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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 349

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:58): I intend to use that nomenclature because I still think that should be the case. Sometimes in this chamber there is serious debate that achieves the purpose. More often than not this chamber hears a lot of what can only be described as high farce. And I have to say that this debate today is one of those that is super high farce. First of all, we have Senator Dastyari leading the debate for the Labor Party. Senator Dastyari is a nice enough guy, personally, but why would you put as your party whip someone who got Chinese companies to pay his personal debts? These were not debts to the Labor Party, but his own personal debts. He was dismissed from the front bench for a couple of months and here he is back again leading the Labor Party as a whip. This is the same guy who, when he was General Secretary of New South Wales Labor, looked after Craig Thomson. Remember that crook, that cheat, that guy who I am embarrassed to say was a fellow parliamentarian in the other chamber for a number of years? He told lie after lie and took the hard-earned money of workers and members of the health union, but who stood up for him? Who paid his legal bills? Senator Dastyari, as general secretary of the Australian Labor Party. Yet here he is, promoted to the position of a whip in this chamber and leading the debate.

He led the debate with the massive comment: 'We haven't done any work today, since the parliament has resumed. We sit around trying to find legislation.' I am not sure where Senator Dastyari was today when we passed, after quite significant debate, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (Petroleum Pools and Other Measures) Bill 2016. That debate actually happened, and I do not know where Senator Dastyari was if he is suggesting that we are not debating any legislation in the first full day back in the parliament. Senator Dastyari may not be aware that we are currently dealing with the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill. It is a bill that I have spoken on, but I am not sure whether Senator Dastyari has—he must not have, because he seems to think there has been no legislation discussed in this chamber. The chamber red, the agenda for the chamber, is full of important legislation which this government wants to bring forward and which is getting through the chamber. For that we have to thank the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, the unity of the government and the determination of the government to do positive things for Australia.

I had my staff spend a few hours—it took that long—to get me a list of this government's achievements. I only have 17 minutes today but I have four pages of achievements, so time will permit me to mention only a few of them. Before I start, Senator Dastyari had the hide to talk about Mr Turnbull's leadership. I have had my arguments with Mr Turnbull at times, and because I am in the Liberal Party I am able to do that. Just yesterday I had an argument with him in the party room. But we are allowed to do that in the Liberal Party. We do not get shunned, we do not get sacked and we do not get dismissed if that happens. Senator Dastyari complains about Mr Turnbull but he supports Mr Bill Shorten, the most unimpressive Leader of the Opposition that I have seen in my 26 years in this chamber. I think he is hopeless, I think he shows no leadership at all, I think he is a complete waste of space—as some would say, an oxygen thief—but do not take my word for it; ask the public of Australia. Malcolm Turnbull's approval rating as preferred Prime Minister has gone up, Senator Dastyari, and your leader's has gone down or stayed the same. You have the hide—you have the high farce, I should say—to complain about Mr Turnbull's leadership when you have a leader that the Australian public has no regard for. Long, I might say, may Mr Shorten reign, because as long as Mr Shorten remains your leader—I do not think it will be very long—we are safe. In fact, I am part of the 'keep Bill Shorten' brigade, because the best thing that can happen to our party politically is to make sure that Bill Shorten remains the leader of the alternative government.

I want to be positive about this debate. Senator Dastyari and other Labor speakers say nothing has happened. I know they wish nothing had happened but they will remember, regretfully, as they go home to Sydney every weekend—their union mates belt them around the ears over this—that the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill was passed by this parliament. The Building and Construction Commission bill, admittedly in watered-down form, was passed by this parliament. I know Labor hated that, and I know their union mates who put them in this chamber hated it even more, but these bills have been passed by a government, led by Mr Turnbull, that has shown real leadership and courage. Why did that happen? Because Mr Turnbull had the courage to call a double dissolution. I disagreed with that and I made my views known to Mr Turnbull, but it looks like, in retrospect, perhaps he was right, because those two bills that we went to a double dissolution on have now been passed by the parliament.

I rarely believe what I read in the papers and I believe what I hear on the ABC even less. But from the headlines of TheAustralian this morning, I understand that my colleague Senator Hinch has indicated—as he indicated to a group that I was talking to with him a few weeks or months ago—that he did not quite understand the import of the amendment that he supported in relation to the ABCC bill, which effectively delayed the corruption-fighting element of that bill for two years. If you believe what you read in the paper, Senator Hinch has now agreed to join the government to bring that bill back to what it should have been and stop the corrupt practices of several unions immediately—or in a very short period of time—rather than delaying it for two years.

It would take me more than a day to list the achievements of this government. Although I am a Queensland senator I am passionate about Northern Australia—as Senator O'Sullivan kindly said, it has been a passion of mine for a long time. I will quickly run through some of this government's initiatives.

This is a government that Senator Dastyari says has done nothing. He says that there has been no leadership and that it has achieved nothing. Let me go through this. Under the Beef Roads program, which Senator O'Sullivan mentioned, there are now roads criss-crossing Queensland like never before—since the Fraser years, I have to say. The CRC on northern Australia is about to be announced, I believe, next week. Under the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, $5 billion is set aside for cheap loans for infrastructure development in the north. Then there are the water storage proposals. This government has provided $137 million to build the Rockwood dam, a much-needed dam near Rockhampton. There is the Charleston dam near Forsayth. Probably none of you, not even the Queenslanders, would know where Forsayth is. It is a little country town up in the Gulf. There is $10 million for the Charleston dam in that community, which supports a local cattle industry and, I might say, has a very good and productive Indigenous community who will benefit from the dam.

Then you go to Townsville, where my office is, not far from where I live. We have the eastern rail network, with the whole new proposal to bring trains into the Townsville port quickly and efficiently. We have the Townsville stadium, which this government is going to fund. We have the northern Australian plan, which is being implemented step by step. In addition to that, over the last couple of months when parliament has not been sitting I have been moving around Queensland and visiting aged-care homes. The amount of money that goes into aged-care homes is just enormous. There is always a lot more needed, and I have been making submissions to the minister for some of the homes that I have visited. Gee, there are a lot of things going on.

Under Minister Ley—all credit to her; she was a wonderful health minister—the health system was really turned around. We are hearing about achievements all the time. In question time we heard about a drug that has been put on the PBS that used to cost $104,000 per treatment and that now costs $38 per treatment. That is just one. I was involved in another initiative of this government for hepatitis—I can almost call it a hepatitis cure. It is another of those drugs that was available if you had a spare $80,000 to buy the treatment. Under this government you now pay $38. This is the leadership of this government, and Senator Dastyari says nothing has happened.

We have actually stopped the boats. I know the Labor Party hate this and they hate the five-word slogan, but, sorry, it is true: we have stopped the boats. We were criticised by all those holier than thou people in Europe when we were doing this a few years ago. What are those holier than thou countries in Europe now doing? They are making a beeline to our door to find out how we did it. We have done it and every other country in the world is now trying to find out how.

Mr Turnbull showed real leadership in standing up to the President of the United States over the deal that had been made on the illegal maritime arrivals who are now not coming to Australia and never will. But they will go to the United States because of the deal done between Australia and the former President, Mr Obama. The news reports were that President Trump did not want to proceed with the deal. We know the truth of the very robust conversation between Mr Turnbull and President Trump, in which Mr Turnbull was able to ensure that the deal that was made would continue. There we have it: real leadership has been shown at a time when all those opposite can do, particularly the Greens, is whinge about Mr Trump—a democratically elected leader of another country. He was trying to break an agreement that his country had made with Australia. Thanks to Mr Turnbull—we all owe him a debt of gratitude for this—he was able to ensure that the deal stood.

Jobs have been created at Alcoa's Portland aluminium smelter. There is the new agreement with the French to build submarines in Australia. Senator Dastyari talks about this do-nothing government—but how about, just last year, the biggest ever defence white paper, with record spending planned and budgeted for, reversing the running down of our defence forces by the Labor Party. We have finalised the Western Sydney airport project. We have delivered fairer, more sustainable and more flexible superannuation. We have boosted infrastructure through a 15-year plan. We have delivered on northern Australia as promised. We have established the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land. We have banned excessive surcharging by credit card companies. We have employment initiatives that connect veterans with jobs. We have ratified the Paris agreement on climate change—I might say that is one that I am not quite sure was a step in the right direction, but it is something this government has done. Senator Dastyari said that this government has done nothing. We have secured Australia's 25th consecutive year of economic growth. Our growth is faster than that of every other G7 economy. We have introduced legislation to enshrine our border protection laws. We have had to do that up against constant interference from the Greens political party.

We have passed through the lower house the bill to give Australians a say on whether they support same-sex marriage or not. If it had not been for the Greens and the Labor Party in this chamber stopping that legislation, in one month's time we would have had an answer on that. If, as those who want same-sex marriage say, the vote on the plebiscite would have been positive, same-sex couples would have been able to get married the next day. But, thanks to Labor and the Greens, that is one failure that I guess this government has had. Although we tried to get that plebiscite through, thanks to Labor and the Greens that has not happened and we will go through another 10 years of uncertainty. I hope that those who advocate for same-sex marriage thank the Greens and the Labor Party for denying Australians the right to that vote. According to that lobby, it would have passed easily.

We have delivered a personal income tax break to 500,000 middle-income Australians. We have delivered $21 billion of budget repair. We have made bank CEOs answerable to the public through regular appearances before parliamentary committees. We have improved national security. I regret that I only have 45 seconds to go, because I have another two pages of achievements, initiatives and reforms of this government while this ridiculous, comic resolution we are debating today is about no leadership and a government doing nothing.

In my few minutes here I have demonstrated just a few of the many things that this government has achieved under the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull and before that under the leadership of Tony Abbott. I ask people listening to this debate to compare the serious debate I have embarked upon to the humour and comic you will get from the other side.