This week marked the final sitting week for October and what a wild week it was. Manager of opposition business Tony Burke explains what happened.
This was the week the guns for votes scandal broke. Let’s get straight into it. Here’s the #5and5.
I’ll start where the week finished. Bill’s speech on Thursday afternoon was a perfect end to an extraordinary week in Parliament. It was confident, funny and scathing when it needed to be. This was a speech that won’t be forgotten for a very long time.
Julian Hill is the new Victorian Labor MP for Bruce. He stood up in Parliament and told the story of a local resident with a number of severe disabilities and his battle with Centrelink, which never should have been necessary.
On Wednesday, nine Labor MPs before Question Time passionately defended the National Disability Insurance Scheme from Government attacks by Liberal Minister Christian Porter. As part of these attacks, the Minister is trying to get rid of most of the NDIS board, including the Chair Bruce Bonyhady who is recognised as the father of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Brian Mitchell is the new Member for the Tasmanian seat of Lyons. On Monday, Brian went straight to the Prime Minister referring to his statement before the election that no one would pay more to see a doctor because of his six-year Medicare freeze:
“My question is to the Prime Minister. On the day before the election, the Prime Minister gave an absolute guarantee that nobody would pay more to see the doctor because of his six-year Medicare rebate freeze. So why has Brighton Doctors Surgery in my electorate told patients it must increase its fees for seeing a doctor? Given the former Prime Minister had a GP tax, isn’t this just more evidence that the Prime Minister is carrying around the Member for Warringah’s policy baggage?”
Liberal MP Sussan Ley is apparently not the Health Minister. No one realised this until a Government backbencher asked her a question in Question Time and the Minister instantly opened by saying “It is lovely to take a question from my friend the Minister for Health.”
There can be some pretty awful deals in politics but it doesn’t get much worse than trading access to firearms to secure votes in the Senate. When the story broke on Tuesday morning there was a pretty reasonable expectation that Malcolm Turnbull would shut it down straight away and say there would be no such deal. He was interviewed by Fran Kelly on Radio National in the morning and didn’t rule it out. He then held a doorstop and still didn’t rule it out. At midday Bill Shorten was on his feet in Parliament condemning the government for contemplating such a deal and Bill was calling it “guns for votes”. During the debate, Malcolm Turnbull unexpectedly walked in to speak. It is very rare for a Prime Minister to come into the chamber during a debate initiated by an Opposition. I presumed the PM would now rule out that there would be any deal on guns to secure votes in the Senate. The PM stood up, spoke, and still didn’t rule it out.
During the same debate Tony Abbott tweeted his objection to any deal to soften gun regulation. He went further the next night on 7:30 in an interview with Leigh Sales insisting he had never authorised any deal on guns for votes. This issue wasn’t going to go away.
Disturbing to see reports of horse-trading on gun laws. ABCC should be supported on its merits.— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) October 18, 2016
By Question Time on Thursday the House of Reps was like a tinderbox. Senator Leyonhjelm had released an email from Michael Keenan’s office that said Michael Keenan and Peter Dutton had agreed to changes on importation rules for the Adler shotgun and “in return” Senator Leyonhjelm would support them on an immigration vote. This happened when Tony Abbott was PM. Questions started with Tanya Plibersek asking Ministers Dutton and Keenan whether the guns for votes deal was authorised by Tony Abbott’s office. Then Bill Shorten went to the PM.
In that great political analogy that is used from time to time, Malcolm Turnbull threw Tony Abbott under the bus. He backed Dutton and Keenan claiming Abbott knew about the deal and then Abbott stood up at the end to tell the whole Parliament how he had been misrepresented.
There was nothing subtle about it. In the five act Shakespearean tragedy it’s looking like we are well in to Act four.
Why does Labor have a problem with George Brandis? Here’s a quick list of the issues Mark Dreyfus has been pursuing against the man who is meant to be Australia’s Attorney-General: misled the Parliament, undermined the office of Solicitor-General; and appointed 37 people to jobs which pay up to $370,000 when none of these positions were advertised, there was no merit-based selection process and no departmental advice.
Penny Wong was brilliant in Senate Estimates when Brandis went to his default mode of total arrogance. Penny hit straight back: “Would you just like to be pompous for the whole day, or only for this question?”
Remember the election was all meant to be about two Abbott Government Bills that Malcolm Turnbull said were so important we had to have a double dissolution election? Well this week in a bizarre series of procedural motions Christopher Pyne decided they were so important he wouldn’t let Parliament debate them. Not one backbencher on either side of the House of Reps was allowed to speak. And why did they have to terminate debate on these bills plus the backpacker tax bills? What was the urgency? To get the bills across to the Senate. That would be the same Senate that wasn’t sitting because of Estimates and wouldn’t return for three weeks.
In Senate Estimates Kim Carr asked Marise Payne who was the senior minister in the portfolio: herselfor Christopher Pyne? She couldn’t answer. What’s worse, Richard Marles made clear in the House of Representatives on Wednesday the Defence Department website still listed the allocation of responsibility between Ministers in Defence as “To be advised”.
No matter how good a week we had in the House of Representatives, the wealth of material exposed by Labor Senators in Senate Estimates can’t be ignored. From Julie Bishop’s officials being flown to Paris to discuss how to save money, to George Brandis appointing 37 people to jobs worth up to $370,000 a year with no departmental advice, the stories just kept coming. My favourite is still the baggage lift which has been installed in The Lodge. The cartoon which appeared in the Herald Sun was perfect and a bit prophetic given how the Turnbull-Abbott feud unfolded. It showed the baggage the PM was having trouble lifting looked suspiciously like Tony Abbott.
Parliament now has two weeks off and then we’ll be back, when, yes, anything could happen. We’ve only had 15 sitting days since the election and I’ve added at the end of this article the motion I moved yesterday afternoon which is a bit of a reminder of the story so far. Have a read.
Song of the week is in honour of what Malcolm Turnbull has to carry everywhere he goes. Here’s Mary J Blige with Baggage.