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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 643

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today.

At the end of this first week when the Prime Minister has now declared that we are in a period of good government, after 520 days of bad government, we see in the answers to the questions that we have received today the failing government that continues to trot out the same old platitudes. The 520 days of bad government simply continues at the end of this first week of the new parliamentary year.

I want to take note in particular of the response to the question from Senator Conroy to Senator Abetz. Senator Conroy asked:

Has the Prime Minister made yet another 'captain's pick' and agreed to have Australia's next submarine fleet built by Japan?

I particularly want to note this one because, for those who might not quite be aware, what we are talking about here is the largest single government project since Federation. So the scale of what we are talking about here with these submarines is nothing to be pushed to the side. We are talking about the single largest government project since Federation. In response to that question—has the Prime Minister made a captain's pick and decided to do a secret, dirty, dodgy deal behind the scenes with Japan?—we had trouble hearing, but it needs to show on the record that the response from Senator Abetz was a clear no to those of us who were here in the chamber. Senator Wong made an effort to make sure that that went on the transcript, and just in case there is a problem I want to make note of it in my response today as well. We have had an assurance now from Senator Abetz that the answer to that question is: no, the Prime Minister has not made a captain's pick. But the truth is going to come out, and that is why it is important that we get this on the record. What we have seen so far with this government is that, day after day, this is a government that says one thing and does another; a Prime Minister who has been caught on too many occasions saying one thing and doing another.

There was also Senator Conroy's supplementary question which went to the fact that we have been led to understand that the Prime Minister's department or some other department of government actually went to the trouble of preparing draft talking points—draft media releases and draft supporting documents—to make an announcement that a deal had indeed been done with Japan. But they are hiding from it; the minister said he could not confirm it and that he is going to take it on notice. It will be very interesting to get a factually accurate and truthful answer to that question, because this is a government that is running away as fast as it can from each of the promises it has made. It is revealing lie after lie, day after day, and the Australian people are absolutely awake to it.

But of all of the questions that were taken today I have to say that in my view the very worst performance was from Senator Ronaldson, who said he was 'simply unaware' of the fact that this government has slashed legal aid funding. He said, 'Yes, there is $1.3 billion going to legal services,' but a cut of $15 million has a very significant impact on the veterans that he is supposed to be representing—not just here in the chamber, but in the cabinet. To be unaware that there has been a cut to the services is an indictment on the minister's lack of awareness of the need to look after the vet community. He has been presiding during a period when they have shut down veterans' offices right across the country. Throughout New South Wales, there have been too many closures—one in particular in the seat of Robertson on the Central Coast—which has a large vet population—serving the entire population of over 300,000.

Make no mistake, while applauding the efforts of the private sector in supporting a commemoration of Anzac, this government has been slashing services for our veterans. And the most notable of those is the slashing of ADF pay, which is a great disgrace. I am very mindful of the efforts of many senators in this place to call them to redress there. This is a government that is not answering the questions that the Australian people are asking. They are not truthfully answering the questions that are being asked here in this chamber, and today we saw another performance of a government that is out of control—a government in chaos. The only method we see is their coming in every day and denying the mistakes that they have made. Senator Ronaldson's failure to look after the Defence community—those who have served our country—is on the record again today. His failure to accurately and truthfully represent what he is doing is also on the record today. (Time expired)