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Thursday, 21 February 2002
Page: 754

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the House) (4:34 PM) —Today we have the sixth parliamentary day of the great Labor dummy spit of 2002 and the sixth parliamentary day of this great eruption of sour grapes from sore losers. We have the sixth day of wasting this parliament's time by pursuing a fantasy that the Prime Minister in some way has misled or lied to the Australian people and to this parliament. If we wanted any surer proof, any more clear demonstration that this is nothing but an attempt to rewrite history, it was provided by the fact that the Leader of the Opposition put none other than the member for Brand up as the third speaker in this censure debate—the poor old member for Brand who did nothing but demonstrate in his contribution the misery and the bitterness that he still feels over losing the election that he once thought was unlosable.

I feel sorry for the member for Brand. Obviously it has hurt him deeply. I suspect that members opposite also feel sorry for the member for Brand. Certainly they turned up in force to listen to him. That will be the last time that the member for Brand ever has that kind of an audience in this House, except perhaps when he is giving his valedictory. I will say this much for the contributions opposite: they got better as they went on. The member for Brand did not do a bad job of bluster. It was certainly better than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's contribution and much better than the Leader of the Opposition's, who plainly understands that his case has collapsed.

What we have seen over the last six days are the opposition's best efforts to prove forensically, as best they can, that the Prime Minister has lied. I have to say that, as lawyers, they make very good trade union officials. They certainly have comprehensively failed in their attempt to convict the Prime Minister of deceiving the Australian people. We even had today the Leader of the Opposition coming in here and constructing a scenario of what might have been said under certain circumstances by certain hypothetical people in the Prime Minister's office.

Not only do they fail as Perry Masons but the Leader of the Opposition fails as Raymond Chandler and he fails as Jeffrey Archer when it comes to writing a bit of political fiction. He might have succeeded as Enid Blyton, because only children would be convinced by the pathetic argument that has been put up by the Leader of the Opposition. The thing about the Leader of the Opposition today is: faced with the collapse of this house of cards that he had built, what did he do? He reverted to type. The nice statesman Simon that he has been trying so hard to be over the last few weeks suddenly once more went back to type, and we saw snarling Simon, the trade union leader, hectoring the Australian people like he hectors the comrades at the trade union meetings he feels much more comfortable with.

Members opposite really want to believe—they really, really, really want to believe—that the minister has lied, in the same way that children really want to believe in Santa Claus, in the same way that a drowning man really wants to believe that there is a boat just over the horizon. They really want to believe, but their beliefs do not make the facts true. The fact is that this government had written advice that there were children thrown overboard—and that written official advice has never been contradicted. We have no better authority than the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Navy that the written advice stands. That is what Admiral Barrie said, as recently as last night.

What we are really seeing from members opposite is not a censure of the government, not a censure of the Prime Minister, but something really low and despicable. They are really—and they demonstrated it time and time again in their speeches today—censoring Admirals Barrie and Shackleton. Admirals Barrie and Shackleton have had the temerity not to agree with the Labor Party's view of the world, so now they want to censure them.

Members of the government would certainly concede that we may well have discovered over the last few weeks and months that, on this issue, there was some confusion, some conflict inside the defence department. But there was not as much confusion and conflict inside the defence department as there is on that side of the parliament—certainly not. The former Leader of the Opposition talked about the `fog of war'. Well, there is fog and war over there! Like a pack of squabbling cats—that is what members opposite are at the moment.

This is a censure of the Prime Minister, so let me state for the record that I am proud to support our Prime Minister. Members of the government are proud to support the Prime Minister. This is the best Prime Minister Australia has seen since Bob Menzies. This is the Prime Minister who gave Australia decent gun laws. This is the Prime Minister who helped our country to liberate East Timor, to enable that country to live in freedom for the first time in 500 years. This is the Prime Minister who has committed Australia to the war on terrorism, where we are playing a proud and honourable part. It is the Prime Minister who introduced Work for the Dole. It is the Prime Minister who has given us industrial relations reform—and that means higher pay, more jobs and fewer strikes for the people of Australia. It is the Prime Minister who has given us four per cent economic growth, who has insulated us against all the economic storms—along with the Treasurer, who has also done a stunning job of giving us lower, fairer, simpler taxes. This is an outstanding government, led by an outstanding Prime Minister, and I have got to say—

The SPEAKER —I remind the member for Watson of his status.

Mr ABBOTT —watching the Prime Minister today demonstrate his complete mastery of this parliament, he just gets better and better.

Mr Latham —If you brownnose, you get ahead.

Mr ABBOTT —It is an old rule of politics: if in doubt, what do you do? You attack the other side. That is what you do.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa is warned.

Mr ABBOTT —There certainly is tremendous doubt amongst members opposite on just about every conceivable issue. Not a single issue has arisen since November of last year on which the opposition is not riddled with doubt. They did not know what to do with the member for Denison. They do not know what to do on parliamentary standards. They are riddled with doubt over the 60-40 rule. They are paralysed with doubt and confusion and riddled with fear and fog on the whole issue of border protection and they are full of doubt over the leadership of the member for Hotham.

Let us look at the leadership of the member for Hotham. Almost the first act of the member for Hotham when he became the Leader of the Opposition was to give the member for Denison the wink and the nod to leave parliament, to subject his people to an unwanted by-election. What did he say—you know, this great leader, this man of principle and integrity? He said, `Duncan Kerr has served the people of Denison well.'

Mr Hardgrave —Well!

Mr ABBOTT —Well, indeed! Then of course we had the Leader of the Opposition coming in here and telling you, Mr Speaker, that he had turned over a new leaf, that he was part of the problem of poor parliamentary standards but now he was going to be part of the solution. He comes in here bemoaning the terrible, terrible thing—that, out there in the community, members of the public think that politicians are pretty horrible. And what does he do? He spends two weeks telling the public that politicians tell lies, that they are gruesome, that they are terrible. The man who was supposed to have turned over a new leaf, the man who was supposed to be lifting parliamentary standards, does not let a minute go by without demeaning the chair in which he is currently sitting by calling people on this side `goose', `fools', `dogs' et cetera. It is a terrible travesty of leadership that this man is providing.

On the 60-40 rule, he says the influence of trade unions necessarily has to wane. Then he says, after he has visited the ACTU:

I'm not Tony Blair, and I won't forget where I come from.

He certainly has not forgotten that.

I'm not interested in the third way.

Listen to the Leader of the Opposition on the whole question of border protection. In 1999 the member for Hotham supported the government on border protection:

We will support the government to the hilt in cracking down on them—

that is to say, illegal boat people and their activities. But what happens then? He flipped and then he flopped. He said the government's handling of the matter has been `terribly messy'. Then he has a bet each way. He becomes the leader and says, `Well, we've got to be tough but we've got to be compassionate.' This is the kind of oxymoronic confusion and captaincy of contradiction that we see constantly from the Leader of the Opposition, because the Leader of the Opposition cannot control the fog of war which is now raging inside his own party.

We all know that the member for Fremantle—supported, I suspect, by the majority of caucus—feels ashamed of the policy which the ALP took to the last election. The policy that the member for Brand says they were proud to support the member for Fremantle and her colleagues say they are ashamed of. The response to the member for Fremantle, from no less a person than the member for Werriwa, has been absolutely uncompromising. The member for Werriwa—and this is to his credit because the member for Werriwa comes from Western Sydney; he understands what the people of Western Sydney think—said:

To claim that people who oppose an open door policy are ignorant, racist and emotive is a massive slur against the working class.

It is a massive slur against the working class being perpetrated by the majority of the Labor caucus. Good on the member for Werriwa, supported as he is on this matter at least by the member for Batman and the member for Hunter, because the member for Werriwa believes, and I am quoting from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Mark Latham, the rights champion of Sydney's western suburbs, continues to say the issue—

that is, the issue of going soft on boat people—

is one which appeals to the latte sippers of Labor's trendier electorates, but is poison among real people.

The member for Werriwa has got it absolutely right. His own party, the once proud Australian Labor Party, has become the alien Labor Party, alien to the values and the decencies of ordinary working Australians, alien to the spirit and the traditions of John Curtin and Ben Chifley which are now best represented in this House by the Prime Minister.

The true deceivers in this debate are those members opposite who said before the election that they supported the government to the hilt, who said before the election that there was not a cigarette paper of difference between the policies of the Labor Party and the policies of the coalition and who are now en masse calling for those policies to change. They are saying that they are ashamed of those policies. But in the end it is up to the Leader of the Opposition to actually provide leadership. But what does the Leader of the Opposition say about himself? On the Neil Mitchell program on 14 November last year, he said:

I am a conviction politician.

Then on the selfsame program a few moments later he said:

I'll be a consensus leader.

He is a sneaky leader, he is a tricky leader and he is a deceitful leader. The member for Fremantle has said that others in the party were tipping the whisper: `Just wait until we are in government.' She should front a Senate committee and provide the evidence. She should name the guilty parties. She should name the people who have deceived the Australian people. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

This House censures the Leader of the Opposition for deceiving the Australian people before the last election in the full knowledge that the Labor Party's Policy on border protection would be abandoned on coming to Government.

Question put:

That the amendment (Mr Abbott's) be agreed to.