There’s nothing that could have happened in the Parliament to turn this week into a good week. The same shockwaves that reverberated around the world were felt here at Parliament. No matter what the future holds we need to ensure that the values we hold for Australia remain firm.
Let me start where the week ended. On Thursday after Question Time, Bill Shorten stood up and told the story of the different paths Australia and the United States have taken when it comes to equality and division over the last few decades. It didn’t get much publicity but it is a really important speech. He contrasted what has followed since Bob Hawke and Paul Keating delivered the social wage and negotiated the accord with the union movement, to what followed when the United States pursued trickle down economics with Ronald Reagan. Just consider these stats: in the last 30 years our minimum wage has risen by 11.2% in real terms, in the USA it has fallen by 21%. In the last 20 years the proportion of the population aged 25 to 34 with a tertiary education grew by almost 90 per cent in Australia – but it increased by just 30 per cent in the USA.
The weekly “own goal” from the government has been coming earlier each week. When they went home early and we took control of the floor of Parliament it was a Thursday. Kelly O’Dwyer and Michael Keenan voted to condemn their own Government on a Wednesday. Trading guns for votes was exposed on a Tuesday, so this week we all wondered what might happen on Monday. They didn’t disappoint. Right at the start of the day Emma Husar, Labor MP for Lindsay moved a motion getting stuck into the government for “short-changing Australian pensioners”. Scott Buchholz a Queensland LNP member jumped to his feet to speak. He hadn’t been listening to the motion and when asked if he seconded the motion he happily agreed.
It’s not often that I praise members of the Liberal Party in the 5and5. Late on Monday night Russell Broadbent, a Victorian Liberal MP rose to his feet to respond to an awful speech which had been given when Parliament last met by George Christensen. I particularly loved this line:
“The politics of fear and division have never created one job. Never come up with one invention. Never started a new business. And never given a child a new start in life, or lifted the spirits of a nation.”
The Senate voted down the plebiscite bill at the start of the week. The next step needs to be for Parliament to do it’s job and have a vote on a bill to deal with marriage equality.
Same-sex marriage plebiscite voted down, the Greens embrace and Senator Penny Wong high-fives Senator Murray Watt pic.twitter.com/59vJKAcy7Z— ellinghausen (@ellinghausen) November 7, 2016
I don’t often think about Peter Dutton. But when I do, the words “stand-up comic” are not front of mind. At the start of the week Peter Dutton decided to show the other side of Peter Dutton by not being angry while answering a question. That of itself was unusual. Anger is what he does.
Instead he decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy with a long fictitious anecdote which he had clearly decided was very funny when he had practiced for hours in the mirror. It left everyone in the chamber a bit bewildered. Albo raised a point of order under the rule against ‘weirdness’.
We actually managed to get some answers in Question Time. And the news for the Government wasn’t good. As you’ve seen in the media, former Senator Bob Day may have been ineligible to sit in the Senate. It’s a complicated and serious constitutional issue which will now go to the High Court to be resolved. But what was clear this week was that the Prime Minister was aware before the 45th Parliament even sat for the first time that the composition of the Senate was potentially illegitimate. That means Malcolm Turnbull has known for every single day of this Parliament that there was a cloud hanging over the Senate and he chose to keep this secret from the Australian people until just last week. Breathtaking.
You may have never heard of Craig Kelly. Most people haven’t. But he chairs the Coalition’s Committee on the Environment and Energy and he had two extraordinary interventions on climate change policy. Just after Trump had won in the US, he posted “Paris is cactus” on social media. One small problem, his post was just before the Australian Government announced it had ratified the Paris Agreement. But earlier in the week it was even stranger. On Monday he blamed action on climate change for children drowning. Here’s his logic: acting on climate change affects electricity prices, swimming pools use electricity, swimming pools will increase the cost of swimming lessons, fewer children will learn to swim, and therefore: more children will drown. Remember, the Government has a majority of one and he’s one of them.
The chaos around the backpacker tax got worse. Last time we were in Canberra they gagged debate in the Reps and forced an immediate vote to get the legislation across to the Senate. This week they didn’t want to debate it in the Senate. In fact they twice voted in the Senate against their own legislation being debated. It’s not often you see a Government desperate to prevent its own legislation from being debated. But this Government is, well – special.
Things go from bad to worse for Attorney-General George Brandis. On Tuesday, a Senate inquiry delivered a report into the conflict between the Attorney-General and the former Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson. Here’s some of what the report had to say, “The lack of respect that the Attorney-General has displayed towards the Solicitor-General, and the state of their relationship prior to the Solicitor-General’s resignation […] demonstrates his lack of competence to hold the office of Attorney-General.” Scathing. But it doesn’t end there. Just before Question Time on Thursday, the Attorney-General withdrew the Legal Services Direction which started it all. I’m going to try soon to deliver you a list of the worst that doesn’t include George Brandis. He makes it difficult though.
Attorney-General Senator George Brandis during question time pic.twitter.com/gs99kyKOv7— andrew meares (@mearesy) November 10, 2016
Julie Bishop decided to try her hand at being a head kicker in the Parliament on Thursday by going through the different examples of Labor MPs who had been critical of Donald Trump. It was an absurd attack. Labor makes absolutely no apology for opposing comments which boast of demeaning women, ridicule people with disabilities or discriminate against people based on the colour of their skin or their faith. But despite this, Julie Bishop somehow decided this was an attack on Labor.
I went back to her in the next question asking why she hadn’t referred to her own Coalition colleagues describing Donald Trump and his campaign as: “cruel and nasty”, “terrifying”, “too unstable to hold that high office” and as “a drop kick.”
Suddenly I was on the receiving end of the famous Julie Bishop Death Stare.
So we are now back in our electorates for a week and then we return to Canberra for the final two weeks of parliamentary sittings.
P.S. As I wrote this 5and5, the news came through that Leonard Cohen had died aged 82. So #5and5 Song of the week is: First We Take Manhattan