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Thursday, 14 November 2013
Page: 339

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:55): I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Honourable Member for Maribyrnong from moving the motion forthwith.

Why is it that Australians can find out more about Australian government policies in the Jakarta Post than from the hapless Minister for Immigration and Border Protection? The government opposite promised to be an open-door and transparent government. They made it incredibly clear and made a lot of noise that they would in fact be an open government. Many Australians, I suspect, have not signed up to a subscription to the Jakarta Post. Instead, they hope that our own media will be able to tell them what the government are doing on an important issue like boats. But can they find in our own media all of the details? No, they cannot. They need to rely on Indonesian newspapers to tell them what the Australian government are unwilling to tell us.

Before the 7 September election, these people opposite said they were going to be the big champions of accountability. Instead, the Australian government is treating Australians very poorly—

The SPEAKER: I would remind the Leader of the Opposition that he is speaking to a motion to suspend standing orders and that he is providing reasons for the suspension.

Mr SHORTEN: Thank you, Madam Speaker. It is very important to suspend the orders in order to have the debate because Australians deserve better in terms of finding out what is going on with important policy issues. But we know that this is a government which loves to hide and which makes the Australian people seek out what they are doing. For instance, if it is not addicted to hiding from the Australian people, then where is the budget update to justify by increasing our debt to half a trillion dollars?

They have refused to provide timely and detailed information about boat arrivals and interceptions. We saw that remarkable display from the minister for immigration where, whenever he is asked a question about matters, he says, 'It's an operational matter,' or 'It's not Friday' or 'The matter is on the water.' Members of the House: what boat issue is not going to be on the water? There is an arrogance creeping into this government, which has even been identified by members of the media.

Respected political commentator Laurie Oakes has written that it is disgusting and that the government is thumbing its nose at voters. In 2010 the Prime Minister said to the same respected journalist that his position did indeed change his mind in response to changing circumstances. But the only changing circumstances about the requirement for openness is that the then opposition leader was elected to be the Prime Minister. He said, 'The last thing we want to do is hide anything from the Australian people.' Before the election he said he would issue an alert whenever there was a boat coming through. Now he has gone back on that promise. We believe he said, in full disclosure: 'There is no full disclosure underway in this government.' What he and his spokesperson actually say about turning back the boats is: 'We won't tell you.'

We heard question after question today asking: how many boats are being turned back? We got the ridiculous explanation: 'If we told you how our policy is working, somehow the people smugglers would be encouraged.' Any simple exercise of logic says that, if you are beating the people smugglers, why not tell them indeed? The issue is that they are not the government that they promised to be when they were elected.

We are then told that when a boat comes into Darwin Harbour we cannot talk about that because it is not a Friday. Australians deserve better. We know that this is a government who are addicted to saying one thing in opposition and another in government. They said that Labor was scaring people about massive cuts. What do they do when they get in? They cut the superannuation benefits of 3½ million Australians.

Only a coalition addicted to secrecy could say that it is better to give a tax break to 16,000 people with $2 million in their superannuation, but for 3½ million Australians—

The SPEAKER: I ask the Leader of the Opposition to return to the subject of the standing orders suspension which is relevant to this debate.

Mr SHORTEN: I appreciate what Madam Speaker is saying. It is our intention to suspend standing orders so we can address the issue of secrecy, so we can address the inability of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to explain and his hiding behind 'Everything is operational, everything is to do with the military, everything is on a boat, everything is at water.' He is at sea!

We are talking about this matter of the Prime Minister promising to lead an open and transparent government. He came up with another cracker of a slogan. He said there would be no surprises and no excuses. But when something is an operational matter, that is an excuse. When something is at sea, that is an excuse.

Why is it that after all the good work that the previous government did building positive relations with Indonesia, these foreign relations vandals have got into power and started dictating what should be the case to other countries? Diplomacy requires respect. Not providing any debate or respect and telling people what to do and simply treating everything in terms of the next domestic slogan is not the way to conduct a government.

Most importantly in terms of this proposition, Labor on this side knows that the Australian people deserve the respect of a full explanation. Day after day, we have seen the minister for immigration deny, obfuscate and avoid the real issues. Today we saw a brazen attempt. When he was asked, 'What is it that you can't tell parliament today that you'll tell tomorrow?' we got an explanation unprecedented since Federation: 'It's not in the folder'! What will we get next week? 'The dog ate my homework'? 'I left my running gear at home and my explanation was there'?

It is not good enough for a minister of the Commonwealth to say, 'It's in the folder and, if it's not in the folder, then I know nothing.' Sergeant Schultz on Hogan'sHeroes said, 'I know nothing.' What he should have said is, 'It is not in the folder, therefore I know nothing'! It is not appropriate to say, 'If it is not in the folder, I can't help you.' All we get from the minister for immigration is a folder carrier, a postbox, someone who says, 'I can't help you today, but I might come back tomorrow.'

The business of government is not just a Friday matter and then you take the other six days off. The business of government is not hiding behind the military and saying five times in a row at a press conference that you will handball it to the military. The military should not be used to do the job of ministers. Ministers should be used to do the jobs of ministers. It is not enough and it is not satisfactory to say, 'We can't tell you how many boats we've turned back, because that might tell the people smugglers what's going on.' I actually think that the minister for immigration inadvertently tripped over the truth.

The SPEAKER: I ask the Leader of the Opposition to come back to the suspension question.

Mr SHORTEN: Of course, Madam Speaker. I appreciate your guidance. The minister for immigration stumbled across a correct morsel of an answer in amongst the nuggets of nonsense.

The SPEAKER: Suspension starts with an S.

Mr SHORTEN: What he said was, 'The answer, if I give it, will encourage the people smugglers.' I go: 'Ah ha! A light bulb moment for the minister for immigration!' Of course the answer will encourage the people smugglers, because it is not working. I understand why he does not want to answer. I love these people opposite! No, I don't. I appreciate the inadvertent humour of those opposite. They say the numbers are down. Well, of course they are—because of Labor's PNG solution. Be gracious enough to give us a little bit of credit.

In conclusion: it is not satisfactory to say, 'If I did not bring my folder today, I'm not playing and I'm not answering questions.' It is not satisfactory to say that a matter relating to boats is on the water. Thank you for that, Descartes! 'It is on the water, therefore I can't answer.' That is not good enough. The Australian people deserve better and our communications from the coalition should not be via TheJakarta Post. Do better, Minister.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Burke: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.