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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Page: 6816


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory) (15:11): I rise to take note of questions asked by the opposition today, and I will start my comments where Senator Smith finished his. I must say it is a fair stretch, given the last 24 hours, to stand with a straight face and argue that it is the Labor Party that should change—that the Labor Party should change what it is doing in response to the tearing down of a Prime Minister that we just saw played out in real-time on TV over the last 20 or so hours.

Senator Ian Macdonald: You should have been around six years ago. It happened twice.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator GALLAGHER: The Prime Minister started the assault on Tony Abbott yesterday with a very clear attack on the economic leadership of the government as it was. In fact, I think his own language was:

It is clear enough that the Government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need.

He went on to say:

We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities, explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities.

This was a clear attack on the economic team of the government, which includes Senator Cormann and the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, in that they had failed to sell the message. But when you look at the message they were trying to sell, anyone would have difficulty with it. Unemployment has increased from 5.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent. For the first time in 20 years over 800,000 Australian are out of work. Confidence is at an all-time low. New taxes and charges are being implemented and people are paying more. The deficit has doubled in the last 12 months. So, not that I stand here in defence of Mr Hockey or Minister Cormann, but it is a pretty tough message to sell because the results of the economic leadership, if you could call it that, have not been great.

But now we have open warfare within the Liberal Party. We have got division and disunity and we saw it on show in question time today with senators slumped in their seats, still looking a bit shell-shocked over what has happened in the last 24 hours. Senator Abetz was doing a good audition to maintain his position as leader in the Senate by holding the team together during these very difficult times. But what we do know is that whilst you can change a leader pretty easily—as it seems—it is a much harder process to deal with the disunity and division that is on show.

Anyone who knows how numbers fall will know that 55-44 is not a ringing endorsement of either Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull. It really sets a challenge ahead for the new Prime Minister as to how he is going to manage what is a deeply divided and dysfunctional team. It will be very difficult for a Liberal like Prime Minister Turnbull, who has made very clear statements in relation to big issues facing this country like climate change; like the republic, an issue close to my heart; and like marriage equality, an issue that many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Australians care deeply about. They are things he has made very clear statements about, and people will expect him to deliver on those statements; but how can he when he is in charge of a very split team with a lot of conservatives within it who will be very unhappy with any progress made in any of those areas.

We know that the budgets that led to the problems facing the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, and the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott—the cuts, the unfairness of those budgets, the attacks on families, the attacks on workers, the cuts to state and territory run services like health and education—were all decisions taken around the cabinet table. As much as people would like to distance themselves from those decisions now that they have proven to be as unpopular as they are, we know—and I certainly know from putting budgets together—that to finalise a budget you need the agreement of the cabinet, and Prime Minister Turnbull was sitting at that cabinet table. He was not only sitting there but also agreeing to the budget and then going out and implementing it. No matter how hard he tries now—you can change the leader but changing the direction of the government is going to be a much harder job. (Time expired)