I rise to speak on the matter of public importance today, which is the chaos, division, dysfunction and mistrust at the heart of the coalition government. We all know that the good ship, the Liberal Party, is sinking. It is floundering in a sea of gross unpopularity. The captain, Prime Minister Abbott, has driven the ship into the iceberg and survivors are battering each other to get to too few lifeboats. They have not just tried to rearrange the deck chairs; they are actually battering each other to get to those lifeboats. The government’s competence and judgement have been tested and found sorely wanting. They are chaotic, divided, dysfunctional and certainly unable to be trusted. This is what they meant when they said, ‘The adults are back in charge’!
The Liberal Party had a leadership contest this morning, and it has shown that a large proportion of the Liberal Party backbench want to roll Prime Minister Abbott. They did not even have an identified alternative putting their hand up; they wanted anyone but Abbott. It is the ‘ABA’ group, and we have heard about it quite a lot of late. The Liberal Party room is divided, dysfunctional, chaotic and full of animosity. I can give you a precise figure on just how divided: it is 39 per cent divided. However, I am sure this figure has become out of date since this morning and that it will be rising fairly quickly, I should expect, after Mr Abbott’s statement that ‘Today is the day good government starts.’ I think the Australian people should really stop and listen to that comment, because after 520 days in government, what have the government been doing? What has been happening for the last 520 days if today is the day that good government starts? They should have started good government 520 days ago. They should have been thinking about what they were doing 520 days ago. I am really concerned that one member of the government is so dysfunctional or so concerned about the whole Liberal Party that he or she was unable to write ‘yes or no’ correctly on a ballot paper that only provided those options. Obviously, one person in that room has absolutely no faith in the Liberal Party. They wrote ‘pass’. What a joke! Although Mr Abbott survived this morning’s attempt to remove him, his government is still in chaos; it is still dysfunctional. This government is still divided and it is still racked with mistrust. I am sure that we will see another leadership challenge against Mr Abbott in the future, as his government keeps on focusing on itself rather than on the issues that matter.
In last Monday’s speech at the National Press Club—a speech designed purely and solely to shore up his own leadership—Mr Abbott promised a more collegiate and consultative government. His backbenchers and ministers must take such a promise with a grain of salt since, as reported in the media, he has made that comment, that same promise, 12 to 15 times since 2009. When I worked in child care, if I had a child that kept promising to change their behaviour 12 or 15 times in a few years, I would be taking very severe action against that child when their behaviour was so unacceptable. I think the Australian people will show what they believe at the next election, whenever that might be. They will not put up with untruths and broken promises from the government of the day. Maybe Mr Abbott will change, but I doubt it—I very strongly doubt it. That is unfortunate, because this government needs to change. Many of the obviously sensible senators and members that were in their caucus room this morning knew that; they knew that it had to change.
Some in the government blame the sales pitch—’We haven’t sold our policies very well’—but Australians know that it is not so much the salesmen but the policies that are so bad. So you have got a bad salesman or two or three or four or five and you have got disgusting, absolutely unacceptable policies coming out. The Australian people are not fools. It does not matter what those opposite decide to do in their caucus room with regard to leadership. It will be shown at the next election that they will have done the wrong thing. The thought-bubbles, the captain’s picks—and very dodgy captain’s s picks at that—the directives of Rupert Murdoch and the hard-core ideology of the Institute of Public Affairs are not the policies that Australians need.
The Australian people want their government to act on their behalf, not on behalf of foreign media magnates, Sydney based lobbyists or the rich miners. Whilst Mr Abbott might be Prime Minister today, when they do decide to replace him—with Mr Turnbull, Ms Bishop, Mr Pyne or whoever—their policies will still be the same; they will be thoughtless, they will be heartless and they will be targeting the most vulnerable in our society. The government do not need a change of face; they actually need to have major heart surgery—because they are not looking after the people in Australia who need to be looked after. And the people in Australia who really do need to be looked after are feeling betrayed and angry that this Liberal-National government wants to transform Australia so drastically and so cruelly. And, should the policies change, it will say, ‘Actually, we didn’t need to be that hard.’ That will be an interesting dilemma for those on that side as well.
We all know that Australians believe in a fair go, in helping the underdog—and that is why they are so opposed to what this government is doing. The Australian people do not want a GP tax. The Medicare system, which allows access to health care for all Australians no matter what their financial circumstances, has been a key right of Australians—except for a shortcut under the Fraser Liberal government—for 40 years. How can the Australian people trust this government when they did not even announce that they wanted to destroy Medicare? And what is even more ridiculous is the continued back-flipping on this issue. Chaos? Chaos rules! First, there was going to be a $7 co-payment, which was then taken off the table. Then they wanted to cut the Medicare rebate for short consultations by $20, which they then pulled out just days before it was to come into effect. Now there are comments that, after this morning’s spill attempt, any form of co-payment will be taken off the table. What does that say? It says, in actual fact we did not have to have that co-payment, we did not have to be so harsh and unrealistic and treat so harshly those in Australia who cannot look after themselves. It is just a joke as far as I am concerned, and the people of Australia think you are a joke. This position will probably change a few more times—as long as they are in government, who knows.
Another thing the Australian people really do not like is this government’s attempt to introduce $100,000 university fees. They are proud that they have got a university sector that allows their children and grandchildren to gain access to world-class higher education in an affordable manner. Australians know that a higher education benefits not only the individual but the nation as a whole. If you want to have a smart Australia, you need to let people have access to higher education. But by making a degree cost $100,000 you remove the aspirations of young Australians from low-income backgrounds, who are quite seriously afraid of being saddled with such a debt for their entire lives. It is a figure that will leave higher education to the children of the wealthy. It is ideology again, coming through loud and strong. And that is not how our egalitarian society should be working.
Senior Australians are concerned about a cut to pensions despite the government’s promise it would not do so. As a result of changes to indexation arrangements, in 10 years time pensioners will be $80 worse off than they would otherwise have been. So there is a cut.
Australians hate the attacks on the ABC and the SBS. Those TV stations show how diverse we are, how clever we are, how hardworking we are as a nation. But no, ‘There will be no cuts to the ABC.’ Well, bless my cotton socks, there have been.