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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1729

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (3:25 PM) —I seek leave to move a motion of censure on the Prime Minister.

Leave not granted.

Mr ABBOTT —I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Warringah moving immediately:

That the House:

(1)   notes that the

(a)   Minister for the Environment has failed repeatedly to answer vital questions regarding when he was warned of critical safety flaws inherent in his Home Insulation Program; and

(b)   Prime Minister has failed to require the Minister for the Environment to provide information about the program required by the House, on behalf of the thousands of concerned and at-risk homeowners across the country; and

(2)   acknowledges that the Senate has censured the Rudd Government for its failings, including in connection with the Home Insulation Program, but that the Government has suppressed debate on the Senate resolution in the House; and

(3)   censures the Prime Minister and Government for failing in their responsibilities in the management of this program, for their failure to provide information reasonably sought in the House and for failing to abide by the doctrine of ministerial responsibility that is the bedrock of our Westminster system

What we saw from the Prime Minister today was a Peter Beattie moment. The Prime Minister may not be much of a Queenslander, but he has learned this much from the former Queensland Premier: when your government has got it seriously wrong, you say, ‘Yes, we created the mess and here I am—I will fix the mess.’ In fact, if it were not for the fact that he probably would have drowned in the attempt, I half-expected to see the Prime Minister in a fish tank with the sharks—so much has he stolen today’s tactic from the former Premier of Queensland.

Today the Prime Minister has said—drawn right from the Peter Beattie playbook—‘The government has to lift its game.’ This is the government which has left 48,000 homes potentially electrified. This is the government which has a program that installed dodgy insulation in 240,000 homes across the country. This is the government which has suspended a program and left at least 6,000 workers without the guarantee of employment and 7,000 businesses without the guarantee of business. This is the government whose program has led to four deaths. And what does the Prime Minister say? He says, ‘The government will lift its game.’ This is a government which is so determined to lift its game that the same minister—the same allegedly first-class minister who created this disaster and these tragedies—has been left in place.

You cannot trust a government to lift its game when it leaves in place the minister who is responsible for this disaster and this tragedy. I ask the people of Australia to weigh what the Prime Minister has done today. He has said that all the workers involved in this scheme will either keep their jobs or keep their wages, but he has not said how. He has said that all the businesses which were involved in the scheme will continue or will be compensated, but he has not said how. He has said that all the 240,000 houses that might have been badly insulated—in particular, all the 48,000 houses with foil insulation that is potentially electrified—will be inspected and fixed, but he has not said how and he cannot say when.

What, essentially, we have from this Prime Minister is a big ‘trust me’. That is what we have had. But why would you trust this government, which have created the problem, to solve the problem, especially when they have shown so little remorse, so little contrition, so little human emotion that they refuse to apologise and they refuse to remove the minister who is responsible for this disastrous and tragic program? I hate to say this of the Prime Minister, but the secretary of the Department of the Environment and Heritage at least had the decency to apologise for this disaster, and she has shown more compassion, more decency and more human understanding than the minister and the Prime Minister, two members of this parliament who have demonstrated by their conduct throughout this business that they just do not get it. They just do not understand the scale of the disaster for which they are responsible.

Where are we left now? Plainly, the Prime Minister has decided that the minister for the environment is indispensable. Plainly, he has decided that the minister for the environment is so politically important for the government that he cannot possibly be sacked, no matter how deep and desperate his incompetence. So what we have had is the Prime Minister say, ‘I take personal responsibility for this,’ because the Prime Minister is the only person in the government who cannot be sacked. But as a result of all of this the government has sustained serious damage. The people now understand the true nature of the Rudd government. It is a government that cannot deliver. It is a government which tried to deliver one million home insulations and in fact has got at least a quarter of them monumentally wrong. This is a government which could not even deliver free insulation, let alone run the country. They could not even give these batts away successfully, let alone run the country.

This is also a government which does not listen. We had all sorts of blather, all sorts of equivocation. It is no wonder the Prime Minister is called by members of the public ‘Prime Minister Blah Blah’. Anyone listening to the Prime Minister’s explanation today would know exactly why attendees at the community cabinet in Victoria the other day were so disappointed. This is a government which does not listen. We know the Prime Minister will not properly disclose or admit that the government received repeated warnings that this was a scheme that would lead to disaster. This government was too arrogant and too out of touch to listen to the people who know what they are doing in this sector and who for years had avoided the kinds of problems which are now endemic in homes across Australia.

It is a government which cannot be trusted with money. That is one of the other great lessons of this debacle. It is a government which cannot be trusted with money. We know from none other than the finance minister himself that they did not care about the disasters that were taking place in 240,000 ceilings across Australia. They could not be bothered with dotting i’s and crossing t’s. They just had to shovel the money out in order to avoid a recession. We all know that not only was this a monumental waste of money but it was a terrible tragedy for workers, for families and for the 240,000 households throughout this country who do not know whether their house is safe, who do not know whether they can enter their roof.

It is a government that cannot be trusted to keep its word. Here are thousands of workers and thousands of businesses which made life-changing decisions, which invested tens—sometimes hundreds—of thousands of dollars of their money on the word of this government. They now know that if it ever suits the political convenience of this government to scrap its word, to walk away from its commitments, it will do it. This is a government and a Prime Minister who simply cannot be trusted.

But above all else what we have learnt from this is that this is a government that has no integrity. This is a government which has torn up its own code of ministerial conduct, which is no longer worth the paper that it is written on. Let me just read a definition of ministerial accountability from the Prime Minister. He said:

Ministerial accountability means … that-that they should be responsible to the Parliament for their actions … be responsible for the operation of their department as well … And that is a core principle of Westminster and a core principle, I believe, of restoring Westminster.

That is what he said in opposition. That is what he has completely abandoned in government. This was a politician who built his career demanding the resignation of ministers who had done nothing wrong, let alone potentially damage the lives of 240,000 people. Then he said:

As a member of this parliament, I cannot understand how ministers can stand at this dispatch box and seek to exonerate themselves of responsibility for the damage they have done to the good name of this country,

Well, his minister has not damaged the good name of this country. He has damaged the lives and the welfare of 240,000 Australians. He should be sacked and the government should be censured.