good to see some new faces on the first day of school, so to speak, and to get to know all these people who have been elected for their respective states.
Last night I helped launch the campaign of a local Liberal Party member of the Legislative Assembly here who is running for election again. The election is in a month’s time. This is Alistair Coe, someone who I am sure Senator Gallagher would be familiar with. He read his first speech and he spoke very eloquently about how this role that we are all elected to, as elected officials, is a role of public service—of civil service. I suppose, for him, being elected in Canberra, it is particularly hammered home, because this is a town that is meant to be dedicated to the public, through what we do in this place and what is done in the various departments and agencies that reside here in Canberra. It should be principally about providing a service to the Australian public, and I hope I can do that in the role I have, as a senator for Queensland, and also the role I have the great honour of having been appointed to, as a minister in the Turnbull-Joyce government—again, playing that role with my department to try and provide a service to the Australian people.
In doing so, we in this government want to make sure we achieve the objectives and goals that we put forward to the Australian people a couple of months ago: to make sure that we can improve our budget situation, to leave to future generations of Australians a better and stronger Australia and a better and stronger fiscal situation, so that they can then make decisions and have the flexibility to decide how to run their country as they take it over in the future, and to make sure that we continue investing in our nation. I want to talk a little bit about our plans to invest in northern Australia, in particular, in my role as a minister for northern Australia, and our plans to create jobs right through this country, because so many parts of our country need to maintain that strong economic growth and that opportunity to have a job, to be able to get up in the morning and take pride in what you do, to provide for your family, to give economic security to those you love, and to be able to plan your future—to buy your own home, start your own business or have a go, in this great country that we are lucky enough to have.
And of course we must protect that country as well. There is nothing more fundamental to any of us than to secure our country and the Australian way of life that we are so lucky to have; we are all privileged to be here and live here. We need to do that in the face of great threats from those who would like to overturn our way of life and the freedoms that we all enjoy—and we saw that on the weekend of course. We must also make sure that we secure the borders of our country, because if you are going to be a country you have to have borders; if you are going to have borders, you need to decide who is going to be in this country and who is welcome to share this great privilege we have of being Australian.
Last week that privilege was hammered home by the news that we have just ticked over into 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. So we have achieved a quarter of a century without a recession. We have had some quarters of negative economic growth but no two quarters in a row, so we have not had a technical recession for 25 years—a quarter of a century; a generation. This is the second longest period of uninterrupted economic growth on record, behind the Netherlands after they discovered oil in the North Sea. It is a fantastic result and a testament to the strong economic leadership that has been provided, largely, over those 25 years, and also a testament to the difficult reforms that we put in place, stretching way back particularly to the Hawke-Keating governments.
Sometimes I think we get complacent and lazy in this country and think that those 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth only came about because we had a mining boom, when people clearly forget that the mining boom really only started in about 2002-03 and did not really get going until the mid-2000s. Before that, we had to go through the East Asian financial crisis, the dotcom bust in the United States, and September 11, of course, and the financial upheavals that led to. Throughout those periods, without a mining boom—indeed, with some of the lowest terms of trade we have ever experienced as a country—we achieved strong economic growth. That was then only increased thanks to the mining boom, to the God-given gifts we have here: the little black rocks in Queensland and the little red rocks that I saw last week in Western Australia. Those commodities then helped us to continue that growth.
But the lesson of the last 25 years is: there is no need to panic. There is no reason why we cannot continue that strong economic growth, just as we did in the nineties and early 2000s. Yes, our terms of trade are lower now, but they are still much higher than they were in the 1990s when we achieved strong economic growth. We are a proud, innovative, strong and prosperous country, and we can continue to have strong economic growth, providing we have strong economic leadership across our country and we do right the things that we need to do, like balancing our budgets—what seem to be simple or easy things—and making the difficult decisions to run our country in a professional and stable way. Then we will have the benefits that we have been able to achieve over the past 25 years.
That need for economic growth, that need to continue on the path of a stronger economy is extremely important to the people I represent in Queensland. I am very proud to have been re-elected as a senator for the great state of Queensland. I am particularly proud to reside in Central Queensland and to focus on the people there. It is a very big state, the most decentralised mainland state in our country, with people spread right across it.
We in the Liberal National Party of Queensland try our best to represent the entirety of that state by having senators all around it. I am based in Rockhampton. My colleague Senator Ian Macdonald is up in Townsville. We have Senator Barry O’Sullivan down at Toowoomba looking after Western Queensland. We have Senator George Brandis in the south-east corner and Senator McGrath on the Sunshine Coast as well. It is a great spread around a great state and it is very important that all Queenslanders are represented.
It is regrettable that the other major party in this place—the Labor Party—no longer has senators north of Brisbane. Senator Jan McLucas missed out on preselection last time. She was based up in Cairns. It is a great shame because we should all try, in this place, to represent all Australians. There is another reason for the Senate to be looking after regional areas. The major cities, by definition, have strong representation in the other place, because that is where most of the seats are in the 150-member House of Representatives. That is where the people are. Here in the Senate we should look after the gaps. We should look after the places where there is less representation than in the other place.
In my area of Central Queensland there is no more important or pressing an issue than jobs. The biggest issue that came up in the campaign—indeed, through my full two years as a senator in the last parliament—was the need for jobs, for some stimulation of our economy. The area has been hit hard by a change in those terms of trade, by a reduction in commodity prices, particularly by a reduction in coal prices, which has put off investment in many mines that would have gone ahead. It is an important point to make that we are exporting record amounts of coal, much more than we were before the boom. Employment in the mining industry is about double what it was before the mining boom, even after the reduction in employment over the past couple of years, but the change has had a big impact on Central and North Queensland.
Unemployment rates are particularly high in Townsville, approaching 10 per cent, on the ABS figures. Cairns has had elevated unemployment for some time, given the high Australian dollar and the impact on the tourism industry, but it is starting to improve. Mackay is at about seven per cent. Where I am is not much below it, at about 6½ per cent in Central Queensland. More importantly, we have had a lot of people leave, so those unemployment rates do not reflect the true situation. When people leave to another region they are not captured by those unemployment numbers. Townsville has had more than 10,000 jobs lost in the past year. It has had about a 10 per cent reduction in employment levels there in the past calendar year. It is doing it very tough. That is why there is a need for strong government to have strong plans to provide jobs and new opportunities in North and Central Queensland. That is what we are focused on.
I have the honour of being the minister for Northern Australia and I must, at the start of this discussion, recognise the great work of senators and members of the other place who did the work before I came to this role. I was appointed in February this year, but the government announced in the middle of last year its white paper to develop the North. Even before that, it had done a lot of work in opposition to develop this agenda. I need to pay tribute to Senator Ian Macdonald for the work he has done over many years to elevate the North, to bring it into focus, and to Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt, in the other place, who has done a lot of work and has been the Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia.
These people did a lot to bring the Northern Australia development agenda to our nation’s forefront. That has led the government to have a plan with more than $6 billion to invest across the North, to drive this area of economic opportunity for us. This is not a welfare program. It is not saying that people in the North deserve some money or need something. This is a nation-building project that will benefit our nation. Already, the North punches above its weight. Already, it contributes to around 11 per cent of our GDP, despite being only about six per cent of our population. Its GDP per capita is more than double the rest of the country.
A good business would look at those areas of the country and say, ‘Where are we making money? Where is our business doing really well and beating the KPIs and making a return on investment?’ A good business would say, ‘Let’s invest in them. Let’s go to those places and give them more money, more funding and more opportunity so we can grow our business where we are already making money.’ That is exactly the situation in northern Australia. It is an area of our country where we are making money. We receive enormous returns from mineral wealth, agricultural wealth and tourism assets. Like any good business, we should now reinvest in the assets of that area. We can become a stronger and more prosperous country all around by doing it.
We have some great cities down here in southern Australia. I grew up in one. I grew up in Brisbane, in Sydney and in Melbourne and was over in Perth last week. They are fantastic places that we should be very proud of. But I want to make sure that when I finish my career or leave God’s earth we can look back and say we have created better cities right across our country. That is what we should be doing as a nation. We have so much opportunity. There is no reason that places like Darwin, Townsville, Cairns or Mackay cannot become major centres. Even over in Senator Reynolds’s place, I would love to see Karratha, Broome and Kununurra become major centres. They are beautiful places with huge opportunities. We need to have a commitment, which other governments and leaders have had in the past, to develop places like Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. They are places where we did have a strategy. We looked as a government, and through different leaders, to develop them. We had great people like Lachlan Macquarie. If he turned up right now he would probably ask, ‘What are you doing with the rest of the country? Why aren’t we looking at plans for those places as well?’ That is what we are trying to do with our northern Australia agenda.
Under this agenda we announced—and I was privileged to partly announce—nearly $1 billion worth of investment across the North in roads, dams and sporting infrastructure, right across northern Australia. I just want to mention a couple of them. One of them in my area is a weir on the Fitzroy River. The Fitzroy River catchment is the second-largest water catchment in our country after the Murray-Darling. Look at what we have done with the Murray-Darling and all the wealth we are going to create there. There are massive amounts of wealth just waiting to be tapped into in the Fitzroy catchment, and we are going to do something about it. We announced that we want to build a weir there which could double agricultural production in the Fitzroy, create 2,000 jobs and drought-proof the towns of Central Queensland, and we are looking forward to working with the Queensland state government to see that happen.
We have announced roads right across the north. We have announced a plan to seal the Outback Way over the next decade, including an initial investment of $128 million over the forward estimates. We only have two routes that are sealed from east to west in this big country of ours and, by sealing the Outback Way, we will create the third sealed route across our nation, across our continent. If we are going to develop this northern Australian agenda we need to think more east-west, rather than just north-south. We often think about the Pacific Highway, the Bruce Highway and how we connect up this eastern seaboard of ours, where most of our population lives, but to really develop the north, our inland and rural areas we need to think about how we are going to connect our nation from east to west. That is what we will be doing through the sealing of the Outback Way.
We have more plans, too, for water in particular. We have announced funding to reinvestigate, to do some preplanning, on things like the Hells Gate dam up in Burdekin and raising the Burdekin Falls Dam, which is one of the last major dams we have built in this country. We are looking at water options for Darwin, which are very important. Also, over in Western Australia, we are looking at opportunities to further develop the Ord River system and the Fitzroy system—not to be confused with my Fitzroy in Central Queensland.
I want to touch briefly on the Ord—I was lucky enough during the campaign to go to Kununurra for the third time. It is a wonderful oasis. I always marvel at the fact that we sometimes have people in this place who call dams environmental disasters and say that they should not build dams, yet there we have the biggest dam in our country, Lake Argyle, which is now a Ramsar listed wetland and protected under environmental legislation, under the EPBC Act.
Every time we want to do something to the Ord now we need to get environmental approval, because this man-made lake has become an environmental asset. Well, if dams are so environmentally damaging, then why is the biggest dam in our country listed as an environmental asset? It is an asset, because it is a great water body—it attracts birds, it attracts fish, it is a wonderful, wonderful place—and the things that are happening there are wonderful, too. There is a company up there that is currently developing around 12,000 hectares, and I was lucky enough to see their second-year crop of chia that is in the ground, growing beautifully. They are looking to expand into other broadacre crops like cotton and possibly sugar one day, which would provide further jobs downstream in ginning or milling facilities and would be a great boon to Kununurra and this untapped and undeveloped region of our nation.
Just across the border there are plans for a major aquaculture facility in the Northern Territory which could provide massive amounts of protein, particularly to Asia, through farming fish and, again, could create thousands of jobs in this area which has been beset by underdevelopment and economic disadvantage, particularly to our First Australians. If we can get on and do some of these projects, it will create enormous opportunities for them.
Which brings me, in the limited time I have available, to the resources sector, which I am fortunate enough to represent in this government as well. I want to spend a little time talking about what the resources sector does for our First Australians, our Indigenous Australians. I was over in the Pilbara last week, and all of the companies over there in the iron ore industry have strong Indigenous advancement programs. I particularly want to call out the Fortescue Metals Group and their chairman, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest—who would be well known to people in this chamber—and what they are doing and achieving. They have nearly 25 per cent Indigenous employment in some of their mines up there in their region, which would be about the proportion of Aboriginal people in those regions.
It is an excellent result—a result we cannot match here in Canberra in the federal government, despite our efforts to do something about employing Indigenous Australians. But our resources sector is out there doing that, providing economic opportunity for our First Australians. It is one of the reasons why so many mining projects—not all, but many, mining projects—have fundamental support from Indigenous Australians, such as in my area with the Adani coal project, which has been supported by all the native title groups in my area. Indeed, one of them had a meeting in Maryborough earlier this year, and the vote was 294 to one in favour of the Adani coalmine project. You do not always hear that in the national press but you cannot get much more comprehensive than a vote of 294 to one. Our resources sector is going to be key not just to providing those opportunities to our First Australians but to all Australians, because it is now a sector that is bigger than it was before the boom.
This idea that the boom is over and the mining sector is no longer important is absolute rubbish. It is now bigger than it has ever been as a share of GDP: it is up around nine per cent now and it was six per cent before the boom. It employs double the number of Australians that it did before the boom. All the investments that we have been lucky enough to attract over the past decade or so have made this sector permanently more important, and we are a government that is now focused on making sure we remain an attractive destination for investment in our mining sector, for jobs.
We are out there with Geoscience Australia, investing $100 million in exploring for more opportunities in this country. There are huge opportunities that still remain untapped and unexplored. As surprising as that might be, look at what the iron ore industry, which was only founded 50-odd years ago, has done for our country. We can create more industries like that with governments that are committed to economic growth, committed to jobs and committed to those sectors of our economy that produce wealth for all Australians.
Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (12:20): I too rise in reply to the Governor-General’s opening address for the 45th Parliament. Listening to many of my colleagues’ address-in-reply speeches reminds me of how lucky and how proud I am to represent this great country of ours in this chamber.
The Turnbull government was re-elected on 2 July and is delivering the strong economic plan we took to the Australian people. Last week alone, 26 bills passed our party room and are now working their way through parliament in delivery of our election commitments for a stronger economy. The priority for the Turnbull government now is, rightly, to ensure that we have a strong economy, to ensure the safety and security of our nation and to repair the budget so that we can deliver what all of us in this place share in common, what we all aspire to—that is, to leave a stronger and more prosperous nation for the next generation of Australians than the one we inherited ourselves. But I believe we are now in danger of leaving the next generation saddled with our own debts.
I have reflected on the Governor-General’s remarks in his opening address. He said this:
Australians look to their members and senators to provide them with a parliament that works for them.
Possibly to some this is a statement of the obvious, but I think it is one that can get lost in the rough and tumble of this place and in debates on the issues of the day. The Governor-General further observed that Australian citizens have vested in us, in all of us in this place:
… their trust to deal sensibly, responsibly and diligently with a multitude of policy choices important, not only to how Australians live today, but to what sort of society we bequeath to future generations.
So, as the Governor-General reminded us, it is up to all of us in this place to provide the leadership to our respective electorates and the Australian community as a whole.
For me, and I believe for all of us, one of the most important responsibilities in this place is to preserve the institutions and the principles that underpin our democracy. There is no greater democratic value or individual freedom more greatly valued and oft cited in the modern Western world than the right to free speech or freedom of expression. It is, indeed, the foundation of all modern democracies. But it is something that cannot and should not ever be taken for granted, and it is incumbent on all of us in this place to make sure that it is preserved and that our legislation reflects contemporary values and contemporary considerations.
Our own unique liberal democratic culture here in Australia recognises that society is improved by individuals thinking for themselves, imparting their own views and then having them contested in open and very robust debate, so that good ideas gain traction and bad ideas wither away, enabling changing social norms to be reflected in the legislation of the day.
While freedom of speech is never, ever completely free in any democracy, history shows us that freedoms are not successfully preserved through legislative or in practice censorship of deeply held opinions or beliefs. It is very clear to me that in all democracies free speech is essential to preserve and protect the rights of minorities. Freedom of speech is essential to preserve and protect the rights of minorities.
The wonderful thing about our own unique form of representative democracy here in Australia, indeed, particularly for senators on this side of the chamber, is that we can pursue topics we feel very passionate about without fear of repercussion, and we have in our very broad church the freedom to express our own personal views. It is our job and it is the expectation of the very people who elected us to represent them.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Australia does not have a bill of rights. Therefore, it is our role as parliamentarians to make, review and amend legislation to ensure that it is responsive and reflective of the will of the electorate. Our own constitutional founding fathers deliberately did not codify in any founding document of our nation individual freedom, rights and liberties. Rather, after a considerable degree of debate and discussion, they determined that societal values, norms and opinions change over time and, once codified, were difficult if not impossible to transform with the changing views and opinions of society. Our founding fathers had great faith that the Australian people would ensure that laws and judgements represented the majority of community expectations and beliefs of the day. That, I believe, is our role here today.
As elected representatives in this place, we are the guardians of free speech in this nation. It is a constant balancing act in all democracies but a balance that must be constantly challenged and constantly tested, and the only way to do that is to allow free debate and free discussion on issues of the day, and it can never be taken for granted.
Our greatest Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, explained in a University Of Virginia lecture in 1967 why Australia does not have a bill of rights. He said far more eloquently than I ever could:
Responsible government in a democracy is regarded by us as the ultimate guarantee of justice and individual rights.
He is talking about all of us in this chamber and in the other place. We are the guardians of justice and individual rights in this nation.
I am glad that the draftsmen of the Australian Constitution made little or no attempt to codify what individual liberties are, as those 1901 values would have been codified and be in either our Constitution today or a similar bill of rights. Our founding fathers also knew that with legal definition words can become more important than the ideas they are seeking to capture and, as I have said, values and societal norms change over time. They also knew that to define human rights is to limit them—for, in the long run, words have to be given some meaning; there has to be some judgement made about the meaning of those words—or to express them so broadly that the discipline which is inherent in all governments and ordered societies becomes difficult if not impossible.
All of us who exercise freedom of speech and freedom of opinion—and a lot of that regularly goes on in this chamber—be it in public life or in the media, have to accept that others are likely to be vehemently in disagreement with what we say and also that others may be offended or insulted with what we have to say. But that is a healthy thing in any democracy and it is critically important to make sure that our standards are acceptable to the Australian community.
Noam Chomsky noted that Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views that he liked. So was Stalin. If you are really in favour of free speech then you are in favour of freedom of speech for precisely the views that you abhor, otherwise you are simply not in favour of free speech. My own experience over many years in politics is that many, particularly I think on the left, endlessly espouse tolerance and compassion with a fervour that leads me to truly believe they are the single moral compass of our nation. How insulting is that? In our democracy, they certainly have the right to that opinion. But, for me, here is the rub: while many on the left in public life and in the media are endlessly and stridently compassionate for, and tolerant of, those who reaffirm their own personal truths and morals, they are equally ruthlessly intolerant of those who do not share their own beliefs. Anyone who dares to question their own unshakable beliefs is dismissed as ignorant. Worse, in public life today, they are labelled as sceptics, and there is an attempt to hound them into silence to ensure that the public hears and believes in only one truth—the truth of many of those on the left.
All this does is suppress and generate frustrations in the many whose voices have been silenced, leading to the very reactions that those seeking to suppress their point of view are seeking to avoid.
Two years ago, I spoke in this place about my concerns with section 18C as an example of a counter-productive legislative restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. The changes to the Racial Discrimination Act that are the subject of much discussion and debate are removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from section 18C. These are words which hurt feelings, not humiliate or intimidate—which I think we are all in agreement should stay. In its current form, I do not believe that section 18C strikes the right balance between freedom of speech and the prevention of racial discrimination.
I greatly appreciate the comments made in this place throughout the course of this debate, particularly those in Senator Moore’s speech, and also in Senator Dodson’s fabulous first speech. Both of them reminded us of our shared humanity and what limitations are acceptable to the Australian community, and, as Senator Dodson reminded us, standards and social norms change over time.
When reviewing any legislation, the intent and context is always critically important. It is my understanding that, when the act was passed in 1975, the original intention was to prohibit racial discrimination in accordance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, subsequent amendments have extended its reach to the point where many, including me, believe it has created a serious imbalance between its intentions and its practical application. To me, the recent and very much publicised QUT case demonstrates that 18C has gone a step too far. I believe that removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ and leaving the words ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’ strikes the right balance and restores clarity and precision to the act. Hurt feelings should not have legal recourse.
During the course of this debate, many prominent Australians outside this place, from all sides of the political spectrum, have lent their support to removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the act. Mr Paul Howes is somebody who I perhaps would not normally be quoting in support of my argument in this place, but Paul Howes, the former National Secretary of the AWU, summed it up I think very eloquently when he said:
… I am concerned that people in some of the circles I mix, on my side of politics, increasingly seem to think that they should write, or invoke, or resurrect, laws that will shut Andrew Bolt up.
That is not freedom of speech, and that is a step too far. Warren Mundine, the head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, last week expressed support for removing ‘offend’ and ‘insult’, stating:
I do believe it needs changes—not to wipe it completely, but to pull it back a bit.
And, while senators on this side of the chamber may not regularly turn to Julian Burnside for inspiration, on this topic I find his opinion very instructive. He has stated:
The mere fact that you insult or offend someone probably should not, of itself, give rise to legal liability. My personal view is that 18C probably reached a bit far so a bit of fine-tuning would probably be OK.
Indeed, the Australian Law Reform Commission itself concluded last year:
… there are arguments that 18C lacks sufficient precision and clarity, and unjustifiably interferes with freedom of speech by extending to speech that is reasonably likely to ‘offend’.
In some respects, the provision is broader than is required under international law to prohibit the advocacy of racial hatred, broader than similar laws in other jurisdictions, and may be susceptible to constitutional challenge.
In comparing Australia’s section 18C with other common law countries, the commission also found:
The New Zealand and UK provisions seem narrower than the Australian provision … For example, the provisions do not cover offensiveness, and require that the person provoke hostility or hatred against a group of persons defined by race or ethnicity.
In fact, the diversity of views previously held within the Human Rights Commission itself reflects the wide range of opinions in the community on this issue, and therefore I believe this discussion, while it has been over two years in the making here in this chamber, has a long way to go in the Australian community, as it should have.
But freedom of speech isn’t just about academic interpretation, legal interpretation or judicial interpretation. I think it goes further than that and touches on elements that actually make us Australian. The journalist David Marr said:
The present act has to be changed—a little. Hurt feelings should never attract the law as they do now under section 18C.
He went on to touch on an important point saying that ‘offence and insults are the everyday reality of free discourse’ here in Australia. David Marr’s comments that offence and insults are the everyday reality of free discourse in a democracy made me reflect on my uncle, Bruce Reynolds. He was a true Aussie larrikin from Marble Bar in Western Australia. He was the sort of bloke who would get up at 10 o’clock in the morning and have a bit of a flagon over his shoulder. He would welcome people with open arms. He lived out of his trailer—an old trailer with wardrobes which made up the walls of his house. I have absolutely no doubt that some would have found his language offensive and certainly occasionally insulting. But most of us who knew him would have seen the mischievous smile and the twinkle in his eye as he took the piss out of people. I think it would be a tragedy for all Australians if, in the name of political correctness and for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, that great sense of Australian larrikinism and, as I said, taking the piss out of people were lost.
Our founding fathers would have been so proud that in this place we can simultaneously debate issues that are fundamental to the health of our democracy—in this case, freedom of expression—while, at the same time, the government of the day can get on with what it is elected to do. I believe this is a cause for great celebration in here and in our nation—and not one for criticism and derision.
Senator SINODINOS (New South Wales—Cabinet Secretary) (12:38): I rise to participate in the address-in-reply. I begin by taking this opportunity to thank the electors of New South Wales for returning me to the Senate for what now appears to be a six-year term, having been appointed in 2011 and elected in 2013. I welcome being in the Senate and I welcome the many colleagues we have in the Senate from all parties. I said in my maiden speech that I do not doubt the motives of anyone who comes here or that they want to contribute to making what is the greatest country in the world even better. We come at it from different angles and perhaps with different sets of values and beliefs, but we also come to it with some common principles—one of which is an overriding faith and belief in the strength of Australian democracy, which is, at its pinnacle, exemplified by the House of Representatives—that other place—and by this great deliberative chamber. So it is a privilege to have been re-elected to this place and to have the opportunity to participate in the address-in-reply.
It is also a privilege to be in government. I often say to people that the worst day in government is infinitely to be preferred to the best day in opposition, because in government you can do things—you can get things done. We have an opportunity in this parliament to get things done, and we will have plenty of things to get our teeth into. I noted that, when the Governor-General made his address in this very chamber in front of all the members and senators, it was quite a long address, because he actually had quite a long agenda that he was reciting on behalf of the government. I welcome the fact that there is a substantial agenda but I also take at face value what other people in this chamber and in the other place, including the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, have said about wanting to make the parliament work. Ultimately we will all be judged by whether we have made this parliament work. That means getting down to work and considering the business that comes before us in terms of legislation, motions and so forth.
It was a long and tough campaign. It was an eight-week campaign, and the counting seemed to take quite a long time as well. But the fact is that we are now here and the agenda that we have put up—which I will now start to go through—is an agenda which I think, properly explained, will get the support of the Australian people as we go through the individual measures. We already gained their support by being reaffirmed as the government at the last election. Yes, it was a close election, but we come to government with a mandate to get things done. It is important that we not only explain to people carefully why we believe certain measures should go through but also have the capacity to deal honestly and openly with all members of this place and the other place in a genuine spirit of give and take. There will be some measures which will be hard for us to give up, because we will say, ‘They go to core measures that we put to the Australian people.’ But we want to see outcomes and we believe the Australian people want to see outcomes, and we will approach those deliberations on legislation with people in this chamber and elsewhere in that same spirit.
This is the first time since 2004 that a federal government has been returned with a majority in its own right. That in itself is a good and positive step for the parliament as a whole. I believe that we have to build on that and, as a government, even if we have a majority of one in the lower house, we have to act as if we have a majority of 21 or 41 and stand up for what we believe and for the agenda that we have put to the Australian people and try to get that agenda through. We recognise that we face a challenge in the Senate but we welcome the people who have been elected in the Senate, because they have all been elected by the Australian people under a properly constituted election and with voting reforms which have made it very clear that preference-whispering and the like will no longer be the order of the day. So I take at face value every person who comes into this chamber, and we want to work with them on the great matters that come before us.
We have a strong cabinet government and a strong strategic agenda, continuing the work of the coalition in investing in skills and jobs to get more Australians into work and boosting the productivity of our country. If we want to have more jobs, we need more investment and, if we want to have higher wages, we need higher productivity. There is no point mandating yourself a 10 per cent wage increase if a firm cannot actually pay for it. We as a government want to facilitate higher productivity. That is about working smarter. It is not about working longer. Australians work quite long hours. It is about encouraging as many people as possible to be as productive as possible. This is the way of the future for Australia. We know that we cannot rely on the commodity cycle to bail us out every time. We know we live in a region where the competition is intensifying—you have to run harder just to stay in the same spot. So for us the challenge is to manage this transition as our mining sector comes off and create new jobs in new sectors and new industries. For us the challenge in this parliament is to build on the industry framework which we took into the election and on which we delivered the first tranche before the election under the leadership of our Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull.
I want to talk a bit about the 45th Parliament having a rational and cohesive budget framework in which we can appropriately balance our priorities and take into account the impact of our decisions on debt now and in the future. The reality is: Australia’s debt position is not one that should be allowed to slide too much. We are an economy which is subject to the vicissitudes of international trade and finance. We do not want to be adversely subject to external shocks. It is very important that we have the capacity that we did during the global financial crisis. The Howard-Costello government had put money away in the bank, we had the Future Fund, we had no net debt. So when the global financial crisis hit we were able to spend more without getting into excessive debt. But since then the debt has continued to rise. This government has taken measures to arrest that, but we cannot have a situation where we constantly say, ‘Lord, make me pure, but not now.’ We have to have the capacity to start arresting that growth in debt so that future generations do not believe that we frittered away the opportunities that we had.
This is not a counsel to austerity all round. We have to be smart about how we go about budget repair. We have to be very smart about it. It is no longer the case of simply hacking here or there. One of the lessons that came out of the election for the coalition was the importance of being able to talk about health and education not simply through the lens of budget repair but more broadly in terms of the philosophy that we bring to those areas. So one of the challenges in this parliament for the coalition in areas like health and education is to continue the progress in making that Commonwealth government spending as effective and as well focused and targeted as possible, and to make sure that we are not wasting any extra dollar that we put into any of these areas. We want to get away from this idea that you can just put money in and that that is all you need to do. It has to be money directed for a purpose. But I think we can do this. I think we have the smarts as a country to do this, particularly now that we face an ageing population. For us, the whole purpose of government is not simply to sit there and do nothing. The purpose of government is to actually deliver services that people want. But we have to do it in a way that balances the legitimate need for those services with the need to make sure that the tax burden on low- and middle-income earners, in particular, does not fall disproportionately on them because we have to make up for the debt that we have incurred. We want to avoid future taxes by making sure that debt does not go up too much now.
One of the other things that has been a hallmark of the prime ministership of Mr Turnbull has been the focus in budget measures on promoting fairness. We saw this in relation to the measures on superannuation that we took to the election. Our view is that superannuation should be a tool to make it easier for you to maintain a certain standard of living in retirement and to reduce the reliance on the age pension where possible, but not to have it as a tool for estate planning or for leaving excessive accumulations of wealth in a very lightly, or untaxed, vehicle like superannuation. There is no divine right to these tax concessions. These are tax concessions which are paid for, potentially, by higher taxes on other members of society. What we are saying is: those who have high superannuation balances, in particular, have a contribution to make to budget repair. Everybody has to make their fair share of a contribution. That is what we are about. That is the fairness of those measures, and we will pursue those measures in this parliament.
Fairness for us also means that, when we look at the workplace, we make sure that, as Tony Blair once famously said: ‘Fairness starts with the possibility of a job.’ For us, creating more jobs means what? For example, it means implementing our agenda around the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill and the registered organisations bill. Both—particularly the ABCC bill—seek to bring more of the rule of law into the building construction sector. Why? We want to have that sector as productive and as cost efficient as possible, because the excessive costs of that sector are then passed on in higher costs to the consumers of building and construction products. The federal government and the state governments are big consumers of building and construction. So those costs ultimately end up as costs to Australian taxpayers and come out of the pockets, often, of low- and middle-income earners. So, for us, dealing with issues like the building and construction sector is an economic imperative. It is not about targeting unions. We believe in freedom of association, but we believe everybody should be treated equally before the law. That includes the building and construction sector. It includes the CFMEU; it includes the MUA. It is one rule for everybody. So it is important for us to continue our work in achieving the ABCC bill and the registered organisations bill.
We are already also putting up further savings—which the Labor Party supported during the election campaign—of about $6 billion into what is called the omnibus savings bill. We believe that these are savings that can be harvested early. They are savings that Labor themselves embraced in the campaign, so they should have no problem in embracing them now. We will pick up those savings and use them to help get our deficit under control. We would like to see an early agreement on this, particularly with Labor, if that is possible. It is on top of other things where Labor have changed position. They have changed their position on the pension assets tests; they have changed their position on the schoolkids bonus.
Every time we put the Labor Party under scrutiny on their costings and finances during the campaign, they made further concessions on other items of savings they were prepared to give up. And that is important. In another place and out in the electorate, the Leader of the Opposition said, ‘Labor is going to be constructive. We’re going to be positive. We’re going to make the parliament work.’ Well, the parliament work is give and take on both sides. It is very important that there is give and take from both sides.
Our economic plan for skills and jobs is the key to ensuring our prosperity in the years ahead. Someone said during the campaign, ‘We heard so much about jobs and growth, jobs and growth.’ We will keep hearing about skills and jobs, and jobs and growth until we are sick of saying it. And maybe where we stand on this subject will then have penetrated to the rest of the population: there is a six-point plan we have put together to promote jobs and growth. For us, that is the overriding priority. Every Australian who has a job is an Australian who is proud of themselves, who has high self-esteem and who feels that they do not have to rely on others. Then we make sure our safety net is available to those in the community who need our help. But, where possible, our imperative—whether it is through our industrial relations policies, our budget policies, regulation or reducing red tape—is to promote as many jobs as possible and make it easier for people to get jobs.
For us, having a fully articulated whole-of-government innovation and science agenda—one of the first things that Mr Turnbull did when he became Prime Minister—is very important to promoting this transition in the economy, which I talked about before. It is very important for us to use our defence spending to drive growth in high-end advanced manufacturing. The Minister for Defence is in the chamber and she has been a great champion of this, both in the finalisation of the white paper on defence and, since then, in promoting the white paper across the country. Something like $195 billion worth of investment in defence is coming up over the next few years. That spending seeks to maximise the Australian input and create those high-end advanced manufacturing jobs we talk about. These submarines are about as an advanced a piece of technology as there will be anywhere in the world, not just—
Senator Cameron: The spaceships of the ocean!
Senator SINODINOS: Senator Cameron is exactly right, and that is very important. We are talking about those capabilities being built in Australia. We will develop those capabilities further through spin-offs and the like, with benefits across industry. That is how Silicon Valley started. We cannot necessarily hope to replicate Silicon Valley, but we can take an active approach where the government uses its procurement to obtain those high-end jobs here in Australia for Australians.
We continue to cut taxes on jobs and cut taxes across the board for small business, medium business and bigger business, because that is a plan for growth in our economy. As I said earlier, we face a lot of competition in our region. One of the areas in which we face competition is around levels of tax and it is around how productive and innovative we are. We have to be able to attract extra capital and business here and we have to be able to retain people here, by making it more attractive to invest in Australia.
We also recently announced changes to competition policy, particularly around section 46 of the Trade Practices Act, which will hopefully create a more level playing field between big business and small business. It is important that we deal appropriately with the misuse of market power. We have come up with some balanced legislative provisions which I believe strike the right balance in encouraging competition in the economy while recognising the particular depredations that big business can visit on small business through misuse of market power. On top of that, we are continuing, with the states, to promote an agenda of more thoroughgoing competition reform across the board. Competition across the economy is very important. We are seeing the disruption that is occurring through Uber and through Airbnb. Disruption is occurring across the economy. Our role is not, like King Canute, to stop the tide. Our role is to actually encourage that disruption and manage it in the interests of our fellow Australians. Going hand in hand with that, we have to make sure that our education system is fit for purpose, so that those people who feel that they may be displaced out of their jobs because of technological change get the opportunity to be retrained, have the chance of a new job and are not just thrown on the scrap heap.
Senator Cameron: What are you going to do about it?
Senator SINODINOS: In relation to younger Australians, we will promote our agenda for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to encourage more people to go into those disciplines through their primary and high school years, to create more of a pipeline of people who can be the scientists, the technologists and the engineers of the future.
Senator Cameron: Everybody is going to be a scientist?
Senator SINODINOS: I could go on and on about this government’s agenda, but I can hear the drums starting to roll. So let me finish where I began. It is a privilege to be in this chamber. We have the opportunity to do some great work. It will require give and take on all sides, but I believe if we set our sights on the future and if we leave behind some of the partisanship and some of cavilling at the sides that we sometimes hear—
Senator Cameron: Like you did!
Senator SINODINOS: And some of the interjections that we hear—
Senator Williams: Point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. Will you please bring the attention of standing order 197 to Senator Cameron, who is consistently and persistently interjecting during Senator Sinodinos’ speech.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O’Neill ): Thank you. The Senate will return to order.
Senator Cameron: On the point of order, this has been a speech that has been absolute waffle. This government is in trouble. It has no agenda. Then we have to sit quietly and listen to this rubbish.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, that is not a point of order! It is a debating point. Senator Sinodinos.
Senator SINODINOS: Well, if it is waffle, he should allow me to keep going! He should vote me more time. That would be even better and he would have more waffle!
Senator Cameron: I’ll move an extension for 20 minutes!
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Cameron! You are having too much fun here.
Senator SINODINOS: Madam Acting Deputy President, those opposite do not want to hear this, because they know that we have a strong agenda. They know that we are putting a strong case to the Australian people for creating the economy of the future. Those opposite are mired in the past. They are mired in the 1970s. They need to come into 2016 and join the rest of us who are trying to create the modern Australia.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron?
Senator Cameron: Point of order. If the senator would wish an extension for another 20 minutes of waffle, I am sure we will give him that.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The Minister for Defence.
Senator PAYNE (New South Wales—Minister for Defence) (12:58): In this debate on the address-in-reply, allow me to acknowledge His Excellency the Governor-General and his address to the parliament on its first sitting following the recent election. Let me also thank the people of New South Wales for the honour and the privilege to continue to serve and to represent them here in this very important chamber.
Every day in this job is different. Every day in this job gives us an opportunity to help or support our fellow Australians in one way or another within our constituencies. It is a great responsibility and one which I take very seriously many years after I first began it. As part of my address-in-reply speech, I want to speak in particular about my visit in August to the Middle East, where I was privileged to meet with deployed members of the Australian Defence Force, whose commitment and sacrifice are central to ensuring Australia’s national security. This is an important part of this government’s agenda for this parliament—a continuing strong commitment to our national security.
Firstly, in Afghanistan, where Australia has a vital presence as part of the Resolute Support Mission, it was a great pleasure to meet with so many of those men and women, and an honour to acknowledge their service and the important work that they are doing. But, more importantly, I heard directly from them about the roles that they play and the jobs that they do in Afghanistan at the moment—on this occasion, in Kabul.
There are currently about 270 ADF personnel deployed in Afghanistan, and they are providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan security forces. That includes 12 ADF mentors who are developing Afghanistan’s future military leaders at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. The academy is a critical institution for the future of the Afghan army and, therefore, the security of Afghanistan. We work with Britain and other partners, ably led by a British officer, Brigadier Ian Rigden, in the operation and training aspects of the ANAOA. It is one of the key leadership institutes in the Afghani military. Our involvement will contribute to the strengthening of the Afghan military over the long term. Our ADF mentors have been critical to the early success of the academy. We now have a total number of graduates exceeding 1,400, which includes over 40 female officers. It is true that there is much more to be done in the recruitment of women to participate in the Afghan National Army, particularly at a leadership level. I particularly valued the insights of the young men and women I met in this context. It is fair to say that—as you would expect from representatives of the ADF—they were typically frank and open in their observations and left nothing to the imagination about the sort of work that they do and the important role they play. Enabling them to play that role depends on the diligent work of the ADF force protection element and combat support personnel, in addition to the mentors themselves. We also have ADF personnel embedded in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission headquarters, as well as in critical force protection in medical and other enabling roles. Without them, these tasks would not be performed.
I met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the recently appointed defence minister, Lieutenant General Abdullah Khan Habibi, to discuss some of the tremendous challenges they face in rebuilding their nation while defending it against the Taliban and terrorist groups. Both underlined the importance of Australia’s ongoing commitment to the long-term security of Afghanistan. I was left with absolutely no doubts as to how valuable the ADF contribution is to the future of their nation and to our interests in a stable global order. Our purpose in Afghanistan remains, as it has for the past decade and a half, to prevent that nation from ever again becoming a safe haven for terrorism that threatens Australia and the wider world. Australia is committed to working as part of the international community to provide long-term support to the government of Afghanistan as it seeks to consolidate hard-won security gains. That is why this government announced on 8 July that it will continue to support the Afghanistan security forces through our ADF contribution into 2017—the continuing contribution of 270 troops. Our annual commitment of US$100 million will continue to build the capability of the Afghan security forces for the future security and stability of Afghanistan.
There are a number of projects funded by Australia, including: the provision of Australian developed and manufactured equipment to counter improvised explosive devices through project Redwing, which is well known to those interested in the defence industry in Brisbane; the refurbishment of Afghanistan’s MI-17 helicopters; and initiatives to support increased female participation in the Afghan security and defence forces, including through new facilities and training.
It is fair to say that, following the Afghan security forces assuming the lead responsibility for security at the start of 2015, there will be setbacks along the way. This is a massive undertaking. However, they continue to build their capacity and remain committed to working with the international community. Overall, and faced with enormous challenges, the Afghan security forces are continuing to strengthen their capacity and capability to counter threats to security and to make Afghanistan a safer place for the Afghani people. As I said, there will be setbacks, and we have seen reports about issues in the past couple of weeks in a number of provinces. But recognising the challenges in bringing the Afghan national defence force on line is an important part of the growth of their capacity, as well as an important part of our work there.
In relation to our deployment in Operation OKRA, more than two years after declaring the establishment of its so-called caliphate, Daesh is no longer the fighting force that swept through Iraq and Syria in 2014. That is not to say we do not have enormous continuing challenges. Daesh is estimated to have lost almost 50 per cent of the territory it once held in Iraq and around 20 per cent in Syria, and the men and women of the ADF played no small part in these military successes. Through the support and training provided by the coalition, including Australia, Iraq security forces have worked to turn the tide against our Daesh opponents.
I saw first hand in Baghdad and elsewhere the critical role that ADF personnel have played in ensuring the Iraqi security forces are able to take the fight to Daesh. In Baghdad, I met with our special operations task group, which has been playing an important role in supporting the Iraqi counterterrorism service in key areas as part of their advise and assist mission. Since late 2014 the expertise, skill and dedication of Australia’s special forces and the members of the SOTG team have been invaluable in assisting the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service on the front line. Their work has been essential in enabling the Iraqi government to regain control of its sovereign territory while the Iraqi CTS continues to play a critical role in counteroffensive operations under some very difficult circumstances. Our advise and assist support mission includes advanced combat tactics, combat casualty care, explosive hazard awareness identification and neutralisation, as well as canine dog training.
The support to all of our partner to Iraqi forces also includes mentoring and training in professional military conduct including the principles of the law of armed conflict, human rights obligations and the use of force. Additionally, our special forces personnel are providing the Iraqi security forces with access to coalition air power that supports ground manoeuvre. Indeed to date, our SOTG has qualified over 836 members of the CTS and provided specialist training to more than 439 other soldiers. The importance of this mission has been clearly demonstrated in the work of the Iraqi CTS operations in a number of locations where territory has been retaken by the Iraqi security forces, by the government itself.
At Taji, which is about 40 kilometres north of Baghdad, I met many members of the ADF personnel contributing to our building partner capacity mission. Around 300 ADF personnel and 100 New Zealand Defence Force colleagues are deployed to that mission. The BPC is making a very important contribution to rebuilding the Iraqi army so that it can conduct successful counter offensive operations against Daesh and ultimately assume responsibility for Iraq’s security themselves. The training undertaking that they have put in since only April last year is very considerable. The joint Australia-New Zealand task group has provided training to more than 8,094 trainees and currently has 2,622 undertaking training now. So this is a very important aspect of the development and growth of the Iraqi army itself.
The government has also recently announced the expansion of the mandate of this important mission to include Iraqi law enforcement agencies. In fact as we move towards the Mosul offensive and more areas are liberated from Daesh, strong and effective policing and enforcement are also required to maintain ongoing security and stability. It is Australia’s trainers with their New Zealand colleagues which will provide these forces with military skills to enable them to do better defend territory from Daesh attacks and to provide security for local civilian populations so they are able to return to their homes to begin rebuilding their lives and communities.
During my time in Iraq, I was particularly struck by the development of very close ties and a real and deep understanding between our ADF personnel and their Iraqi counterparts. There is not only weapons training in self-protection and the basics of their participation in the Iraqi army but there is also a real friendship and a real engagement. In fact there is a very instructive Facebook post on the Australian Army Facebook page from 31 August, which references the night before the Australia-Iraq World Cup qualifier in Perth, which I think was played on 1 September. To precede that game, Iraqi and Australian soldiers decided they would play each other at Taji in similar form. The Facebook post goes on to report that the Australians were confident that they would be able to teach their Iraqi counterparts a little about football. Unfortunately, in the old phraseology of watching the footy every weekend, ‘look at the scoreboard’ really was the outcome of that—Iraq 5, Australia 2. It was a very friendly and positive engagement.
On a serious and important note though, these ties, the real ties, between two military forces—and the friendly ones as well—have not gone unnoticed in Iraq. In my meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, and his then defence minister, the Iraqi Prime Minister directly and personally thanked Australia for the important contribution that we are making, with many coalition partners also engaged in training through this process.
In the Middle East, I also met with our ADF personnel who are contributing to Australia’s Air Task Group. The ATG has been conducting air operations against Daesh targets in Iraq and in Syria and has been providing critical airborne command and control and refuelling support to the broader coalition. Since October 2014, there has been a total of 857 ADF air strike missions over Iraq and Syria. Our efforts have made a very real contribution in the fight to halt the advance of Daesh and in the continuing mission to degrade and destroy their terrorist threat. All of that work is supported, has to be supported, in this case by around 400 personnel under Operation Accordion, which sustains our military operations throughout the Middle East. I was very proud to meet with these professional men and women from a range of roles across the ADF who play a vital and much needed role to support Australian operations in the region. Frankly, our operations would not be possible without their immense professionalism and dedication.
The international coalition has made considerable progress in the fight against Daesh but there is still, as I have said, more to be done to ensure that this threat is defeated once and for all. Prior to my visit to the Middle East, I attended the Counter-Daesh Defence Ministers’ meeting and the joint defence and foreign ministers meeting in Washington in July. These meetings focused on how the coalition could accelerate and better coordinate efforts in the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and in Syria and of course how to address the metastasising of their insidious networks and to address our own domestic challenges in this important counter-terrorism work. It was also a timely opportunity for coalition members to consider the need for contemporaneous planning with respect to the military, the humanitarian and the stabilisation efforts in the lead up to the liberation of, in this case, Mosul.
The liberation of Daesh strongholds in Mosul and in Raqqa will be vital to pushing towards the eventual collapse of Daesh’s so-called ‘state’. The importance of that task cannot be underestimated. The ongoing challenge will be the security and stabilisation of the territory as it returns to Iraqi responsibility.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to playing our part in defeating the Daesh terrorist threat wherever it appears in our own country, in supporting other nations if it appears as a metastasised version elsewhere, and in this case in Iraq and in Syria.
I also want to briefly mention Operation MANITOU, our contribution to the maritime security operation in the Middle East. On this occasion I did not have the opportunity to meet the men and women deployed to Operation MANITOU, but it is fair to say that their work is key to protecting Australia’s interests—including, of course, our vital maritime trade routes. Under that operation we contribute both personnel and a major fleet unit, which is currently HMAS Perth, to the Combined Maritime Forces, or CMF. They operate across more than eight million square kilometres of international waters, and in that role Australian ships have conducted highly successful narcotics interdictions, counterpiracy patrols and seizures of illegal weapons. Since July 2014 the Australian ships deployed under Operation MANITOU have seized in excess of four tonnes of heroin and 1½ tonnes of hashish. These seizures have deprived terrorist organisations of vital funds and arms, and removed those products from the streets of countries and cities around the world.
In my final remarks I want to thank all the members of the ADF and the Defence civilians—public servants, whether they are from our Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, our Defence Science and Technology group or countless others—who are working across the Middle East. As we know, we have had military personnel and civilians serving in the Middle East since the First World War. They are difficult and demanding jobs in tough conditions. It was 50 degrees Celsius in the shade in Baghdad in August alone, and it is significantly hotter than that when you are working on a plane on the tarmac in the middle-day heat anywhere in the Middle East.
Our ongoing commitments to the Middle East region are important to Australia’s national security, and I want to thank every Australian who has served for their dedication and for the dedication of their families. Whether it is in Afghanistan, Iraq or the waters of the Arabian Gulf, the men and women of the ADF are making a real difference. It is their commitment, their dedication, their professionalism, their skill and their sacrifice which do that. We should be very proud of the important work that they are doing in our name and we should keep them in our thoughts.
Senator WONG (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:17): I want to make some remarks about this address-in-reply debate. I say at the outset that I exempt Senator Payne from the comments I am about to make, because that was an important contribution about the role that the ADF continues to play, and we join with her in her remarks about their service. Leaving her aside, it has been quite an interesting debate, hasn’t it, Madam Acting Deputy President O’Neill?
This address-in-reply debate, which has been going on for some hours now, really confirms what Labor said in the election. We said in the election that Mr Turnbull and his government have no agenda. We said in the election that Mr Turnbull and his government have no plan and no ideas, and today in the Senate that has been demonstrated. For some three hours we have seen speaker after speaker from the government side filibuster in a desperate attempt to keep this chamber running until question time. They literally have nothing to talk about. They have no content. The only thing they have a lot of content on, the only thing they have an excess supply of, is division. They have got a lot of that: division on marriage equality; division on superannuation; division on donations reform. In fact, you have to work hard to keep up with the number of splits in the government at the moment, because every new blog tells us another story about another split.
This is the government of Australia we are talking about. Some of us in politics might look at this and think how amusing it is that the Prime Minister is under attack by his own backbench, by the former Prime Minister and by former cabinet ministers, but the hard and sad reality of it is that this division brings with it paralysis. It brings with it an inability to govern. What we have seen this morning in this chamber is a government so divided they are paralysed and unable to govern. They are unable to bring into this chamber a single piece of legislation. We even had the spectacle of cabinet ministers of this country, Senator Sinodinos and Senator Canavan, being dragged into this place for the sole purpose of keeping the Senate sitting until question time. You would think they have nothing to do—they are only ministers of the cabinet!
In the meantime, we have been subject to some stunning displays of oratory from the other side. Senator McGrath regaled the house with his love of the Last Night of the Proms music concert, which he described as one of his favourite TV programs. Senator Canavan told us about chia seeds and his favourite places in Western Australia. Just for good measure, Senator Reynolds used her filibuster to further embarrass the Prime Minister over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. She read out long slabs of quotes from people who, like her—in defiance of the wishes of the Prime Minister—want section 18C repealed. Senator McGrath also told us of his love of flagpoles and relived his not so glorious days on the campaign trail with the former member for Herbert. Senator Seselja resorted to reading out a list of local Liberal candidates. But my personal highlight, my personal favourite, was Senator McKenzie not only declaring that the best thing about the election was the Nationals beating the Liberals in Mallee and that Senator Scullion is a deep thinker but also declaring her praise for the Nationals candidate in McEwen whose name she could not even remember, but who, apparently, ‘runs a stockfeed store in a place starting with T.’
Colleagues, it has been 2½ months since the election. It has been four months since the parliament last sat at the commencement of the session. I think senators, the media and in fact the Australian people are asking, ‘Where is this Turnbull government’s agenda? Where is that plan for jobs and growth?’ We have five sitting weeks left till the end of the year, and this is the government’s legislation plan. It is not surprising that The Australian Financial Review and others published pieces for the weekend which looked at the Prime Minister’s performance and graded him. I think he basically got a D-plus from The Financial Review and their commentators. I would note that, in those articles, there was a conspicuous absence of senior colleagues defending him. But I thought the best comment, which deserves repeating in this chamber, came from ANU economist Martin Richardson, who said, ‘What’s the Latin for “I came, I did nothing, I stuck around”?’ … ‘I’m sure Mr Turnbull would know.’
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (13:22): I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the address-in-reply speech by His Excellency the Governor-General on the opening of the 45th Parliament. Senator Wong, as the shadow minister for foreign affairs, hopefully not only will find what I have to say as being of interest but also will agree wholeheartedly with a lot of what I am about to say. I want to specifically focus on His Excellency’s comments regarding foreign affairs, trade and investment, and most especially my area of international development and the Pacific.
I was delighted to attend my first Pacific Islands Forum recently in Pohnpei—in fact, I just got back yesterday evening—in the Federated States of Micronesia. The Pacific Islands Forum, or PIF, as it is referred to, is the only gathering of Pacific leaders in a region where Australia has core strategic and security interests. The participation of the Prime Minister and I demonstrates Australia’s commitment to the region as a major partner and our intention to step up engagement to address the challenges faced by the region.
At the forum the Prime Minister outlined his four priorities for PIF: to underline Australia’s long-term commitment as a major and reliable partner on strategic security, economic and development issues in the Pacific region; to reinforce PIF’s role in strengthening resilience and capability to meet the significant challenges facing the region; to outline new, substantial commitments by Australia to help meet those challenges, including on support for climate change and improving disaster management and risk reduction; and to listen to the views of other Pacific nations and exchange ideas on the ways we can intensify and sharpen regional approaches in support of our core and common interests in security, stability and sustainable growth.
The Prime Minister emphasised our interests in the region and that the complexity of the challenges we face demand more engagement at every level, more integrated policy and fresh ideas. Our government’s commitment will be guided by our foreign policy white paper next year. These initiatives will support continued stability and resilience in our region, and the forum is an important partner in this shared goal. Australia supports the Framework for Pacific Regionalism and progress by the forum to take forward regional cooperation on key priorities, particularly in relation to climate change and disaster risk management. We further see opportunity to strengthen the forum’s value-add in generating political support for regional action and providing practical support to help ensure that action is coordinated and effective.
As the Prime Minister noted at the forum, Australia supports the new, proposed Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, which crucially links work on climate change with disaster risk management. Australia will also support the early establishment of the Pacific Resilience Partnership as the mechanism for implementing and coordinating action on the framework. We are pleased also that the forum leaders have agreed on a statement of principles to accelerate action and enhance coordination of climate finance. It underlines the commitment of all in the region and makes clear that the Pacific has a real plan of action to address this challenge.
For Australia, there is no more pressing need for regional action than on climate change and resilient development. The climate conference in Paris set the global framework, and we must now work together to implement those commitments in line with our national priorities and help us as a region to deliver on our commitments. As announced by the Prime Minister, Australia will provide $300 million to Pacific Island countries over the next four years, including $775 million for addressing the impacts of climate change and disasters. This is an increase of $80 million on current levels of assistance, and these investments are based on Pacific national priorities. Australia will engage closely on what is most critical now to our Pacific neighbours and we will be supported by our overall overseas development assistance programs that are increasingly climate smart.
The Prime Minister also noted that we will continue to work to secure a substantial share of Green Climate Fund resources for the Pacific. Australia has committed $200 million to the fund over four years and co-chairs the Green Climate Fund board this year. We will be commencing the ratification process for the Paris agreement as soon as parliamentary processes allow. We are committed to working with the region to ensure the Pacific remains secure for all of us.
Australia’s defence white paper identified the security and stability of Australia’s immediate neighbourhood as our highest strategic priority after the defence of Australia. Our commitment to the Pacific is underlined in our Pacific Maritime Security Program. Importantly, we had discussions at the forum about illegal fishing and the need for nations of our region to be able to stop it. Of course, that is where the provision of patrol boats, particularly the new Pacific Patrol Boat program, are so important. We are also providing additional support in terms of aerial surveillance so that illegal fishers can be identified, and we will be providing new vessels to replace the current patrol boats.
We are also very focused on building resilience in the region through long-term economic prosperity. Australia is committed to facilitating greater economic integration in the region. To this end it is vital that we move forward with PACER Plus, the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations free trade agreement. Conclusion of this agreement will improve economic growth prospects and support structural reform in Pacific island countries. There is already significant momentum towards greater integration in the region. Links between our people are increasing, including through our Seasonal Worker Program. In 2015-16, some 4½ thousand workers from participating Pacific countries undertook short placements in Australia, mostly in agriculture. Up to 40 workers from Kiribati will begin work in aged care and tourism in the coming months under Australia’s Pacific Microstates—Northern Australia Worker Pilot. This program will allow 250 citizens from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to work for up to three years in low-skilled occupations in northern Australia. Labour mobility measures such as these have the potential to boost regional economic development more than any other measure. It is important that we continue to build on this momentum.
Forum leaders also discussed the importance of continuing support to Solomon Islands following the conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands in June 2017. Australia has been proud to play a leading role in RAMSI since its inception in 2003, and our commitment will continue long after RAMSI concludes. Discussions with Solomon Islands on Australia’s post-RAMSI support are ongoing. Our support will include ongoing police-to-police advisory support, to consolidate the gains made under RAMSI. We are also discussing arrangements with Solomon Islands that would allow deployment of additional military, police and civilian personnel, at their request, in the event of a significant security or humanitarian crisis.
I would now like to focus on Australia’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Our globalised world has delivered great prosperity. It is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, living standards are rising and the promise of technology seems boundless. But yet millions around the world have been left behind.
The Millennium Summit, held at the UN headquarters in New York, produced the Millennium Development Goals—and recognition by countries of the world that there remains much to do to assist the millions not sharing in the prosperity. Former Prime Minister John Howard recognised that bridging the global economic divide would remain a key objective for the United Nations into the new century.
In the years since the millennium goals were agreed, we have taken greater strides to realise this goal. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and mortality rates for children under five have halved. But there is still more to be done. In 2013, an estimated 375 million people—almost 12 per cent of the global workforce—got less than the World Bank’s measure of absolute poverty: $1.25 per day. The Sustainable Development Goals were developed as a roadmap to push ahead with this task. In 17 goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development articulates the ambitions of nations to keep working towards a better world.
Australia took an active role in the development of these goals, so it is no accident that many of the 2030 Agenda’s sustainable development goals line up directly with our own development priorities. Three of these goals—on growth, on gender and on governance—build on the strengths of our aid program, especially in the Pacific. For example, the role of private-sector-led economic growth in driving poverty reduction aligns with our own objectives.
Our government’s economic diplomacy agenda has been delivering results, especially in our region. Where traditional diplomacy builds stability, economic diplomacy delivers growth—recognising the crucial role of investment, trade and economically productive infrastructure.
I saw this firsthand during my recent visit to Malekula Island in Vanuatu, an island to which I was the first Australian minister to travel. In Malekula, we are helping rural cocoa growers improve the quality of their crop, establishing better links to markets, and, ultimately, getting more money into the pockets of rural families and communities.
Creating economic opportunity, particularly in agriculture, is one of the few paths to prosperity in remote island communities. It is pleasing to see that Australian businesses, like Haigh’s Chocolates—
Senator Birmingham: An outstanding business, too!
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, Senator Birmingham, in South Australia. Businesses like that are seeing the value—particularly to you, Senator Cameron, who share my love of chocolates—in buying and marketing a boutique product produced in the Pacific region. This is sustainable development in action.
Gender equality also matches neatly with Australia’s development program. Our focus on gender is driven by a recognition that empowering women is a strong contributor to economic growth and stability. If we empower a woman, we empower her family and we empower her society. That is why our aid program requires that 80 per cent of our total investments effectively address gender issues in their implementation.
I recently visited parts of Fiji recovering from the devastation of Cyclone Winston. The cyclone had a particularly devastating impact on economic infrastructure, including town markets and the mostly women vendors. Rather than just rebuilding the market, Australia is working with local women’s groups to identify issues which are of importance to them. For example, in the township of Rakiraki, which I visited, the women vendors at the market often have to stay overnight with their young children, often at considerable cost and personal risk. So, as part of our assistance, Australia is not only funding the reconstruction of the market in Rakiraki but also funding a new accommodation centre which will mean that the women can stay overnight in a safe place and bring their goods to market, in turn making it easier for them to earn an income, retain that income and add to the economic prosperity of Fiji.
The Sustainable Development Goal relating to peace and governance dovetails perfectly with our efforts on anti-corruption in various forums, including in the G20. It reflects our commitment to human rights—witnessed by our bid to join the UN Human Rights Council in 2018. And it is clearly evidenced by our ongoing commitment to RAMSI in the Solomon Islands.
As RAMSI heads towards its expected conclusion next year, we can be proud of Australia’s efforts to promote peace and governance in our region. Our Pacific Island neighbours face particularly complex development challenges, which we are committed to helping address.
We will also continue to work with our partners in the private sector and to look for new partners. This will include initiatives like our Business Partnerships Platform, which designs and builds commercially sustainable solutions to development challenges.
The Addis program on development finance is a practical means for us to address this ambition. This program acknowledges that success for the Sustainable Development Goals will require us to mobilise all sources of development finance—public, private and international. It highlights the importance of ensuring developing countries can sustainably raise the means to support their own prosperity, including by having effective taxation, strengthening financial markets, building market access to improve trade and encouraging and facilitating private investment. So success for the 2030 agenda will require a concerted effort by all of us through genuine partnership with our Pacific and global neighbours.
I now turn to what the government is doing in aid and development more generally. In 2016-17 the official aid spend will be $3.8 billion from a total government budget of an estimated $445 billion. This is an estimated 0.23 per cent of gross national income. The Australian government’s development policy document Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability was released in 2014. Our investment priorities are: infrastructure; trade facilitation and international competitiveness; agriculture, fisheries and water; effective governance; education and health; building resilience; and gender equality and empowering women and girls.
Investment priorities for each country and regional program are reflected in aid investment plans that are available on DFAT’s website. At least 90 per cent of our aid is directed to the Indo-Pacific region, particularly our immediate neighbourhood in South East Asia and the Pacific. Examples include preventing health threats, such as drug resistant tuberculosis spreading to Australia through a major program in PNG, and countering radicalisation, including through a justice and security partnership with the government of Indonesia. These are only two of a far greater number.
We are on track to spend 20 per cent of the aid budget on aid-for-trade investments by 2020. Aid for trade helps developing countries improve their capacity to trade, contributing to economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction. For example, we are partnering with the World Bank Group to help developing countries improve policies and regulations to attract, retain and extend foreign direct investments. Our plan is for a strong, prosperous and secure Australia. Fundamental to this is a strong, prosperous and secure region, especially the Pacific.
Australia’s aid program contributes to prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, including through humanitarian assistance in response to disasters. Aid contributes to sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction and stability. There are 456 million people who live in extreme poverty—that is, less than US$1.90 a day—in Asia and the Pacific region. With poverty comes poor health and education and a lack of economic productivity, and it contributes to instability. Australia benefits if citizens in its region are healthy, well-educated and making an economic contribution and thereby lessening their dependency.
We also benefit if our neighbouring countries are stable, well-governed and open to trading opportunities. Aid complements other steps the government is taking to make our region safer and more prosperous. When disasters strike, we help to save lives and rebuild critical infrastructure. As a responsible neighbour in the region, it is the right thing to do. We take a rigorous approach to the effectiveness of Australian aid. Our Australian aid program is not charity. We have strategic targets focused on aid effectiveness, value for money and performance benchmarks with partner governments. We have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption. Potential losses from fraud and corruption in the aid program in 2014-15 were 0.026 per cent of expenditure, about $1.3 million.
By supporting aid for trade and economic integration in the region we create an environment that benefits Australian business. By reducing poverty we empower millions of people to lead healthy and productive lives. This promotes self-reliance and stability in countries across our region. By working to build stable and secure societies we help counter violence, radicalisation and transboundary threats that could affect Australians and our national security. Through investments in health we are preventing threats, such as drug resistant tuberculosis, malaria and the zika virus, from spreading to Australia.
In conclusion, Australia’s development investments in the Asia-Pacific are making a positive difference. The Prime Minister and I attended the Pacific Island Forum to demonstrate Australia’s continued commitment to help meet the many challenges facing our region, including climate change, transnational threats and security issues, as well as poverty in our region. Last week we demonstrated that right across the board Australia is providing considerable support and real partnership. It is one that respects the independence and sovereignty of the nations of the Pacific and one that recognises that we are all strong and committed partners for this region.
As I travel in the Pacific I reinforce Australia’s commitment to building strong personal relationships that underpin this long commitment of partnership, which is so important for our prosperity and the prosperity of our region.
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria—Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts) (13:42): I had not planned to make a contribution to the address-in-reply speech by His Excellency the Governor-General a couple of weeks ago, not that there would have been anything inappropriate if I had. I just felt compelled to respond to the contribution of Senator Wong and the briefing that took place today by the opposition, around this building, in relation to the management of the government’s legislative program.
The opposition have been running around to anyone who will listen, in this place, that the Senate has—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): Senator Cameron, on a point of order?
Senator Cameron: I am not sure whether the senator is actually in an address in reply or whether this is a personal explanation. Could we get some clarification for that?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes. Senator Fifield?
Senator FIFIELD: This is not a personal explanation. I am contributing in the same vein as Senator Wong did only about 40 minutes ago.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Okay; thank you, Senator Fifield.
Senator FIFIELD: The opposition have been running around talking to anyone who will listen to them today saying that the Senate has run out of business, that the government has mismanaged its legislative program. Nothing could be further from the truth. As you know, Mr Acting Deputy President, once there has been a double dissolution election the books are cleared of the parliament, in terms of legislation. Legislation needs to be reintroduced into parliament, which happened in the last sitting week in the House of Representatives. Notice is given, legislation is introduced and, in the ordinary course of events, you would expect to have legislation from the House of Representatives by this time. But the reason that we do not is that the Australian Labor Party have been playing petty undergraduate games in the House of Representatives today.
There is legislation in this place which is absolutely uncontroversial and which you would expect a responsible opposition would facilitate the passage of. That has not been the case in the House of Representatives today. There are two pieces of legislation which the House of Representatives were planning to send to the Australian Senate today to be dealt with: the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016 and the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016.
I want to focus on one bill at the outset, and that is the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016. I put to you that there could not be a less controversial bill come to this parliament in this term than the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill, yet the Australian Labor Party over in the other place today sought to deny the chamber the opportunity to have that bill read a third time. I see you raise an eyebrow, I think, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter. Perhaps you are—
Senator Cameron: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The Senator should not reflect on the chair. It is a reflection on the chair, and Senator Fifield knows that. He should withdraw that comment.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): Senator Fifield, can I ask you the question: were you reflecting on the chair with that comment?
Senator FIFIELD: I was not, but perhaps I mistook your eyebrows. They were motionless. I stand corrected. You are impassive in the chair. But you may well have raised an eyebrow at the fact that the Australian Labor Party would seek to delay, frustrate, the consideration of the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill. This is what the Australian Labor Party do time and again—they use procedural tactics to delay the consideration of legislation. They use procedural tactics to put off the opportunity for a chamber to address the legislation before it. They use these tactics, they delay the transmission of a bill to the Senate and then the Labor Party jump to the other side of the argument to say, ‘Why, oh why hasn’t the Senate addressed this bill yet?’ when it is their own tactics in the other place that are preventing this legislation from being debated in the Australian Senate.
Let me take a moment to talk to the chamber about the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill, which is the bill that Labor seeks to frustrate. What the bill seeks to do is to amend the Registration of Deaths Abroad Act 1984 to:
… enable the minister to appoint any state or territory registrar as the Registrar of Deaths Abroad; validate the prior appointment of the ACT Registrar-General as the registrar and validate any previous registrations of deaths; enable the registrar to register death that could have been registered under the law of a state or territory, where the state or territory concerned has provided notice that it will not register a death; and ensure that only the registrar can register deaths.
That is the summation from the Senate Table Office bills list, and I defy any colleague here to nominate another bill that has come before this place over the previous three years or in the coming three years, that is less controversial. This is the standard of the Australian Labor Party today. This is how low the Australian Labor Party have stooped—that they are seeking to delay consideration in the House of Representatives of the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016. Yet, as I said, Labor have been running around this building saying—and Senator Wong made a contribution before inferring the same—that somehow the government had not planned to have legislation addressed in the Senate today. What rot!
Let me point out for those opposite something that may have escaped them: for legislation to be considered by the Senate, it needs to have first passed through the Australian House of Representatives. The Australian Labor Party are doing what they always do, which is to seek to be on both sides of an argument at the same time. On the one hand, they seek to delay passage in the House of Representatives and, when they have some success in that, they then run around to anyone who is listening and might not be following the proceedings closely in the two chambers and say, ‘Gee, isn’t it awful that the government don’t have legislation to debate in the Senate?’ when the reason for that is those opposite. It is breathtaking. It is not something that I, during my previous incarnation as the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, would have sought to do, firstly. Secondly, I would not have been so hypocritical as to seek to delay passage and then blame that on my opponents on the other side. It is seriously peculiar.
So we could well be debating the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016 and we could also be debating the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016 but, again, the Australian Labor Party in the other place have sought to deny that opportunity to the Australian Senate. It is unsurprising, therefore, that my colleagues on this side of the chamber have been contributing to the address-in-reply debate. I think numbers of colleagues would have assumed that that opportunity to contribute in the address-in-reply debate might have taken place tomorrow or the day after or in a couple of weeks time, because the address-in-reply debate is one that, historically, goes over many, many weeks. But the reason why colleagues have been contributing today is that we have not been given the opportunity to consider the legislation that we were intending to consider, courtesy of the activities of the Australian Labor Party in the other place.
But I do wonder when Labor will start to live up to their post-election rhetoric. There was a cavalcade of Labor figures from the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, down who said that they wanted this to be a cooperative parliament, that they wanted this to be a parliament that worked, that the Australian people do not have time for petty games, that the Australian people want their elected representatives to get together and talk to each other to make this place and the place over the other side of the building work. We all heard that and we were tempted on this side to take that at face value. Indeed, we did initially take it at face value, that the opposition leader wanted this to be a parliament which was marked by cooperation, but from the first day of sitting all evidence has been to the contrary. From the first day of sitting, almost every word and every deed of the Australian Labor Party has not fulfilled that promise and that commitment made by Mr Shorten to have this as a Senate that would work.
I have spent a fair bit of time through the course of today on the phone to members of the Australian press gallery and in interviews explaining exactly what it is that the Australian Labor Party have been up to today, that they have indeed been talking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time, as they so often do. In this case, they have been talking out of one side of their mouths in the Australian House of Representatives, seeking to delay consideration of the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016 and then, out of the other side of their mouths, they talk to people in this building, members of the press gallery, saying ‘Gee, you’d think the Senate would be considering legislation by now.’ Their actions on the other side have stopped us doing that which we should be doing—looking at legislation.
The fact is the Australian Labor Party have chosen the most uncontroversial bill that they could possibly find. If Labor continue in this vein, the Australian people will recognise Labor for what they are—that is, an operation that is not fit for government. I know they are referred to as the alternative government, but they are not an option that is fit for purpose. They are not an option that is ready for service. They are not interested in making this a place of cooperation.
I remember when I was the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, I was always looking for opportunities where we could make this place work. Where there was legislation that was not controversial, we did the right thing—we would not frustrate its passage simply for the sake of an exercise. Indeed, I remember some of my colleagues being critical, saying, ‘Mitch, you’re being too cooperative with the other side.’ I stand guilty as charged, that I was endeavouring to make sure that we maintained the public interest at the forefront of our minds—where there was legislation that was not controversial, what was the possible point of frustrating that legislation? The only people you are seeking to punish by taking that approach are the Australian people. We are not interested in that.
When we were in opposition, we were interested in focusing on those areas of genuine disagreement. Who would have thought that the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016 would have become an issue of controversy in the House of Representatives. I do not think anyone on this side would have thought for a moment that the Australian Labor Party would have stooped so low as to delay and to make as an issue of controversy the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016.
Senator Wong: Bring it on as a debate. Come on. You’ve got the message. Why don’t you bring it on?
Senator FIFIELD: The reason there has been a delay in that bill coming across here is not because of any action by this side; it is entirely because of the actions of those on the other side. Anyone watching the Australian House of Representatives today would have seen that—the Australian Labor Party seeking to deny the House of Representatives the opportunity to have the third reading of the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill.
I will take Senator Wong’s earlier interjection. She is proving what I said before that Labor speak out of both sides of their mouths. They seek to delay and frustrate in the House of Representatives, and then, out of the other side of their mouths, they come into this place and they say to the press gallery, ‘Gee, the reason why the Senate isn’t dealing with that piece of legislation is because of the government,’ when it was the opposition itself that sought to deny the House of Representatives the opportunity to deal with that bill.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Senator FIFIELD: Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, you can hear it yourself at the table—Senator Wong doing the old speak out of both sides of the mouth routine. Over on the House side, Labor seek to frustrate and delay and then, when the outworking of what they have done is a delay to the Senate considering something, they say, ‘Oh, it’s nothing to do with us’—it is entirely the Australian Labor Party.
The press gallery have seen through Labor’s tactics today. The Australian people will see through the tactics of the Australian Labor Party as they display them day after day in the other place and as they display them day after day in this place. If any of us thought for a second that the Australian Labor Party wanted to turn over a new leaf this term, I make it clear, Mr President, that they will not. They will refuse to adopt a stance of cooperation. The Australian Labor Party cannot rise beyond petty, undergraduate student politics. They could not in the last term; they will not in this term. It does not matter how much Bill Shorten pays service to the language of cooperation, they will not fulfil that.
The PRESIDENT: It being 2 pm, we move to questions without notice.
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