Matter of Public Importance - Australia


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:37): I'm not sure that I'm in the right debate. I read that the debate is about secure jobs and fairer wages, tackling rising power prices and investing in education and health, and that's a great description of the Turnbull Liberal-National government. It is a government which is focused on secure jobs and fairer wages, that tackles power prices, that invests in education and health and that is addressing housing affordability. So I wonder if I'm in the right debate. I also just heard the previous speaker, Senator Polley, who seemed to spend all of her time talking about Mr Turnbull. I just ask Senator Polley whether she might have a look at the latest opinion polls. Mr Turnbull's rating continues to rise whereas that of her leader, Mr Shorten, continues to fall. When we find that Mr Shorten, who, when head of the AWU, used $100,000 of AWU members' money to give to the Labor Party, you can understand why Mr Shorten's polls continue to fall. I think it won't be too long before Mr Albanese and—I see Senator Cameron here—the Sydney cohort of the ALP will be looking, sharpening the knives to get rid of Mr Shorten and put in Mr Albanese. I hope they don't because—not that I have a great regard for any leader of the ALP—I do think that Mr Albanese would be a far better leader for the ALP and would perhaps provide better competition for Mr Turnbull at the next election. As I say, the opinion polls show Mr Turnbull to be so far ahead as a leader that it's not even a comparison at the present time.

So what Senator Polley was doing, talking about Mr Turnbull and lack of leadership, I can't quite understand. She really should, if I might say through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, have a look at Mr Shorten, the guy, as I said, who used $100,000 of members' money to donate to a political party. He's also the guy that used to knock around with the captains of Australian industry, the very wealthy ones, and got their private plane to slip down to Tasmania at the time of what was to be a tragedy. He had left, he saw that it wasn't a tragedy and that there was good news there. He hired a magnate's plane—not hired it; got it for free—and slipped down in time for the early morning television. No wonder Mr Shorten's polls are going down. I think the Australian public are waking up very, very quickly to Mr Shorten, and well they should.

We know Mr Shorten gave that money out as a union leader. That's another reason why membership of the unions in the private sector has fallen to 10 per cent of the total private sector workforce. That means 90 per cent of workers in the private sector choose not to join a union. And yet it's the union that controls the Labor Party and directs what could be the alternative government of Australia. But I digress, because Senator Polley spent most of her speech talking about Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull.

Can I just say that in the coalition ranks we are very, very concerned for jobs. I'm pleased to say—and credit where credit is due—that half of the Labor Party in Queensland—the faction led by the Premier, Ms Palaszczuk—understands the importance of coalmining in the Galilee Basin and of the jobs that will be created. There were $38 billion in royalties and taxes paid between 2007 and 2013-14, and a recent study showed that the Queensland coal industry contributed $23.7 billion in 2015-16 to the Queensland economy and supported 180,000 jobs. And yet the great workers' party, the union party, continues to denigrate the Adani proposal.

Just last Friday at the Senate committee hearing, we had Labor Party politicians raising all of the reasons why that coalmine and that new infrastructure should not go ahead. And I certainly hope that the North Australian Infrastructure Facility will help jobs in Central and North Queensland by providing some money for common user infrastructure. Not for coalmines—I understand those are fully funded by the particular proponents, whoever they might be. But NAIF, set up by the Turnbull government, is there for common user infrastructure, to provide a bit of assistance from the Commonwealth taxpayer as a loan—I emphasise that—to be repaid where there is a gap in the funding.

And we do that supported by the Palaszczuk section of the Labor Party in Queensland by helping out with Adani. For as much as Palaszczuk and the total 100 per cent of the Liberal National Party support these job creation activities, there are people within the Trad section of the Queensland Labor Party and many down here that we hear of at Senate committee hearings and elsewhere who want to do everything possible to undermine that job creation project for Central and North Queensland and that money-making project for the Queensland government and the Queensland economy generally.

This motion by Senator Wong talks about jobs and fairer wages. Fairer wages and all wages, including penalty rates in this country, are by legislation dealt with not by the parliament, not by the government but by the independent Fair Work Commission set up by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. Its members comprise many, many union heads of times gone by. We believe in fairer wages and fairer conditions, and that's why we let the independent umpire, set up by Labor, deal with that job.

The Turnbull government is the only federal government in the political history of Australia that's taken any steps to deal with rising power prices. Rising power prices are matters for state governments. In Queensland, of course, the state government gouges the profits and puts up the prices, so they can get more money, because they own the generators, and the profits they make go in to prop up a pretty awful state budget. But the federal government—they are state government issues—is the first one in history to take a national approach to reducing power prices, and we're doing it. Senator Carr whinges at question time, but when he was the minister for industry for six years, what happened? Absolutely nothing—not a thing. It takes a coalition government to deal with that.

Time prevents me from talking about the massive new investment in education. And just today I've got some updated figures of how much more every school in the state of Queensland will get as a result of the Turnbull government's recently announced education initiative. This is more money for every school. I've written to every school. They've acknowledged how grateful they are for the additional funding coming through as a result of this government's activities. So I thank Senator Wong for raising this for discussion today. I'm surprised it was her that raised it, not us, because it's all about what the Turnbull government is doing.

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