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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9218


Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:03): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Prime Minister (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator McAllister today relating to the Turnbull government.

Like the end of an empire, the death of a government is usually not pretty to watch. That, however, is what it seems we have been watching for the last few months on the front pages of newspapers, on the nightly news and in this chamber. People on the opposite side have been tearing themselves apart. In recent days that has intensified, as the blame and the finger-pointing and the gnashing of teeth continues about what went wrong in Queensland and whose fault it is. There are very different stories about whose fault it is, but the persistent theme coming through from many people speaking up very publicly—not respectfully in their party room but out there on Twitter, out there in the media—is that this is the fault of Mr Turnbull. It's starting to feel a little bit like that ominous feeling you get when you read Lord of the Flies—that this is not going to end well.

Senator Watt: Who's Piggy?

Senator McALLISTER: Senator Watt asks, 'Who is Piggy?' Some of the disunity and division is absolutely a result of clashes of personality and personal animosities. One gets the feeling, for example, that the former Prime Minister would not support the current Prime Minister on any question, even if there was absolutely no daylight between the two of them when it came to the policy. But this is much more serious than a clash between two men who can't decide who is going to hold the conch. Much of this division is actually about policy. Differences of opinion about policy and robust debate about policy are normally quite good and lie at the heart of good politics, but what we have seen from the government is not good policy or good politics.

The reason that this government is irreconcilably divided is that it has absolutely no purpose. Let's recall that the premise for the change in Prime Minister was 30 consecutive Newspolls where they were behind. The government went to the last election as a consequence with no clear idea of what it stood for, no clear vision of what it wanted to achieve. What has happened to jobs and growth? It is something we haven't heard about for quite some months. Without a defining mission, the government has been completely unable to define its policy agenda. The vacuum has led to these countless little groups pulling one another apart in public.

Here are some questions that the government would not be able to answer in one voice. Does the government believe that coal-fired power plants should be subsidised by the state, if the market is unwilling to build them? Even in this chamber, we couldn't get a single voice. There is no clear vision and no clear energy policy. Are renewables an important part of Australia's energy future? Minister Frydenberg might say yes. Senator Canavan would certainly say no. Is climate change even real? Even without Senator Roberts, there are plenty of doubting voices in this chamber—people who are unwilling to accept the science and unwilling to accept the government's commitments to reduce our emissions.

On social policy, we don't even really need to talk about this in any detail, because we just have to look at the Hansard for the last three days of debate in this chamber. Does the government support multiculturalism? The willingness to cosy up to One Nation suggests that, for parts of the coalition party room, the answer is no. On economic policy: how will you reduce the deficit? Are individual tax cuts or corporate tax cuts more important? Should penalty rates have been cut? What about the government's supposed decentralisation agenda? This is one that's quite interesting, isn't it? Should government departments be moved only on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, some kind of sensible economic decision, or should we just do it whenever members of the Nationals really, really want them in their electorate? On the banking royal commission—this is a pretty simple question, you would think: should there even be one? Is a royal commission just a lawyer's picnic? If so, why did this government initiate not one but two of them on political grounds? These are not small questions. They go to the heart of issues that have been on the public agenda this year. The problem is that those on the other side are entirely unable to answer them and entirely unable to act on them. Mr Turnbull is the captain of a rudderless ship, without a destination and with a mutinous crew.