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Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7170


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:22): I, too, rise today to speak to the motion to take note of answers given in today's question time—a very wide range of questions and a wide range of answers. There was not a great theme to today's questions, but there were perhaps a couple of themes that seemed to run through them today, and one of them was the constant regurgitation of the scaremongering around particular pieces of legislation that the government is seeking to put through this place to make changes in the community.

The first question related to higher education—and to this constant scaremongering about how if you make changes in the higher education space then that somehow has to be a bad thing. I know there are a lot of people out there in the community who perhaps do not like change—and obviously those opposite seem to have a bit of a problem with change, because they have not actually accepted the fact that the government changed on 7 September 2013. Notwithstanding that, there are, in this place, a myriad of very good pieces of legislation—legislation that has been put forward by a government that was elected by the people. In the space of higher education, we are starting to see a huge number of institutions coming out and saying that the changes to higher education are not only good but also absolutely necessary for the sustainability of a higher education operation in Australia into the next decade that is going to maintain its position as an education system that the world's students aspire to be part of, and ensure that our education system remains a world-class institution for Australian students as well. I think we need to stop focusing on scaremongering tactics—on blowing up small things to be totally out of proportion—and instead start focusing on the things that are positive.

As to Senator Dastyari, he is obviously very passionate about the financial advice area, but, once again, we have to be realistic about not penalising the majority of the sake of the minority. We need to realise that there has to be a balance between affordability, accessibility and protection. Senator Dastyari was obviously very focused on making sure that he found every single person who was ever going to say anything at all that could possibly support his argument. But, equally, there are people on the other side of the argument, and we never hear anything about them.

Once again we seem to be entering into a debate where we just focus on anything we can to make something negative, instead of focusing on the positive things. After all, we were elected to this place to actually deliver positive outcomes for the people of Australia. I do not question having a debate in this place. But, eventually, you have to accept the will of the people, and the will of the people was expressed on 7 September 2013.

I turn now to the comments that were made by Senator Birmingham in relation to the relative importance of activities that are happening in Australia at the moment and around the world, and I suppose I was particularly taken aback at the question from Senator Conroy in relation to the so-called discrimination issue that he raised, about male-only or female-only or gay-only or young-people-only or old-people only groups. I mean, there are a myriad of different groups in our society who choose to group together for common interests. We seem to be absolutely fixated on a group of men who want to meet together and only share the company of other men, but we never seem to have a problem if women want to meet together. As an example, our local CWA is full of women—no men are a part of my local CWA—but we do not get a question in this House to Senator Nash or Senator Payne about them being a member of a female-only organisation, even though Senator Nash would probably be a member of her local CWA. I think that was to trivialise the operations of this place. Then there was the brutal bluntness in the targeting of Senator Brandis today. The Attorney-General has the most extraordinarily important portfolio, yet the senator wasted a question to the Attorney-General on something absolutely frivolous—and something, I am sure, the public of Australia really could not care less about—when we could have been asking questions today on national security and what is happening around the rest of the world.