Matter of Public Importance
House of Representatives, Wednesday 24 May 2023
We've long known that conservatives love the past, but it's becoming increasingly clear that they're not just fans of steam trains and rotary-dial phones. In fact, they're drawing their inspiration from the 50-year-old Monty Python TV series. It has to be said that the shadow Treasurer is very close to a Monty Python character at times. There's an irony to this man making claims about inflation, given that he has made a specialty of inflating certain claims or, as he might say, 'Well done, Angus.' We all remember that time he made inflated claims about Clover Moore using a dodgy doctored document.
He is here talking about the cost of living, but he is arguing against the Housing Australia Future Fund. He voted against the Housing Australia Future Fund. He voted against energy bill relief. He was at the dispatch box a couple of hours ago arguing against 60-day prescribing, which will bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals for Australians. He is not the Messiah; he's just a very naughty boy.
This opposition reminds us of that moment in the Life of Brian when one of the insurgents says: 'Well, apart from the sanitation, medication, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a freshwater system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?' To which the answer is, 'Brought peace.' The theme of this MPI is basically: what has the government ever done about cost of living? Well, apart from cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, bulk-billing and energy bill relief, what have we done? Oh, that's right: we've also boosted incomes through single-parent payments, JobSeeker, student assistance, rent assistance and better aged-care wages. There are 11 million Australians who will benefit from the tripling of the bulk-billing incentives and six million Australians who will benefit from a reduction by up to half in the cost of medicines. There are one million Australians who will benefit from increases in payments like JobSeeker, Austudy and youth allowance and many, many more Australians who will benefit from the energy bill relief. In our year in office, we haven't just dealt with cost-of-living issues; we've also created a National Anti-Corruption Commission, set a 43 per cent emissions reduction target, carried out a royal commission into robodebt, saved Trove, fixed the roof of the National Gallery, fixed up our international relationships and brought adult government back to Australia. But, again, what has Labor ever done for Australia?
The fact is that those opposite remind me of the Knights Who Say 'Ni!' When it comes to immigration, they're criticising our immigration forecasts, despite the fact that they were projecting more migration—more 'ni'. They criticised the fact that we brought down a surplus, despite the fact they were projecting deficits as far as the eye could see. They've criticised our middle Australia supports, despite the fact that they voted against energy price relief last December. They are the Knights Who Say 'Ni!'
You can't help feeling that, when you're in question time, it's a bit like walking into the Monty Python argument sketch. Rather than offering solutions or arguments, they just want to find what Labor is saying and say the opposite. I am reminded of my favourite line in that sketch: 'I came here for a good argument!' 'Ah, no, you didn't, you came here for an argument!' They can't even give us a good argument.
They are, in so many parts of the country, infighting among themselves. The Victorian Liberal Party are a bit like the People's Front of Judea, who reveal that the only people they hate more than the Romans are the Judean People's Front. But even the People's Front of Judea weren't flirting with the far right.
The Liberals have now lost office in every mainland state and territory. On the mainland, their most senior Liberal leader in office is Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, as Monty Python once said, and nobody expected that, for the first time in a century, a government would win a seat off an opposition in a by-election, and yet that has happened.
You'd think this would prompt a bit of soul searching. You'd think it would prompt the Liberal Party of Australia to consider how they might re-engage with middle Australia. But instead they're responding more like the Monty Python Black Knight, who's lost his arm and is saying, ''Tis but a scratch.' They can't realise that they have fundamentally lost the core of what it is to be a small-l liberal party. Robert Menzies wouldn't recognise the party sitting on the opposition benches right now, and indeed that probably explains why his former seat is no longer held by the Liberal Party, why John Howard's former seat is no longer held by the Liberal Party, why Tony Abbott's former seat is no longer held by the Liberal Party and why Josh Frydenberg's former seat is no longer held by the Liberal Party. They've lost touch with middle Australia. They've lost their right arm, and they think it's just a scratch.
The fact is that those opposite couldn't even deal with the problem of spam. There's that great Monty Python spam sketch, in which there's spam on everything. A customer is trying to order something without spam, and the response is, 'Well, there's spam, egg, sausage and spam; that's not got much spam in it.' But it took a Labor government to deal with real spam. It took the Minister for Communications to put in place new rules that blocked 90 million spam texts in the first six months.
Deputy Speaker, those opposite remind you of Monty Python's cheese shop sketch, in which a customer walks into the cheese shop and is asking one by one just for a bit of cheese. 'Any Danish Fimboe?' 'No.' 'Czechoslovakian sheep's milk cheese?' 'Venezuelan beaver cheese?' 'Not today, sir.' 'How about cheddar?' 'Oh, I'm afraid we don't get much call for it round these parts, sir.' The cheese shop's inability to come up with cheese is a bit like the Liberal Party of Australia's inability to come up with policy: 'Got any policies? What about a policy in education?' 'Nope, we don't have that.' 'What about a policy on health?' 'Nope, we don't have that.' 'What about a policy on reducing Australian emissions?' 'Nope, we don't have that. We've just got a wacky nuclear policy, although we won't tell Australians where the reactors would be and won't confess what the cost will be.' 'What about a policy on defence?' 'Nope, we don't have one of those.' 'Have you in fact got any policies at all?' 'Oh, well, we don't get a lot of call for policy around here.'
While those opposite are languishing in the land of the argument sketch or in the land of the Spanish inquisition, while they're sitting there having esoteric discussions about themselves that are about as relevant to regular Australians as the question of how far a swallow could carry a coconut if it were the right breed of swallow, middle Australia continues to desert the Liberal Party of Australia. Middle Australia has deserted the Liberal Party of Australia. It has deserted them in South Australia. It has deserted them in New South Wales. It has deserted them at the federal level.
The fact is that those opposite can't realise that they're having their discussions between the Popular People's Front of Judea and the Judean Popular People's Front when they should be focusing on what matters to Australia. If they could focus on middle Australia rather than having their own in-house argument sketch, they would be voting for energy price relief and for the Housing Australia Future Fund. They'd be supporting us on our measures such as the safeguard mechanism in order to ensure that Australia gets the benefits of decarbonisation and the renewables revolution. But instead they're caught up on the esoteric discussions of their party room, dragging them further and further off to the right, unable to recognise that Australians may not want a Danish Stilton, may not want a cheddar and may not even want a yak's cheese but would like a policy after all. They would like the Liberal and National parties to actually come up and be clear as to how they intend to be a little bit more than a comedy sketch, a little bit more than Australia's answer to John Cleese and a little bit more than a 50-year-old comedy troupe whose jokes might have been great back then but who are no example of how to run a serious party of government.