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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8330


Senator WATT (Queensland) (15:32): I seek leave to take note of all answers, but in particular Senator Fifield's answer to Senator Keneally.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley has already done that.

Senator WATT: Oh, has she? Okay, thank you. Today in question time we had another display from this rabble, as my good friend Senator Cameron refers to them, or this muppet show of a government. I think he started calling them the mad muppet show. It is no more evident than it was today in every single answer, but in particular the answer from Senator Fifield. The question that Senator Keneally directed to Senator Fifield regarded the latest example of division and dysfunction that we see from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison-Joyce-Truss-McCormack—whoever's next—government, and that is the display of disunity, particularly from Senator Fierravanti-Wells in her most recent opinion piece in TheSydney Morning Herald yesterday. It's always interesting to see what happens when former ministers go to the backbench. They discover their honesty gene, their openness gene, and are more at liberty to talk about what they really think about their government's policies and about their own ministerial colleagues. Senator Fierravanti-Wells left us in absolutely no doubt about what she thinks of the new environment minister, Ms Melissa Price, by labelling her 'an environment minister on L-plates'. It's hard to imagine a more cutting jibe to receive from one of your own colleagues than that remark, and Senator Fierravanti-Wells certainly was happy to dish it out. I think we are all surprised to see Senator Fierravanti-Wells be consigned to the backbench after the most recent leadership spill. She at least had the good grace to be quite open with former Prime Minister Turnbull about his performance, more so than many of her colleagues. While many of her colleagues quite openly voted against Mr Turnbull in the most recent leadership ballot, most of them have kept their spots and in some cases have been promoted. Senator Fierravanti-Wells has been picked on and has been consigned to the backbench, so it's no wonder that she wants to tell the Australian public what she really thinks about her colleagues.

What gave rise to these comments from Senator Fierravanti-Wells? It was about the allegations that surfaced in our last sitting weeks that Minister Price offended a key Pacific leader, former Kiribati President Mr Tong, at a restaurant in Canberra by essentially accusing him of really only turning up to Canberra wanting more cash from the Australian government; she allegedly said that she had her chequebook out. This was an appalling slur to throw against one of our Pacific neighbours, in an area where we should and rightly do have significant influence. That's a pretty good way to make sure that our Pacific neighbours don't really think much of us—to treat them like that. It was, in fact, reminiscent of the comments that we heard from another minister in this government, Minister Dutton, when, in talking about climate change, he was caught saying that it's hard to care about things when you've got water lapping at your door—again, deeply offensive remarks made at the expense of our Pacific neighbours. But that's just another day in the job of a minister in this government.

Of course that's not the only foreign policy faux pas that we've seen from ministers, right up to the Prime Minister of late, with the embarrassing, deeply damaging and growing rift that we see between Australia and our largest near neighbour, Indonesia, over the Prime Minister's clearly political but counterproductive move to announce the possible move of the Australian embassy in Israel. We know that our relationship with Indonesia is vital to our future, whether it be on an economic basis, a security basis or a cultural basis, and we've seen Prime Minister Morrison happy to junk that relationship and put it into real danger just to try to score a few votes in Wentworth, which, of course, miserably failed.

So, whether it be Minister Price wandering around restaurants in Canberra offending Pacific leaders or whether it be the Prime Minister running around with his baseball cap on offending Indonesian leaders, it seems that this government just doesn't care about how Australia is regarded by our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific, which is a very short-sighted approach and one that shows that this government has lost any sense of where it wants to take the country. This latest outburst from Senator Fierravanti-Wells about the L-plate environment minister is just the latest incident of division and dysfunction that we've seen from this government. They have completely lost control. Everyone in Canberra is talking about what a boring week this has been because the government has no agenda that it wants to put forward. All the government have time for is to fight with each other and throw insults at each other in the newspapers. (Time expired)