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Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Page: 3945


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (17:12): The Australian Jobs Bill 2013 is important for Australia in many respects because it highlights the haphazard way this government has gone about its legislative program. When I examine the documents I have before me, one of the things that galls me about the proposals in this bill relates to questions raised by Senator Colbeck in Senate estimates—that is, that this government has applied $10 million worth of taxpayer money to promote, advertise and market the changes that this bill will be implementing within the Australian Industry Participation system. In and of itself, whether that is justified could be the subject of much debate, but what Senator Colbeck flushed out four weeks ago was that this $10 million had to be spent by 30 June—in this financial year. There are four and a bit days left of this financial year and, as of four weeks ago, the department and the government had no idea what form their campaign was going to take.

So $10 million of taxpayers' money is going to be spent in the next four days to advertise and market a bill on which substantive and full debate will not have taken place—because it is subject to this vicious guillotine that is stifling the development and fostering of positive amendments and debate in this chamber. This government is using its numbers in a brutal manner in this chamber, where it is undermining the role of the Senate as the states' house and the representatives truly of the people, dedicated to improving legislation. It is also wasting taxpayers' money by rushing bills like this through and then, on the back of it, having a marketing campaign which I am sure will have more to do with promoting whatever virtue is left in this government than the actual act before us. It is galling.

Yet, strangely, I am not surprised—because of the track record of this government. I know the Australian people are, quite rightly, outraged and appalled at the mismanagement of taxpayers' money in the past by this government. We have had, after all, deficit after deficit—record deficits of $50-plus billion—and there is no end to them in sight, no matter what this government says, unless we change this government. Then there could be hope and optimism for the future, because there would be reward and opportunity for the Australian people. They would know that the merits of their labours would be fully rewarded by a prudent and sound government, with the adults in charge of the Treasury benches.

The figure of $10 million which is applied to this advertising campaign is particularly galling because this is the government that, in the last week, sought to rig the referendum on changing Australia's Constitution. What an appalling, grubby piece of work that was—rigging a referendum on Australia's constitutional document. With the same amount of money, they are trying to promote their grubby deals. This is $10 million worth of taxpayers' money. In the case of the referendum, they gave it to the case that they wanted to advocate. But they would not give the same amount of money—they gave one-twentieth—to those who want to preserve and protect our Constitution and maintain the separation of powers, those who do not want to see the grubby transfer of power from local communities into Canberra.

I can understand why the Australian people are outraged about that. They should be aware that this is a government which has very little regard for the Australian people. It has very little regard for the checks and balances in our Constitution. It has very little regard for the prudent use of taxpayers' money, as the $10 million marketing campaign in this bill suggests. I am appalled. I am sure the Australian people would be equally disappointed. I compliment the forensic questioning of Senator Colbeck which exposed the department, who were forced by the nature of the questioning to expose the government and their malfeasance. It is appalling. It is, some would say, almost a rort, and that is something no-one in this place can condone.

To turn to the substance of this bill: the bill's passage would result in changes to the Australian Industry Participation system. On this side of the chamber we are supportive of the Australian Industry Participation system because it was an initiative of the Howard government, in 2001, and its core purpose was to give Australian firms increased opportunity to secure work on major local projects. It is a good idea. But I am not going to listen to lectures or some sort of homily from this government about the importance of including Australian industry and Australians in major projects when they have to import a grubby spin doctor from the UK to prop up their disgraceful conduct over many years.

We have seen the spin come out and the objectionable use of abuse. We have seen the Prime Minister's office—need I remind all of us in this chamber?—involved directly with trying to engineer an Australia Day race riot by agitating one group of people and unleashing them to endanger the Leader of the Opposition. The poor result of that, of course, was a Prime Minister fleeing for her very safety, with her security protection detail, and losing a shoe in the process. That sort of grubby behaviour was engineered by someone in the Prime Minister's office—the same people that are now lecturing the opposition about our own conduct and how we should be dealing with the public and with the politics of this situation. I will not take any lectures about including Australians or Australian industry, particularly on a program that was started by the Howard government and that has always been soundly managed, to the best of my knowledge.

This government is intent on making rushed changes that I suggest are anathema to the operation of the vibrant private sector, which— strangely!—has quietened down under the uncertainties provided by the economic climate of this government. In regard to the private sector, it is very clear to me in my dealings with business people, whether their businesses be big or small, that they are desperate for some certainty, because the one thing they all say to me is that this government provides uncertainty. They do not know whether the ground they are standing on to conduct their business is going to change radically because of red and green tape. They do not know whether a new tax or a new burden is going to be placed upon them at the whim of some spin doctor or based on some back-of-the-envelope calculation. They know that the government has very little regard or respect for those who actually generate the wealth.

The government set up class warfare—it is the employer versus the employee. In my experience, that has never really been the case. Employers do whatever they can to keep their employees happy, because they know they are absolutely vital and necessary to their business. It is, as Senator Boswell suggested, some more militant people within the union movement—seeking to feather their own nest or to build their own empire, increase their power base and build a profile for themselves so that they can get into parliament—who seek to agitate and stir up industrial action. These are the problems that businesses are facing today in this country.

One of our great challenges is: how can we get the balance right? But I think the Howard government's approach to the Australian Industry Participation system did get the balance right. I say that because this bill is going to create an increased bureaucracy. It is going to create a new bureaucracy with up to 50 individuals who are going to have new powers to enforce compliance and apply penalties for noncompliance. This is just what the country does not need—more bureaucracy stifling innovation and people's ability to be creative and develop their business as they see fit.

Importantly there is a principle attached to this. This objectionable bill contains a proposal that the government could embed public servants into a private company's workforce. I would be delighted to be corrected on that, because it concerns me that those public servants could then shape and even dictate the purchasing decisions of that particular company.

Since when did a public servant know what was better for a company than the shareholders, the directors or the employees—those who are closer to the action? Since when was it acceptable to embed public servants in private sector companies to tell them what they should and should not be doing? It smells more of the old communism or socialist totalitarianism than it does of a modern-day capitalist environment in which work is provided for the benefit of all engaged in it.

There is also a lack of clarity in the legislation about what has been termed the trigger date, the date when the production of an AIPP becomes mandatory. I would welcome the opportunity for a committee stage in which we could discuss this and ask these questions of the minister, because that is a very important part of thrashing out the problems with a bill. The difficulty we have with that, of course, is that this bill is one of more than 50 this week and one of more than 200 under this parliament to be subject to that thing benignly termed 'time management'. That is the guillotine. That is where the government and the Greens team up and say, 'I'm sorry, but we're not allowing any more debate or discussion on this subject because we have not been able to get our own house in order and we do not think the Australian people should know much more about this.'

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: I note the interjections from the other side, from Senator Feeney, who is the minister on duty. It is very hard for him to justify his engagement in and involvement with this bill. He has probably just been lumbered with it. It probably just landed on his desk before he came in here. But the difficulty we have is this. Anyone with a true commitment to democracy knows that there will be the odd occasion when time management is necessary in this place—and it can be done, with cooperation. But in this week alone—and we are only on day 2—there will be more guillotines brought down on more bills than in the entire last term of the Howard government.

It is little wonder that the Australian people regard the years of the Howard-Costello coalition government as the golden years, because they knew that they had a government with inherent decency. They knew they had a government that believed in a fair go. They knew they had a government that wanted to see the right thing done by Australia. There are very few people in the country today who think we have a government that is committed to doing the right thing for Australians.

We know how desperate the Prime Minister is at the moment to cling to her job. We know how desperate some on the other side of the chamber are for her to be deposed from that job so that they can get some benefit out of it. We know how desperate another group of them are to stop that from happening. This is a desperate government that is trying to desperately ram through a bunch of objectionable bills that have flaws in them—because they can. And they are frightened about what might happen when they put the question to the Australian people in a couple of months time. That is a problem.

We have many more weeks in which parliament could sit. We could have had extended hours for many weeks previously. But the point is that the government did not have an agenda, save for: 'What can we do politically to spin our way out of trouble?' It has not worked. The blue-tie fiasco of last week did not work. The race riots of Australia Day did not work. None of the spin has worked because the credibility of the government is at rock bottom.

This bill adds to the lack of credibility of this government because all Australians should rightly be ashamed of a government that is seeking—in these difficult financial and economic times, when there are more clouds gathering on the horizon globally that are sure to impact us in this country—to increase bureaucracy, increase penalties and increase compliance requirements on the very industries that can be providing opportunity, jobs and economic growth.

What is lost on this government is that it is not government that provides wealth creation. Government can provide the right environment for it, but it is up to individuals and companies who invest capital to develop actual productive wealth for this nation. The problem is lost on the government, which only sees wealth producers as some sort of cash cow. This government has always been the most guilty of that. They have been the most heinous breakers of any credibility in respect of prudent financial management.

So why would we trust them to be doing the right thing by Australian industry at the eleventh hour? Why would we trust them? How could we? Our own questions have not been answered. Mrs Mirabella asked for a briefing from Minister Combet's office to discuss the industry innovation statement but was refused. I suggest to Mrs Mirabella that it is probably because the government had no idea what they were doing at the time—just like their marketing plan, just like the $10 million they are going to spend in the next four days promoting a bill that has not even passed yet. And it should not pass because we will not have the opportunity to fully explore the problems within it or the opportunity to amend it and make the changes necessary to clean and tidy it up.

The government has of course tried to publicly create the pretext that its industry statement somehow represents an injection of $1 billion in new funding to the industry portfolio, but anyone who makes more than a cursory examination of these headline-grabbing statements, which are like something out of a sitcom, knows well that it cannot be true. Instead, the industry statement seems to incorporate around $600 million worth of cuts. So on one hand we have a government promising to promote Australian industry; on the other hand we have a government making about $600 million worth of cuts. On one hand we are saying this is going to help Australian businesses procure bigger contracts; on the other hand the government will be installing public servants into private businesses to determine the purchasing decisions of private companies.

I suggest, and I stand firm with the coalition in saying, that the best results are always going to be achieved by working cooperatively with industry and business in this country rather than through coercion. Where confusion and ambiguity exist, this chamber exists to seek clarification. I regret the dastardly and bloodthirsty manner that the government are killing off debate. It suggests to me that they have something to hide, just as they were seeking to rig the referendum on the constitutional recognition of local government by a disgraceful bias in funding. That was unprecedented in 100 years in this country. Never before has a referendum received such shoddy treatment by such a shoddy government.

Now we have another $10 million that is going to be spent in the next four days promoting another dodgy scheme, a scheme that they will not allow full scrutiny of. The scheme needs the full scrutiny of this chamber and this parliament, but, unfortunately, we will not be allowed to do that. But I think the Australian people will render their verdict come the opportunity on 14 September.

An honourable senator interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Order!