Speech on a Matter of Public Importance: Abbott Government Priorities

27 March 2014

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (15:46): Thank you for the call, Deputy Speaker Scott. This place would be a much fairer place if you were in charge full time, so we are very pleased to have you in the chair. It could not be any less fair, so we are very pleased to be joining you this afternoon.

This week the government discovered time travel. We went back in time to the nostalgic world that the Prime Minister occupies, the black-and-white world where it is okay to be a bigot.

Ms O'Dwyer: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you draw the speaker's attention to the fact that he should not reflect upon the chair, which he has done in his opening statement here today. I ask him to withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott): It was not a reflection on the chair. It was a personal comment, I think. There is no point of order.

Dr CHALMERS: Let me reword it and say that the Deputy Speaker is a very fair man.

We returned this week and the government discovered time travel. We went back in time to this black-and-white nostalgic world that the Prime Minister occupies, a world where it is okay to be a bigot, where people are walking around tugging the forelock—'M'Lord, M'Lady', all this sort of crazy stuff—a world of dirt roads clogged up with carriages, with servants, with women like the member for Higgins knocking on the door of the cabinet room, locked out of the cabinet room. That is the world that our Prime Minister operates in.

One of the Prime Minister's heroes is Margaret Thatcher, of course. She said famously, in a great quote, that she did not have a reverse gear. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister does not have any gears that go forwards. He is unlike Margaret Thatcher in that respect. It must been devastating for a retro Prime Minister like our own to see that not even John Howard could be as old-fashioned as he was. You are in trouble when John Howard is calling you old-fashioned!

The truth is that Australia does have a whole range of challenges, and they lie in the future, not in the past. Our challenges are not found 50 or 100 years ago; they lie in the future. We have an uncertain labour market. We have all the things that flow from the massive middle-classing of Asia—all the challenges and opportunities that brings, all of the changing industrial base, all of what it means for global inequality, all of what rising technology means for training, for human capital and all these sorts of things. How we respond to these big global pressures will really determine whether in the future we rise or fall as a nation. These are the crucial issues that we have got.

The member for Wakefield was right to say before that our current Prime Minister makes Joe Lyons look progressive, but I want to comment on something that the Treasurer, the member for North Sydney, said, because I also agree with that. He said that the Australian people want us focused on jobs, the economy, growth and prosperity. I could not agree more, but what have we got instead? We have got a Prime Minister sitting around dreaming of knights and dames and all the rest of it. The Treasurer was right to say we should be on about jobs. The Prime Minister is sitting in his office under the portrait of the Queen, thinking about knights and dames. That is really the problem that we have got with his priorities and his choices.

I read in the paper today that somebody said of the Attorney-General that he has drunk the right-wing Kool-Aid. The truth is that the whole show over that side must have drunk the right-wing Kool-Aid. You can imagine them sitting around clinking their glasses—'Servant, bring me more Kool-Aid, I tell you!'—and drinking the Kool-Aid. My point about this is: you can drink the right-wing Kool-Aid if you want, but do not make the whole country drink it. Some of us want to get on with dealing with the big challenges in our community.

More than any other week, this week shone the light on the bad choices and wrong priorities of the government. Yes, some of it was pretty funny, as my colleague at the table here, the member for Franklin, found. Some of it was a bit funny, but a lot of it was really serious. The priorities are so skewed in this government. There are serious problems: a PPL scheme that gives $75,000 to the wealthiest mums; tax breaks for the people at the very top of the income scale—all at the same time as they are cutting money for orphans. They are introducing a GP tax. They are attacking cleaners, via repeal day. They are attacking charities. They are attacking seniors who want good financial advice. This all shows how skewed their priorities are.

As the member for McMahon, the shadow Treasurer, said, this Treasurer has doubled the deficit—he has added $68 billion to the deficit. When he has got a problem like this in his budget, in his MYEFO, we have got a government running around talking about knights and dames. That is really the problem. Australians want a government with the right policies, with the right choices and with an eye to the future. Unfortunately for them, the big shame is that, instead of that, they have got this lot.