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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 2021


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (18:19): I would like to make some comments in relation to the first interim report of the Senate Select Committee into the Abbott government's budget cuts. We all know, as does the Australian community, what a failure the first budget of this government was. We had another example today when the Prime Minister was trying to reiterate how things are going to improve. On 9 February he stated that good government was about to begin. We know there has been no evidence of such good government at all. When we look back at this unfair budget that was presented, we and the Australian people know that it was unfair.

The government introduced a policy of $100,000 degrees for those who had the bank card that was able to fund their application to go to university. We know at the last election—on the eve of the election, in fact—when in opposition Mr Abbott made a point of saying that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to the pension and no new taxes. We know that was not true. The Australian people, quite rightly, believe that the government that they thought they were voting for is definitely not the government they got.

The government have already tried to introduce a GP tax. There have been a number of different versions. We know that it is in their DNA and it is all about their mantra of undermining the Medicare system and the universal healthcare system in this country. We know that when it comes to health they would prefer to go down the American path. They have tried to do that. We have seen further examples of that this week with the higher education bill that was defeated. Minister Pyne, who refers to himself as 'Mr Fixer', has not fixed anything, but he is intent on bringing that bill back again.

We know he is not the only one who refers to himself as 'Mr Fixer'. We also now have Scott Morrison, the Minister for Social Services, saying the same thing. I think the first thing they need to fix, unfortunately, is the state of the nation that the Prime Minister has now created where we in fact have a Prime Minister who is unfit for that office. He is not a statesman. We have seen evidence of that. We have seen evidence of the foot-in-mouth disease he suffers from. But I would have to say, in terms of some of the things he has said in the past, Mr Abbott's reaction when he was speaking about an Australia soldier who had died and he was caught saying 'shit happens' is something that I am sure the community has not forgotten. A statesman does not make those sorts of remarks.

We have recently also had him in the other place accusing the Labor Party of causing a 'holocaust' of jobs. But, in fact, it is this government that has brought about the highest unemployment rate for 10 years, which is now 6.3 per cent. I can see that people are feeling a little bit uncomfortable hearing these sort of remarks, but can you imagine what it is like for people to hear today in the House of Representatives the Prime Minister of this country accusing Mr Shorten of being the Dr Goebbels of economic policy. That is outrageous. For those of us who have different nationalities in our families or who have friends and family who are Jewish, this is an affront. It is also an affront to the German community in this country. It is an affront to anyone who stood up and went to war. It is an affront to the Australian people. This is not the sort of language we should expect from our Prime Minister. The Prime Minister of the country, irrespective of what political persuasion they are, is the leader of this country, and this is grossly embarrassing and outrageous. I am embarrassed to think how we are perceived overseas.

Getting back to the Treasurer of this country, who introduced a fuel tax when he brought down his budget. When the Treasurer referred to people who are poor or are on a pension not driving their cars very far, it was another demonstration of how out of touch this government is. It is quite extraordinary that the Treasurer of this country is so out of touch with the community that he would make such a comment.

But unfortunately this is a government of chaos and dysfunction. When he was in opposition, the man who is now Prime Minister of this country talked about how they were going to be a government of adults, a government of grown-ups and a government without surprises. Once again, he lied to the Australian community, because they have broken their promises. There is no evidence whatsoever that this government is a government of adults. It is a government in chaos and it is a government of dysfunction. At the moment we see so many examples of this.

In my own electorate, I look to Launceston, where I live. The federal member for Bass, Mr Nikolic, has not only gone out and attacked those people who have a different view to the budget, but also now he is trying to stifle the debate of academics. How creative can he be as a federal member of parliament, to have 120 academics from the University of Tasmania sign an open letter condemning him for his attempts to criticise and object to a doctor of politics and history for making comments in relation to the budget. It is very unfortunate that the member takes criticism of the government's budget as a personal affront to him.

His job is to speak up and to defend the budget, even though it is a harsh and unfair one. That is his role as a member of parliament and we should respect that, as I do. But what I do not respect is when he tries to bring pressure by emailing and speaking to the vice-chancellor of the university. There is no other reason because no-one—not a federal member and not a man who has as many degrees as the federal member for Bass does—would ever believe that Dr Powell was actually speaking on behalf of the university. Even today, after 120 academics have raised concerns and demanded the activities of the MP cease, he still went on radio in Tasmania defending the fact that he does not believe he did anything wrong. That is very unfortunate. He is very quick to talk to the Tasmanian community in his electorate of Bass about his negotiations with the University of Tasmania for $400,000 or $500,000 in extra funds for the university. If he can bring that about, that is fantastic. But why would he email the vice-chancellor about somebody who was writing their own view and an expression of their frustration with this harsh budget? Why would you take that step during negotiations if it was not about putting pressure on Dr Powell? It is very regrettable.

It is not often that I refer to the Financial Review, but to see the headlines today in relation to the Prime Minister I would be very concerned if I was sitting on the backbench on the government side. If Mr Abbott, to try and save his own job, were to rush out and have a double dissolution of the parliament, I think the Australian people would really enjoy the opportunity. They would relish the opportunity to express their dismay at this government, because Tony Abbott, and those on the other side, mislead the Australian community—in fact, they lied to them—about their political agenda.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, we have had this earlier in this session.

Senator POLLEY: My apologies.

The PRESIDENT: Please withdraw that comment.

Senator POLLEY: Yes, I will withdraw it. They misled and they told fibs to the Australia people. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: I remind senators that when you quote a matter, even if it has been said before, if it is unparliamentary and would be regarded as unparliamentary you may not quote it. I will leave that comment at that, Senator Polley—it was during your contribution. I did not pull you up at the time, but I just want to remind you of that.