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Abbott's mandate

Bill Shorten

Before the last federal election, when he was Opposition Leader, the Prime Minister campaigned on trust, on honesty, on keeping promises. He famously said: “The government has no mandate. There should be no tax collection without an election.” Now we have the pot calling the kettle black. Now he is in government, he believes in taxation without elections.

Five weeks ago, I and Labor challenged the Prime Minister and his merry band of gaffe-sters to go out and listen to the voices of the mighty Australian people. The last five weeks has shown time and time again that there is no mandate for this government’s Budget because it is built upon lies and lies and more lies. This government has the exact opposite of a mandate for its Budget. Its Budget is illegitimate. This is a government trapped in its Budget, and this is a nation’s Budget trapped by this government.

We asked the Leader of the Opposition – the Leader of the Government – and his team to go and talk to families about the $6,000 they are losing. Go and talk to pensioners about the $4,000 they are losing. To talk to the motorists, paying more – even some of those poor motorists. Students and teachers, losing $30 billion. Patients and health care workers, losing over $50 billion from the Budget. We asked them to talk to the GPs collecting the GP tax from aged care and palliative care facilities. We asked them to talk to university students about the doubling and tripling of university fees. Ask veterans, how did they feel about having their pensions cut? We asked, could you find some carers to talk about cutting payments? And what about unemployed people under the age of 30? No income for six months. Indigenous Australians, half a billion dollars from programs.

The Government had five weeks to change their mind, but in the last five weeks, all they have done is change their tactics. They had five weeks to listen to people and dump their dishonest, rotten and unfair Budget. This is an incompetent government led by an incompetent Prime Minister and an incompetent Treasurer. I am sure, in quiet moments of reflection that Government members have, they wonder, ‘surely, is it possible, can we get a new Treasurer?’ Every day, a new disaster for this government, every day.

Let me remind the Australian people about the accomplishments of this government in the last five weeks. We have Mr ‘right to being a bigot’ himself, the Attorney-General. He went out to defend watering down the anti-hate laws less than 24 hours before he dumped it himself. Then he followed up with that interview on metadata – surely one of the most bizarre and awkward pieces of television since the John Hewson cake interview. And of course, Senator Abetz, Leader of the Government in the Senate, did not like the attention his deputy was getting, so he decided, in an act of political bravery, to go onto The Project, a show I am not sure he had ever watched before he went on it, to re-investigate the latest in 1950s medical science. And of course we have the Monday, Wednesday, Friday ‘Budget emergency’, interspersed with the Tuesday and Thursday ‘not such an emergency’.

But there is no doubt the star of this government’s sitcom over the last five weeks is none other than ‘No Average Joe’. He is an albatross around the neck of this government, but the Prime Minister must keep the Treasurer, because it is very careless for our Prime Minister to lose a Treasurer. Because once you lose your Treasurer, you have no one else to blame but yourself. I did certainly enjoy the book reviews. We have a Treasurer, in his famous book, in his must-buy book, according to him, ‘I was a little too soft in my Budget’. What planet does this Treasurer live on? But what I liked, what I really admired, is the marvellous Hamlet-esque, Shakespearean quality of our Treasurer, who says, ‘woe unto me. Why is it that everyone is against me? My backbench, the commentators, the people, Peter Costello.’ What an ungrateful ex-Treasurer he is.

The real problem with this unfair Budget is that this government does not know where it is going or what it is doing. They’ve has relied on lies. It is a bits and pieces Budget, devoid of very much other than a ruthless, right-wing ideology.

Today, just when I thought nothing else could this government do to surprise me, they declared war on the War Memorial. It is the 100th anniversary of the start of World I – do not shake your head over there. It is your problem because he is your Treasurer. What they have done is an utter disgrace. On the anniversary of World War I, they have decided to cut the travelling exhibition because, of course, ‘we will fight to the death for the rolled gold paid parental leave, but I think we need to net $800,000 spent on a travelling program.’ This is a great program, a great program. 3.8 million Aussies have seen this program – I do not mind you muscling up to me, I just wish you would do it in your caucus room. Now what they have done, in galleries in communities all over Australia, in towns some of these city-based Liberal MPs have never heard of, they are going to be disappointed by this heartless decision.

Because what a clever government. Why wouldn’t you take away the story of our soldiers on display in Perth? Why did we never think of that? Why wouldn’t you take away from display in Brisbane and Adelaide the story of the forgotten diggers of World War I? Of course, the brain surgeons writing the script for this sitcom government said to each other, ‘let’s take away the story of the nurses going from Zululand to the modern time.’ Our veterans deserve better than this government. We deserve better than a government that will cut the funding to its own War Memorial. Where this travelling exhibition goes is a map of Australia and you are seeking to erase it. These cuts must be reversed. I call upon those members in the government to find a little bit of spine on this question. We do not mind if you get the credit for this. Reverse this decision.

The real issue, though, in the last five weeks is that the government has had the chance to demonstrate it can be trusted. The truth of the matter is that in the last 105 days, Australia has learned you can’t trust Tony Abbott, you can’t trust Joe Hockey and you can’t trust this government. This is a government who has then said, in what can only be regarded as a feat of some remarkable foolhardiness, has said to people, ‘if you don’t vote for our unfair Budget, we will tax you more, we will cut research more, we will punish you more.’ This is a government who will stoop to pressuring the Australian people, saying that unless the Senate takes on our unfair Budget proposition, then we will go harder and worse.

Let me be clear. This Prime Minister loves to quote to us about mandate – ‘mandate this, mandate that’ – well where was the mandate for this Budget? He made himself very by famous criticising the former government, ‘there was no mandate, there should be no new taxation without an election.’ Well Tony Abbott, what was good for you then is good for you now. I state here clearly and loudly and unequivocally, you have no mandate for your Budget. You have no mandate for your cuts. You have no mandate to punish pensioners. You have no mandate to punish the schools and hospitals. You have no mandate to hurt ordinary Australians. If you really believe in what you say, test it at an election. But in the meantime, do not punish ordinary Australians because you told lies before the last election.


This is the text of Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s ‘matter of public importance’ speech on the budget in the Parliament on 26 August 2014. You can watch the speech here.


Suggested citation

Shorten, Bill, 'Abbott's mandate', Evatt Journal, Vol. 13, No. 6, September 2014.<>


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