Matter of Public Importance - The Government's failure to govern in the best interests of Australians - 03/12/2021

02 December 2021


I was noting the government's long list of failures, rorts, dodgy deals and broken promises, but I ran out of time just when I was getting started. It seems they saw me coming, because, with the Christmas messages and valedictories this afternoon, my time has been cut short. But, anyway, back by popular demand, I've got a bit more time to discuss these issues in depth.

I'm very proud to have requested today as a matter of public importance that this House discuss the government's failure to govern in the best interests of Australians, because, in the words of Billy Joel, the Prime Minister 'didn't start the fire' but he most certainly doesn't 'hold a hose'! From birthing lanes on the Barton Highway and the forced handshakes of bushfire victims to robodebt and telling Australian women we're lucky we're 'not being shot at', Australia has never had a government quite like this one. With Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott before him, we've had almost 10 years of a government that cares more about itself than the issues facing Australians, and Australians deserve so much better.

I don't need to remind Australians about what they went through in the Black Summer bushfires in 2019 and 2020, but I will remind them of what the Prime Minister did: he went to Hawaii, and then he told us he didn't 'hold a hose'. And when he returned he started the PR mission from hell. He went to Cobargo, where he forced a pregnant woman to shake his hand. He snubbed our fire chiefs who had sounded the alarm bells months earlier. He blamed arsonists and environmentalists and ignored the basic science that our changing climate would make our fire seasons worse. This was confirmed just last week: the CSIRO published a study showing, 'Climate change is the dominant factor causing the increased size of bushfires in Australia.' He did establish a royal commission in the aftermath, only to then ignore its recommendation to develop a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet. And, always about the announcement and not the follow-up, he promised to fund the recovery but not much has been spent, because people in this region are still living in caravans. And, as the member for Eden-Monaro and the member for Gilmore will continue to focus on, these people need help. In the Bega Valley, of the 467 homes burnt down only 34 have been rebuilt—not good enough.

This Prime Minister will always act in his own interests and not in the interests of Australia, because it's always someone else's fault, someone else's responsibility. It's why he outsourced quarantine to the states, and it's why in the minutes before COP26 this government was hopelessly divided on the question of net zero by 2050, and he put it onto the Nationals and the climate deniers in their ranks to write his policy—the same policy that embarrassed Australia on the world stage at the recent COP26 meeting in Glasgow. If that weren't enough, the government signed up to an international agreement to act on climate change and the same day confirmed they had no intention to fulfil it. You can't believe a word they say.

Remember, we've had eight years of this government, and in that time we've had three prime ministers and more than 20 energy policies, yet they have delivered nothing. Don't believe the pamphlet or the talk of technology. Scott Morrison's real plan is to leave it to someone else: our children and our grandchildren. It's so predictable with this Prime Minister, because everything is someone else's responsibility.

If you need more proof of the lack of humanity at the centre of this government, look at their response to Brittany Higgins when she bravely spoke out about her alleged rape in this building. We saw a real moment arise for the Prime Minister to stand up and show some leadership when someone from his own team, working for his minister, came forward with the most distressing account of her experiences here in this building. But, setting aside what we might have liked to have seen from the leader of our nation in response to this, what about as an employer, a senior colleague, a human being? How did he respond to a young woman, a member of his own staff, who should have been safe in her workplace? We heard that the government was taking action. Yet in the meantime the Prime Minister was asking his former chief of staff to undertake an inquiry into what his staff knew about and when. We still don't know the answer to that. We heard that Jenny had told him to 'think about it as a father'. Yet in the meantime his staff were backgrounding Brittany Higgins's loved ones. We heard from the Prime Minister that women have copped this for far too long, right before he tried to weaponise the experience of women to blackmail the media.

Brittany Higgins's brave testimony and other revelations of disgraceful behaviour in this building led to a groundswell from women around this country because what was going on in this building was what was going on in their workplaces, in their homes and in their community. We have a deep-seated problem with violence against women in country, yet this Prime Minister wouldn't go and stand with the thousands of women who marched that day, outside this building and around the country, in the March 4 Justice to say, 'Enough is enough.' I was proud to stand out there with them, as were many of my colleagues. But, when we came in, the Prime Minister told us we were lucky we hadn't been shot at.

Last week we saw seven coalition members cross the floor, yet the only one hauled into the Prime Minister's office for a 'please explain', against their wishes, was the member for Bass, Bridget Archer. It wasn't Senator Rennick, it wasn't Senator Canavan, it wasn't the member for Dawson—just the member for Bass. I wonder what was different about her! And let's not forget that this week we saw one of the Prime Minister's senators barking at a female parliamentarian on the very day that Kate Jenkins's damning report into the culture of this building was handed down.

Australians want to see a better standard from their parliament than this. But this is a government that has one standard for itself and another for everyone else. This is a government that has no respect for the institutions of this parliament, for our democracy, for integrity, for accountability. It shuts down debate at every opportunity. In the last sittings of this year, and possibly this term, what is the government trying to rush through? Not some great reform but a voter suppression bill, Trump style. I'm proud that Labor stood against this and that this bill has been defeated. We didn't want to see it made harder for Australians to vote. You couldn't write this stuff. The government has failed to introduce a federal integrity commission, having promised it over a thousand days ago. But apparently it's our fault, as the opposition, that the government has not introduced a piece of legislation. It's because it doesn't want to have the debate.

On scandals, the list is too long for me to go through it again: sports rorts; 'pork and ride'; the scandals surrounding the member for Hume, 'watergate' and 'grassgate'; forged documents. We've got the Leppington Triangle, where $30 million was spent on land worth $3 million. We've got the member for Pearce and his anonymous $1 million donation, and this government's unprecedented vote against sending that to the Privileges Committee. We have seen secrecy. We have seen a secret trial where the government has tried to prosecute, in secret, Bernard Collaery and Witness K. We have seen the attacks on and interference in the ABC, and even the raiding of Annika Smethurst's home. We've seen millions spent on the COVID-19 app—and who is using that? Did it work? Did it trace one case? No, it didn't.

What has the Prime Minister done amongst this scandal? He has dodged, deflected, distracted and backgrounded. And he has an uncomfortable relationship with the truth. He said 'Shanghai Sam' 17 times, and then said he'd never said it. 'Electric vehicles will end the weekend'—we all saw him say that. At the front of the queue is leaking diplomatic texts. I won't go on, because we all know what's going on. No wonder, with the list of scandals that have accumulated over this past decade, the government does not want a federal integrity commission to look into these issues.

It's been a lost decade for Australia. We're the ones who pay the price. We're the ones who are paying the price for a government incapable of acting in the interests of anyone but themselves. For eight long years this government has squandered Australia's advantages and ruined our reputation on the world stage. We rank last among 60 countries on climate policy; we have slipped to 59th in the world for average broadband speeds; we rank eighth out of 11 high-income countries for healthcare affordability; educational outcomes have slipped; we are ranked as more corrupt and have less trust in government; household debt as a share of GDP is now the second highest of 43 countries; and we have the third most unaffordable housing market. One in six Australian children—

The SPEAKER: Order!

Ms PAYNE: And I'm out of time again.