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Malcolm Turnbull's year of failing badly

By Lisa Singh - posted Tuesday, 19 December 2017


The scenes in parliament last week will go down in history.

Joining the rest of the modern world, at long last, LGBTIQ Australians will be equal under the law.

Parliamentarians showed that when we want to, we have the capacity to put aside normal party politics for real reform. Together we listened to the Australian people and legislated for marriage equality. It was gratifying to see that my colleagues in the Senate and later the House of Representatives understood Liberal Senator Dean Smith's message that this was about removing discrimination against LGBTIQ people, not finding insidious new ways to legislate for discrimination.

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For so many this feeling of jubilation was well-deserved. It was a great moment for those who worked tirelessly to bring about this change, not just during the postal survey, but for decades.

But, for Malcolm Turnbull …instead of accomplishment he must have felt relief and embarrassment. While passing marriage equality was an achievement for parliament, it wasn't an achievement for the Turnbull government. It delayed and obfuscated the whole process. Marriage equality became a reality despite the Turnbull government, not because of it.

And this underwhelming realisation caps off a year of failed, bad ideas for Malcolm Turnbull. And that's indeed worth a reflection.

His government started 2017 with the catastrophic Centrelink Robodebt debacle – relentless and often mistaken harrying of struggling Australians on social security.

Then Turnbull followed through with his plan to drug test welfare recipients before they could receive their welfare payments.

Yet the government admitted it had no evidence at all to support how the drug testing policy would work, nor did it reveal the cost of it.

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All the experts – doctors, health professionals, addiction medicine specialists, community organisations and a former Australian Federal Police Commissioner – said it wouldn't work. A Senate Inquiry earlier this year heard overwhelming evidence from specialists and community organisations against the proposed plan.

In fact they felt so strongly about how wrong this policy was for those with drug addiction that they wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to drop it.

Still the government pressed on, brimful with distrust and disdain for those battling to get their lives back together, ignoring examples from other countries where drug testing of income support recipients had been tried but found ineffective.

Last month the Turnbull government finally admitted it was wrong, took another failure, backed down and shelved its flawed plan.

Not content with failing to make lives more difficult for struggling Australians, the Turnbull government also used 2017 to attack new Australians, and people who wanted to be new Australians, with its surprise announcement of crude and heavy-handed changes to citizenship rules – especially the much harder English-language test.

I believe diversity of heritage is one of Australia's greatest strengths. Multiculturalism empowers ethnic communities to live out and share their own cultural diversity. It makes our communities stronger.

It seems the Turnbull government disagrees. Their idea – it is probably Peter Dutton's – is that if you don't speak perfect English you're not fit to be an Australian citizen. Their idea does not represent the Australia we are today.

The government's proposed changes would have made it more difficult for people with a genuine commitment to Australian society and Australian values to obtain citizenship. Their changes would not have made Australia safer, instead they would have damaged the values of friendship, inclusion and a fair-go-for-all which make our nation great.

While they floated the change to citizenship, they started making the lives of real people – our neighbours – worse; undermining family stability and the security of where they lived, as well as fuelling stigmatisation. It was a clear enabler of intolerance within our society. It was a disgrace.

I was inundated by constituents concerned about their future in Australia. I am grateful that communities campaigned against these draconian proposals and that my colleagues in the Senate rejected them, handing Malcolm Turnbull another abject failure to add to his litany.

But even this wasn't his worst of 2017.

The Turnbull government's most galling failure this year was its rejection of the Uluru Statement and its complete betrayal of Indigenous Australians.

For 66 years the Australian Constitution actively discriminated against Indigenous Australians. For the last 50 years it has ignored them.

So when the Turnbull government joined with Labor to set up the Referendum Council it was a rare and welcome example of bipartisanship. An example that should have lead the way to action. Both parties agreed it was time to consider how the Australian Constitution could be amended to include Indigenous Australians.

But Turnbull rejected the idea of a constitutional Aboriginal voice to Parliament – one with no legislative power but as an avenue for Indigenous opinion on certain laws. Why ask for input from Indigenous peoples if you're not prepared to listen to them?

Because you're the Turnbull government, that's why.

As the Turnbull government has demonstrated over and again, they're not interested in listening. They only dropped the scheme to drug test welfare recipients because it wouldn't pass the Senate, not because all the leading experts across Australia said it would be counterproductive. And the Senate roadblock was what stopped them bringing in the draconian citizenship laws, not the voices of the people.

Australians deserve a government that will listen to the people and legislate for the people. We might have ended the year on a great historic high, but for the Turnbull government it has been a year of abject policy failure. What hope does 2018 hold?

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About the Author

Senator Lisa Singh is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water and prior to this was Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General. She was also a Minister in the Tasmanian Labor Government.

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