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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 135

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (4:23 PM) —No less an authority than the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that the hardest job in Australia is being Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Opposition has just demonstrated why it is such a difficult job. We have seen from the Leader of the Opposition a tone of whining self-justification and wheedling ingratiation basically designed to try to tell the Australian people that they got it wrong on 10 November. The fact is that members opposite cannot accept that this government won and they lost. They cannot accept that this government had a policy of border protection—a legitimate policy of border protection—even though they supported it at the time. The interesting thing about the government's policy of border protection is that, far from setting Australian against Australian, it has united the Australian community in a way that it has rarely been united before. While the Leader of the Opposition is alleging that this government has set Australian against Australian, the real issue here in this debate today is the way the Leader of the Opposition's failure to lead has set Labor member against Labor member. That is what we have seen since 10 November and the government's election victory.

This government, since 10 November, has gone on with the ordinary tasks of government. For the benefit of members opposite let me say that the task of government is, first, to manage the affairs of the nation in response to the exigencies of the day; and, second, to try to move our society and move our polity in the directions set by the fundamental principles and ideals of that government. This government stands up for Australia. This government does not apologise for our country. It does not apologise for its past, its history or its institutions. This is a government which is proud of the Australian people—proud of our record, proud of what we have done and confident about our future. This government indicated yesterday, through the Governor-General's—

Opposition members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—I ask members to please give the Leader of the House a chance to address the House.

Mr ABBOTT —The Leader of the Opposition has made great play of wanting to raise parliamentary standards. What we have seen over the last three minutes is a constant caterwauling of unnecessary and mindless interjections from the people who claim to support higher parliamentary standards. The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence. He was given the respectful hearing that the Leader of the Opposition deserves, even by people who do not agree with him, and now we have this kind of nonsense from members opposite.

Opposition members interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I remind opposition members that I will invoke standing order 304A if they do not maintain silence in the House and allow the Leader of the House to address the House.

Mr ABBOTT —This government clearly set out in the Governor-General's speech yesterday its agenda for a new term. It will dedicate itself to the fundamental task of any government, which is to protect the sovereignty and security of the nation which it is charged to govern. We indicated yesterday through the Governor-General's speech that we will be protecting our borders, we will be boosting our defences and we will be carrying our international obligations in respect of the campaign against terrorism. We also indicated that we would do our best, even in these difficult economic times, to continue the good economic management which has meant that since March 1996 we have had more jobs, higher pay and fewer strikes. That is exactly what the Australian people, particularly the workers of Australia, want. We recommitted ourselves to welfare reform which is designed to ensure that every Australian has an opportunity to participate in the life of the wider community, preferably through paid employment, but, if not, through programs such as Work for the Dole which this government has put in place. We committed ourselves to an education and training agenda that involves, amongst other things, the spending of $3 billion on better science and research. We recommitted ourselves to spending $1.5 billion on environmental protection, particularly the reduction of salinity in the Murray-Darling Basin. We will give Australian families a better deal, particularly one-income families and families where one partner wants to stay at home to look after the children, who are the future human capital of our country. We also committed ourselves to a better industrial relations system, and we have already commenced that by introducing legislation into this parliament.

The big question which was begged by the Leader of the Opposition's speech is: where does the opposition stand on anything? Is there any subject of great moment before the Australian people today on which the opposition speaks with one voice? Of course there is not. The caucus met on Monday. The caucus rededicated itself to the policy of mandatory detention, a policy that was first introduced by the former Labor government. The caucus recommitted itself; the leadership recommitted itself. Just 24 hours later we had 10 members of the opposition, led by the member for Fremantle, a senior shadow minister, standing up to undermine in public the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition and undermine in public the position that the Leader of the Opposition had just recommitted himself to.

On the one hand we have the member for Fremantle saying that the policy which the opposition supports is immoral and makes her feel ashamed and, on the other hand, we have people like the member for Werriwa saying, in a letter to the New South Wales Labour Council:

Groups like Labor for Refugees look at atrocities such as the Woomera riots or the payment of money to people smugglers and declare the people who did this need help.

I congratulate the member for Werriwa on standing up—in this instance at least—for the good, decent working people of Western Sydney. We have people like the member for Grayndler joining the member for Fremantle to say how appalling the policy of the Leader of the Opposition is—the policy that the opposition took to the last election, the policy that the Leader of the Opposition has just recommitted himself to. Then we have people like the member for Batman—again, good on the member for Batman for having the guts to stand up for the working class of this country, the traditional, solid, decent, patriotic working class of this country. He says:

I note since the election some Labor Party people have had a lot to say about rights in terms of immigration and refugees.

This is where he goes on:

The Labor Party has also got to appreciate that a lot of our traditional voters have got rights: rights to a job, rights to a decent education, rights to decent health care.

And so on. That is the real division in Australia today: not Australian against Australian but Labor against Labor. That is the real division which the Leader of the Opposition needs to tackle. It is all very well for the Leader of the Opposition to lecture the government about those things which the Leader of the Opposition has no power to control, but why doesn't he tackle the things which he does have some power to control—that is, what goes on inside his own party? A party which is not allowed to govern itself should never be allowed to govern a country.

This leads me to the second great issue on which Labor is against Labor. Since the election, modern Labor thinkers have repeatedly come out with the determination, the imperative, that the Labor Party should break the 60/40 rule which means, in the words of Carmen Lawrence, the member for Fremantle, that it is `not a truly democratic party'. A veritable rollcall of the best and the brightest in the Labor Party from today and yesterday has stood up to talk about the damage that the 60/40 rule and the fact that the Labor Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ACTU are doing to that party.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ABBOTT —As the member opposite said, `If we do not change and we lose again, the Australian Labor Party will begin to rival British Labour of old in the international losers league.' We had that mighty icon of Labor, none other than the former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam who said, and I cannot imitate his accent:

As people always say, there are four former presidents of the ACTU in the federal parliamentary Labor Party, but only one of them was ever a unionist, one of the Fergusons—

good on the member for Batman—

The other three—lawyers, and they were union bureaucrats.

He was damning none other than the current Leader of the Opposition when he made that very point. We have had sensible, decent, committed Labor person after Labor person stand up to point out the absurdity of the 60/40 rule. We had Senator Chris Schacht talking about how the 60/40 rule enables, in his own state:

The secretaries of the Shop Assistants' union and the Liquor and Miscellaneous Union between them can dominate all party decisions.

And he says:

A system that informally allows two people, no matter how clever or well-intentioned, to dominate every decision, cannot claim to reflect the views of the party membership, let alone those of the general community.

The former state member for Gladesville in the New South Wales parliament, Rodney Cavalier, talking about the organisation of the Labor Party, says:

Members of unions affiliated to the ALP now constitute fewer than 10 per cent of the Australian electorate: that is, nine out of 10 Australians are excluded from the governance of Australian Labor.

He goes on to say:

This is the way of madness. It is also the route to oblivion.

This is what the Leader of the Opposition needs to tackle, but what has the Leader of the Opposition said to us since the election? Thanks to Stephen Long's story in the Financial Review just before Christmas, we know that, having talked about changing the 60/40 rule, the Leader of the Opposition then went—cap in hand, contrite, penitent—to the ACTU executive and said:

I'm not Tony Blair...

You can say that again. Tony Blair is a leader, but the Leader of the Opposition, sadly, thus far at least, has not shown any of the sparks of leadership which are necessary if he is to prove to be anything other than a stopgap, interim leader while someone opposite gets ready for the inevitable coup. Let us consider the Leader of the Opposition's self-image, self-statement. On 14 November he said to Neil Mitchell:

I'm a conviction politician.

Then, a few moments later, he said to Neil Mitchell:

I'll be a consensus leader.

He said to John Laws:

I don't intend to distance myself from the ACTU.

He said:

When I was ACTU president I was not part of a faction.

Then he said to John Laws just a few minutes later:

Yes, I am part of a faction.

The Leader of the Opposition says that he wants a policy on border protection. He says he wants a policy which is firm but compassionate. The Leader of the Opposition might as well say that he wants to be blonde and brunette. He might as well say that he wants to be short and tall, hot and cold. The Leader of the Opposition does not know what he wants. All he wants is power. That is the problem that the Leader of the Opposition has.

For Australia's sake, for the sake of a great political party now fallen on hard times—the Australian Labor Party—I hope that the Leader of the Opposition is capable of discovering a principle, because all the Leader of the Opposition has ever been interested in until now is power and advancement. He has been genetically programmed to become leader of the Labor Party. He needs to discover some fundamental principles, some sure ideals and some basic foundations on which he can build some leadership.

The Leader of the Opposition's own colleagues were quoted in the weekend's Sydney Morning Herald. `There's a lot of scepticism about the Leader of the Opposition', said one insider, `Right now the ABC candidate probably starts with around 40 per cent of the caucus' support.' You do not need to be a military code breaker to work out that ABC refers to anyone but Crean. After today, I reckon that 50 per cent will be in the ABC faction. (Time expired)