humble comment

Speech in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, on 1 August 2019

Just a few weeks ago we all stood in this House and debated the passing of Bob Hawke, a great Australian who stood for all Australians. Bob Hawke’s prime ministership was characterised by an understanding that together we are stronger. He looked for common ground. Nothing could stand in more contrast with that than what we’ve seen from this government in its three-week self-indulgent vanity project, this victory lap where it has brought parliament back in July. 

Anthony Albanese

The fact is that the Prime Minister is in search of an agenda. In place of that, he’s chosen division. He characterises that himself when he stands in parliament and has the talking points for all the ministers about, ‘Whose side are you on?’ Billy Bragg, at the beginning of the year, said about international democratic politics at the moment that: ‘This is a time of dismissive demagogues promoting a know-nothing politics of swaggering arrogance driven by scorn and spite.’ 

I’m reminded of that comment every time I see this Prime Minister—the hubris of a government overcome with arrogance, where no-one is too right-wing or extreme to share a platform with. 

This is the first time I’ve seen a Prime Minister stand in this parliament and refer to the statement of a senator as this one did when asked his view about some of those opposite sharing a platform with Raheem Kassam and Matt Gaetz. The fact is that those opposite have a hide to ask, ‘Whose side are you on?’ But, in response, let me give them exactly which side Labor is on. We’re on the side of unity, not division. We’re on the side of equality, not inequality. We’re on the side of political conviction, not political expediency. We understand that we need to promote what we are for, not just what we are against, unlike those opposite. We understand that we want an economy that works for people, not people who work for the economy. We understand aspiration, but we understand that that’s not just about individuals. That is about the better life that working Australians want for their family, neighbours, community and country. 

We support those who are struggling and who need a helping hand. Those opposite say that people have never been better off, in spite of the reports just this week. We understand that free markets left alone, because they have no conscience, entrench existing relationships of power, both economic and social. Those opposite still support trickle-down economics. They say it will all be okay if government just gets out of the way. We understand that unions have a critical role in a democratic society. Those opposite just want to attack them. We understand the importance of holding business to account, which is why we supported the banking royal commission at the same time as they voted against it 26 times. We support building infrastructure; they support talking about building infrastructure. We respect public servants; they cut public servants. We respect the science of climate change; those opposite want equal time for climate sceptics to teach in the classroom. We regard education as being about creating opportunity; those opposite see it as just entrenching privilege. 

We support Medicare being at the heart of the health system. Those opposite undermine it at every opportunity. We support increasing Newstart. Those opposite regard that as just ‘unfunded empathy’. We support addressing homelessness. They want more positive spin about homelessness, to talk about the 99 per cent who are in homes rather than the one per cent who are homeless. We support pensioners. Those opposite say that the pension is too generous. We support aged care that looks after our vulnerable older Australians. Those opposite want to get rid of regulation and just let the market rip. We support superannuation as being critical for our nation. Those opposite undermine it. We support a free media. Those opposite have engaged in cynical, politically motivated raids and intimidation against journalists. We on this side of the House support a voice for First Nations people in our Constitution. Those opposite have roadblocks in their cabinet—like the Minister for Home Affairs, who walked out on the apology. We on this side of the House understand that you can protect your borders without losing your humanity. 

Those opposite have engaged in dehumanising people in our care for political gain. We on this side of the House appeal to hope. Those on that side of the House rely upon fear. We want to shape the future in the interests of all Australians. Those opposite are frightened of the present and terrified of the future. Nowhere is that better characterised than in the National Broadband Network: we understand that fibre is the technology of the 21st century; those opposite rely on copper to go forward. 

We on this side want genuine support for our farmers who are struggling in the drought, who need real action on climate change, who need real funding. Those opposite want legislation that gives them some money in the following financial year—$100 million rather than the $5 billion that they talk about. We on this side of the House are absolutely determined to bring the nation together. We reject those who seek to divide us. In their No. 1 talking point, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the minister opposite talk about ‘Whose side are you on?’ That shows exactly what they are about. They don’t have a positive agenda, they rely upon negative politics and they seek to divide at every single opportunity. 

We on this side of the House are united. We know exactly what the values of the Labor Party are, we know what we stand for: a strong economy and jobs. We know we stand for social justice. We know we stand for lifting people up, not leaving people behind. We know we stand for engagement on the environment. Australians don’t want that much and they don’t ask that much from their government, but they expect a bit of respect. They expect that the government will actually have a plan. And a third-term government should have developed that plan into a coherent narrative. Yet what we see is just more and more scare campaigns. 

The fact is that Labor’s values are shared not just by people here who have a common interest, who are united not just because we happen to be in parliament and not just because we happen to be in the Labor Party, but because it is our shared values that have brought us to the Labor Party—a party that has been in existence since 1891, a party that has proud origins and a proud history, a party that will continue to contribute to this nation’s history into the future. 

So I say to the Prime Minister: you asked the question, consider it answered. We on this side of the House know exactly whose side we are on. On that side of the House, they are so divided they can’t even get an answer from a Prime Minister about senior members of the Liberal Party and the National Party appearing on the same platform with extreme right-wing ideologues in order to promote division in this country, allowing in the sort of talk that will just divide us. 

I will conclude with the Prime Minister’s question. We know exactly who we are and we know exactly whose side we are on. We are the Australian Labor Party and we are on the side of Australia’s national interests. It’s a pity that there is a government that isn’t—a government that is just on the side of its own selfish political interests and seeks to divide people, promote fear and engage in negative politics because they don’t have a positive agenda for their third term.