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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 2224

Senator ABETZ (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the minister’s inability yesterday to confirm that any of Labor’s nine major 2007 election promises had been fully honoured and that any of the three government priorities set by Ms Gillard prior to the last election had been advanced. I also refer to yesterday’s Labor caucus at which Ms Gillard outlined a five-point plan: a stronger economy, a more sustainable environment, a fairer society, governing for all Australians, and keeping all Australians safe at home and strong in the world. Given that everyone in Australia supports these sentiments, isn’t this nothing but a pathetic bunch of motherhood statements, as vacuous as the Prime Minister’s citizen assembly idea? Is this absolute confirmation that the government is bereft of a real plan and has totally lost its way?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I thank Senator Abetz for the question. I am sure anyone listening to this question time today will say, ‘What on earth was that all about? What on earth are the Liberal Party about? Why are they not focused on the concerns of ordinary Australians? Why are they so enmeshed in their own party-political games that they have no conversation to have with the Australian people?’ They have no interest in asking the government questions that hold the government to account on important matters of public importance. No. They want me to discuss what happened at our caucus meeting. It seems the only interest the Liberal Party have is in what happened in a Labor Party caucus room. They are much more interesting than, I hear, yours are since you abandoned any interest in the second half of your job—since you admitted that you only had to do half your job, which is to criticise and wreck, and that you had no interest in policies. We have seen that again in the telecommunications debate today. All they can do is criticise and seek to wreck and offer nothing in the alternative. They had 11 years to come up with a communications policy and they failed.

The Labor caucus and Labor government are focused on the key issues of concern to the Australian public. The objective of strengthening our economy is at the core of the government’s objective and policies.

Senator Abetz —Yes, everybody agrees.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Abetz, you may mock. You may not think it is important, but we actually think that delivering jobs at the height of the global financial crisis was a very important thing and a very great achievement of this government. We are focused on delivering jobs, on assisting those under cost-of-living pressures and making sure the economy is strong. That is absolutely the focus of this government and will remain so. Perhaps you ought to get in tune with the aspirations and needs of the Australian public.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the government has not delivered on the three-point plan Ms Gillard announced on the day she became Prime Minister—to fix the mining tax, fix the boats and fix carbon emissions—why should anyone believe that she will now deliver on her five-point plan? And for the record, just when does the government plan to fix the mining tax, stop the boats and fix carbon emissions?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I think Senator Abetz confuses his three-word slogans with the government’s positions. Senator, you are the party of three- or four-word slogans; we are not. We are actually about serious public policy. We are actually about addressing the fundamental issues that confront government—fundamental issues that seek to grow our economy, improve job prospects—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, resume your seat. I know people are a little bit excited today, but I remind senators that we need silence in the chamber.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —This government is actually focused not on cheap slogans but on serious policy. The bill before the parliament today is a classic example of that—sophisticated, important public policy. Whether it is abolishing Work Choices, creating work programs, improving our schools or improving our TAFEs and universities, this government is on an agenda of growing our economy; growing opportunities for young Australians, and doing hard, serious public policy work to deliver for the Australian public those opportunities.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer again to Labor’s caucus meeting yesterday at which the Prime Minister stipulated certain ‘landing points’ in response to Labor caucus members questioning both publicly and internally what the government stands for. Can the minister explain these landing points, and are landing points something you desperately need when you are all at sea?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I did a long time in opposition and I went to a lot of tactics meetings. It does get tougher in the last week but, quite frankly, you have hit a new low. If all the Liberal Party can do is ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate, ‘What happened in a Labor caucus meeting?’ you clearly have lost any idea of what your role is. You have clearly lost the plot.

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The answer is in no way, shape or form directly relevant. Secondly, you know and the leader knows well that he should not be directing these sorts of abusive comments across the chamber personally, and he should desist.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on a point of order: this is a good example of what I have raised a number of times on this point of order, where they lead with their chin in relation to a matter and then take offence when the minister responds across the issue that has been raised. Clearly, the wide-ranging questions that have been asked by the leader of the opposition have allowed the minister to range over those issues and remain directly relevant in the response. I humbly submit: there is no point of order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, I do draw your attention to the question. There are 36 seconds remaining.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I could perhaps have made the point that asking me about Labor Party caucuses was not actually part of my ministerial responsibilities. But, in order to be helpful to the Senate, I am attempting to answer the question.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —As you know, Senator, one does not generally discuss these matters. What I can tell you about the Labor caucus—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —is that they are focused on the needs of the Australian people.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —When we have silence, we will proceed.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —So, yes, the Labor caucus and the Labor government are absolutely focused on a stronger economy and opportunities for young Australians for jobs and education. We will continue to be focused on those things, and I suggest the opposition think about focusing on those big issues too.