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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 174

Mr MARLES (Corio) (16:02): Yes, indeed, an adult government is what was promised. Open and transparent government was the commitment before the election, but what we have in the Abbott government is a government which is characterised by secrecy. Who would have thought before the election that the way in which media would be done by this government after the election would be based on the most rigid command and control operation run by the Prime Minister's media office? Already we have got ministers being refused permission to appear on programs to say their word, and we know about it. It is the first working day of this government in this parliament and the cabinet is already bleeding.

We are seeing the culture of secrecy being applied most significantly to border protection. On 23 September the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection announced to everyone that there would be a weekly briefing about border protection in this country. What he made clear first and foremost in that briefing was not what he would say but what he would not say. He was not going to tell anybody—he would not be briefing on—anything which constituted an operational matter. Since then we have learnt that just about everything constitutes an operational matter. A boat which the whole of the country knows is already in Darwin—the fact of that—is an operational matter which could not be confirmed in this parliament today in question time. Where ministers are meant to be held to account, the minister for immigration today put himself above question time and refused to confirm the fact that there is a boat in Darwin Harbour—a fact that the whole country is aware of.

We are now in a situation where we learn more from the Jakarta Post about the circumstances of our border protection than we do from our own government. We learn more about an interception at sea—as we did last Thursday evening—from Indonesian search and rescue authorities than we do from our own government. Having promised open and transparent government before the election, what we have after the election is a government which is operating on a need to know basis. The Australian people are being given information about what this government is doing on a need to know basis.

What we are seeing from this government—having declared that the adults are now in the room, that the adults are back in charge, that there will be no bickering—is more division in its first two months than we have seen from any government in the history of federation. There is more division between the National Party and the Liberal Party today than there has been in the history of the coalition.

Let us take foreign investment as an example of that. We hear the Minister for Trade and Investment talking about the need to enter into a free trade agreement with China—a laudable objective, might I say. Hundreds of thousands of future Australian jobs are dependent upon that, but we hear everyone in the National Party demonising foreign investment in this country, running to the decks of xenophobia. There is as big an ideological division between the National Party and the Liberal Party today as we have seen since the coalition has existed. In the last few days we have seen this turn into high farce in terms of the contradictions which have occurred between the various cabinet ministers in relation to border protection.

On Monday we saw the Minister for Foreign Affairs being asked a question about a significant matter—the relationship between Australia and one of our nearest neighbours, Indonesia; that is not an unimportant bilateral relationship. What did she say? She ducked for cover; she vacated the field. Probably fairly for her, she decided that discretion was the better part of valour and she pointed directly to the immigration minister. So we go to the immigration minister, and what does he have to say about the relationship with Indonesia when it comes to asylum seekers? He says he can see no rhyme or reason for the behaviour of Indonesia when it comes to asylum seekers. The Prime Minister, having said before the election that he would not engage in megaphone diplomacy, does precisely that and starts lecturing Indonesia from Australia about its obligations to take people back. We have even seen the minister say that there is no people-swap deal on the table, and we have had the Prime Minister in question time this afternoon refusing to rule it out. The adults are not in the room; what we have on the other side is high farce.