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Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Page: 1994

Senator O’BRIEN (8:53 PM) —It is a pleasure to follow Senator Barnett on the issue of chaplaincy and to be able to say that although the program, which was initiated under the Howard government, was scheduled to end, this government has agreed to continue it. I would have expected bouquets, not brickbats, from Senator Barnett, recognising that Labor has done something that has bipartisan support, placing it above politics. But, apparently, you cannot have a contribution in here this week from the coalition that does not descend into a little bit of political gamesmanship.

Senator Barnett interjecting—

Senator Bushby interjecting—

Senator O’BRIEN —I will take the cue from contributions by Senator Bushby and Senator Barnett about politics, because, as everyone knows, there is an election in the state Tasmania this week. Everyone knows that one of the key issues in the election is health. The people of Tasmania know that if Labor are re-elected then they will cooperate with the Rudd Labor government to see the federal government take majority funding responsibility for the hospital system. But if the Liberal opposition governs with the assistance of the Greens, there will be resistance by Mr Hodgman, if he manages to scrape across the line, because the favours will be called in by the federal Liberal party. The federal Liberal party, under this leader, Mr Abbott, has said that their role is to oppose. Their role is to make things difficult—not to deliver what the country needs; not to deliver improvements in the health system that everyone wants; not to, as Mr Abbott did when he was the Minister for Health Ageing, rip a billion dollars out of the hospital system; and not to freeze the number of training places for medical practitioners, as he did. This is in contrast to the announcement that Labor made this week that we will dramatically improve the number of training places for doctors and for specialists, something that in 12 years the Howard government never did.

When a government is prepared to tackle the issues that were too hard for the coalition government for over a decade, the job of the opposition, according to Mr Abbott, is to oppose. Mr Hodgman in Tasmania will be told that it is his job to oppose, too. So the choices for Tasmanian people on the weekend and, I expect, in South Australia, will be simple: if you actually want to improve the health system, if you want the Commonwealth to take substantial responsibility for the hospitals, if you want more doctors trained, if you want more specialists trained, if you want more placements in rural and regional Australia—and I would have thought the National Party did—then you will see the re-election of those state governments and cooperative federalism through COAG delivering more money and substantial Commonwealth commitment and responsibility to the hospital system and to the system of training medical petitioners. That system will be much more responsible for delivering outcomes compared with the negativity that we are seeing from this opposition and from those state oppositions that are trying to skate through on the basis of negative personal campaigns.

It was interesting reading the press clippings today. For those who are listening, senators all receive in their offices each day a copy of press clippings prepared by media monitors. I was taken by an article from the Courier Mail entitled ‘The best conversation’ and written by Paul Syvret. He starts with:

Australia has a new super hero. It’s Captain Chameleon!

Now, I wonder who that could be—Captain Chameleon. He goes on:

There he stands on the edge of the rooftop of public debate in Australia, the Speedos on the outside of a skin-tight action-man body suit and a billowing cape able to change from the deepest, darkest conservative blue to, with just a dainty little flick over the left shoulder, a shimmering shade of pink at a moment’s notice.

A shimmering shade of pink—I thought that was Mr Hockey! I thought Mr Hockey was the one who had the shimmering shade of pink, but, according to Mr Syvret, it is the Leader of the Opposition, in what is obviously a tongue-in-cheek article. I encourage those who have the opportunity to read it, because he does go on to talk about some of the things that the coalition are doing. He says:

Right now he and the Coalition are not so much a policy vacuum but rather a food processor set on high, with random ingredients being thrown into the blades.

“Barnaby! No! Another teaspoon of net gross debt will make the economists curdle. Go and play with your farm set for a while.”

This article, I think, warrants the attention of the public. If Mr Syvret is going to leave journalism, he probably has a career in comedy. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival could do with some of these very amusing quotes.

He finishes the article with a multiple choice quiz. He begins it with:

So here, as part of a regular series of insightful questions for our political leaders ahead of the looming election, is a five-minute quiz for the Leader of the Opposition.

And he starts with a question:

You suddenly believe in a generous paid maternity leave scheme because:

   a) it helps keep women in the home where they belong

   b) Barnaby says it won’t add to our net gross private public debt stuff if we put the bite on big business

   c) the ironing will get done

   d) we should have one for Mum, one for Dad, one for the country and one for middle-class welfare

   e) mine’s bigger than Kevin’s.

I do not know how long he took to write this, but everyone that I know who has read it has had a very good chuckle. Going back to the reality of politics, because sometimes you need to lighten up these debates with some of the droning on of senators, particularly when they are arguing about state elections, as we heard from the other side today, we really do have a moment in time in this country when the Australian people at the next election will have a choice to make. We have a government which has a very strong set of actions that it is initiating to improve the health system in this country.

Senator Cormann —All talk and no action.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Troeth)—Order!

Senator O’BRIEN —I will take that interjection because if anyone is all talk and no action it is the opposition and Senator Cormann in particular. All he does is come in here when there are matters before this chamber and say, ‘I oppose it; I oppose it.’ That is all he does.

Senator Cormann interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Cormann, I have called you to order and I would ask that you refrain from interjecting.

Senator O’BRIEN —Yes, I suppose it is even less orderly when you are not in your own seat, but I would not have taken that point. The reality is that those in the opposition have been mouthing the statement ‘Blah, blah, blah’ about everything that the government does. It is a nice line, but the fact of the matter is that when you come down to it the only ‘Blah, blah, blah’ we are hearing is a filibuster on every debate we put up when the opposition is intent on (a) blocking government legislation and (b) using as much of the government’s legislation time to prevent the government from dealing with the backlog of legislation that is before this chamber.

It will be interesting when the debate comes, as it is coming, about the role of this opposition when the opposition is faced with the reality that it is going to have to either let some legislation go through this place, or at least deal with it expeditiously, or answer the public on its abuse of the process in this chamber of rejecting bills  and using as much of the government’s legislation time as it can in debating matters which it knows it will be voting against, despite the fact that the opposition is putting 20, 25 or 30 speakers on the speakers list. I think the public will have to judge that, unless this opposition becomes responsible in the way that it deals with the processes of government legislation in this chamber.