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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23418

Mr LLOYD (2:05 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister seen comments on the importance of bipartisanship in the conduct of public policy? What is the Prime Minister's response?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Robertson for his question. In his press conference this morning, the Leader of the Opposition said that he would reject opposition for opposition's sake. He said that, if he saw a good idea that was for the good of Australia, he would support it.

The SPEAKER —The member for Ballarat!

Mr HOWARD —I cautiously welcome this—

The SPEAKER —The member for Ballarat now chooses deliberately to defy the chair!

Mr HOWARD —as a break from 7½ years of negativity by the Australian Labor Party. In the spirit of that bipartisan reach, I invite the Leader of the Opposition to give flesh to the notion and to practise what he preached at his press conference. I invite him now, before the parliament rises, to reverse the opposition of the Australian Labor Party to the safety net in the new MedicarePlus plan. Anybody who cares about the struggling families of Australia could hardly object to a safety net. How can you hate a safety net if you claim to represent the battlers of Australia? It is open to the Australian Labor Party to support the safety net. If it goes to the next election and is successful, it can then add to what is already in place.

By supporting the safety net, they are not in any way inhibiting their freedom of movement—if they were to win the next election—in relation to the implementation of health policy. Therefore, by maintaining opposition to a safety net, which is the only piece of legislation that is needed to give effect to MedicarePlus, the Labor Party is practising opposition for opposition's sake, and the Leader of the Opposition said less than two hours ago that he was not going to be like that. Well, he has an opportunity immediately—on his first day—to practise what he preaches, to give effect to the fact that we now have a new era and that we now have a Leader of the Opposition who calls it for Australia rather than for the negative opportunism of the Labor Party. So he can do that.

While he is at it, I invite him to adopt the same approach to our higher education proposals. There is nothing to stop Labor from voting for them now, and if they want to make changes after the next election they can introduce those changes. Finally, for good measure, if he is a man who believes in strong border protection—if he believes in protecting Australia's borders—maybe he will lead the Labor Party to reverse their rejection of the excision of those islands from the Australian migration zone, thus adding to the store of achievements insofar as border protection is concerned. In other words, on his first day, he can really break with the past. Unlike his two predecessors, he can avoid negativity and opposition for opposition's sake, and he can actually give effect to the spirit of bipartisanship that he regards as so important to the quality of public debate in Australia.