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Friday, 25 November 2011
Page: 9640


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (10:46): I recognise that there is a great deal of interest in this debate. It goes to the very core of what we, as members of parliament, are doing here. I understand that there are very different motivations for why people come to the Senate—it is a very important house, as has been pointed out—and how they actually get here. I recognise that some get installed in the Senate because they are being pensioned off from the union movement or because they can no longer see the fulfilment of their dreams in other aspects of their lives. I recognise that for some this is just a retirement plan. But for many of us the decision to come to the Senate, and the opportunity to do so, is driven by a real desire to review legislation and to consider the implications for the Australian people of the direction of our nation and the direction of our economy.

I take that responsibility very seriously. I am not from some fringe group that has stumbled into it, as have members of the Greens party. I am someone who came here to make a difference. And I know that many of my colleagues on this side of the chamber actually take this very seriously. In accordance with that it is appropriate that there are times when 'time management', as it is euphemistically called, or the 'guillotine', as it has been referred to in this instance, can be applied, in the interests of the Australian nation. That is something that governments have to use on occasions. They have to use it wisely.

But where this motion put forward by the government rankles—it contradicts the common sense that should be with us all—is in the simple fact that we have scheduled three sitting days for next week in which we could fully explore the plethora of legislation or bills that has been put before this Senate and has been cut off without a single word of debate or discussion. That has effectively neutered the role of all of us in this parliament to critically examine and assess what is going on. We have had an example of some of this with the family law bills, which are very contentious. I know that there are many people in this place who have received numerous emails and communications about problems with the family law bills and how they could be amended. But we did not even have a debate in the committee stage on the legislation. This is an outrage; it is a travesty. The people in this place have a democratic right to critically examine legislation.

So I am not against time management but I am against the abuse of what I believe is our democratic process. I am against the government being held hostage by a group of fringe dwellers—the fairies at the bottom of the garden known as the Greens party. That is exactly what is happening here. We know that the Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown—who is currently before the Privileges Committee for allegations of misconduct in pursuit of his duties—has basically said to the government, 'My team and I are going to Durban to crow about this great green tax that we have placed upon the Australian people, that we have forced upon the Gillard government, and we are going to trumpet it around the world,' notwithstanding the fact that the rest of the world has said that this is a joke. Just today, and yesterday, there was a release of a stack of emails which highlighted, once again, the folly of the climate change movement and the zealots within it. In the emails they overstate their case—it has been reported by the IPCC—about the climatic effects of carbon dioxide, if any, and also celebrate the deceit they have played out upon people around the world. It is a monumental hoax and a monumental fraud that will be exposed.

But, notwithstanding the facts and the evidence, the Greens movement are going to triumph about their re-engineering of the Australian economy in Durban. They are going to fly there first class, I am sure. I am not sure which one of their sponsors will be paying the way but I will look forward to reading their declarations of interest.

As a result of that, we have to truncate and remove three days of debate in this place. Senator Fifield accurately described why that is a misuse of the parliamentary numbers in this place. Let's not pretend that these three days were annexed last week or earlier this week in case we needed them; they were part of the sitting calendar. We have all prepared for them. We have managed our ability to discuss bills and to deal with the government's requirements according to the parliamentary calendar. But what happens today? Senator Ludwig is told by Senator Bob Brown to come in here and guillotine those three days of the sitting period. This is not time management. This is a government held hostage and playing right into the hands of their greatest enemy and their greatest threat—that is, the great threat to Australia: the radical green movement. Yesterday was the four-year anniversary of perhaps the most belligerent, backbiting, nasty, incompetent and just generally hopeless government that this country has ever seen. We have seen butchery of a scale unprecedented. We saw, of course, the knifing of the first-term Prime Minister, Mr Rudd. He was not a particularly good Prime Minister, but certainly the annals of history now reflect very well upon him given the fact that Ms Gillard is proving to be even worse. So after four years not only are they butchering their own, not only are they now controlled by the Greens party, but they are butchering our right and the right of every Australian to have a critical examination of the bills that are facing us.

Next week is a lost opportunity to examine the 20 or so bills that have been chopped off in this place without any debate or discussion. Can we believe that? I just put that to the Australian people: does it pass the probity test? Does it pass the commonsense test? Does it sit well with you that 20 or so bills in this parliament that affect the future of our nation, that direct our laws and our conduct and behaviour have gone through this place without a single word of debate, without a single word of examination, without a committee period in which we could ask questions of the government to determine whether this is in the best interests of the Australian nation? I would put to you, Acting Deputy President Stephens—and to the people of Australia—that this sits so uncomfortably with our freedoms and our democracy, which people have fought and lost their lives to defend. And what is happening now? The legacy, the message, the traditions, the conventions of this place have been killed just as surely as the Speaker of the House of Representatives was politically killed yesterday.

This is a time in which the world is facing a number of critical challenges, and Australia is not immune from those challenges. Australians want from their parliamentarians not just a cursory tick and flick, which is the process which has infected Europe and caused such a devastating impact on so many economies there. It has seen the bureaucrats taking control of the legislative agenda and the parliamentarians merely sidelined as puppets on the stage to the bureaucratic bungling. We cannot afford to have that in this country, and yet that is the path we are going down when we have legislation brought into this place and passed through this place without a single word of debate or discussion. Is that the future we see for our nation, where parliamentarians are ineffec­tive, where the brutal numbers of a government are used in deciding what is going to come in and what is not, and what can be talked about and what cannot?

It is the new style totalitarianism on display. It is the social democratic movement which is stifling freedom of speech, stifling the democratic process in this country—all in the name of appeasing a very, very dangerous political movement, and that is the Greens party. We know they have a radical social agenda. By Senator Bob Brown's own admission he would like to see global government and the centralising of bureaucracy, where everyone in the world has one vote and one voice—and, of course, only some voices are allowed to be heard. This is the tragedy of what we experiencing. It is the very first stage of this. Three scheduled parliamentary sitting days are being removed from the calendar by the government's representative, by the mover of this motion, Senator Ludwig.

Ultimately the Australian people will decide whether the conduct of this government is appropriate or not. They will decide whether having a government that is held hostage to a tiny minority extremist movement is in the interests of this country. But in the meantime, before the next election, the very least we should expect is some probity and prudence in our policy making. The problem with this is that, if the government had a track record which was enviable, a track record in which their decisions, their implementation of their policy agenda, had a modicum of success—if they could even highlight three successes—we might give them the benefit of the doubt, but, unfortunately, they have a legacy of waste, a legacy of betrayal, a legacy of butchery, a legacy of failure.

It can be characterised in so many different ways. At the last election, for example, we had the cash-for-clunkers scheme brought in by Minister Carr. That was his suggestion. What a dud that was. It did not even survive the election period. Of course we had, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' from a deceptive Prime Minister who did mislead the Australian people, because the carbon tax has been passed—at the insistence of the radical Greens.

Senator Ludlam: Hear, hear!

Senator BERNARDI: I notice, Senator Ludlam, you say, 'Hear, hear!' which is fine. You might well enjoy re-engineering the Australian economy to satisfy your own bloodlust to take control of the Australian people, but it is not going to actually make any difference to the environment. I think we acknowledge that. The rest of the world is not going down this path. It will disadvantage Australian industry and Australian jobs. You think that is a good piece of policy. I think the Australian people will beg to differ.

So we had this promise by Ms Gillard not to introduce a carbon tax—a broken promise. We had talk of a citizens' assembly on climate change. I still remember that when Minister Penny Wong—who has had such a great track record in this space!—was there, nodding enthusiastically and going around trumpeting the virtues of building a consensus across the Australian people. But, of course, they get into parliament, the Greens tell the government what to do, and the Australian people start saying: 'Hang on, there is no consensus. The science that you have been telling us is settled is not settled at all. You said the rest of the world was going to be going down this path. They are not going down this path at all.' Even their mythical hero, President Obama, is not going down this path. He is taking a direct action plan. In the face of all of that, they ditched their citizens' assembly.

We have any number of other issues that this government has failed to deliver on, and that is building on a track record of failure by the previous government under Mr Rudd and later Ms Gillard in the previous parliament. As Senator Fifield pointed out, we had Fuelwatch, which I do not think managed to even get a start. We had GroceryWatch, in which millions of dollars were invested in a price-monitoring website which did not work. So that the government could do the Pontius Pilate and wash its hands of it, it sent it off to a consumer organisation, but of course that was not sustainable either. Millions of dollars were wasted.

If you examine the stimulus package critically, not only were there aspects of it which were abject failures but the essence of it was grotesque waste. It is as if a billion dollars—that is, $1,000 million—has very little meaning anymore to the government. When they were building school halls, they wasted around $8,000 million of borrowed money. It was not even money they had in the bank. It was not taxpayers' money. It was money they borrowed that future taxpayers will have to pay back. That has mortgaged the future generations of this country. It was not just that $8 billion in waste but a cumulative $150 billion or so in waste in only four years.

We had the $900 payments that were sent out to people. Some would argue that that is taxpayers receiving their money back, but unfortunately it did not go just to taxpayers; it went to people who were living overseas. I am sure that helped to stimulate the Greek economy, the Italian economy or the British economy! It was just wasted. It went to people who were deceased. The $900 stimulus payment went to dead people, if you can believe that. If that does not go against the common sense that means we should be critically examining everything that comes through this place, I do not know what does.

The government is now in a war against gambling and poker machines. That is once again at the behest of an Independent. But I remember when I remarked in this place that sending people $900 so that it could be used simply in poker machines was not really a great use of taxpayers' money, and I remember one senator standing up and saying: 'What have you got against poker machines? It's okay to do it.' Well, I do not have anything against poker machines, but I think that if governments want to stimulate the economy there are some better things they can do with $10 billion than simply giving it to dead people and people overseas and allowing people to blow it on gaming machines. Honestly, if you have taken the tax from them, you might as well invest it wisely. You could even cut taxes for people so that taxpayers actually got a longstanding benefit. But of course we did not see that happen. We do not see those far-sighted applications from the government because it is always a knee-jerk reaction. It is always, 'How can we get a political bang for our buck?' rather than, 'How can this nation get some nation building or get some long-term benefit for the taxpayers' buck?'

Through all these abject failures, the government has never said, 'The buck stops here.' That is a very important thing. Who has taken responsibility for the failures of this government? Have we seen any minister sacked or held to account for the policy failures? Have we seen Minister Garrett, who reigned over some of the worst decision making we have seen, held to account? The answer is no, he is still in the cabinet. Did we see Ms Gillard, who oversaw Building the Education Revolution, held to account? No, she got promoted. She got promoted for knifing Mr Kevin Rudd and she got promoted for wasting billions of dollars.

Have we seen in this place anyone held to account for the massive broadband blowout, the NBN, that went from $4 billion initially, I think, in the original tender to something like $46 billion today? That is not even included in the debt figures of this govern­ment. Did we see Senator Wong held to account for the disgraceful and misleading manner in which the government tried to sell the emissions trading scheme to this parlia­ment—for the fakery, the misleading state­ments, the abuse and the belittling of anyone who dared to question what was going on?

But it has reached a new low now. It is no longer just asking a question and receiving abuse in response because the government does not like the question. We are now not even allowed to ask the questions. We are not allowed to ask the questions that the Australian people want to know the answers to. We are not allowed to ask questions about the bills that this government is seeking to implement that will forever change our country—or while this government is in power—because we cannot rescind them.

And why are we not allowed to do this? We are not allowed to do it because (1) the government has very few questions and (2) the Greens party have something better to do than be in this parliament, according to them. According to them, the Australian people are not as important as the global governance movement that will be meeting in Durban, where they will all be able to slap each other on the back and say: 'Look at us; aren't we good? We're saving the world from the nasty people, the people who care about the local people. We only care about centralising bureaucracy and entrenching power and our influence.' We are seeing what happens as a grotesque misuse of that power. That is why those on this side of the chamber like to see full and free debate.

That brings me back to my initial point. I understand perfectly that there are times when time management needs to be implemented by government. I understand that perfectly and, in a cooperative arrangement, those things can be achieved. But it does not pass the common-sense test and it does not pass the scrutiny and the probity test that three scheduled days of this parliament are going to be abolished under this motion by Senator Ludwig, and yet there are 20 bills this week that we are not allowed to talk about, that we have not been allowed to even question or make a contribution to the debate on. That is an indictment not only of this government. It is an indictment of their Greens masters, and it is a great travesty for the people of Australia. That is why I will be voting against this motion, not in my interests—I would love to go home—but in the interests of the Australian people.