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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1966

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:58): I rise to speak today to the reality of the chaos and dysfunction of this amazingly spectacular government in terms of the show of chaos and dysfunction. In any assessment of this government—it does not matter where you look, from superannuation to the backpacker tax, from the plebiscite to placating the right wing of his party who want to undermine our racial discrimination laws—this is a government in chaos in every area of policymaking and in every area of management of its parliamentary responsibilities. It is a government at war with itself.

There are many causes of this chaos, but let's just begin with one particularly obvious one: there in the House of Representatives sits the member for Warringah—the lord of chaos; the Trojan mouse—reluctantly occupying his space on the backbench surrounded by his admiring legions. From there he looks down at the frontbench he occupied so ingloriously and whispers under his breath: 'Soon, Malcolm. Soon.' He is planning his resurrection day by day and gathering a group of chaotic wanderers around the corridors to join in the chaos making with him.

To add to this chaos that resides on the backbench, there is no sense of a cohesive and ordered leadership. They have no idea how they have ended up here and what they want to do. Along with the Prime Minister, this government has lost its sense of purpose. Malcolm once had a cool veneer of enlightenment. It appears to have been discarded, along with his leather jacket. And into the fray now we have the chaos and dysfunction of a government that does not know what it stands for anymore and a leader who does not know who what he stands for anymore. He has disappointed an entire nation, and that is powerfully demonstrated by polling that indicates his absolute loss of esteem in the Australian community.

On a very serious note, even this government's closest allies—those who back it up at every turn; of those who remain who are still talking to it—are freely admitting that the Abbott-Turnbull government is a tremendous disappointment. Before the election, stakeholders were promised one thing—certainly they were promised stable government. Indeed the whole Australian community was promised stable government in the sense that having a double dissolution would clean up the mess of the Senate. Well, if ever that was a falsity that was displayed, today is a wonderful demonstration of how chaotic this place is in terms of what the Liberals have delivered for the Australian people. It is like being promised a Rolls Royce and getting a horse and cart, and a clapped-out one at that. This is also a dysfunctional government that has upset everyone: doctors, teachers, nurses, business leaders, economists and the Solicitor-General, who is not to be forgotten in the midst of the chaos that we have seen from this government. They have certainly reinforced the fears of everybody who disagreed with them and, in addition to that, they have even alienated and alarmed those who they thought agreed with them.

This list of badly-thought-through and badly-executed policy ideas is a very long one, but let's just look at a couple, such as the NBN and its profound disappointment to people who have had it rolled out. There is the real NBN and there is the NBN that the government decided that you should have—a far lesser version of what Australia needs for economic capacity and the ability to drive productivity. There is also the chaos and the distress caused by making it more expensive and difficult for people to visit their GPs. We have had incredible alarm raised by the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. The reality is that the cost to go the doctor is now increasing for so many people. Doctors' business models are unsustainable as we see this government wed to a policy of a freeze on the Medicare rebate. The consequences of that and the dysfunction that it causes for our society are very, very significant. It is not just about this place. The dysfunction that is emerging from those people who are implementing the policies here is replete throughout our entire community.

Then there is the area of mental health—an issue so important to so many Australians. This government is presiding over a period of time where there has been an increase in suicide.

Senator Ian Macdonald: We put money into it because your lot never did!

Senator O'NEILL: We have Senator Macdonald over there interjecting. Let's put on the record what actually happened with mental health since the leather-jacket-wearing Mr Turnbull arrived as Prime Minister. He made the colours of this government very, very clear to the Australian public in his MYEFO statement where he withdrew $141 million from mental health. That was one of his first vandalism acts in terms of cutting money from health.

The chaos that that sort of decision making by this government wreaks in the community is astounding and the impacts are devastating, most often for those who have the least capacity to speak about it and those who have the least capacity to do something about it. And let's not forget those who, until fairly recently, worked inside the Abbott-Turnbull government who are now broadcasting on every media possible what a dysfunctional government it is. They are happy to speak out of school on every occasion about how much drama and chaos is going on inside this government. Having lost control of their own destiny, in their absolute desperation to do deals with anybody and everybody they have even mucked that up. I think the scale of the undertakings of this government to try and secure votes in this place started to become apparent to the Australian population today. What is it that they will not do to secure power and what is it that they will do to create the context for chaos and dysfunction?

They get the simplest of things wrong, even over in the House. You will remember a few Thursdays ago that Australians were surprised when a few of the ministers, obviously thinking that they did not need to show up and do their job, decided that they would take an early mark and removed themselves from the parliament. They were called back, and there was such a long period of time spent trying to clean up the mess there. They ended up hanging around for three hours to have a discussion. Instead of going to the heart of the problem, which is what this government should be doing—dealing with problems in an organised, structured and coherent way—their chaotic and shambolic way of dealing with it was that they decided to come back the next week and change the standing orders in the House so they could not be caught out again. It is like they are playing a game; that they think this is some sort of game—that being the government of Australia is a game that they can play, and that they can keep information hidden from the Australian population: 'It's all right; they don't need to know.'

Today we saw a very, very important change in the order of the business to discuss matters relating to two senators whose status in this place remains unknown at this time. Sadly, we have a problem with accessing the information from this government. Documents were provided—yes, they were provided. We had to delay the discussion of those from 9.30 to 12.30—again, more chaos that is accruing from the actions of those opposite. But we actually have an incomplete set of pieces of information provided to the Senate. They are trying to explain away the shame of what has been going on. We heard in explanations today that there was evidence that was given in briefs to counsel. But that evidence has not come to the Senate. That evidence is not being put out because this government is trying to hide so much from the Australian people. That is part of what is causing the chaos and dysfunction as well.

There is a degree of manipulation of information and hiding information that they cannot even keep straight amongst themselves. There is a hubris and an arrogance and a failure to sense that they need to be totally honest, open and accountable with the Australian people. They need to be open, honest and accountable to this Senate and provide details. But they cannot do that because they have come in here and won government with the slimmest of margins—by one seat in the other place. There are dodgy deals going on here in the Senate and the government are not able to hold this together. That is not only because of the chaos of their decision making, still trying to implement some of those massive cuts that they brought in under the Abbott budget. The implications of that in the public place are profound and devastating. But right here in this place their lack of respect for this chamber is creating the context in which this government are unable to be trusted.

I have had many conversations with the people from the media who sit in here and who are scrutinising this government. They have a breathtaking concern about the level of secrecy that this government is operating under. That is part of the chaos and dysfunction that is this government's signature. (Time expired)