Senator Penny Wong – speech criticising the Liberal-National government

photo of Senator Penny Wong
November 29, 2018

During the Wentworth by-election we saw a Prime Minister so desperate to cling to power he was prepared to trash decades of considered bipartisan foreign policy on the location of our embassy in Israel. We know this was a decision that wasn’t taken to cabinet and was contrary to advice.

Full speech

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:06): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Wong today relating to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a government now so divided, so chaotic and so riven by hatred and personal interest that it’s actually no longer able to govern. It’s a government that’s unable to act on climate change, unable to agree on energy policy and unable to put the interests of the nation ahead of its own self-interests. Do you know what? The Liberal-National Party: trashing good government; that’s what it’s doing. It’s a government that can barely go 24 hours without someone resigning or threatening to bring down the government. It’s so lacking in confidence and purpose that it’s not even prepared to let the parliament sit for fear its divisions will be exposed on the floor of the House. It’s a government where a Prime Minister cannot even announce something as simple as the date of the budget without having the announcement wrecked by yet another member abandoning his team. And it is now increasingly apparent that the chaos and division that we see played out in this place and in the House of Representatives is damaging Australia’s standing overseas and is damaging Australia’s national interests.

During the Wentworth by-election we saw a Prime Minister so desperate to cling to power he was prepared to trash decades of considered bipartisan foreign policy on the location of our embassy in Israel. We know this was a decision that wasn’t taken to cabinet and was contrary to advice. We know this was a decision of which the foreign minister was given less than 48 hours notice and the media was briefed before the head of the ADF. It was a decision that is now risking the free trade agreement with Indonesia, risking our economy, risking jobs and, as important, damaging one of Australia’s most important relationships. And now we learn that the government is so divided and so chaotic it cannot even risk sending the Treasurer out of the country for a few days for fear the government will fall.

There are few more important events on the international calendar than the G20. It was a forum Australia helped create. In fact, Mr Costello was involved in establishing it as a meeting of treasurers and finance ministers in the nineties, before what the Obama administration’s most senior US official on Asian policy, Kurt Campbell, describes as Kevin Rudd’s decisive role in developing the G20 into a leaders’ summit in the wake of the global financial crisis. In that process, Australia got a seat at one of the most influential and important tables in the world. The first leaders summit in Washington in 2008 and the follow-up in London some five or six months later was crucial to rebuilding confidence in the global financial system. And now the Treasurer can’t go because the absence of a single MP for even a day might cause the government to fall, and instead we have the finance minister going in his place.

As people know, I have great respect for Senator Cormann, and I’m sure he’ll do his best. But the explanation he gave for why the Treasurer withdrew says it all. He said, ‘He’s got some work to do domestically.’ Well, he certainly does. Do you know what that’s code for? It’s code for dealing with the mess. It’s code for dealing with the division. It’s code for dealing with minority government. It’s code for managing the fallout from the disastrous result in Victoria. It’s code for trying to deal with the consequences of trashing good government, which is what this government is doing.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is heading off. But we’re advised that he doesn’t have any meetings with the President of the United States or the President of China. I very much hope the absence of these meetings does not signal that the chaos that has engulfed this government is now further risking Australia’s national interest. And I genuinely hope this position changes before the weekend is out and Mr Morrison is able to secure these meetings with the leaders of these two nations—two nations that are so important to Australia: the US, our ally, and China, our biggest trading partner. The G20 provides a vital opportunity for Australia to advance our interests. It’s disappointing that the meeting has not yet been secured. I hope it is. I equally hope that it is not because the Prime Minister has taken his eyes off the ball that a meeting has not been secured.

But, regardless of what happens in Argentina, there is no escaping this fact: good government in this country has been trashed by the Liberal and National parties—their division, their chaos, their dysfunction—and their desperate bid to cling to power is now damaging not only the interests of all Australians but also the national interest. That is entirely clear from not only what we have seen this week—an extraordinary spectacle of government voting against and then voting for a national integrity commission, losing government members, losing the seat of Wentworth earlier—but also creating the part-time parliament. (Time expired)

Link to parliamentary Hansard

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