Normally I write to you after Parliament has finished for the week. But who knows when this week of Parliament will end. As I write, Government Senators are deliberately slowing the passage of their own legislation in the Senate because the next bill is the one with the huge company tax cuts and they still aren’t sure what to do. So this week will end eventually, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to let you know what’s been happening here.
The Queensland cyclone and floods have rightly dominated everyone’s attention this week. Bill and Malcolm visited Queensland yesterday in a show of bipartisan support for the people who have been affected.
Here’s the #5and5:
1. We’ve been winning the argument but last night we also won the vote in the Senate on whether there should be permission for more racist hate speech in Australia. I’m still astonished that we even had an official Government proposal to weaken our laws protecting people from this form of racism. It’s part of an increasing pattern of the Turnbull Government and One Nation trading preferences and voting together. Here’s which way the parties voted:
Against changing 18C – ALP, Greens political party, Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie
For changing 18C – Government, One Nation, Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm.
While we have won again, this issue won’t go away. It’s still Liberal Party policy. I guess some people are willing to dismiss a hurt if they won’t ever personally have to feel it. How anyone can argue we’d be a better country with more racist hate speech is beyond me.
2. On Wednesday, Bill Shorten asked Malcolm Turnbull if the Government had made a submission calling for a fair and responsible increase to the minimum wage. The next day we found out why the PM wouldn't answer. The submission is an absolute shocker. It gives arguments against providing a fair pay increase for Australia’s lowest paid workers. That’s bad enough. But then consider two of the reasons it offers: one, low paid workers are more likely to be young or women; and two, many low paid workers are living in high income families. Yesterday afternoon, Bill Shorten ridiculed these arguments brilliantly saying:
“What they said was that, actually, people on the minimum wage are all secretly hiding in rich households! They almost implied, somehow, that they are gaming the system—like a nice offshore bank account—and that somehow it is a strategy to be poor, because you are actually secretly rich. Well, that is not the case.”
3. The Government is still negotiating with One Nation and Nick Xenophon over its $50 billion company tax handout. This is absurd. The crossbenchers have made their views on this known for ages but it’s as though it only dawned on the Government at midnight last night what the different views were. So the Government is now scrambling to find out how much of its giveaway to big business it has to give away. The priorities from the Government have been consistent - for the top end of town, it's personal income tax cuts and company tax cuts, for the rest of Australia it’s cuts to Medicare, family payments, pensions, and penalty rates.
4. Tanya Plibersek is often the calmest person in the room. But yesterday she let fly in a passionate defence of penalty rates. Tanya was talking about Margarita who was in the Public Gallery and who had met with Bill, Tanya and many members of Caucus that day. Margarita works as a cleaner and stands to lose $2,000 a year because the Government is still refusing to protect penalty rates. While Tanya was speaking, the Liberal MP for Reid Craig Laundy called out “I used to work Sundays”. For those who don’t know, Craig Laundy’s family business was to own a very large number of hotels, so it’s a fair bet he wasn’t working for the minimum wage. Have a look at Tanya’s response. My words wouldn’t do it justice.
5. Labor’s Tim Hammond from WA previously represented some of the people dying of mesothelioma as a result of James Hardie’s use of asbestos. So his question really got to the heart of what the cuts to take home pay say about Liberal Party values.
“Why is it that under this Prime Minister companies like James Hardie pay no tax, but workers on award wages end up with a pay cut?”
1. Have I ever mentioned before that Scott Morrison gets angry? Well his previous tantrums pale into insignificance when you consider how he exploded when Chris Bowen calmly pointed out how the Treasurer had misrepresented him on radio. I’ll let Chris’ words speak for themselves:
“On 2 March on Macquarie radio, in an interview with Ray Hadley, the Treasurer said of me:
‘Chris Bowen was the Immigration Minister and, remember, he was the bloke who renewed Alex Vella’s visa.’
The House might recall that Mr Vella was associated with the Rebels motorcycle gang so this is a very serious allegation. Accordingly, I subsequently wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in accordance with my rights as a former minister under the Archives Act 1983 and requested to be provided with all documents that were provided to me or my office in relation to Mr Vella during my time as minister. The secretary has today written to me indicating that no such documents exist and no decision-making material was provided to me during my time as minister. Accordingly, the allegation made against me by the Treasurer is false and I invite him not to make it again.”
2. The last couple of weeks have had seen some members of Parliament tell powerful personal stories. The Government’s cuts to welfare went through the House on Wednesday. Labor has fought these welfare cuts to the end - I wrote last week about Katy Gallagher standing up to give her own personal story, as did Jacqui Lambie. And on Wednesday night, Anne Aly told her powerful story of trying to raise her children on just $400 a fortnight. Anne Aly:
"I haven't forgotten what it's like to stand at the shopping centre counter and return half your shopping because you simply can't afford it that week. I haven't forgotten what it's like to delve through my purse and pick up coins just to be able to afford essentials like milk and bread. I will use every last breath that I have ... to remind this government that there are people out there in my electorate and their electorates for whom this is not something they can push into the past - this is part of their everyday reality."
Anne stood up to speak against the extended waiting period for people seeking single-parent payments and the freeze on some payments which will affect hundreds of thousands of Australians on the lowest incomes.
3. As you know, Labor is standing up for workers and their pay and conditions across all sectors. That includes the Australian Federal Police who help keep our community safe. During Question Time, both Bill and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Justice Clare O’Neil asked the Prime Minister about planned pay cuts for AFP officers, including the Prime Minister’s own protection detail, for working late nights and weekends. Clare asked this question of the Prime Minister:
“Is the Prime Minister aware that AFP officers, including his own protection detail, are concerned that they will lose $35,000 every year because of planned cuts to allowances for working late nights and weekends? Why does the Prime Minister want to add police officers to the list of Australians who will have their pay cut at the same time as millionaires will get a tax cut?”
4. You’ll remember in Week Two of the election campaign there were raids on Labor in relation to the National Broadband Network. The raids happened after Labor had exposed the Turnbull Government’s incompetent handling of the NBN. This week the Senate inquiry into these raids and the materials which were seized found it was an “improper interference” with the functions of the Parliament. I’ve asked the Speaker how this will now be handled to prevent these issues coming up again in the future. He’ll be reporting back to the Reps when we return for the Budget.
5. You know from other emails that three issues I’ve been pushing for ages have been the Indigenous Rangers Program, the fight against racist hate speech, and making sure we keep a strong Australian music industry. This week all three causes had events here in Parliament House.
In the Caucus room on Wednesday we met with community leaders to discuss the Government’s plan for changes to 18C, which at the time were still being debated in the Senate. It is awful to hear story after story of the legitimate fear and hurt from people who experience racism first hand.This is what the whole 18C debate is about. It’s not some philosophical discussion about various freedoms. It’s about the real life experience of racism. While the outcome in the Senate last night is a win for respect, it doesn’t mean the fight is over. Here’s one of the photos from that morning tea, where Senator Patrick Dodson spoke so beautifully about mutual respect.
And on Wednesday night there was an event on the roof of Parliament House. Anne Aly was convinced it was a celebration for her 50th birthday, but it was initially planned as a celebration of Australian live music. See the photo of her below, with Senator Sue Lines when Daryl Braithwaite started playing ‘Horses’. The important thing with this event wasn’t that we had a bit over an hour of live music after the House of Reps had finished for the day. The importance of the event is that our music industry is facing new pressures as album sales collapse and we switch to online streaming. At the same time many live music venues are closing. We need to make sure the policy settings are right so we keep telling our Australian stories through Australian music.
And the Indigenous Rangers event took place on Thursday. These rangers have been the most effective conservationists in Australia and need continued support.
#5and5 will be back in May for Budget Week.
P.S. Scott Morrison must be contagious. Malcolm Turnbull was angry, Barnaby Joyce was angry and Scott Morrison was Scott Morrison. Song of The Week is a bit of advice they should take from Oasis. Here's Don’t Look Back in Anger.
P.P.S. This has nothing do with the email, but Ross Wilson from Mondo Rock dropped into the office and it made me really happy. His management is Mark Sydow on the right.