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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2891


Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (20:51): Several months ago I spoke in this chamber about the opposition's slide towards Tea Party style tactics. I cited evidence showing that this development has distorted the coalition's decision-making on policies of national importance and led to a limitless strategy of obstructionism and defiance. In deciding to fight every day in Tea Party mode no tactic has been deemed too petty or excessive. This week the coalition reached a new low by denying a pair to a mother, Michelle Rowland, who was trying to return home and care for a sick 14-month-old child. Like the rest of Australia I was stunned that the coalition had sunk this low.

It is not just the coalition's stance on key issues or mean-spirited political tactics that we should be concerned about. It is something even more fundamental: the denigration of political debate in Australia that is being driven by the opposition leader and his team.

In America, this sort of shrill, fear-driven campaigning led to the tragic shooting of United States congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. How much further will the opposition leader go until his tactics lead to a similar disaster occurring in Australia? Already the political narrative, relentlessly pursued by the opposition leader and shadow Treasurer, has unleashed responses in some sections of the public that are honestly quite frightening. This can be largely attributed to the fact that coalition politicians are free to associate themselves with Tea Party style protests which place a premium on ignorance, and disregard informed decision or discussion of policy or leadership. We should never forget Tony Abbott's call for a 'people's revolt', which saw a series of aggressive demonstrations and a new type of political extremism in Australia. The alternative leader of this country was standing proudly in front of 'ditch the witch' placards at a time when death threats were sent to Independent MPs. That is the calibre of the opposition.

At one anti carbon price rally in July 2011, some participants suggested to the shadow Treasurer that Australians should 'take up arms against the government'. What sort of hysterical, pitchfork-carrying nonsense is this? The look on Joe Hockey's face was one of alarm at just what his party has unleashed in Australia. Now it is out of control and these voices are growing louder. We saw it when the protesters swarmed outside Minister Albanese's electorate office in Sydney and hurled abuse at him, calling him 'a maggot', amongst other things. Members of the coalition, including the member for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, were right there next to the protestors carrying placards that read, 'Tolerance is our demise,' and 'Carbon dioxide is not pollution'.

Perhaps the worst offender has to be the Consumers and Taxpayers Association, CATA—the group responsible for many of these hate filled public events in recent times. This includes the protests featuring the infamous 'ditch the witch' placards I mentioned a moment ago. Although Tony Abbott has since distanced himself slightly, in March this year we still had Barnaby Joyce and Liberal member for Hughes, Craig Kelly—

The PRESIDENT: Order! You need to refer to people in the other place or here by their correct titles.

Senator POLLEY: My apologies. Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, were proudly addressing a 'rotten to the core' rally. I should not have to remind Senator Joyce and Mr Kelly that this group has covered themselves in glory on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. The group's spokesperson stated publicly that the furore over Alan Jones's 'died of shame' comment was an overreaction and that Jones was the subject of cyber-bullying. They have hurled abuse at the elected Prime Minister of this country during question time. They have perpetrated climate change denialism. The list goes on, and the coalition is right next to them every step of the way.

This trend of extremism and political activism embraced by the coalition comes at a huge cost to Australia. Tony Abbott has sought to consistently undermine the government's efforts to reasonably manage the Australian economy and has done this in part by lowering the tone of the debate at every turn. Remember, it was Labor's response to the global financial crisis that saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and small businesses in this country. It was praised by Noble prize-winning economists and ensured that Australia did not slide into recession. Our economy has a gold-plated AAA credit rating. This is the envy of countries around the world, but all we have heard from the opposition is a series of breathtakingly stupid comments. We had the shadow Treasurer saying that the Australian economy is 'flatlining', even though it has grown considerably. He also regularly implies that running a $1.5 trillion national economy is not dissimilar to running a household budget. This is of course part of a wider trend when it comes to the economy and a range of other issues, as senior coalition leaders try to sound like everyday people. If I hear Tony Abbott say the words 'fair dinkum'—

The PRESIDENT: Order! You need to refer to someone in the other place by their correct title.

Senator POLLEY: If I hear Mr Abbott say the words 'fair dinkum' one more time, I will vomit. We also need to consider that the coalition's fixation on ignorance is damaging Australia's strong international reputation as a progressive and dynamic middle power. When Euromoney magazine awarded its prestigious Finance Minister of the Year award to Treasurer Wayne Swan, the shadow Treasurer basically threw his toys out of the pram. Let's not forget that he made several telling remarks, including this gem when discussing past winners. He said:

In 2001 there was a Pakistani finance minister. That is quite an extraordinary one, that one.

If the shadow Treasurer had conducted any semblance of research, he would have found that the Pakistani minister in question could have headed Citibank in New York. Instead, he returned to Pakistan to institute successful economic reforms. Extraordinary indeed!

Sometimes it seems that every time the opposition leader opens his mouth, he tarnishes the country's image. He has publicly lamented the fact that the Prime Minister will not 'lie down and die' and stated that the science behind climate change is 'absolute crap'. Even his own party cringed when he said in September last year that the Prime Minister should be talking to the Indonesian president in Jakarta rather than 'swanning around in New York talking to Africans'. How embarrassing! This was despite the fact that the Prime Minister was attending the annual four-day assembly of the United Nations, which was also attended by the president.

Mr Abbott and senior members of his party have been raising the bar of stupidity, and it is to the detriment of the political discourse in this country. This means that moderate members of the Liberal Party are quickly becoming an endangered species. They must look on in horror every time they witness their leader pursue his chief strategy: 'Give me the prime ministership or I will wreck the joint.' There is no nuance, no thoughtful opinion, no well-constructed arguments or invitation to challenge the merits of an idea. Instead they rely simplistically on mantras like 'stop the boats' or 'great big new tax.' It is vicious, crude and cheap, and it demonstrates that the Abbott coalition is a political soulmate of the Republican Party.

The Liberals' strategy is to make politics a policy-free zone, and by unleashing their attack dogs and fomenting this culture of ugly protest the opposition has redefined political demonstrations in Australia. How on earth has this come to be? And tonight, when we heard the budget in reply, what did we get? We got more of the same negativity, denying that there is any need to address climate change. It was more of the same, and we know on this side, as the Australian public already know—and we will educate them—about the challenges ahead they will face under any incoming coalition government, and that is their attacks on Australian workers and what they will do in bringing back Work Choices mark 3. We know what Tony Abbott's history was when he was the minister for health. He gutted the health department by a billion dollars. (Time expired)

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Three times you have brought Senator Polley to order. she has been totally and utterly disrespectful. She could at least, in her diatribe, refer to Mr Abbott by his proper name.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Resume your seat. There is no point of order.