Legitimacy of the Turnbull Government


August 17, 2017

It’s been an eventful sitting week, hasn’t it? I think that’s an understatement. This week, we’ve had the Deputy Prime Minister announcing that he has been a dual citizen of New Zealand for the duration of his parliamentary career, raising all the doubts about his ability to stay in the place under section 44 of the Constitution. Then we’ve had the Prime Minister channelling the Chief Justice of the High Court, proffering what I would think is a dissenting opinion on the Deputy Prime Minister’s eligibility. The common interpretation is that the relevant section clearly provides that the Deputy Prime Minister has been, by his own admission, a dual citizen of New Zealand until only this week and is therefore ineligible.

It’s only right that the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, will decide the fate of the Deputy Prime Minister this coming week. The High Court will determine the legitimacy or not of the Deputy Prime Minister, as they should. I will leave those deliberations, unlike the Prime Minister, to the judicial scrutiny and expertise of the High Court of Australia. I might add that this comes from a healthy respect for the separation of powers. That’s something those on that side should understand better, particularly the Yarra 3. But I won’t blame the Yarra 3, because they’re following the direction of their great leader!

The High Court will deliberate on the legitimacy of the Deputy Prime Minister’s eligibility to be in the House, but I question the legitimacy of the government’s policies. The political point, really, is that the government holds power by one vote. The government was able to give a $65 billion tax cut hand out to multinational corporations by one vote. They were able to give working Australians a tax increase by one vote. The government blocked a royal commission into misconduct in the banking sector in this country by one vote. The government was able to pass its flawed citizenship legislation through the House this past week by one vote. The government was able to cut school funding by $22 billion by one vote. The government has been able to inflict cut after cut to Medicare by one vote. It was able to make changes to the pension assets test, which affects 1,800 pensioners in my electorate, by one vote. It has been able to cut the energy supplement, designed to help pensioners to pay their power bills, by one vote. And when Labor tried to restore the penalty rates of 700,000 working Australians in hospitality, pharmacy and fast food, the government blocked our attempt by one vote.

Australians are entitled to ask: what does this government have to say to people struggling, with wages growth at its lowest level since records were kept? What does it have to say to workers in my electorate who have lost jobs in auto manufacturing and are worrying about what the future holds? What does it have to say to families and pensioners who are being overwhelmed by power prices that are out of control? What does it say to young people being priced out of an education and priced out of buying a home? What does it have to say to Australians who are worried about handing on a lower standard of living to the next generation? With this abysmal record, it’s only natural that the people of Australia are questioning the legitimacy of this government, and we know the High Court will determine the legitimacy of this government. We all question the legitimacy of this government’s austerity program that targets the most vulnerable Australians—with a Centrelink robo-debt program that went after pensioners, students and the disabled—and targets the working class. It’s absolutely obscene. Legitimacy does not come with just one vote; it comes through a vision of fairness.

For working Australians, penalty rates mean the difference between paying the food bill and the electricity bill. How many on the government benches even understand the choices that some Australians have to make when they have to make a decision between buying clothes for their kids or paying the electricity bill? This is about priorities, and the priorities of this government are all wrong. We, Labor, are focused on the people of Australia and our plans for a better future for this nation. A Shorten Labor government will take action on housing affordability and climate change. A Labor government will deliver budget repair that is fair. And the tragedy of all this, with all the questions this week swirling around about the legitimacy of this government, is that the government is so focused on its own drama, its own conspiracy theories and its own incompetence that it has lost sight of the very reason that it is here, and that is to serve the people of Australia.