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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2957

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (13:28): This is a humiliating backdown by the government today. Only a week ago the communications minister and the Prime Minister announced a set of so-called reforms to the media laws of this country that would for the first time in our history put a government official in a position where he or she was able to influence, indeed, control the content of newspapers and other media that has never been regulated by government in our history. We were told that there would be no bartering with the cross benches, that this was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

Over the last 48 hours the bartering with the crossbenchers has been so intense that, as recently as this morning, the government was proposing to support an amendment by Mr Katter that would have had the result of the so-called Public Interest Media Advocate—this all-powerful media regulator—being appointed by a panel of 12 people, who would have in turn been appointed by the Council of the Order of Australia, which is a body composed of representatives of states, territories and the Commonwealth for the purpose of awarding Australian honours.

This was policy on the run. It was galloping along in a desperate effort to preserve the Prime Minister's position, to preserve Julia Gillard. The government had become the Julia Gillard Preservation Society. The Labor Party had so lost control of itself, had so lost control of any sense of responsibility, good government and due process that it was going to outsource its policy-making functions to the member for Kennedy—or, indeed, to anyone else on the crossbench who could come up with an interesting idea that might just be able to get something across the line.

It was a reminder of the same chaotic performance that we saw from this Prime Minister after the collapse of the original resource super-profits tax that Prime Minister Rudd had proposed. When that fell over, in desperation to get something done after she had deposed Mr Rudd, what did she do? She sat down with the three largest mining companies in the country, sent the officials out of the room and allowed them to write the tax law. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer, the champions of the people, so they assert, standing up against the billionaires, advocates for the proletariat, these defenders of the horny-handed sons of toil, these Labor heroes, were allowing the biggest mining companies in Australia to write the tax. And that was because they were desperate to get anything passed.

And that is what we nearly had today—exactly the same desperation, except instead of the mining companies it was in fact the member for Kennedy and any other crossbenchers that were prepared to be involved. But, as the member for Denison said, this process has been completely shambolic. It was too humiliating, too embarrassing; it demeaned the parliament to be debating a bill only a few days ago which gave enormous powers to a Public Interest Media Advocate, the nature of which, the appointment of which, the term of which, the number of which, was completely up in the air as they were doing backroom deals with the Independents.

At some point the shame, the humiliation, the embarrassment became too much. What the Leader of the House has done today is acknowledge that these bills are too much of an embarrassment even for this government and they have been abandoned—utterly abandoned. Connected to that, no doubt, is Simon Crean's call for there to be a spill, in order to reinstate the member for Griffith as the leader of the Labor Party and presumably Prime Minister. This is a chaotic and humiliating moment, perhaps one of the last moments, for a government that has betrayed every ounce of responsibility, of due process and of good government. The best decision the new Prime Minister could make—if indeed the member for Griffith does return as Prime Minister—is to go straight to Government House and let the Australian people cast their judgment on this sorry Labor mess.