THE GOVERNMENT’S FAILURE TO ADVANCE A POSITIVE AGENDA IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:10): This is the sixth sitting day since the election. When you consider that one of the days was filled by the normal procedures that happen with a new parliament, it's only five sitting days. I sit here and reflect on what would have happened if there had been a different election outcome. Of course, we respect the outcome, but I think we would have a front bench of ministers doing a whole lot of work—for example, in the education sector. There would have been a whole lot of work on rolling out legislation and commitments on childcare services, early childhood education opportunities, rebuilding the financing around school education, and significant major reform in the post-secondary education sector. There would have been a health minister looking at rolling out our pensioner dental plan and initiatives such as the cancer reform. But we didn't win the election; those on the other side did.

I look at them and I go: what are they doing? Five sitting days! I have to keep googling to make sure I'm actually in the 46th Parliament, because you would be forgiven for thinking that, in some horrendous time warp, we had all come back and were sitting in the 45th Parliament. We came into question time and the government said: 'How are we going to fill the time?' As the Leader of the Opposition said, 'We caught the car; we didn't expect the catch: how are we going to fill the time? Go and check out some legislation we couldn't get through the 45th Parliament. We'll roll that out and see if we can have another shot at that. It was really good, because by making it the debate in this place'—the peak, leadership body for legislating, decision-making and policymaking in the nation—'we could spend all the time, resources and energy, and the privilege we have of being here, on having another round of "Let's bash the Labor Party"'. That's apparently all that is in the national interest.

It was an emergency to pass drought policy so that those opposite could take a quick and easy shot and say that Labor opposes drought support for farmers—a policy you're not even starting to pay out for another 12 months. It gave you a full day to spend all your time, energy and resources, and the responsibility and privilege you have in sitting on those benches, taking a cheap shot at us. That's what it was about. Today we've had a whole lot of questions on militant unions. Good grief! You spent the whole 45th Parliament talking about that; now you're going to waste the whole 46th Parliament talking about that. This is an absolute abrogation of your responsibility. As so many of you opposite have said, you did win the election. The Australian people have given you this great privilege to put forward an agenda that is about their interests.

We've had two sort of conflicting stories from those opposite. We have a whole lot of people getting up and saying, 'Everything is great. Look how good we are. Look how successful we've been with the economy.' Every now and then, when they want to do something like tax cuts, they'll get up and say, 'Oh, headwinds in the economy—things are getting a bit difficult. We need to be able to do something about it.' Let me tell you, there are serious issues facing people in our economy. In my community, in communities all around the country, people are not spending. There's a real crisis in confidence. Wages have flatlined. People are concerned about their capacity to continue to meet the costs of living. These are the sorts of things that you should be turning your minds to. To be quite honest, from some of the speeches I hear, I would say some of the backbenchers want to be talking about that. But this frontbench—and you should be taking them to task for this—are using all their opportunities, particularly in debates like question time, and their whole strategy, in their whole messaging to the people of this nation, is to have cheap shots at us about anything they can. That is not national leadership. That is not working in the best interests of this nation. That is not governing for the best interests of the people who we have the privilege to represent in this place.

Politics is a contest. Sometimes you'll disagree with us and you'll have a shot at us. It goes back again with our feelings about your policies. That's a wholly different case to expending all your time and energy, all your focus, all your resources, all your conversations in this place and every opportunity in this place to simply wedge Labor instead of doing your job.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.