Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:18): That was an interesting speech by my Labor colleague. He mentioned the same-sex marriage debate and said, 'The Prime Minister lacks authority.' Sorry, Senator Gallacher, the authority for that issue is with the people of Australia. Lest you have forgotten, we actually took to the election a policy that on same-sex marriage we would have a plebiscite within, I think, probably six months of the election. Rightly, we failed the six months, if that was it. But certainly we would have had a plebiscite by February had it gone through this chamber. Opposition senators should understand: this is not Mr Turnbull's proposal, this is not my proposal, it is not the Liberal Party's proposal and it is not the National Party's proposal. It is the proposal of the people of Australia. What more authority does Mr Turnbull and the coalition need than the imprimatur of all voters in Australia to that particular proposal? I only mention that as an aside, but it was mentioned by Senator Gallacher. It is good that he did because it clearly demonstrates the paucity of any value in the opposition's proposition in this debate. There is clear authority.
Senator Gallacher has been speaking about the address to the Governor-General. That speech set out a very full legislative program. It had a direction for the government and a direction for Australia for the next three years. It was a very detailed plan and it was a plan that was evolved because we won the election. Sorry, but we did. We won by two seats, actually—one officially, and that illegitimate result in Herbert that we will be hearing more about in other venues as we go along. The Governor-General's speech actually sets it all out—a very, very detailed plan.
Mr Turnbull is leading a coalition that is cohesive, that works together and that has different views. I always like to point this out, particularly if anyone might happen to be listening to this debate. Within coalition parties we are not 'lobotomised zombies', to quote Senator Cameron referring to Labor Party senators and backbenchers in this chamber. On our side we are encouraged to be individuals representing our constituents. That sometimes means that individual ones of us have a different view to the executive government. On our side of politics you can have a different view, you can put that view, you can vote on that view and you can cross the party line. And that is accepted because that is what we are all about in the coalition. Compare that with Labor. Of course, if you publicly oppose anything that the collective—that is, the union collective—have told Mr Shorten they want as their policy then you are automatically expelled from the Labor Party. There is such a difference.
And so members of the opposition confuse their own situation with that of government members. Sure, we do have very robust debates in the party room and in our policy committees—very robust. And they are fully considered, and eventually the majority rules on those. And so Mr Turnbull's authority and indeed the coalition's authority come from a collective view from all coalition members. But that does not mean to say, of course, that individual members do not have a different point of view, and very often we exercise that view.
We were elected for two principal reasons: firstly, that the people of Australia understood that we had an economic plan. They understood that we could not go on with Labor's wasteful, spendthrift policies that led us to a debt approaching $700 billion, so that in the time that I am speaking now the Australian taxpayers have spent a couple of million dollars paying interest to foreign lenders because of the debt run up in the Labor Party's time. We pay something like $300 million a week in interest on loans borrowed by the Labor government, because of their inability to control their economic outlook.
And so people voted for us at the last election because we have an economic plan. It is well known around the countryside: go into any pub and they say: 'Oh yeah, we've got to have Liberal governments every now and again because they're the only ones that can fix the economy. We put in Labor every now and again because they give everybody everything they want, but someone has to pay for it. So we've got to vote the Liberal governments back in every now and again so we can get the ship back in order.' That is one of the reasons why people trust us and voted for us.
The other area, of course, in a broad sense, where the people support us and where we have the authority to act is in the area of border protection and security. I regret to say that until a couple of days ago border security and our national security were issues beyond party politics. There was a bipartisan approach to the proper management of our borders. But, unfortunately, the Labor Party have now been rolled over by the left-wing unions and the left wing of their party and we now have this position where Labor are not going to support the necessary action to keep our borders safe.
We will go ahead and do it, and I hope we have enough support from the crossbenchers. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the crossbenchers not agreeing with us on this latest piece of legislation that we are introducing to secure our borders and to make it clear that we will not accept people smugglers. We will not accept those who would jump the queue in front of the genuine refugees waiting to get into Australia.
So that is the authority that we have. We have the authority of the imprimatur of the Australian public. Senator Gallacher was saying, 'Oh, they've got to go to the crossbenchers—it's the crossbenchers fault.' Well, sorry, it is not. The blame for any dysfunction in not being able to implement what the Australian people voted for us for does not rest with the crossbenchers; it rests with the Australian Labor Party. I just wish the Australian Labor Party would understand that they did not win the election. They lost the election, and the people elected us to govern. They gave us the authority to govern, and it is Labor that is standing in the way. Do not try to blame individual crossbenchers.
The other element of this rather fatuous debate before the chamber this afternoon is lack of agenda. Well, as I said, the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's speech is all about that agenda. That speech from the Governor-General at the opening of the parliament set out clearly the agenda and what we wanted to achieve. But we have been held up by a recalcitrant opposition, who support thuggery in the union movement—and we hear about that every question time. We hear about the Health Services Union and we hear about the CFMEU: action and activities that are simply theft from their members, and thuggery and assault at the highest degree. And these are the people who run the official opposition. These are the people who set the agenda for the Labor Party.
The people who set the agenda for the coalition government are the people of Australia. They knew what they were getting when they voted for us, and they set the agenda. What we developed in the run-up to the election was a clear agenda for Australia.
If I might just digress, with the indulgence of the parliament I will talk about one agenda that we have which was clearly enunciated to the people of Australia, and that was our proposal for Northern Australia. To his credit, Mr Turnbull has implemented the plans we set out in that Northern Australia white paper. It is something that will lead to the development of the North in the years ahead. I often say that Northern Australia only has about five or six per cent of Australia's population but it produces something like 50 per cent of its export earnings.
I see Senator Watt laughing at me over on the other side. Well, you shouldn't, Senator Watt. You are only here at the expense of the only northern representative the Labor Party had in this chamber, and that was Senator McLucas. Now, I did not often agree with Senator McLucas, but at least when she got up in the debate she would run a line about Northern Australia. She understood, as I do, that there is huge potential in Northern Australia and that it should be tapped and developed by Australia—not for the benefit of Northern Australia but for the benefit of all of Australia. Regrettably, within the machinations of the Labor Party, poor old Senator McLucas was dumped by her Left faction in favour of a—
Senator Marshall: It was by him!
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have already said that, Senator Marshall. You are quite right, and no disrespect to Senator Watt, but I do publicly call him a union hack from Brisbane, a failed state Labor member who not only does not represent the North, living in Brisbane, but has gone even further south now, down to the bright lights of the Gold Coast. That shows how much the Labor Party have any interest at all in Northern Australia.
There is another example—just one. I do not have time to go through the coalition's full plans for Australia. They are in the address-in-reply, but it clearly shows the coalition has the authority. The Prime Minister leads a united team with authority and with the authority of the Australian people, and he is doing that exceptionally well, implementing the agenda we took to the public at the last election. So congratulations to Mr Turnbull and the government for your leadership, your authority and your agenda for Australia. (Time expired)