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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 7789


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (16:45): This is a matter of public importance. This government's level of incompetence is such that I do not think anybody in this chamber in their lifetime has seen anything that resembles the crass incompetence of this government, of these ministers, of this Prime Minister and, indeed, of the senators in the Labor Party here in this chamber. It is very interesting in such a pointed matter of public importance that Labor senators have not sought to raise any legitimate achievements that have arisen from good public policy and good administration. In questioning why that is the case, the answer is that there simply are not any. This government lurches from one fiasco to another. This last weekend we saw for all to understand incompetence in living, breathing form in ministers and the Prime Minister.

Good government has a number of qualities. Firstly, it has a competent leader in control of her ministers. Secondly, it comprises competent ministers in a cabinet who are loyal to their leader, the Prime Minister. Thirdly, good government has a party room or a caucus that is loyal and in support of the Prime Minister and her ministers. This Prime Minister and this government have none of those three features. Kevin Rudd is running a relentless and utterly ruthless campaign to regain the leadership of the Labor Party, and this Prime Minister has no authority to discipline him or deal with him in any shape or form whatsoever. He is on the loose, out of control and undermining this government at its very foundation. She is so lacking in authority she can do nothing but smile and watch.

This campaign of Mr Rudd's would not have a feather to fly with if it were not for the void of honour and integrity that this Labor cabinet has created. It is a void that is so hollow and deep that Kevin Rudd is enjoying rock star status. He gave the performance we observed on Friday night in Perth unchecked and undisciplined. This is all because these ministers in this government are so disloyal, undisciplined, lacking in honour and lacking in integrity. They are collectively disloyal. They are incompetent and ill disciplined in everything they do. One can probably name more than 50 different policy approaches that have come off the rails, been a waste of money and so poorly understood and administered by these ministers that they are a standing joke in Australian public policy circles.

In terms of public policy in government, the skills of these ministers can be summed up in one word. That word is 'spin'. They muck up something and then they will tell you that they actually were successful. Last weekend we observed Qantas in chaos and the travelling public in chaos. What did we have from the government? They were saying that they had resolved the issue successfully. The fact is that they were caught out in a most obvious and ridiculous way. They were sitting on their hands. They had plenty of warnings. With three hours notice that there was to be a lockout what did they do? They did absolutely nothing, leaving the public in the lurch.

Why does this Prime Minister lack all authority? There have been a number of events that have indicated that she is prepared to say and do anything to get a by-line, to get over a hurdle and to avoid scrutiny. The first and most obvious thing was the promise that there would be no carbon tax under a government that she personally led. We all know the level of integrity, honour, honesty and truthfulness in that statement. But when confronted with various problems in the execution of Kevin Rudd she tossed up the East Timor solution. The incredible fact about this was that she did not even bother to tell the East Timorese. Then, when pushed, she threw up the Manus Island solution. Again, the Papua New Guineans in Port Moresby were not even consulted. Needless to say, the Malaysian solution has gone the same way as the other two—a complete and utter fiasco. But, more importantly, our foreign policy stance with our near neighbours is an absolute shambles.

This is a Prime Minister and a cabinet that have totally lost their way, are extremely incompetent and lack integrity. Where is the evidence? The evidence, as I have hinted at, is the performance of Kevin Rudd at CHOGM. At every single opportunity he upstaged his Prime Minister. Every single time she wanted to make an announcement he was there butting in a day or half a day before, ripping the rug out from under her. His conduct with respect to the government's policy of mandatory precommitment in clubs for poker machines is virtually giving two fingers not just to cabinet and the Prime Minister but to his party. She does not have the authority to come in and discipline him. He has refused to endorse the policy.

The second piece of evidence, which is the smoking gun of the complete collapse of integrity inside the Labor Party, is these cabinet leaks. The business of cabinet is only going to be conducted successfully if people can talk freely and can conduct their business with a sense of confidence and security. We have cabinet ministers openly briefing journalists against their colleagues. This is indicative of the last days of a decadent and collapsing government. The point about this cabinet is that its members are so full of bile and invective towards each other that they are now seeking the assistance of a hungry media to launch campaigns against each other. We have seen people accused: a senator in this place has been accused of perpetrating the leaks. We have seen ministers arguing: we saw Minister Albanese and Minister Evans arguing with each other about the way to resolve the Qantas dispute on the weekend. We found out about that because ministers are leaking against each other.

This Prime Minister's authority is so low that there is a complete and utter failure to enforce any discipline or to run this cabinet properly. Indeed, Kevin Rudd is now so confident—he has undermined the foundations of this cabinet so much—that he is openly sending out signals and invitations to those who assassinated him that there will be no retribution upon his return. All is forgiven. That is the level of this Prime Minister's lack of authority. She is just floating on the surface, treading water, waiting for the inevitable. The sorts of events we saw this weekend are a product of that.

Of course, the Prime Minister has absolutely no-one but herself to blame for this, because it all comes back to the public's perception of what is integrity, what is truthfulness and what is a reliable element in her make-up that the public can have confidence in. The first thing that everybody in Australia goes to, to see what sort of a person this Prime Minister is, is her promise just before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under the government she leads. She made that promise because she knows that this is poison. Yet here she is, having sold her soul to the Greens, pushing on with it. She and her cabinet are doomed.