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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 2988

Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:10): Well, here I am again, responding once more to another incredible accusation from an opposition that has been aggressively pursuing a cynical, policy-free platform for several years now. To suggest that the Gillard government is not focused on the business of governing is to ignore the groundbreaking legislative reforms that this government has achieved, many of which were long overdue after close to 11½ years of inaction, delay and apathy from the Howard government.

Let me just focus on a handful of the Gillard government's many and varied achievements. Our economy has continued to grow and avoid recession, even through the aftermath of the global financial crisis, a crisis that continues to plague almost every other developed nation. We have real action on climate change, with a price on carbon soon to transition to a full emissions-trading scheme. Already this has seen a considerable drop in carbon emissions by the electricity sector and more energy produced by renewables such as hydro and wind power. Australia is set to achieve renewable targets that looked impossible not that long ago.

The National Broadband Network continues to be rolled out, an immense infrastructure achievement that many regard as on a par with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. We have the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will remove the cruel lottery that currently determines what sort of support people with disabilities receive. We have the introduction of Australia's first paid parental leave scheme. We have plain packaging on cigarette packages. We have a rise in the age pension. There have been a series of agreements signed with China, including a currency convertibility deal that will cut the cost of doing business as well as a formal commitment to annual leadership talks. At a time when countries across the world are crawling over each other to gain access to the globe's second-largest economy, our Prime Minister executed this game-changing foreign policy triumph. We now have a seat on the United Nations Security Council and have taken an assertive yet reasonable stand on a range of global issues, including the conflict in Syria.

We have achieved all of this despite an opposition hell-bent on destructive Tea Party-movement-style political tactics. Let me be clear. The Gillard government has fought a war of attrition with the Tony Abbott led opposition to achieve changes that needed to happen. It is a war of attrition that many Australians, even those on the conservative side of politics, have found distasteful and more suited to politics in the United States. We have fought the Leader of the Opposition issue by issue, inch by inch, because these reforms are part of the DNA of the Labor Party and they just could not wait any longer.

Politically speaking, it might have been far easier for us to succumb and pursue a policy-free agenda such as the one favoured by the opposition. At the very least, we would have been saved some of the arrogant, dishonest taunts from sections of the News Limited media that have become a daily reality. But the Labor Party does not exist to maintain the status quo, to allow the wealthy elite to grow in power, to ignore necessary legislative changes, to delay, to hesitate, to ponder, to dog whistle. No. We are here to govern. We are here to lead. We are here to tackle the challenges that Australia will face in a fluid and ever-changing 21st-century economy. We are here to take on the problems that are difficult to confront and even harder to solve, problems which are impossible to avoid for a political party concerned with the nation's interests. As Matthew Donovan noted in Independent Australia earlier this year:

All over the world reformist governments face fierce opposition from the conservative forces and large vested interests.

We have seen this played out repeatedly in Australia. … whether it be the slick … advertising blitz against the mining tax and the constant attacks from mining billionaires crying poor, the sustained campaign by the tobacco industry against the plain packaging legislation …

…   …   …

Major reform is risky. It is easy for little things to go wrong and be blown out of proportion by those who oppose it.

Despite all of that, the Gillard government has gone for it. We are doing it all, negotiating with a wilfully stubborn opposition intent on obstructing at all costs, dealing politically with a conservative media which has not given us an inch of latitude and pleading with Australians to consider the agendas of those who control the front pages of The Daily Telegraph and TheHerald Sun. We are doing it all. It is not something we can avoid—because working together, constructive change and fighting for the neglected elements of our society are what we are about.

To demonstrate conclusively that this government is governing for all Australians, let us revisit the events of just a few weeks ago. The Prime Minister, speaking on legislation to raise the Medicare levy to make the NDIS a reality, broke down in tears in the chamber when she said:

The people who've gathered here today from around the country to witness this debate know what this means … there will be no turning back.

The Prime Minister was moved to tears because, like me, she is passionate about the NDIS. She knows just what it would mean for Australians who have been unable to realise their full potential to live with dignity, to live full lives, to gain part-time or full-time employment, to contribute or to feel whole. This is a sign of a Prime Minister governing for all Australians. This is a sign of a Prime Minister who cares about achieving lasting reforms.

Whilst the Prime Minister is busy governing, fighting tooth and nail to get the job done, just consider what she has to face. Aside from the resistance of the Liberal Party and its media ring, News Limited, to everything the government has attempted, there is also the personal dimension of all of this. A hostile media, at times cheered on by members of the opposition, has focused not on the Prime Minister's policy agenda but on her appearance, her hair, her dress, her shoes, her voice, her unmarried status, her childlessness, her fashion accessories and her partner. It has been nothing short of demeaning.

I do not need to remind anyone that this was brought into the sharpest possible focus last week. We witnessed a Perth radio host, Howard Sattler, ask the elected sovereign leader of Australia whether her partner was a homosexual—because of his career as a hairdresser. Can you imagine John Howard being asked that? I am honestly not sure many politicians could have retained their dignity and stayed as cool and collected as the Prime Minister did during that interview.

It did not matter where I went over the last week, the issue raised with me was the lack of respect which has been shown to the elected leader of this country. The lack of respect which has been too often demonstrated to the elected Prime Minister of this country is unprecedented. It is not only people on this side of the chamber who are shaking their heads; all good Australians are shaking their heads in fear at how much further these sorts of personal attacks are likely to go.

I still have faith in the Australian electorate. I think that, when 14 September rolls around, they will ignore this fixation on the Prime Minister's dress, hairstyle and voice. Instead, they will see something the opposition do not want the Australian people to see—they will see that they have a real choice. They will see that they have a real choice at this election, a choice between a Prime Minister whose legislative accomplishments, from the NDIS to historic pacts with the Chinese government, will stand the test of time and an opposition leader who has shown no interest in policy or substance, who is concerned more about his own ambitions than governing for all Australians, who has no interest in economics and who is concerned more with the past than with the future.

I guarantee you this: we will face challenges this century which are not immediately apparent in this golden age we are currently experiencing. We need to start planning now. We need to plan now to figure out what part we will play in the Asian century, how changes in the global economy will affect us and how changes in the global climate will affect us. To confront these challenges, Australians need a leader as Prime Minister who will govern for all, a leader intent on making tough decisions and a leader with courage and style—a leader like Julia Gillard.

It is all very well for Senator Bernardi. He knows firsthand all about the Tea Party. He knows all about their tactics. He is one of the leaders on that side who has used those tactics—not only in this chamber but out in the community. Through his blogs, where he stands is well known.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order, Senator Bernardi!

Senator POLLEY: On 14 September, those Australians who go to the polls will be faced with a clear choice. On the one hand is a government which has delivered on real reformist issues, such as the NDIS reforms and the reforms and investments in education. They will remember that it was us who gave the pensioners— (Time expired)