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Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Page: 8548


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (15:43): For the past four years Australians have been subjected to bad government. Wherever you look, wherever you go, there is failure, incompetence and broken promises. The failures of this government are very much the personal failures of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The failures of this government are Ms Gillard's failures. They are failures of character, failures of integrity, failures of judgment and failures to act in the national interest.

Mr Deputy President, you would remember that just over a year ago Ms Gillard stood in front of the cameras and said that she had to take on Mr Rudd for the leadership of the Labor Party because the Labor government had lost its way. There were three problems that Ms Gillard said that she was going to fix. She was going to fix the mining tax fiasco, the carbon tax mess—the climate change action mess—and the border protection fiasco. But let us reflect on how these issues have developed under Ms Gillard's leadership. The first observation to make is that whenever Ms Gillard has to make a judgment—whenever Ms Gillard is presented with a challenge; whenever Ms Gillard has to deal with a particular issue—she focuses on her political self-interest and not the national interest. What she focuses on is how she can protect her own hold on power rather than what is in the public interest. That is how it was in the lead-up to the last election. In the lead-up to the last election, every single decision that was made by the Gillard government was focused on how they could squeeze past the Australian voting public, cling on to power and, despite all of their failures and all of their incompetence, get a second term.

It is no doubt the case that the many failures, examples of incompetence and broken promises under Labor in their first term in government are what led to, for the first time in 80 years, a first-term govern­ment losing its majority in the House of Representatives. The people of Australia passed a damning judgment on the bad performance of the Labor government over its first term. And Ms Gillard told us that the reason she had to take on the Labor leadership was that she agreed that Labor had been a bad government in its first term. She agreed with the judgment of the oppo­sition; she agreed with the judgment of the majority of the Australian people who said that this had been a bad government. That is why she put up her hand to take over the leadership from then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

How did she deal with the three policy issues that she identified? First we had the mining tax, an absolute mess of, quite frankly, the Treasurer's making. Treasurer Swan is solely to blame for the mess. Mr Rudd was probably a bit naive to go along with some of Mr Swan's suggestions. If you think about it, Mr Swan sat on the Henry tax review for five months between December 2009 and May 2010 and then said to the Prime Minister, 'You should be announcing this resource super profits tax, because that is one of the recommendations. And let's release the report at the same time as we make the announcement of this massive new tax on the mining industry.' There was no consultation with anyone—no consultation with state and territory governments and no consultation with any of the industry stake­holders. He managed the process completely incompetently. And all hell broke lose, with consequences that all can see. All we got from Mr Rudd and Mr Swan was a lazy tax grab without going through a proper process.

What did Ms Gillard do? Did she decide to pursue genuine tax reform? Did she decide to act in the national interest? No, she did not. What Ms Gillard was to have an exclu­sive secret meeting with the three biggest taxpayers, BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. Excluding all their competitors, she negotiated the design of a tax that is going to be imposed across the whole mining industry in relation to iron ore and coal. She designed the tax in a way such that it made harder for anyone to compete with the big three, helping to consolidate the market dominance of those big three. She negotiated that in secret exclusively with three taxpayers, excluding all of their competitors and state and territory governments from the process. Is that the way to design tax in Australia—to sit down with a couple of taxpayers and exclude everybody else? Is that acting in the public and national interest? No, it is not. That is a highly improper way of dealing with tax reform. And that is why this is a continuing problem.

This is solely the responsibility of Ms Gillard. She is the one who decided to send out all the public servants. The deal was negotiated without any officials from Treasury or from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The only people in the room were the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Resources and Energy, some of their personal staff, Marius Kloppers and the managing directors of Rio Tinto and Xstrata. In fact, the deal that they signed was typed up on the BHP computer. That is not acting with integrity; that is not acting in the national interest.

In relation to the carbon tax, we were promised that there would be no carbon tax under a government led by Julia Gillard. We have spoken about this a bit today. We were told that Ms Gillard would seek community consensus before pressing ahead and that she would have a citizens assembly before pressing ahead. None of that happened. And why has none of that happened? It was not because Ms Gillard personally changed her mind but because she was too weak to insist on the course of action that she knew was in the national interest. She lacked the integrity, the character, the judgment, the capacity, the authority and the political strength to act in the national interest.

To make up the trifecta, we have the Prime Minister chopping and changing in relation to border protection. First, Labor in August 2008 scrapped the highly successful Pacific solution, which was introduced by the Howard government. The Labor govern­ment scrapped a policy framework that had stopped the boats and that had helped secure our borders. Labor lectured us in this chamber that offshore processing did not work and that it was a failure. Then Prime Minister Gillard arrived in June-July last year and said, 'People who are concerned about the fact that our policies have created porous borders are entitled to be concerned about it and I'm going to fix it.'

What did she say in the lead-up to the election? She talked about a regional solution. She could not quite bring herself to confess that what she was arguing for was offshore processing. I well remember the speeches that Ms Gillard gave at the National Press Club and in other places in the lead-up to the election about creating a regional solution—which, of course, was nothing other than offshore processing by another name. She was going to have the East Timor solution, but she never mentioned it to anyone in East Timor before announcing it. How incompetent is that? Rather than acting in the national interest—rather than acting with judgment, integrity and character—we have a Prime Minister who lets Australia down time and time again. But of course the farce was not over. After clinging onto her failed East Timor solution for months, she finally realised and had to concede that it was not going to work. So what did she come up with? She said, 'Oh well, I now agree we have to have offshore processing'—she started naming it 'offshore processing'—and said, 'We're going to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.' Never mind that, for years on end, Ms Gillard had been lecturing all of us that you cannot possibly send asylum seekers offshore and, if you were going to send them offshore, you could not possibly send them to a country that has not signed up to the United Nations convention on refugees

So here we have Prime Minister Gillard, after all of the lecturing, after all of the sanctimonious tirades, after preaching to us and giving us sermons from the mount, telling us you cannot possibly send asylum seekers who want to come to Australia to other parts of the world, saying to us, 'Not only do I want to send them to other parts of the world—I want to do it in breach of the law; I want to do it thumbing my nose at the High Court, which tells me that I'm about to break the law. And, if that doesn't work, I'm going to say to the Australian parliament, "Let me do what I've always said would be an evil thing to do: send them to a country that hasn't signed the United Nations convention on refugees."' The evidence is in: this is an incompetent government. It is a government that is rotting from the top. It is a government that lacks integrity, that lacks character and that is led by a Prime Minister who lacks judgment.