Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (18:01):
It is timely that we debate this matter of public importance, the failure of the Gillard government to govern for all Australians. I want to present a context, and that is that, when someone is sworn in as a minister of the Crown, when someone becomes a member of the Australian Executive Council, they do not cease to be an ardently partisan figure, but they are called to exercise a higher duty. They are called in the business of government to have the capacity to put governing above partisanship, and we have seen the most partisan political figures in this nation’s history do that.
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke is an immensely partisan figure, yet when he took on the role of Prime Minister he saw himself as the nation’s leader-not the leader of any sectional interest, but as the national leader. Even former Prime Minister Paul Keating, when he assumed the prime ministership, articulated what he saw as a vision for the nation. We on this side of the chamber might not have agreed with him, but he saw himself as governing for all Australians. Former Prime Minister John Howard-again you could not find a more remorselessly and relentlessly partisan figure than John Howard-while still being the leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, while still being the leader of the federal coalition, was also the Prime Minister of the nation, and was careful at every opportunity not to refer to the Liberal government, not to refer to the coalition government, but to refer to the Australian government. He was always very conscious that he was first and foremost the Prime Minister of the nation, and that he was a partisan political leader second.
Sadly, both under Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard we have seen a government that has failed to understand that important transformation that happens when people become ministers, and particularly when they become prime ministers-that they are the leader of the nation first. We first got an inkling of the current Prime Minister’s view at the ALP National Conference on 2 December 2011, where when talking about the government’s agenda she said:
This is the Labor way. This is the Australian way.
I was troubled by the Prime Minister equating her political party with the nation. I do not claim, Senator Ronaldson does not claim and Mr Abbott does not claim that the Liberal way is the Australian way, yet the Prime Minister claimed her party to be the only authentic Australian political party.
We have a number of great political parties with proud histories in this nation-the Liberal Party, the National Party and even the Labor Party. No Prime Minister should ever equate their party with the nation. We also have the now infamous rhetorical flourish of the Prime Minister when she said:
We follow it simply because we are us.
What does that mean? On Labor’s historic task, she said Labor would ‘be Australia’s party, to lead in the Australian way’. That is not how the Australian people see the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or the National Party.
We had this view not just reinforced in the policies we have seen from this government but also in the Prime Minister’s speech to the Australian Workers Union National Conference on 18 February. We heard about the real Julia, the real Ms Gillard, that we did not see at the last election but then she declared we would see the real Julia. What we saw at the AWU conference was Julia unplugged. The Prime Minister went through the luminaries who were there.
She said of Bill Ludwig:
It is impossible to write the history of this state without recording Bill Ludwig’s role.
I think that is probably a big call, which I am sure you might agree with, Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce, but such is the view of the Labor Party and their role in Australian history. And she went on:
I want to acknowledge a great friend of the AWU who is here tonight and a great friend of mine, the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has joined us this evening.
Wayne has actually flown back from Russia to be here tonight.
Now I don’t tell you that so you get in anticipation about seeing vodka drinking and Cossack dancing.
I do not think that she should try a line in being a comedian. This was more peculiar; she went on to say of his attending the G20 meeting:
And in that room when they look for leadership they look to Wayne Swan, a man honoured as the world’s best treasurer, a man so honoured because of his passionate commitment to jobs.
Wayne, thank you for everything you’ve done …
I would think that the Prime Minister is possibly the only person in Australia who would say that with anything other than a sense of irony. Thank you, Wayne, for all that you have done!
Of course, tribute was being paid to Mr Swan because he is a hero of the AWU. She went on to acknowledge another hero of the AWU, Mr Ludwig. The less said about Mr Ludwig and his performance in his portfolio the better. Where her speech got truly disturbing was when she said:
I come here to this union’s gathering as a Labor leader.
I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party.
I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party.
I’m not the leader of a party even called the socialist democratic party.
I’m a leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from.
That is what we believe in and that is who we are.
Obviously, in the Prime Minister’s view, it is too bad if you are an Australian who voted Liberal; it is too bad if you are an Australian who voted National; it is too bad if you are an Australian who sees yourself as a moderate; it is too bad if you are an Australian who sees yourself as a social democrat. No, she only sees herself as representing people who trace their origins to the trade union movement of this country in which 18 per cent of the workforce now are members of trade unions, and only 13 per cent in the private sector. She is seeking to govern for the most narrow sectional interest which we have seen in this nation.
You can forget the reforming ethos of Mr Hawke and the reforming ethos of Mr Keating who sought to broaden out the Australian Labor Party from being a purely trade union based party to one that represented the bulk of Australians. That particular Labor project is dead and the Prime Minister belled the cat in her speech to the Australian Workers Union. If that was not enough, there was the sight of Paul Howes and Bill Ludwig with their fists pumping in the air singing Solidarity Forever. That is not what the Australian people identify with. The Australian people do not want to see a Prime Minister going to a crowd of unionists, pumping the air singing Solidarity Forever. The Australian people want the Prime Minister to be seen to be above that sort of partisanship. They want to see their Prime Minister above that sort of a ruck.
I know that we are partisan figures in this place; we all are. We should be proudly partisan figures. But the Prime Minister of the nation should be elevated above that partisanship. The Prime Minister of the nation should be a symbol for all Australians, regardless of how they voted. However, we do not have that in this Prime Minister, sadly. I am sure that some of my colleagues will talk about the specific policies which underline the fact that this is a government that is governing for an extremely narrow sectional interest. Let us hope that this prime ministership, its overtly partisan demeanour, its overtly partisan action and its overtly partisan symbolism are but an aberration, and that with the demise of this government regular transmission will be resumed and we will have a Prime Minister-I know we will have a Prime Minister in Mr Abbott-who will govern for all Australians.