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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 166

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (10:18): I rise today to speak in reply to the Governor-General's speech of yesterday. But before I do that, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the President on his re-election and Sue Lines on her election as the new Deputy President. I would also like to place on the record my thanks to Gavin Marshall for the leadership that he demonstrated during his tenure as Deputy President of the Senate.

Today I want to reflect on Labor's federal election results in Tasmania, my home state. I urge those opposite to take heed of this result and listen to the people of Tasmania, something which they have failed to do over the previous three years, and I encourage those opposite to deliver in full every election commitment they made to the people of Tasmania.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate Labor's new members elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate and, in particular, those elected from Tasmania. Congratulations to Ross Hart, the new member for Bass, Justine Keay in Braddon and Brian Mitchell in Lyons. I would like to particularly acknowledge Julie Collins, the federal member for Franklin, on her re-election for the fourth consecutive time. In fact, she increased her margin.

I also acknowledge my Tasmanian Senate colleagues. I congratulate senators Carol Brown, Anne Urquhart, Catryna Bilyk and Lisa Singh and I look forward to continuing to work with them for the people of our home state of Tasmania. I also want to acknowledge Jane Austin, our Labor candidate for the seat of Denison, who put up a great fight but, unfortunately, was not elected. The House of Representatives will miss the contribution that I am sure she would have made. I also thank my colleague John Short, who was on our Labor Senate team. John is a stalwart of the Labor movement, and he would have made a fantastic contribution in this place. He is one of those people who roll up their sleeves and get into it. He is a team player. We sat together on many occasions stuffing envelopes and making phone calls to the electorate, so I will miss the opportunity of serving in this place with John.

I would like to draw your attention to what happened in Bass. I am the duty senator for Bass, which is in northern Tasmania. Labor witnessed a swing of 10.1 per cent—an extraordinary outcome, particularly as there were three fairly new members of the House of Representatives from the government's benches. In Braddon we saw a swing of 4.8 per cent, in Lyons it was 3.5 per cent, and in Franklin there was a swing of 5.6 per cent. This was only possible because of the passion and dedication of our election campaigners, who were fighting for fairness. I thank each and every one of them. They know who they are. They helped elect our candidates who now sit in the House of Representatives, and they helped to ensure that the five Labor senators were returned to this place. We should never forget those people, and we had so many people who came from outside the Labor Party to work on this campaign because they knew of the horror and terror of the policies of this government. Each and every one of them should be immensely proud of their achievements. I would also like to place on record—because sometimes we do not do this enough—my thanks to my own staff for the way they committed themselves not only during the election campaign but for the previous three years. Being in the shadow ministry has been a great honour. There is a lot of work attached to it, and I want to say to them each and every one of them: thank you.

Federal Labor is very well represented here in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, but the reason we were so successful in Tasmania was that we took policies to the people and stood up for the things that they value most: education, saving Medicare, protecting penalty rates and being there for the people. Most importantly, we listened to them and we delivered. The promises and commitments that we made reflected what the Tasmanian community are all about.

Labor has a strong jobs policy. We took that to the last election. I would also like to acknowledge the fact that it was Bill Shorten who instigated our setting up of the Tasmanian task force, where we went out and consulted across the length and breadth of Tasmania and across all sectors to find out what people were looking for from an alternative government. We did that. We went out to the community over a long period of time, and I believe that we came up with really good policies. What the government forget is that we actually do not just live in an economy; we live in communities. I am hoping that the people on the government side of the chamber will take heed of the message that the Tasmanian community has sent to the Turnbull government.

The rejection of this government's agenda by the people of Tasmania could not have been shown more starkly than by this election result. The reason Labor won four House of Representatives seats and five in the Senate is that we had a comprehensive plan for the future. We know that those opposite—and I have said it enough times in this chamber—have no vision. They have no policies and they have no plan for the future.

A good example of this comprehensive plan for the future was borne out by the election campaign. The University of Tasmania wanted to relocate one of its campuses from outer Launceston to the suburb of Inveresk at the edge of the city, and they were going to do the same thing in Burnie. We took to the community a 21st century solution to a very old problem concerning Launceston's sewerage and infrastructure issues. We had major investments in multiple tourism and community building infrastructure initiatives. We had a positive plan for our hospitals: more beds and more staff—not fewer beds, and staff walking out, as they have been at Launceston General Hospital. We had a plan for education, with more investment in our teachers and funding for years 5 and 6 of Gonski. Bill Shorten and Labor articulated a strong policy agenda for Tasmania, and I thank Bill for his work, not only in the policy area that he took around the nation but for the fact that he spent time in Tasmania listening to what Tasmanians wanted from their leaders. The Tasmanian task force was a great manifest for us to build our policies and our announcements around.

I was on the polling booth on election day so I know that Tasmanians knew how they were going to vote. They were determined. They knew that this government had let them down for three years already. They knew, because they had firsthand experience of cuts to our schools and our hospitals, the GP tax, an attack on Medicare and the threat of $100,000 degrees, which is still a real threat. There were cuts to pensioners' concessions, the increase in the retirement age to 70 and the cuts to pathology services, although they did manage to do a deal to give the pathologists a little bit of time to themselves, because for the first time we had pathology services around this country out campaigning against a conservative government. This is a government that had GPs—not the most radical people in our community, I would have to say—campaigning against cuts in health and a tax to see their GP.

In Tasmania, we also knew what it would mean if there were going to be an increase in the GST. We know that was their plan and that it is still in their bottom drawer. If they thought they could get it through the states, by starving them of funds, that is exactly what those opposite will do. We have a Prime Minister who goes over to Western Australia and makes a commitment that Western Australia will get more funding out of the GST—they will get a greater share. That share has to come from somewhere, and no doubt it will come from Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. But what he forgets is that we are pretty smart people here in Tasmania. We understand that he will say one thing in Western Australia and then come to Tasmania and the eastern states and say something very different. Well, the Tasmanian community is much smarter than Mr Turnbull is, because they were not hoodwinked again by this government. We know, firsthand, that the Liberal members of Lyons, Bass and Braddon failed to listen to their communities. Those former members and the senators opposite have still failed to accept any responsibility for losing those seats in Tasmania.

We understand, as the Tasmanian people understand, that a $50 billion tax cut to big business and the undermining of our universal health care system—Medicare—were never going to be fair policies. They sent a very strong message to Mr Turnbull, because they understand how out of touch his representatives were in Tasmania and how out of touch he really is. People who voted for Malcolm Turnbull have gotten somebody very different as Prime Minister, because we know he has backed away from so many things. A lot of people in the community—not me—believed very much that he would be a better Prime Minister than Tony Abbott. Well, we have all learnt that they were very wrong about that—very wrong indeed.

We on this side feel very humble for the result that we got at this last federal election. We accept responsibility for the policies that we put forward to the people. But the blame games have already started in Tasmania from those opposite. They are looking around blaming everyone else but themselves. First it was GetUp!'s fault that they lost the seat of Bass. Then they tried to pin the defeat on a Tasmanian Legislative Council member, who is quite conservative and one of them, for holding a press conference and talking about the crisis at our local Launceston General Hospital under the Liberal's watch. They blamed Malcolm Turnbull's national campaign. Those opposite have not for one second taken the time to reflect on their policies to see how unfair they were. It might be the fact that they ignored Tasmanians and took them for granted. There is no greater example of scapegoating on Tasmania's political issues. Own it, Senator. Own the defeat. You owe the Tasmanian people at least that much. How about some self-reflection from those opposite? You may actually learn something about yourselves and your failed campaign.

Professor of Political Science at the University of Tasmania, Richard Eccleston, said of the election campaign in Tasmania that health was clearly an issue. Yes, it was most definitely an issue. Yet the former federal member for Bass kept saying throughout the election campaign that the crisis at the Launceston General Hospital was a 'state issue'. Mr Nikolic denied the fact that the Commonwealth, alongside states and territories, has been funding public hospitals since World War II. On his watch in Bass, Mr Nikolic just ignored the community and ignored the crisis at the Launceston General Hospital.

So what has the Liberal Party learnt from this election result? From the disunity and dysfunction already demonstrated by those since they were elected, I do not believe they have learnt anything at all. I hope that they will look very seriously at the health and education policies that they are putting forward—the threat of $100,000 degrees. I hope that they will listen to the conversations of people in our communities. I hope that they come up with some decent plans for jobs, plans for TAFE graduates to ensure that we have apprentices, plans to ensure that essential funding for schools and hospitals continue and plans to protect penalty rates and Medicare and I hope that they will not pursue any change to the GST.

The Liberals came kicking and screaming to support the University of Tasmania's move to Inveresk in Launceston and Burnie, but it took them seven weeks. Labor came out early because we understand that we have such a low retention rate and that we need something to drive our local economy to create the jobs so that our young people will not leave the state. We had the support of the state Liberal government and we had the Launceston City Council and the five surrounding councils all supporting this. We had the conservative newspaper, The Examiner, back this move and we had support within the broader community. But the Liberals were kicking and screaming when they had to come out at the very end of the election campaign and commit. That is not a good message to send to the people of Tasmanian.

Tasmanians will not forget that it was Labor and the community who put the pressure on this government to come forward. That was because Labor understand that the economy will be richer, as long as these people opposite keep their commitment to fund the university. In the north and north-west of Tasmania, this expansion is set to create 430 construction jobs and 230 academic and support jobs, but this government could not really see the writing on the wall of how important this was.

We have also learnt from the last election campaign that those people opposite, like Senator Abetz—who belong to the conservatives, who belong to the Liberal Party—are still about getting GetUp!. After the election Senator Abetz said:

What we need to do as a Liberal Party is inoculate against that and expose the money sources of these organisations and what their true agenda is.

Senator Abetz, how can you argue against a third-party organisation campaigning in a democracy during an election campaign? We live in a free society. Making public comment and campaigning during an election campaign is free speech. Those opposite espouse the fundamental principal of free speech and yet when anyone criticises them they cannot handle it. I think that is a great shame. According to the Liberals, free speech is only allowed when you agree with the Liberal Party.

The fact is that those opposite ignored the Tasmanian community. They ignored the crisis in our health system. It is not just in the Launceston General Hospital; it is in the Hobart Mercy Hospital. We do not want to keep going on and on about our health problems there. I always like to talk up my home state. Through this election campaign there was such heavy campaigning and so many ads going on about millions of dollars being spent, but they did not work in Tasmania because they did not reflect the policies that were important to our community—the policies of providing jobs, of enabling young Tasmanians to go on to university, of ensuring that Tasmanians can get a hospital bed when they need it and that they can go to the GP. Labor stood firm and said time and time again that we would never, ever stop fighting to protect Medicare.

We know that the former member for Bass used to block people on Facebook and social media and we know that he used to turn constituents away from his offices and refuse to seem them, but I only just learnt recently that of a morning in his office he and his staff would have a daily chant of 'jobs and growth, jobs and growth'. I truly believe that Mr Nikolic believed that if he kept saying that same slogan—jobs and growth, jobs and growth—that jobs would magically appear. Quite frankly, they did not. But the arrogance does not stop there. The federal members for Bass, Braddon and Lyons were so arrogant and out of touch they actually proclaimed themselves 'the three amigos'. The arrogance of a member of parliament refusing to meet with their constituents and blocking people on social media because they failed to support their views! I have not even begun to talk about aged care and the fact that that was so badly neglected, but I will be speaking later today about aged care. But I do have a message from the Tasmanian community to these three arrogant, out of touch former members of the House of Representatives who called themselves 'the three amigos': adios amigos, get on your horses and ride out of town. (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Senator Polley, as entertaining as that was, I do not think it was quite parliamentary.