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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 451


Senator CASH (12:33 PM) —I too rise to support the amendment to the Governor-General’s address-in-reply moved by my leader, Senator Abetz.

The opening of the 43rd Parliament on Tuesday confirmed many things about the Gillard Labor government. Perhaps what it confirmed more than anything was that Gillard Labor, just like Rudd Labor, is all about spin over substance. In the opening paragraphs of the address to the parliament setting out the Labor government’s agenda for the 43rd Parliament, the Governor-General acknowledged the remarkable circumstance in that our nation has its first female Governor-General and its first female Prime Minister. She, obviously, did not go into the circumstances in which we got our first female Prime Minister, because the speech was written by the government.

The Governor-General said:

I also acknowledge the remarkable circumstance of our nation having its first female Governor-General and first female Prime Minister.

And she then went on to say:

This historic conjunction should be an inspiration not only to the women and girls of our nation but to all Australians.

I was watching Prime Minister Gillard at the time, and she sat there in silence and nodded. She nodded in what was clear agreement with the words being spoken by the Governor-General.

But this is where the problem arises, because that was nothing more and nothing less than Labor spin. We all know what happened when the female Prime Minister of this country left this place and returned to the House of Representatives. She returned to the House of Representatives and presided over the execution of a female member of the Labor Party, Anna Burke, from the position of Deputy Speaker. This was absolutely disgraceful. She sliced and she diced one of her own after sitting in this place and nodding in agreement at the words that the Governor-General read out, lauding women in Australia. That is an absolute disgrace of spin followed by what the Australian people now know is typical of the substance of the Labor government.

The women and the children of our nation that Julia Gillard was hoping to inspire by those senseless words should now be asking themselves, ‘How can the Prime Minister of Australia sit there and nod in agreement at the words being spoken by the Governor-General but then walk out of this place and by her actions execute a female member of the Labor Party? And not only that; then actually support a male to take her place?’ The answer to that can be nothing more and nothing less than that Julia Gillard has a self-serving desire to retain power. Despite championing women’s rights in this place, in a statement to the parliament she is happy to sacrifice one of her own female parliamentarians when it comes to scoring a cheap political point. And that is, well and truly, spin over substance.

With the commissioning of the minority Labor government, politics in Australia has well and truly sunk to an all-time low. Just days after the Prime Minister of Australia took the commission from the Governor-General, in a blatant attempt to try to justify what have now become her admitted policy backflips she informs the people of Australia that the Labor Party can do this because we are allegedly in what is now known as the new political paradigm, the new political environment, and because we are now in this new political environment, as far as Julia Gillard and the Labor Party are concerned, all bets are off with the people of Australia. I say to the people listening in the gallery today that I hope none of you relied on a promise made by the Australian Labor Party when you were voting in the election, because if you did the bad news for you now is that all bets are off. Julia Gillard made the statement to the people of Australia: ‘I can break my pre-election commitments. I never had any intention of honouring them. I do not have to because we are in a new political environment.’

If the Prime Minister of Australia did not believe that she could actually put her pre-election commitments into place, then she should not have accepted the commission from the Governor-General. If the Prime Minister of Australia did not believe that she was going to be able to keep the faith of the Australian people, she should not have formed government. But she did. And the problem we as Australians are now faced with is that we are subject to a weak government that lacks any form of coherent policy direction. That lack of any form of coherent policy was more than confirmed by Labor’s so-called policy direction on what is possibly considered one of the most important issues, and that is national security—the issue of border protection.

The issue of border protection was left to the dying moments of the Governor-General’s address. In fact, I think Ms Gillard was hoping that if you had blinked you just might have missed the fact that Labor will be doing absolutely nothing to solve the mess created by the former Rudd Labor government. That is an absolute disgrace. So what we have in an agenda on the back page for the 43rd Parliament is more rhetoric—nothing more and nothing less than rhetoric. The Labor government has presided over disaster after disaster, budget blow-out after budget blow-out, boat arrival after boat arrival—and yes, another boat arrived last night—all at the expense of the Australian people.

But does the Labor Party care? Do those on the government side of the chamber care that they are compromising the people of Australia? The answer is quite simply no. And do you know why? Because principles and sound policy mean absolutely nothing to those in the Australian Labor Party. They are motivated solely by a self-serving desire to retain office and sit on those government benches. In fact—and, Senator Ronaldson, you will appreciate this—Julia Gillard is merely following the edict proclaimed by the ALP powerbroker Graham Richardson, who gained notoriety with his very famous statement, ‘Labor will do whatever it takes to succeed and retain power.’ Graham Richardson himself was confirming to the people of Australia that Labor will do whatever it takes to succeed and retain power. The problem, though, is that once Labor is in power its ability to govern this country in the national interest is absolutely abysmal.

The unwelcome influx of boats carrying unlawful immigrants into Australia was a major cause of concern at the very recent federal election. But does Labor see this as an issue it needs to take steps to address? The answer is clearly no, and this is highlighted in the address that was given to this parliament on Tuesday. The spin over the substance, the continuation of the Rudd Labor government into the Gillard Labor government, was evident when we heard the Gillard government tell us it will ‘promote an approach to processing or assessing refugee claims that is efficient, timely and fair’. That was the spin. Let us now look at the substance. The Labor Party, on 9 April 2010, decided to suspend the processing of refugee claims from Afghanistan. That is the substance. Why did it do that? That was an absolute sham. It was nothing more and nothing less than an artificial contrivance of policy for politically motivated reasons. Let us go back to what Graham Richardson said: ‘Labor will do anything, whatever it takes, to stay in power.’

There was never any intent by the then Labor government for the suspension of the processing of claims of asylum seekers from Afghanistan to be a genuine policy response to the absolute mess that they created. Labor were prepared to use the people of Afghanistan, and the people of Sri Lanka at the time, for their own desperate political ends. And what an absolute mess this policy has now created. There are now more than 5,000 people being held in detention by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on the mainland and on Christmas Island, and there is still a suspension in place, but the Gillard Labor government expect Australia to believe, as the Governor-General said, that they will be ‘promoting an approach to assessing refugee claims that is efficient, timely and fair’. That is an absolute joke.

It gets worse. In the few short lines that were dedicated to the important issue of border protection in the Governor-General’s address to the parliament, the Labor government also led Australians to believe:

The government will always honour the obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention to which our country became a party under Prime Minister Menzies in 1954.

Again, that was the spin; now let us look at the substance. The substance is that Labor’s commitment to the UN refugee policy is nothing more and nothing less than rhetoric, because the convention, for those who have bothered to read it, clearly states:

The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.

So there is the substance. The suspension of the processing of claims by Afghani—and, at the time, Sri Lankan—asylum seekers was in direct conflict with our obligations under the convention. But that does not stop Labor from spinning to the Australian people. But the Australian people are not foolish and they can see through the shallow promises made by the Labor Party. While those on the other side like to stand up and say, ‘It was a great election victory; we’re back on the government benches,’ they forget to tell the people of Australia what the reality is: they lost 13 seats at the federal election. This is the first time in a very long time that a first-term government has lost its majority. That is not a success, whichever way you look at it.

In my home state of Western Australia, Labor was overwhelmingly rejected by the people. Western Australians voted overwhelmingly to reject Gillard Labor. The Labor Party has now been reduced to just three out of the 15 House of Representatives seats that Western Australia has in the federal parliament, such is the contempt that Western Australians have for what was the Rudd Labor government and is now the Gillard Labor government. And, of those three seats, not one of them is now considered to be a safe seat. They are all marginal seats. Mr Gary Gray must feel very sick when he looks at the way the people of Brand voted in the last election, because he is now in a very marginal seat.

We may have a new Prime Minister in Ms Gillard, but insofar as the actual workings of the Labor government are concerned nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. We have a Labor government that continues to break election commitment after election commitment, at the expense of the Australian people. In the less than five weeks that this government has been in power, Julia Gillard has openly admitted that she is breaking a number of election commitments to the Australian people. Forget the citizens assembly—that was bad policy; that has now gone. In terms of her commitment to the people of Australia that ‘there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead’, again, under this new paradigm, this new environment, all bets are off and we are now seriously considering one.

Directly relevant to the issue at hand was the announcement on 17 September 2010, just three weeks after forming government, about expanding a number of onshore detention facilities, because this directly contradicts commitments given by Ms Gillard, the now Prime Minister of Australia, to the people of Australia just three days before they went to vote on 21 August. In this place we all thought Senator Wong was the queen of backflips, in terms of her stance on the ETS—will it commence on this date; no, it will not; it will commence on that date—but Ms Gillard is now giving her a run for her money.

Since the execution of Kevin Rudd, we have had 24 boats arrive in Australian waters, carrying a total of 1,307 unlawful immigrants and crew. Ten of these boats have arrived since 21 August, the day of the federal election—10 since the federal election, which was but a few weeks ago. The statistics were updated last night because, yes, another one arrived last night.

The people smugglers are clearly rejoicing in the fact that the Labor government have been returned to power. If they had had any concerns that Gillard Labor may actually tighten up the area of border protection, those fears have been completely allayed because they now know it is business as usual for people smugglers under the Gillard Labor government. Chris Bowen, in but his third press release in his new portfolio—one might say he has taken over a poisoned chalice from Senator Evans—is now announcing that this is the Gillard government’s response to protecting our borders. They will now have to build additional immigration detainee accommodation. That is it. Instead of taking steps to stop the boats coming, the Gillard government solution is to build more accommodation. Perhaps Prime Minister Gillard might like to tell the people of Australia why the boats will stop coming and why the people smugglers will stop plying their despicable trade when all she is doing is instituting a building program for refugee accommodation. She is sending a clear message to the people smugglers to bring people down to Australia.

There is so much more that could be said about the failures of the Gillard Labor government. However, the new paradigm of politics, the new environment that Julia Gillard refers to, can only be this: all bets are off and Labor, should they so choose, will not be honouring their pre-election commitments. That is a very sad state for politics in Australia. (Time expired)