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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 2995

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (16:41): Today we commence the final sitting fortnight of the 43rd Parliament, a parliament that will live long in the memory of all Australians—though, sadly, for all the wrong reasons. As I look into the gallery and see a number of young Australians, a number of young visitors, I wonder how they will reflect on this moment in their history—on these dark days that have marked this particular Australian government. Perhaps fittingly, it seems that this parliament is destined to end very much as it began, with a desperate Prime Minister doing deals left, right and centre to maintain her hold on office; members of the ALP opposed to her leaking to the media; and the business of the nation put on hold as the Labor Party engages in a round of navel-gazing, focusing on its own priorities and not the nation's.

If you want an example of the type of thing I am referring to, you need look no further than today's disgraceful announcement that the government will grant $10 million to the yes campaign at the upcoming referendum while providing a mere $500,000 to the no campaign. I will not dwell on the matter at length now; there will be plenty of opportunities over coming days. I will say, however, that it is a dark day for Australian democracy when the government uses taxpayers' money to subvert the democratic process in such a fashion. What the government is doing is trying to stack the deck in favour of its preferred outcome. This is truly scandalous and will be met with great rejection by the Australian people. This Prime Minister's grubby tactics, advanced by her Labor peers, stand in stark contrast to those of former Prime Minister John Howard, who gave equal funding to the yes and no campaigns at the 1999 public referendum, despite his strong personal views on that specific matter.

On the day she became Prime Minister, Ms Gillard told the people of Australia this: 'There will be some days that I delight you; there may be some days I disappoint you.' The hearts of many Australians are heavy with the daily disappointments that mark this government's performance. She was not kidding, clearly, about the second half of that sentence, though I suspect most Australians would have a hard time calling to mind any of the days on which this Prime Minister would have delighted them.

This Prime Minister has governed—and I use the term advisedly—in a state of perpetual crisis. What makes her so unique, however, is that these crises have been almost entirely of her own making. The boats continue to arrive in Australia week after week because the Rudd government, in which Julia Gillard was the Deputy Prime Minister, weakened Australia's border protection laws. The budget is now in deficit because the Rudd government indulged in reckless spending, an approach which Julia Gillard enthusiastically supported as Deputy Prime Minister and wholeheartedly embraced as the fiscal model for her own government once she had knifed the member for Griffith. Of course it is the mutual suspicion, loathing and contempt that exist between the Prime Minister and the member for Griffith that have now completely paralysed this Labor government, and it is our nation that is paying the price.

It is quite extraordinary to see the member for Griffith parading himself around the nation, almost as a shadow Prime Minister, bobbing up in front of television cameras with a few well-chosen words designed to plunge the knife a little deeper into this Prime Minister's back. Australian politics have never witnessed such a protracted, toxic intraparty feud. The Howard-Peacock rivalry was genuine, but at its core lay an actual philosophical debate, a genuine discussion, about policy directions and the future path of the Liberal Party. Likewise, the Hawke-Keating battle seems positively benign compared with what we are now being forced to endure. Paul Keating may well have been capable of some superb parliamentary invective, but it is hard to imagine him setting out to deliberately sabotage his own party's election campaign as the member for Griffith did in 2010. It is equally hard to imagine Bob Hawke being so paranoid, so utterly consumed by his vendetta against Paul Keating, that he would scale his media appearances right back, refuse to answer questions and, instead, issue self-produced videos to get his lines out. Talk about a bunker mentality!

Please do not think for a moment that I am exaggerating. Twice in the past week, the Prime Minister's office has banned the media from covering events she attended. First, the media was prevented from attending the Women for Gillard launch, presumably out of fear that the number of attendees would be unflattering to the Prime Minister. Then, again, in Adelaide yesterday, I understand the media pack was told that the Prime Minister would not be doing any media events—that was until the member for Griffith got live coverage of his participation in a fun run in Brisbane, after which a single ABC camera was hastily summoned to capture the Prime Minister serving coffee at Adelaide's Farmers Market on the condition that she would not have to answer any tough questions. This is now what the government of our country has unfortunately been reduced to—a photo opportunity war between the Prime Minister and her predecessor.

I am not a great supporter of the Labor Party, obviously, but I do pity those many thousands of Labor supporters around the country and the decent Labor members and senators in this place and the other place who are being caught up in a poisonous political duel. I think particularly of the member for Hotham, a former Labor leader, who set out in March to rescue his own party. At the time he said:

This is an issue that has to be resolved. There is too much at stake.

…   …   …   

For me, the position itself … is not a personal one …. I'm doing this in the interests of the Labor Party and, in turn, the nation.

Now, to me, those sound like the noble sentiments of a party statesman, wanting to save his party from the maelstrom in which it finds itself and to get this government to actually focus on governing—and the reward for such nobility in the Gillard-led ALP? The sack. One of Labor's most experienced and respected figures was relegated to the back bench because he dared to tell the truth; he dared to speak his mind.

We likewise heard from the member for Batman in the last sitting week in the House that he would be moving on at this election. He, too, is a man considered even by his opponents to be a good minister, a decent person, with the best interests of his nation at the core of his heart. Under this Prime Minister, there is no room for such an honourable man. Principles must give way to pragmatism, and policy must take a back seat to politics. The swelling number of former cabinet ministers now lurking on the back bench and the total inability of this government to focus on governing says so much about the blind alley into which both the current Prime Minister and her predecessor, the member for Griffith, have led a once formidable Australian Labor Party.

In 89 days, the people of Australia will have the chance to again elect a government that will actually focus on implementing its real plans and addressing the policy questions that face our nation. Given the poisonous atmosphere that now paralyses this government and the lost opportunities for our country, it is no wonder that more and more Australians are actively counting down the days until 14 September.