Member for Cook – Censure Motion

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This motion is just about settling scores. It’s not about the Australian people. The Australian people cast their votes on 21 May. The Australian people elected the Albanese Labor government with the lowest primary vote in Labor’s history. Nevertheless, they elected the Albanese Labor government to govern. They elected the government to look forward, to the future, and not constantly in the rear-view mirror. They elected the Albanese government to deal with the issues people face today, like the rising cost of living, rising energy costs, rising housing costs, rising interest rates and rising grocery prices.

Instead of doing these things, the government has brought forward this wasteful, ineffectual and wholly unnecessary political motion. Let’s look at what this motion does not do. This motion does not help Australians put food on the table; it does not help Australians fill their car so they can drive to work or take their kids to school; it does not help them bring down power prices; it does not make their mortgage cheaper. This motion fails to do anything of substance for the Australian people, and the government should be condemned for using the parliament’s time for cynical and self-indulgent political opportunism.

There’s good reason to call out the opportunism that this motion represents, because the Solicitor-General delivered his opinion on 22 August, more than three months ago. That opinion set out a number of reforms. The reform options were sensible and clear. Yet, instead of drafting legislation the Solicitor-General proposed back in August, the government has spent the last three months sitting on that road map for reform. For more than a month now, the government has been on notice about the recommendations for legislative change from former Justice Bell. On 26 October this year, she wrote to the Prime Minister to advise of a recommendation for legislative change that she intended to make in the report. The report makes clear that this was to enable the government to pursue legislative changes this year. The government seems to have ignored Ms Bell’s sensible and generous approach and has sat on its hands. They could have brought the legislation to the parliament at any time after 26 October.

Twelve sitting days have passed since they were put on notice of that recommendation. Today, instead of discussing that legislation, we are now debating a censure motion. Even today, the day when legislation is traditionally introduced into the House, there is no amendment to the Ministers of State Act at all on the Notice Paper. It shows that Labor’s first act is always politics. That’s the Labor way. Even the day that Labor chose to have Ms Bell report was chosen for political reasons. The government wanted Ms Bell’s report to have the maximum political effect, so they set the reporting date as the day before the Victorian state election. So let’s stop pretending that this is about anything other than politics.

Contrast that cynical position of the government with the mature approach taken by people on this side of the chamber. We’ve acknowledged the Solicitor-General’s opinion and have taken it very seriously, indeed. That opinion made clear that the appointments made were legally valid. It rejected the idea that in making the appointments there’s some sort of constitutionally required procedure that wasn’t followed. The Solicitor-General expressly noted that the Constitution, in his words, ‘deliberately leaves room for the further evolution of the institution of responsible government’. He made sensible, straightforward suggestions for that further evolution.

We’ve also noted the release of the Bell report. The Bell report builds on the Solicitor-General’s advice. It makes sensible recommendations for improving the clarity and transparency of ministerial appointments. There is no recommendation or even mention of a censure motion in that report. We on this side of the House will consider any proposed legislation flowing from the Bell report when it’s presented to parliament. But instead of discussing that legislation we are discussing this frivolous and wasteful censure motion. That’s the nub of the issue.

The government now has received the Bell report. It could be implementing the recommendations already, but there’s no legislation before this House, only a vague promise to introduce something later this week. It should be using the time that it has in this chamber to deal with the real problems facing Australians, including the cost-of-living crisis. Do we have any attention to that cost-of-living crisis? No. Instead, what we have is this politically motivated censure motion. Let’s be clear. This motion does nothing to improve the clarity and transparency of ministerial appointments. It does not take up the proposals made by the Solicitor-General three months ago or the recommendations about which Ms Bell wrote to the Prime Minister over a month ago. It’s a motion designed for political payback rather than for taking the sensible next steps on the issue.

Censure motions are a way of the parliament holding ministers to account. They’re not a tool for a new government to play politics with a former Prime Minister. House of Representatives Practice makes clear that it’s not the purpose for which a censure motion is designed. As Practice notes, if you leave out attacks on leaders of the opposition, a motion of a censure of a private member has been moved only twice in the 121 years since Federation. Let me quote to you from Practice:

A motion in the form of a censure of a Member … not being a member of the Executive Government, is not consistent with the parliamentary convention that the traditional purpose of a vote of censure is to question or bring to account a Minister’s responsibility to the House. Furthermore, given the relative strength of the parties in the House, and the strength of party loyalties, in ordinary circumstances it could be expected that a motion or amendment expressing censure of an opposition … Member would be agreed to, perhaps regardless of the circumstances or the merits of the arguments or allegations.

The member for Cook has already had adverse reflections from the Solicitor-General and Justice Bell, and he was voted out of office by the Australian people. That is the ultimate censure. He has accepted that decision as he accepts the recommendations of the Solicitor-General and Justice Bell. He has had enough censures.

Sometimes I think the Prime Minister never stopped being the professional protester of his youth. Every day, he comes in here not to govern for the future of Australia but to attack the member for Cook. Sometimes I wonder why Labor hasn’t changed the standing orders—to put an effigy burning of the member for Cook, at the beginning of the day of parliament, along with the prayers and welcome to country. It’s time the government stopped obsessing about one man and started thinking about the 26 million Australians who pay them to look after their interests. The government’s failure to do so and its decision, instead, to spend parliament’s time on a frivolous censure motion shows the government’s all about politics and not about making things better for Australians.

You’d be forgiven for asking what the government hopes to achieve through this motion. But, if we look around, it rapidly becomes clear why the government is so keen to spend parliament’s valuable time on this issue. It is distraction politics. The motion is intended to draw attention away from the government’s inability to provide for the economic security that makes things better for Australians. Despite having repeatedly told the people during the election that Labor would reduce their power bills by $275, that is one number the Prime Minister refuses to say in this place. This is a government that is making Australians $2,000 worse off by Christmas. Right now we have an economy with high inflation, high interest rates, rising costs of living, along with Labor admitting that over the next two years electricity prices will go up by 56 per cent and gas prices up by 44 per cent.

Just this week in the other place we had an industrial relations bill that will make things worse—a bill that will force many small businesses to bargain against their will. Businesses with more than 20 staff will be dragged onto multi-employer arrangements with much larger competitors. The government’s own modelling shows that small and medium businesses will have to pay between $14,000 and $18,000 in bargaining costs as a result of these changes. These changes will result in more strikes, put pressure on supply chains and could even see an increase in the price of everyday items.

What do the government do? Are they addressing the concerns of Australian families and small businesses? No. They’re playing politics, doing stunts and moving this motion, instead of delivering for the Australian people. This is a pea and thimble trick to distract from the fact that the government are pressing ahead with their backward-looking industrial relations laws this week. It’s an attempt to draw attention away from the fact that the government are fumbling the economic strength gifted to them by the coalition. This is a government that inherited the largest budget turnaround since Federation from the coalition, yet, as the Leader of the Opposition so aptly puts it, under Labor everything is going up except your wages.

Instead we have stunts like this to try and distract from the fact that Labor’s decisions are making difficult economic conditions worse. What this motion also demonstrates is that, despite the clear and present economic threats, the government is so focused on settling scores that it’s losing sight of the issues that matter to Australians. Right now we could be talking about how to provide the economic security that Australian families so desperately need. We could be engaging in a debate about reducing power bills. We could be discussing the best way to make mortgages more affordable. But this censure motion will not help one Australian business or family to respond to the challenges they are facing today. Rather than focusing on things that make a substantive difference, this motion demonstrates the government is less interested in the lives of Australians than it is in settling old political scores.

The government should bring forth the amendments to the Ministers of State Act today. They are the amendments that have been recommended by the Bell report, which the government has had for over one month—that recommendation from Ms Bell. That should be the focus of the government if it wishes to deal with the issue. This motion is unworthy of the House’s time and ought to be rejected.

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