Back to All News

Speech: A New Prime Minister

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 15 Sep 2015

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:23):

We have been told he is a conviction politician with a grown-up approach to policy. The walk, the words and the delivery might be very different from those of the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. But the new Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull, is just another leader of the same Liberal Party that specialises in cruel, discriminatory policies. Mr Turnbull is my local MP. There should be no honeymoon for this new Prime Minister. For the member for Wentworth, the warning bells should ring loud and clear.

The new Prime Minister supported all the hardship measures, all the cuts in the 2014 budget. That was the Hockey-Abbott horror show that attempted to deny the dole to unemployed young people for six months while imposing savage cuts on public education, public health, public broadcasting and pensions. This was the 'no pain, no gain' budget. It was when the career of the not-yet-former Treasurer, Mr Hockey, probably started to go downhill. He clearly misjudged the situation. Remember, this budget-again, one that Mr Turnbull signed off and was actively out there promoting and committing himself to-was one where the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, broke many promises. This was also when the former Prime Minister and the current Treasurer were out there telling the business community that it might not be popular but it was the right budget. Again, so much of this unravelled but always Mr Turnbull was there backing it. He backed the $80 billion of cuts to school and hospital funding across our states. It was so severe that conservative premiers in the states took a stand against it-but not Mr Turnbull, who was always loyal to this very cruel budget. Significant structural reform was said to be introduced to address a deficit, but what it was used to do was to sack and end the jobs of many public servants. We saw the very harsh way that played out. Again, this is the 2014 budget that Mr Turnbull has at no time criticised or tried to distance himself from. It is worth remembering that the Abbott government came in on a very clear commitment of no cuts to education, to health, to pensions or to the ABC and SBS. These promises were broken, but the current Prime Minister just went along with it and spoke very strongly on some occasions in support of that very dangerous and destructive budget.

We learned a bit more about where the Prime Minister is at in the two speeches he gave yesterday. Essentially what we heard there was that he is ready to lead a neo-Liberal government. Neo-Liberal policies writ large is what came across. He said:

This will be a thoroughly Liberal government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.
Let us remember what this means for ordinary people's lives. Turnbull will be turning back the clock in so many areas. For working people, for people who are doing it tough and do not have a job, for people in the later stages of life and for people who are sick and disadvantaged in different ways, it is certainly not looking good under a Turnbull government. You do not need to join many dots to reach these conclusions. Mr Turnbull has helped us out. He also gave an example, and the example he gave was the Howard government. He said:

... we have a great example of good Cabinet Government, John Howard's Government most of us served in.
Let us remember what that government did to this country. The Howard government introduced Work Choices. That was debated in this place, in the House of Representatives and across this country and was one of the key reasons why he lost his job. Australians recognised how savage it was, how wrong it was and how it was there to turn back the clock on many of the conditions that Australians had worked so hard for-both fair working conditions on the job and the right of unions of people to collectively organise. And now we have the current Prime Minister harking back to the good old days of the Howard government. Those policies of running down the conditions of working people were a big theme of the Abbott government and, again, something Mr Turnbull has not distanced himself from.

I have noticed that in a number of assessments of Mr Turnbull one of the comments being made is that he could be an even stronger backer of the stringent approach to unions and working people's rights, because of how close he is to the business community. Big businesses are his big friends. Campaigns for cuts to penalty rates, the China free trade agreement and the political show trial which has the sanitised name of a royal commission against union corruption are not likely to change under a Turnbull-led government. Nothing in his speeches came close to expressing any interest in the lives of ordinary people. This is what we are seeing already from Mr Turnbull, so it does not look good.

The China free trade agreement was something that Mr Turnbull made reference to as soon as he announced that he was ready to challenge the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. His emphasis on that gives us an insight. Considering this is so controversial in Australia at the moment, he could have not said anything about it or he could have at least opened up space and said, 'Maybe we need to relook at this.' But he was solidly behind this very dangerous so-called free trade agreement. I notice, under the previous Prime Minister, the government even changed the name of it; they were starting to realise how unpopular it was. This is a trade agreement that will destroy Australian jobs and working conditions in this country. But, again, there was no interest from this Prime Minister at all. We know of his commitment to the so-called free trade agreement with China from his failure to speak out about it and his actions over many years. If you go back to 2008 you can see that Mr Turnbull was quite evasive when the Fair Work bill was going through this place. We can easily conclude that he is a Prime Minister who backs cuts to penalty rates, cuts to the minimum wage, cuts to the rights of workers and, effectively, robbing jobs from our community. If you are going to support the free trade agreement with China as it is presently constructed, that is what you are backing.

Mr Turnbull has made no secret that he is a friend of big business. He has failed to stand up for unemployed workers, workers doing it tough, people on pensions and people who are uncertain about what the future holds for them in Australia. I want to particularly mention some of the issues in New South Wales. Yes, Mr Turnbull is the member for Wentworth, but he has been a minister. Surely he could have thought of people doing it tough in New South Wales. I particularly want to mention the Illawarra, where there is a real threat of the Port Kembla steelworks closing down. This Senate has twice passed motions to bring some sanity to policy on this issue. But there has been no interest from Mr Turnbull. Surely, where there are 10,000 jobs at risk in an area where youth unemployment is about 25 per cent and general unemployment is on the rise, he would have taken some interest. He could have visited there. It is less than an hour and a half from Sydney. We have seen over the years huge job losses in Western Sydney, particularly from the manufacturing sector. Maybe the now Prime Minister has taken an interest, but I certainly could not find any record of it. If he has taken an interest, he would be wise to get mention of it out there, because it is becoming a more and more serious problem in our country.

It does not look good for refugee rights under this Prime Minister. He used the phrase 'restoring the security of our borders' when he was praising the former Prime Minister in one of his speeches yesterday about what the former Prime Minister did for Syrian refugees. There he was, using the phrase 'restoring the security of our borders'. It was typical of the language that we have become used to hearing from Malcolm Turnbull. His language is much more eloquent than the former Prime Minister's, but the intent is still the same. It is a very savage approach-an internationally illegal approach, I would argue. He is effectively saying that Australia will not abide by our international obligation to acknowledge that asylum seekers-however they might come to our country-have the right to come to this country. We have a duty to process them, consider their needs and determine if they are refugees. Again, that was a very informative phrase that Mr Turnbull used.

We hear that Mr Turnbull has promised that he will not reintroduce an emissions trading scheme and that he has effectively signed off on the very inadequate climate change policy of the former Abbott government. For somebody who carved his reputation in his early years in this place around more effective climate change policies, it is not a good sign. Where is his backbone? Where is the commitment on such an important issue when we are getting closer to the important meetings in Paris about this issue?

We know Mr Turnbull is not just a big businessman but a true believer in free market economics-but surely it is time to reassess what free market economics does. Clearly, business has a role in our community. I am not saying it does not, so those opposite should not go down that ridiculous path of misrepresenting what I am saying. But Mr Turnbull is now Prime Minister of the whole country. He is not just there for big business. He is not just continuing the agenda of the previous government but with a more eloquent way of saying it. That is deeply dishonest. That is why I said that the new Prime Minister does not deserve a honeymoon period. This government is continuing with so many of the old policies. The poor, the needy, the unemployed, the disadvantaged, marginalised people, Indigenous people-life is not looking good for so many communities under this Prime Minister. Unemployment is now at a 12-year high. What is going to happen there? It is a real concern in so many areas.

I could not believe it when the Abbott government came up with their plan to deny young unemployed people income for six months. Yes, it has been lowered so that they would only be denied income for one month. But that is no way to assist our young people who are coming out of school to consider their future. As a starting point, the Prime Minister should scrap that, get it off the agenda and start thinking about all Australians irrespective of where they live, how they live and what their plans are for the future.

Back to All News