COMMITTEES: Outstanding Government Responses

February 10, 2022

I must say Senator Duniam obviously missed a memo of the Labor-Greens scare campaign with his performance before—on a unity ticket with Senator Urquhart and supporting the Tasmanian fishing industry, as plenty of other senators do in this place. I'm sure he'll get a rap over the knuckles for that. I wasn't really going to come in and contribute to this debate—until I saw the performance of Minister Birmingham before. It was, as Senator Hanson-Young said, a disrespectful and arrogant performance. You can understand that he's probably not in a good mood this morning; the government haven't had the best of weeks. But it's not as though he's been busy passing legislation. I don't know what else he has been up to this week if they couldn't respond to these important 18 reports of the Senate committee. I have had the misfortune of being on the Senate committee with Senator Whish-Wilson on and off over the last couple of years as well and I recently just came back onto it. I was astonished to see that there were still so many reports outstanding that the government have not responded to. It really is astounding that they have been so derelict in their duty that they haven't responded to some of these important reports. I will come back to this later. You might think, 'Oh well, these are just Senate committee reports,' but they do touch on really important issues and they have real life consequences for people. I had an experience of that recently—and I will come to that later—on the road trip I did through North Queensland and Central Queensland with the federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

The Australian community take these Senate reports very seriously. Anyone who has been involved in these committees knows that the experts and the Australian people who participate, who have lived experience and turn up and give evidence, take this very seriously. They think it's important that they get the opportunity to express their ideas, their experience or their knowledge so that the senators can take that and put it into their report. And I think we've seen from the debate on this today that there often is contestability—Labor and the Greens will disagree or Labor and the government will disagree. That's exactly what you want when you're preparing these reports; you want some contestability. But it's also why you want the government to respond. They are actually looking at the evidence that has been gathered from experts and from those with lived experience so they can use it, implement it and turn it into policy.

This goes to the arrogance of this government and it also goes to the lack of accountability of this government—the fact that we're having this debate this morning, in the same week they have announced that they are going to junk, and not actually pursue, a federal integrity commission. It is no surprise when you look at the way they treat Senate committees, when you look at the way they treat the Senate, when you look at the way they treat accountability and integrity issues. This government always looks the other way. And they do it in so many areas. It's quite remarkable when you think about it: they haven't responded to 18 important Senate committee reports from environment and comms but they took half an hour in a meeting, with no due diligence, to give almost half a billion dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. They can go and do that with half a billion dollars, with no notice, with no due diligence, yet they can't respond to these important reports despite some of them having existed for more than seven years.

I want to go to the real-life consequences of this and some of the reports that I've been involved with. If you look at the retirement of coal-fired power stations, what triggered that was the closure of Hazelwood—something that had a significant impact on regional Victorian communities and something the government has not responded to. You'd think there would be something in it they could learn, something in it they would be able to better respond to, yet there has been no response from the government on this important issue.

The other report that I had some recent experience of is in relation to the impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia. This is something I had some involvement with when it was before the committee. On that road trip I did with the federal Labor leader early in January, we stopped at a banana farm near Tully that was run by Stephen Lowe. For those who don't know, Panama disease has had a significant impact on the banana industry in North Queensland. Stephen, the owner of that farm, was talking to us because he is so concerned that the Panama disease is only one farm away from his. And one of the things that is transporting the Panama disease across farms is feral pigs.

You might think, 'What's the real-life consequence?' Well, this is someone who has put his life into building this farm. He knows that feral pigs are causing the problem of spreading Panama disease across farms in North Queensland, yet this Liberal-National government can't find the time to respond to such an important issue in Far North Queensland. So here's a farmer—he employs plenty of people; he provides good support to the local community—who's doing the right thing by his farm and trying to build a long-term operation in North Queensland. He knows the risk of Panama disease from feral pigs. These are issues that were tackled in this Senate report, yet the government—the Liberal-National parties, who are supposed to look after farmers—can't take the time to respond.

When you think about these reports you might think: 'They're abstract. They don't really contain real-life experience.' But they do for this farmer near Tully. They do for these banana growers, who know that government action to stop feral pigs spreading Panama disease is going to be the difference between them keeping their livelihoods or falling by the wayside. Senate reports are not just glory exercises by senators; they have a real impact on real people with real livelihoods, and on communities. Banana farming in North Queensland is a significant industry. It employs hundreds of people. It is something that the government need to turn their attention to.

They are just a couple of examples about the real-life consequences of the government not responding to these reports and not adequately addressing these issues. It means people's livelihoods and communities are at risk.

This motion goes to the accountability and transparency of the government. And the way they have come here today and treated the response to senators raising this important issue goes to the arrogance of the government. We see it more and more. It is really troubling that there are so many reports outstanding. There are so many issues on which the government's integrity and accountability can be called into question, yet they continue to run, continue to hide. It is absolutely disgusting that this week they said they would be abandoning a federal integrity commission.

There's no doubt that the Australian people are sick and tired of this government. They're sick and tired of the rorts and the waste. They're sick and tired of the arrogance. Today we've again seen examples of an arrogant government, an arrogant minister and an arrogant performance, when they really have nothing to be arrogant about.