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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1427


Senator CHISHOLM (Queensland) (16:06): It is opportune that this is the matter that we are discussing today, in light of the events of the weekend and, particularly, the Batman by-election. I want to put on the record my congratulations to Ged Kearney, the new Labor member for Batman, and the federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten, who really threw himself into the campaign. There has been a real consistency about what Labor have been talking about since Bill Shorten became the Labor leader, and I think that bore fruit in the Batman by-election. When you look at the issues in this matter of public importance, they are issues on which Labor has been campaigning strongly and has put significant positions on the public record.

But there is a real contrast between what Labor took to the Batman by-election and what we saw from the Greens. The repercussions have already started on the Greens side. We have seen Senator Di Natale having to deal with them over the last 48 hours. But, if the Greens had learnt anything out of the Batman by-election, in the Senate chamber today they would have withdrawn that stunt of a bill that they had, the Coal-Fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2017. If they'd really learnt the lessons from what happened on Saturday in the Batman by-election, they would have pulled that stunt of a bill—because that's all it was, an absolute stunt.

Contrast the stunts that the Greens have been pursuing around important issues with the behaviour of someone like Ged Kearney, who has a history of standing up for people, standing up for organisations and fighting for things for matter. She is a person of substance, a woman of substance, not someone who is going to fall for stunts or the latest tricks but someone who's been standing up and advocating for workers, advocating for social services, for decades. This was the contrast in Batman.

But in the Senate today the Greens came in and pursued, as always, a stunt—something that was going to have no consequence but something that the Greens were happy to pursue because they have learnt nothing out of what happened on Saturday. We have seen this time and time again, where basically they seek purely political advantage out of substantial issues. Nothing for them can be boiled down unless they can seek some political advantage out of it. Then they are happy to pursue it. We absolutely are going to hold them to account for that. They've learnt nothing out of the Batman by-election, and they showed again in the Senate today that they have learnt nothing in that regard.

The reality is that the current-day Greens are nothing, not even a patch, on the Bob Brown Greens from a decade ago. They are leaderless, they are visionless, they are divided and they have basically become inconsequential. Once upon a time, the people around Australia would listen to Bob Brown; they'd at least hear what he had to say. But, when it comes to Senator Di Natale, no-one hears what his contribution is. No-one wants to hear what his contribution is, because it's inconsequential. It's full of stunts. There's no substance behind it, and what we saw on Saturday, and what we've seen in other elections around the country in recent times, is that the Australian people are waking up to him.

They're not a patch on the Bob Brown Greens that we were used to a decade ago—people who even the other side would have to listen to. They've got more and more desperate. And the more desperate they've become, the worse they go. Unfortunately, I think that we're going to see a pattern from them where they increasingly pursue stunts and cynical politics, all to seek a little bit of political advantage for themselves—not trying to tackle some of the big challenges that this country faces but all for seeking some little political advantage. But they were held up in Batman, and full credit to the Labor campaign for doing it.

When it comes to the issues raised in this matter of public importance, they're about addressing cost-of-living issues; tackling climate change; the undermining of wages and conditions; and ensuring that children from any postcode in Australia get a quality education. And, when it comes to these issues, the federal government have dithered, or delayed or done nothing. They really aren't listening to the concerns of the Australian people in regard to these issues.

When it comes to the cost of living, they have dithered on energy policy now for over 12 months. The uncertainty that they have caused is causing prices to rise, and still we have not seen the National Energy Guarantee go through their party room. We come in here, and Senator Birmingham likes to try to lecture us about what our position is. We've said that we're happy to work with the government on the National Energy Guarantee, but they can't even get it through their own party room. They won't even present it to get it through their party room. How can we negotiate with a party that can't even get their own caucus to agree—let alone all the states—and put a position to the opposition that we can come to an agreement on?

Their dithering is having a real consequence for Australian families, through higher prices, and also for Australian workers. This dithering is inconsequential for those who rely on gas as feed stock for their business, whether it be the Gibson Island fertiliser plant or the smelters in Gladstone or around the country. The government are more focused on their internal squabbles than they are on the Australian people—Australian workers or Australian families, it is no matter to them who it is.

When it comes to tackling climate change, they've actually achieved a rare feat. They've seen energy prices increase whilst they've also seen a rise in pollution—quite remarkable! That's what we've seen from the other side. This has been a double whammy to the Australian people but also to future generations. So we're still no closer to hearing where they stand on the National Energy Guarantee. Once again, I re-emphasise that this has not gone through their party room. Those same Neanderthals on the backbench who always want to play up around tackling this issue are causing ongoing grief that they have still not been able to resolve, and it leaves us here, who are willing to work across the aisle to resolve this issue, none the wiser about what their final policy is.

The next one is around undermining of wages and conditions. This has been a really significant one across Australia but also one that I've seen firsthand in Queensland, with the devastating impact that this is having. We know that the LNP supports the cuts to penalty rates. We know that they've argued against a decent increase to the minimum wage. We know that they voted against Labor's proposals to make big business liable for underpayment of workers along the supply chain and also by subcontractors. They've got their heads in the sand around the changing nature of the labour market, and they've gone missing in action completely when it comes to the discussion about the future of work.

This is their record when it comes to wages and conditions. Is it any wonder that the workers of Australia don't trust this mob? They don't trust them when it comes to wages and conditions, and we know that the government loves nothing more than attacking workers and attacking their representatives in the unions. And, when it comes to education, the LNP are busy selling their cuts. Those will have a negative impact on children and, I fear, particularly on those children from remote and regional areas—those who need it the most.

So, when you look at the key issues in this matter of public importance, we know that the LNP are failing them on every single one. They're failing when it comes to the issues about cost of living. We know that they're failing on the issues when it comes to tackling climate change; we've actually seen pollution go up under this government. And we know that the undermining of wages and conditions is something that is happening unabated under this government.

They constantly attack unions and constantly attack workers. We know what they have done with penalty rates and we know what is happening in places like regional Queensland, where labour hire is rampant. The government are doing nothing to crack down on that. We've seen casualisation increasing, making it harder for people to get a loan to get into the housing market or to buy a car. This is having a devastating impact on regional towns. It's actually changing the nature of those regional towns. These towns were once very attractive places to go and live and work, but the fact that in some of these places you can only get casual employment is making them less attractive. It means that people are going to have to move away. It means that kids who are growing up who are potentially third or fourth generations living in that town are having to move away for opportunities. This is what casualisation is doing; this is the uncertainty that it is causing. We also know that the LNP have not been able to resolve their internal challenges around energy and the impact that's having.

Labor are the only party listening when it comes to responding to these challenges. The Greens are divided. We know that there are repercussions internally that they have to deal with after what happened in Batman—but, still, they haven't changed their behaviour. We know that the LNP are not listening to these people. We know that they are not taking these issues into account in determining how they are going run their government. But Labor are listening. We are spending as much time as we can on the ground in these communities and hearing directly from them. We will continue to ensure that we represent the views of all Australians in this place.