Federation Chamber 31/03/2022
Mr KHALIL (Wills) (11:12): I’m standing here on probably the last sitting day before the election and I can’t help but reflect on the past three years in this place. It is the job of governments to tend the metaphorical campfire, so to speak, to keep the population safe and prosperous—a secure base camp, as it were. Well, I can probably say that the fire has gone out. Instead, we are standing here in the ashes and the embers of the 46th Parliament.
It has been a disturbing and a worrying time for most Australians and most people around the world, but it has also been a historic time. I can probably say that there will be no Australian above school age who will forget these past couple of years. Of course, in times of great disturbance, of national trauma, aren’t these the times when governments make names for themselves—the Churchill wartime government, the Curtin Labor government during the war as well, Lincoln holding a nation together during the Civil War, Mandela assuming the presidency and maintaining a peaceful transition in the post-apartheid era?
It’s when things are breaking or broken that we most need good government, good leaders and good policies. The Hawke-Keating Labor government was an example of that. In the eighties it saw an economic system that was broken and unsustainable and that would have eventually dragged Australia to its knees, and it acted. Governments become famous because of their decisions and because their use of power shapes the nation, sometimes for generations. They leave a legacy. But what we have seen in the past three years is a lack of substance and ambition on a breathtaking scale.
What is this government even about? I’m not one to say I actually miss Tony Abbott and his divisive, populist three-word slogans, but at least he had three-word slogans. What does this government have, Deputy Speaker Georganas? What does it actually believe in? Can you or any of us here say one single thing that this government has done that they believe in, apart from putting out fires? And I’m not talking here about actual fires—remember, the Prime Minister doesn’t hold a hose—I’m talking about the spot fires of the day-to-day bungling and the media cycle.
The Prime Minister’s sole focus is dousing the spot fires from his last mistake and winning the political day. His focus is not on the economy, not on the pandemic, not on global security, not on the crisis of climate change, not on housing affordability—not on any of these things. His sole focus has been himself, his inner circle and his desire for re-election. Faced with extraordinary times, what did we need? We needed a vaccine rollout on time, we needed protection of aged care, we needed RATs and we needed a Prime Minister that didn’t abrogate his responsibility to everyone but himself. Because of our geographic isolation and because of our state leaders stepping up and identifying the scale of the threat, we weren’t ravaged in the early, unvaccinated days of the pandemic. Remember the first wave that killed millions worldwide? ‘I’ll be going to the footy’—that’s what the PM said. Not only do we have a government that didn’t make a name for itself, that failed on vaccines, aged care and RATs and that was cavalier with people’s lives; we have a government that is proud that it didn’t make a name for itself.
The Prime Minister was interviewed recently and asked what his legacy will be. Naturally, when you haven’t done anything it becomes a very tough question. His reply was ‘I don’t believe in legacies’. When I was a kid growing up, I saw what governments could do. They could house a new family like mine. They could provide public housing for a new migrant family like mine. They could provide universal health care. They could provide a HECS repayment system that allowed me to go through arts-law at university. They were governments that did things to make Australia better, to leave a legacy. As Prime Minister Keating said, when you change the government, you change the country. To me, it is actually despairing to hear the Prime Minister say that he doesn’t even have a legacy. Well, what are we here to do if it’s not to leave a legacy? This is a place of power—not power for its own sake or just to retain it but power to make a difference, to use that power.
I believe in a legacy and I believe in what is coming. I hope that, with the election that is coming, the Australian people will see that we believe in a legacy—that we will leave a legacy of a better life for them. Whether it is on climate change and renewable energy, whether it is on manufacturing in Australia, whether it is on affordable child care, whether it is on education or the management of the economy or housing affordability or our foreign affairs and our place in the world, Labor has always sought to leave a legacy when in government. That’s what we’ll do if we win the next election.