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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 256


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (11:42): I rise to speak on the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016. This bill amends the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, altering country-of-origin labelling and safe harbour provisions under Australia consumer law. The main change that this bill makes is for the labels for most food that is grown, produced or made in Australia to include a logo—a kangaroo in a triangle symbol—as well as a bar chart and text statement to show the proportion of Australian ingredients. Australians are entitled to know exactly where their food comes from. Labor supports this amendment. Buying Australian is the best way to secure quality food. Labor remains willing to work with Mr Turnbull and his colleagues to improve our country-of-origin labelling requirements.

However, perhaps the Liberals should think more broadly about their neglect of biosecurity and Australian manufacturing, which is putting jobs at risk and taking our economy backwards. Come to think of it, this is not the only thing going backwards under this government. 2017 began for Malcolm Turnbull much the same as 2016 ended, with scandal, humiliation, disappointment and division. After what was a pretty unimpressive year, I think it is fair to say that Mr Turnbull and his Liberals really needed to put their tails between their legs and hit the reset button over the summer break. And there has been more. Of course, we had Senator Bernardi defecting from his government, the Liberal Party, yesterday. But here we are in the first parliamentary sitting week of 2017 and the government is still fumbling around, unable to figure out where they stand, what they stand for and which way is up. To be fair, there are some people out there who were inclined to cut Mr Turnbull some slack last year. He was finding his feet after limping across the 2016 election finish line, but it has been almost 18 months now since the Prime Minister knifed Mr Abbott in the back. Enough is enough. If Malcolm Turnbull has anything resembling a policy agenda or a plan for 2017, now would be a really good time to tell us about it.

Senator Smith: A point of order, Madam Deputy President: government senators are generally very generous to Senator Polley when she makes contributions in the Senate, but we are talking about the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2016, which is a government bill, and I encourage the senator to come back to the issue before the Senate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Smith. I am listening very carefully, and Senator Polley is addressing aspects of the bill.

Senator POLLEY: After a very, very mediocre 2016, you would think that Mr Turnbull would have kicked off 2017 with a new agenda, a plan—a first draft, even. But, unfortunately, this was not the case. Mr Turnbull addressed the Press Club last Wednesday, and things just seemed to go from bad to worse for the Prime Minister after that speech, culminating, as we know, with Senator Bernardi defecting from the Liberal Party yesterday. So the circus continues.

I have to say it is a good thing for Mr Turnbull that there is not an election this year, because, having achieved so little since becoming Prime Minister, most of us are scratching our heads wondering what the point of this government is and what the good reason was for sending us to a double dissolution at the last election. We are all still wondering that. Support for Mr Turnbull's government is freefalling, their popularity is slipping, and I personally think that one good reason for that is that they are so out of touch. We know that everything they touch is stuffed up, so how can we rely on them to handle even a piece of legislation like this? In stark contrast to Labor, the Liberals have kicked off this year with no direction, no plan and, above all, no narrative. Mr Turnbull has said over and over that his government is a government of the 21st century, that it is agile and innovative and that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian, but the only thing that resonates with people in Australia—particularly in my home state of Tasmania—the thing that they are utterly disappointed with, is this dithering and dysfunctional government. Mr Turnbull is a Prime Minister who gave hope to so many in the community, but there are so many people now who are utterly disappointed.

Senator Smith: A point of order, Madam Deputy President: I challenge Senator Polley to mention the words 'competition', 'consumer' or 'country of origin bill' just once in her contribution. She is a quarter of the way through now.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Smith. Senator Polley has indeed mentioned the bill. I am sure she is putting in some background and will get to the point, but I remind senators that they need to speak about the bill before us.

Senator POLLEY: I am speaking about the bill and—as you said, Deputy President—I am putting it in the context of a government that is so out of touch and so dysfunctional. I know that this is a veiled attempt from those on the other side to give Mr Turnbull some cover. As I said in my speech last night, I am ashamed to sit in this chamber with a government that has attacked some of the most vulnerable people in the community—the people who this government has been hurting most in this country over the last summer period, with the dysfunction of the Centrelink robo-debt recovery crisis and the fact that this government is putting ordinary, everyday Australians who need a helping hand into the hands of debt collectors.

Senator Smith interjecting

Senator POLLEY: Then they came in here last night—and now we have them interjecting—trying to say that we support the rorting of Centrelink. There is nothing further from the truth, and that is such an insult to everyone in this chamber. There is not an Australian—except those who may be caught rorting—who does not believe that only those people who deserve to get Centrelink payments should have access to them. But, no, they continued to send out letters to innocent Australians—and we know, and the government are now very much aware, that 40 per cent of those letters were inaccurate. I spoke last night about the Tasmanians who have been caught up in this dysfunctional government's shambolic attempt to rein back money from those people who can least afford it. Once your name is on the debt collectors' database, it is extremely difficult to have it removed.

Senator Payne: A point of order, Madam Deputy President: the chamber has a number of conventions by which it is expected senators might operate. Call me conservative and old-fashioned perhaps, but speaking to the subject of the bill at hand, which relates to country-of-origin labelling, is hardly an unreasonable expectation. Senator Polley is not speaking in relation to the country-of-origin bill, in any way, shape or form, and I seek that you draw her attention to that and ask her to respond in relation to the bill.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Minister. Senator Polley, I am sure that you are going to get back to the bill. You started off on the bill and I am sure you are heading back to the bill.

Senator POLLEY: I think it is very important that the Australian people be made aware of the significant dysfunction of this government, so, therefore, it does not really matter what legislation comes before—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The minister on a point of order.

Senator Payne: Madam Deputy President, as you would be aware, ample opportunity for senators to engage in that sort of debate in this chamber is given throughout the day. This is a debate on a particular bill in relation to country-of-origin labelling. Senators are expected to be relevant to the bill in front of the chamber. The senator is not, in any way, shape or form, being relevant to the bill, and I seek your support to ensure that she is.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Minister, you have made your point—as has the whip—on a number of occasions. I spoke to Senator Polley, as you heard. She was back on her feet for about two seconds before you intervened again.

Senator POLLEY: This government is starkly out of touch with the community and has no plans for the future. We have a Prime Minister who has no vision and no economic plan whatsoever, but the government does not want to hear about it. The Australian people already know; what I am trying to do is put context into the legislation that is before us. We have these scandals that have been perpetrated by those on that side of the chamber. One of their colleagues, Senator Bernardi—who came into this Senate chamber at the same time as I did, in the 2005 class—obviously has little confidence in this government being able to bring any sort of legislation through this chamber.

But I do not want to be distracted from the issues that are confronting the Australian people and the fact that the government have failed to address the issues that have been raised with them in relation to the robo-debt system, with 170,000 letters and notices having gone out to everyday Australians. They do not want to hear about that, but I am going to continue, because, Madam Deputy President, you very well know that in the past those opposite have spoken many times on pieces of legislation and given context to the government's inability to govern this country. The government's shambolic system has wrongly targeted a 76-year-old Queenslander—

Senator Payne: Madam Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The senator is directly flouting your request to her to return to the legislation, which is of course undermining your authority in the chair.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I will determine whether my authority is being undermined, thank you, Minister. Senator Whish-Wilson?

Senator Whish-Wilson: Madam Deputy President, I might be able to add some information to this point of order. Seven minutes ago Senator Polley tweeted, 'About to speak in the Senate about the Turnbull government's shocking start to the year.' That is quite amazing considering she is 10 minutes into a speech, but I think she has put on public record that she is not speaking about the matter at hand.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson. Senator Polley, please continue your remarks, but if you could be more focused on the bill everyone in the chamber would appreciate that.

Senator POLLEY: Thank you very much, Madam Deputy President. Yes, it is an important piece of legislation that has come before us and it is a start in terms of the government being able to work with those in this chamber to bring about these changes. There is no doubt that, just as there has been a debacle over the Centrelink robo-debt issue, consumers are concerned about the origin of the food they are consuming. When we are talking about the quality of food and having global recognition for clean, green produce, there is no better place to represent this country than my home state of Tasmania.

I understand that the government are a bit twitchy and a bit concerned that anyone might be critical of them. Not only with respect to this piece of legislation but also from the agenda on today's Order of Business, we can see that the government are struggling. In anticipation of other people wanting to make a contribution to this debate, I will conclude my remarks.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Smith?

Senator Smith: Madam Deputy President, I cannot help myself: it is worth noting that the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill accounted for less than one minute of Senator Polley's 12-minute speech.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Smith. Senator Xenophon.