Another sitting week, another week of political excitement!
So Parliament has now sat for 11 days. In the first 7 days, the Government became the first majority Government in over 50 years to lose control of the House of Representatives, the Treasurer submitted legislation containing a $107 million black hole, and the Senate found itself with no legislation to debate. I was concerned on Sunday as I drove to Canberra we might have already peaked and this week might end up seeming a bit dull. Then this week happened.
By Wednesday night I started putting together a #5and10. The Government had a really bad week. But for the sake of consistency, here’s the #5and5.
On the first day of Parliament following the election, Bill Shorten reminded Malcolm Turnbull that 20 years ago John Howard and Kim Beazley had supported a resolution backing multicultural Australia. This week the Parliament did just that thanks to the initiative of Bill in the House of Reps and Penny Wong in the Senate. The speeches were a show of unity across the aisle against racial hatred. My favourite part was when Bill made clear the word “tolerance” doesn’t aim high enough. He said “We tolerate traffic jams, we tolerate flight delays, we tolerate headaches, we tolerate brussel sprouts. We embrace diversity”.
Caucus considered the Government’s proposal for a plebiscite on marriage equality and unanimously voted to oppose it – it’s expensive, it’s divisive and it will inflict harm on families and young people. The debate has only just commenced and many of the speeches are very personal. Linda Burney reflected on the vote for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be included in the census:
“When I was 10 years old this country held a referendum about my rights and the rights of all Aboriginal people to be counted as citizens in our census. We did that because constitutional change requires referenda. This change does not require a referendum. It requires bravery; it requires decency; and it requires honesty from those opposite.”
In the same debate there was a slight diversion when Terri Butler reflected on a comment from Liberal MP Ian Goodenough when he said that marriage is not romantic but an institution to deal with progeny. Terri replied: “If I was to counsel the Member for Moore on his quest for love, maybe don’t roll that one out on the first date.”
Every now and then someone introduces a word into Hansard for the first time. For more than a century the word “octupled” has been waiting for its day in the sun. This week, Tanya Plibersek could wait no longer and drew attention to the fact that for the last financial year, the deficit ended up being eight times larger than when the Government took office in 2013. The Coalition has failed to take responsibility for “blowing out the 2015-2016 deficit by over eight times… You have octupled it.”
On Wednesday afternoon Andrew Leigh achieved what no Opposition member has achieved in the history of our Parliament. He had a “second reading amendment” carried. This takes a bit of explaining.
Second reading amendments are different to when we simply amend legislation. These are highly political amendments where an Opposition puts forward an amendment which doesn’t change what’s in the bill but asks the Parliament to agree with a specific opinion. In this case the opinion was this:
“The House calls on the Government to explain why it has failed to close tax loopholes and increase transparency in Australia”.
The two Ministers who were in the chamber at the time were Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Revenue, and Michael Keenan, Minister for Justice. We gave leave for the bill to still pass because it was a bill we agreed with, but the resolution from Andrew Leigh still stands. This Government is the first in history to be part of a unanimous resolution condemning itself.
Kelly O’Dwyer used to be talked about as a future Liberal Prime Minister. You don’t hear that quite as often these days. While a lot of questions have plenty of political rhetoric attached, the one that caused her the most trouble was when Chris Bowen asked a very straightforward question yesterday about the exact piece of legislation that had caused the blow up on Wednesday afternoon when the Government had voted against itself. The bill dealt with changes for the treatment of some dividends and Chris simply asked how this would work. Minister O’Dwyer had no idea. After the Speaker asked her twice to answer the question she said “I’m happy to conclude”, and sat down. Some Victorian Liberal MPs hoping for a ministerial vacancy were in a very good mood by then.
Michael Keenan was one of the MPs who took an early mark a few weeks ago when we took control of the floor of the House. This week he refused a Freedom of Information request from Mark Dreyfus to provide the diary entry explaining why he had to leave early. After we had given up on getting any answers from Kelly O’Dwyer, I asked him how he could be trusted with his portfolio given “the Minister has acted against the interests of his government by being absent and by being present?” He didn’t give much of an answer but I had to ask.
Barnaby Joyce is the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. I could probably leave it there and it would still qualify in this section. This week he was asked about the lack of women MPs for his party and he responded by pointing out that there were opportunities for women by referring to three people he had previously supported: Scott Buchholz, Danny O’Brien, and Matt Canavan. Maybe we need to explain a little bit more to Barnaby about how the best women MPs are unlikely to be men.
Every day Bill Shorten opened Question Time by exposing the Government’s failings on Medicare. You can forget Malcolm Turnbull’s claims that the Government had learnt a lesson about Medicare. Health Minister Sussan Ley assured everyone the existing policy settings on Medicare were all correct. They’ve learnt nothing and the fight to save Medicare will be a constant right up to the next election.
The Senate had a full attack led by Penny Wong against George Brandis over his conflict with the Solicitor-General every day and Mark Dreyfus matched the strength of the attack in the Reps. By Thursday, Bill asked the PM about his Ministers under pressure and listed them off: Ley, O’Dwyer, Keenan, Brandis and Pyne. Malcolm Turnbull gave an answer where he didn’t defend a single one of them.
Sorry the email is so long, but this week the Government really wrote it for me.
Next week the Reps is sitting and the Senators are there for the Estimates hearings.
So I’ll write again next week.
P.S. Tony Abbott asked his first question since losing the top job. When he stood up Ed Husic interjected: “Like a poltergeist, he’s BAAAAAACK!” So keeping to the theme, song of the week is that 80s classic: “Ghostbusters”.