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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 148

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:15): There goes the member for Warringah. I did not like what he stood for, but at least he stood for something.

Today we have just been through question time, and we have witnessed a Prime Minister who we have discovered, just before the election, got rolled in cabinet on key economic issues. He did not have the fortitude to fight then for what he knew to be right. He and his Treasurer, we have discovered, put forward reforms to reform negative gearing in the national interest. Then, after three or four speeches, they backed off and went to an election instead with the crass expediency of saying, 'We know the issue has got to be reformed, but we'd rather kick Labor with clean hands then deal with the national interest.' This nation desperately needs leadership, and we are not getting leadership from this government. I said during the election, in one of those debates—when I could pin the Prime Minister down to a debate—when he was running a scare campaign on boats, 'You should be ashamed of yourself,' but then I did not even know the half of it.

I am ashamed that in this election the Prime Minister of Australia, knowing what this nation needs to do to reform our balance sheet and to make fiscal repair that is fair—I am ashamed that we have a coward for a leader who would not tell the truth to the Australian people. There is no leadership in this government. There is a lot of weakness and a lot of cowardice and a lot of backbiting. This will be the government for the next three years, perhaps: have a policy, get rolled, give up and attack Labor instead. Unfortunately, after one day of parliament, we are back where we left off.

This is the summary of the government and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is a man with no authority and no agenda. He only reacts to events—and, by the way, he has got a treasurer with no idea at all. And there is leadership vacuum in this country. But, of course, politics is like nature: it abhors a vacuum. And the hardliners are queueing up to replace the vacuum left by this Prime Minister who will not lead.

The other day the Prime Minister made a plea for the 'sensible centre'. You cannot be in the sensible centre when you take your marching orders from the right. You cannot be in the sensible centre when you are cutting Medicare, because Medicare is at the heart, at the centre of Australian life and, if you cut that, you are certainly nowhere near it.

This Prime Minister famously, in his first 10 months of stewardship, used to talk about: 'Isn't it the most exciting time to be alive in Australia.' But I tell you he does not say that so much. I had a look at the supporting cast of the 74 other members of the government. I have seen gloomier expressions, but I cannot think where. I was reminded of that series The Walking Dead. They look happier on that than they do in here. But, of course, I said 74. It is 73. There is one person for whom it has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian: Mr Abbott, the member for Warringah.

The problem is that this government are so accident prone in the last two months it is remarkable. In the Labor Party, if someone makes a mistake, the diligent media are all over us for weeks and weeks. But there is good news if you are in the coalition and you make a mistake: you just have to keep your head down for a few hours because there will be someone else coming to the rescue—that is if you cannot find a poor old ABS middle-level public servant to wheel out and take the blame. But the new good news in this government is the Prime Minister will always back you up, because when you make a mistake, trust me, the stopwatch is on and there is Malcolm Turnbull to the rescue with an even bigger mistake before you can say, 'Boo'. But, of course, in the last two months we have seen some of these examples. We have got the shocker on census night, followed up by the Prime Minister humiliating the foreign minister. The problem for Malcolm Turnbull is he thinks everyone is anintriguer like him. In the case of the foreign minister he might well be right, but the point about it is that he humiliated his foreign minister. Then we have got NBN: they will do anything not to report the facts on the NBN. We have got the bungling of the royal commission into juvenile justice in the Northern Territory. It was the right idea but the problem is: when you have got this mob in charge you know it will be poorly executed. And then we now have the great moral challenge of budget repair.

Negative gearing—we found out that the Prime Minister was running an empty scare campaign because he himself wanted to embark on changes. Did you notice the weasel words our Prime Minister used? He said, 'Labor's proposals are slipshod.' He did not say it was bad topic to tackle, did he? You just get the sense with our friend that he would be so good at doing his job he could run both sides of the argument. The thing about him is that he probably thinks that because he does not believe in anything. He could just as easily run the case to reform negative gearing as to oppose it.

The problem, though, is that when he ran his scare campaign I do not think that anyone expected him to come up with this alternative housing policy: telling young people locked out of the housing market to get on eBay and get yourself a rich parent. That is one of the great policies of all time. But we do know why they changed their policy on negative gearing, and we have discovered it from Mr Van Onselen's book: the real person running the economic strategy of the government, the shadowy figure who rolled the Treasurer and rolled the Prime Minister and who is affectionately known as 'he-who-must-not-be-defamed'—you've got it, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. He is doing a ventriloquist doll act for the member for Warringah. It is a remarkable thing; when Peter Dutton speaks you can hardly see Tony Abbott's lips move, but, believe me, they are. Monkey pod economics is now the economic strategy of the day.

The Prime Minister on superannuation said that his policy was ironclad. We saw the weasel worming of his lines on superannuation: 'Of course we mean what we say, but we're going to look at the detail.' That is code for backflip, retreat, back away and undermine the stability of our superannuation system. Every backbencher in the coalition is openly talking at Aussies about superannuation. Twelve government members have opposed it, two government ministers, one state government. What Mr Turnbull does not understand about all of these issues, just as he does not understand non-economic issues, is that when he gives into the bullies they do not go away and say, 'Thank you very much.' They come back for more. There is no clearer example than section 18C. Minutes after that moving, respectful welcome to country ceremony, powerbroker and indeed future representative of the United Nations in a true act of irony—I speak of Senator Bernardi—was collecting signatures for a plan to repeal section 18C. Some of those people were watching the Prime Minister speak and welcome to country, then had the next item on the agenda to sign the petition to undermine their boss.

Where is the Prime Minister? On section 18C, he does not have the luxury of just pretending that it is not happening around him; he has to make a clear decision. Is he on the side of multicultural Australia or is he in the grip of his right-wing fringe? The fact is on climate change, marriage equality, budget repair, superannuation and section 18C, he has no authority. He is the hollowest of hollow men. His commitment to his policy values is a mile wide and an inch deep. His only manoeuvre is retreat.

What we see now, though, is he gives us a lecture instead. He wants cooperation, bonhomie. He talks about the sensible centre, but he does not get it. Mr Turnbull, in his last answer, was critical of Labor. But what he does not understand is—he wants Labor just to capitulate. He wants us to accept that he is the boss and we should fall into line. Why should we do that when his own government will not even do it to him? To quote the famous wisdom of Darryl Kerrigan: 'Tell them he's dreaming.' We will stand up for our principles. We will not take lectures entitled 'Just do it my way'.

This Prime Minister is not strong enough to tell his powerful backbench what to do, so why should we when he verbally clapped three times, 'Stand up and say, "Where are we going."' He does not even know where he is going. His backbenchers do not listen to him. We will negotiate. We will compromise. We will work towards consensus. We will be cooperative. While he is introducing $50 billion tax cuts to the top end of town, while he is lowering the tax burden on the most well-off in society, whilst he has cutting Medicare—and he keeps pretending he is not cutting Medicare, and I do not mind if he is in a state of denial, frankly, because we will talk about Medicare every day to the next election—one way or the other, he will learn his lesson.

How can he talk about ordinary people tightening their belts when he will not do anything about the banks? We have seen his attitude on the banking royal commission, and what a dishonest camouflage it is. He told us all on 10 April, 'The regulator has sufficient power.' Then on 20 April, he backflipped for the first time. But then, again, after the election, he came up with a preposterous idea of setting up a parliamentary committee, which is even weaker than the regulators, to do the job he concedes the regulators are not doing. But, never mind, he has come up with his fourth policy position: he has sent out Kelly O'Dwyer to the rescue.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SHORTEN: Okay, nothing more needs to be said!

The truth of the matter is we are prepared to help. We are prepared to help him on superannuation. We are prepared to help him on negative gearing. We discovered that he would like us to help him. But we are sick and tired of his arrogant and meaningless lectures. He will learn the hard way, I suspect, that if you want to cooperate, you have got to cooperate in return. I say to him: back off Medicare before you start telling everyone else what to do on your agenda. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): Before I call the assistant minister, I realise this is a free-flowing debate, but members will refer to other members by their titles not by their names. If we keep to that, the debate will continue.