Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) -I also rise to contribute to the debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s speech to open the parliament.
It pains me to say this, but the Governor-General’s speech was pretty thin.
That is no reflection on the Governor-General, because we know the content was not hers-and, indeed, the standing orders prevent us from reflecting on the GG.
So I make it clear that I am not reflecting on the her but on the speech which was delivered.
It really paled in comparison to those speeches at the opening of earlier parliaments.
Today I pulled out the speech of 1996, made after the election of the Howard government-you have to look for happiness wherever you can find it-and, I must say, it did represent a much more significant agenda than that which is being presented by this government.
It is important to look at the context of this address-in-reply speech, and the context, really, is those events which took place in the few months before the election.
You will recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Hutchins, that the government was behind in the polls.
So terrified was the government at the prospect of losing the opportunity to legislate its great agenda that the government did something unprecedented: it removed a first-term Prime Minister.
I know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that that would have broken your tender heart.
But those opposite soldiered on through that and fought a bruising election campaign.
There was a tight election result-that is very clear. There were tortuous negotiations with the Independents.
As the days rolled past, eventually the Labor Party crossed the line, and we now find that Julia Gillard has been Prime Minister for something in the order of 100 days.
Having fought that epic battle to hold on to government -having fought that great battle to give expression to the great agenda of the Labor Party through the
parliament-what did we find it was all about?
What has hit this parliament? A bill on weights and measures, and we see coming that very significant piece of Labor Party legislation: an attempt to bring back compulsory student unionism.
That is what it was all about. Seldom has a government had less reason for being. Seldom has a government had less purpose.
When I look at this government it brings to my mind that great Peter Sellers movie Being There, because, for this government, it is all about just being there.
There is not a purpose; there is not a reason.
We held out some hope that Prime Minister Gillard would be bold -and she promised to be bold.
She said, ‘I’m going to govern like I have a massive majority,’ so we got a little excited that this might actually be a bold and reforming government, but the excuses are already coming.
We hear from minister after minister the excuse that we have to recognise that the parliament is of a different character and that, therefore, that gives the government the right to break its election commitments.
But the big lie at the heart of that is that previous governments did not control the parliament.
Even if you had a majority in the lower house, you still had to negotiate through
the upper house.
For the government, all it means is that this parliament is front-end loaded, particularly after the middle of next year.