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Friday, 28 June 2013
Page: 4423


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:42): Never before in the history of the Senate have the provisions of the standing orders been so abused under this new Kevin Rudd government. It was bad enough under the Julia Gillard government, but it is even worse under Mr Rudd. Today we have had a motion rammed through dealing with changes to the Privileges Committee, which is the most important committee of this place, which makes recommendations in relation to penalties to be imposed on senators. Just as these tax bills will be guillotined in a matter of 17 minutes, so these people opposite—the Greens-Labor alliance—have guillotined a decision in relation to the most important committee of this place.

Honourable senators will recall that, during question time this week, I asked the now deposed Leader of the Government in the Senate whether any deal had been done with the Australian Greens to get their agreement, their connivance, to move this unprecedented guillotine of over 55 bills this week. Senators will also recall that, in the term of the Howard government, 2004-07, when we had a majority in the Senate, only 32 bills in three years were guillotined. Here this week the Senate is being abused, with 55 bills being guillotined.

But not content with guillotining bills through this place, those opposite—the Labor Party—are now doing the dirty work for the Australian Greens, sponsoring Greens' motions as government business. So we had to have the pantomime of the Thespian Senator Bob Carr, at question time, claiming to attack the Greens. What a pathetic act that was, when we now see the dirty, sleazy deals that are done behind closed doors, away from the microphones. When I asked Senator Conroy, 'Can you give an assurance that no deal has been done with the Greens in relation to the guillotine?' he studiously avoided the question. He did not deny the allegation. We now know why. It is because the government has agreed to sponsor this outrageous motion that will set in train a system for the Privileges Committee on the very last day of this parliament.

What is the urgency? Nobody can tell us. What is the urgency to put this in the standing orders to give the Greens a permanent position on the Privileges Committee? There is no answer other than that it is the basis of a dirty sleazy deal. So on the very last day of this parliament there are the Australian Labor Party and the Greens: they may have publicly ripped up the marriage certificate, but they are still co-habiting and behaving exactly as they want. It is a raw abuse of the power of this place.

Here we are debating a tax bill and the whole Senate is given less than 20 minutes to discuss its provisions. Then, after that, we will have another 11-plus bills—guillotine, guillotine, guillotine.

And I say to the empty press gallery: it is a disgrace. But I will give one compliment to the ABC, because we are being broadcast courtesy of the ABC, and so some people in Australia will get to understand the gross hypocrisy of some of the scribes in the press gallery who wrote column after column after column condemning the Liberal and National Party majority in the Senate for the outrage against democracy for forcing 32 bills through the Senate. Where are their fingers on the keyboards when this disgraceful Greens-Labor alliance guillotines not 32, not 64, not 96 but 216 bills, and then rorts the Privileges Committee to boot on the very last day of the parliament? They are trying to future-proof the position of the Greens and the Labor Party in the event that the Australian people decide to change the government. This is raw abuse. The Australian people need to understand that the so-called country Independents in the other place did nothing against this raw abuse and nor did the Greens. Indeed, the Greens were active participants.

So the question for the Australian people at the next election will be a very simple one: whom do you trust to safeguard the role of the Senate as a house of review, to have the checks and balances in place on its powerful Privileges Committee and to respect the role of the Senate? The Liberal and National parties are clearly the best custodians of the role of the Senate. The Greens and the ALP have been shown to be the exact opposite. An unprecedented number of bills have been guillotined throughout this parliament—over 200. This week alone there were 55 bills—in one week, one and a half times the number of bills that the Howard government did in three years. Am I saying that the guillotine should never be used? Of course not. All this argument is about is a sense of proportion, a sense of decorum and a sense of decency. What we know about those opposite is that those qualities mean nothing to them. They are completely foreign to them. If you have the numbers you use them.

What better example do we have other than your newly elected leader, who said to the people only months ago: 'I am a man of integrity and of my word. I will not challenge for the leadership.' You know why he was a man of integrity at that time? It was because he did not have the numbers. But as soon as he had the numbers: 'The Australian people demand it of me.' And so he breaks his solemn promise to the Australian people. What is more with those opposite, we have now seen the faceless man Bill Shorten becoming the two-faced man, with blood on both hands. This is the morality of the government. This is the standard of the government. Well may they change their leader, because they have not changed their morality, they have not changed their decency and they have not changed their respect, or disrespect I should say, for this place. It is situation normal, just with a different face: a bloke wearing a blue tie—whatever that might mean.

The role of the Senate is vital in our federal system of government; it is one of the vital checks and balances. One of the good-news stories is that, if the Liberal and National parties were to one day gain a majority in the Senate, we would actually allow our members to cross the floor and represent their states. In this parliament have you ever seen the Greens, who claim to be quasi-Independents, split? Have they ever crossed the floor?

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator ABETZ: Have you ever seen the Labor Party do that? Of course not, because they are corralled by their socialist dogma that everybody has to give in to the majority, irrespective of the issue of the day. We, in the Liberal and National parties, believe in the individual right of people to cross the floor. We believe in the role of the Senate. We see the importance of the role of the Senate as a house of review, as a states' house, and that is why we are so angry today at the way this important institution has been so willingly abused by the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. It beggars belief when you hear the commentary from Senator Christine Milne, the Leader of the Australian Greens, when she condemned the Howard government, and the comments of Senator Conroy and others.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator ABETZ: Yes, the word 'hypocrite' does come to mind, Senator Ian Macdonald, but of course that would be unparliamentarily so I will not use it. Those listening might think that that is exactly the label that should be stuck on the foreheads of Senator Christine Milne, Senator Penny Wong and all their followers in this place.

The bill that is before us will allow individuals to withdraw excess contributions above the concessional contribution cap. It will apply an interest charge to individuals who exceed the cap, to account for the income tax that would have been paid if the amounts had been taken as wages or salary. And so the list goes on. The question is: if this is such good legislation, why is it that the Labor Party and the Australian Greens do not want to ventilate the provisions of this legislation and all the other legislation? If you are so proud of your legislative agenda and if you are so proud of the things you are trying to ram through the parliament, wouldn't you be saying, 'Let's have an extra week or two of sittings so that all of these wonderful policies of ours can be fully ventilated, and so that the Australian people can see what a great government we really are—how we really are serving the welfare of the people of Australia'? But they know that they are not. They are ramming through legislation after legislation that is not within the best interests of the Australian people.

Last night we saw the ramming through of extra provisions in relation to the right of entry laws, giving union bosses—believe it or not—even more power. Having made a solemn promise that the right of entry rules would remain, in 2007, they gave union bosses an extra 157 powers in the Fair Work Act—a complete breach of promise—and then last night they gave them an extra power to invade every lunch room in this country. They are so proud of it that they wanted to guillotine it and restrict debate, because they do not want the Australian people to know about it. My friend and colleague Senator George Brandis reminded me just before we came into the chamber that, in the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, there was a matter of such importance that those opposite wanted to ventilate before the public that they called for public submissions. Great! The only problem: 40 hours to get your submissions in—not even two days. Not only do they rort the legislative agenda with their raw abuse of the guillotine, not only do they rort the Privileges Committee—they rort the committee system as a whole. If you have the numbers, according to the Green-Labor alliance, you use them, you abuse them and you achieve whatever end you want irrespective of how unprincipled or how unprecedented it is.

That should not surprise anybody, because we have seen it from the very top of this government with Mr Rudd, who made a solemn promise that he would never challenge while he did not have the numbers, but he never told us that that was the caveat so here he is challenging and getting the leadership in complete breach of that solemn promise. Should that surprise us? His predecessor got into power saying there will be no carbon tax and then she implemented one. Mr Rudd said he would not challenge and then did challenge, and now he is Prime Minister. Their two top people have got into their position through deceit. The honour of an individual, the strength of character of an individual, is that if you have made a promise you stick by it no matter how it hurts.

The best example of that was the former Prime Minister John Howard, who genuinely changed his mind on the goods and services tax. He had made a solemn promise to the Australian people, so what did he do? He went back to the Australian people and said, 'I am not going to abuse my position of Prime Minister and implement a GST; I am going back to you with a promise that, should you re-elect me, I will implement a GST.' That is a stark example of the difference in character, in integrity and honesty, between leadership of the coalition and leadership of the ALP. When we come to the next election I would call upon the Australian people to consider who they trust. Do they trust a man who deceives his own leader and says 'I will not challenge, I am a man of honour', and then does challenge, or, if they get rid of him again and reinstall Ms Gillard, a lady who said there will be no carbon tax and then implemented one? Or do they trust a coalition that when it did have the numbers in this place used them in a measured manner to ensure that the institution of the Senate and the parliament was protected, a party that has in its makeup, in its DNA, a respect for the Australian electorate so that when you make a solemn promise like 'no GST' you do not implement one without first getting a separate deliberate mandate from the Australian people, without being open and honest and upfront with them?

In my area of workplace relations, the Labor Party demanded at the last election that there should be no changes to the Fair Work Act; they had the balance absolutely right—they had negotiated with employers and employees; they said they had the balance right. They got back in, with the connivance of the Australian Greens and the country Independents, and 400 pages of amendments to the Fair Work Act have been passed by the 43rd parliament—in complete breach of their promise and their assertion to the Australian people that the Fair Work Act was perfect and did not need amending. Here we are, 400 pages later. Having got the balance right between employers and employees in the original Fair Work Bill that was not to be touched, we now have 400 pages oozing with deals and privileges for the trade union bosses—no balance anymore; a complete breach of promise to the Australian electorate.

As we get into the dying hours of this parliament and of this sitting week, the Australian people have a stark contrast between an opposition that has a real solutions plan that has been put out to the Australian people for them to consider in detail, and a government that is riven and driven by revenge, personality and hostilities, without an agenda for the nation other than two items on Mr Rudd's agenda: revenge within and attack on Tony Abbott without. If he were to be Prime Minister after the next election, he would sit back and say, 'My great achievement is to deny Mr Abbott the prime ministership.' That sort of relentless negativity is not acceptable.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The time for this debate has expired. The question is that these bills be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.