#5and5 Cash Out
Sometimes you can pinpoint the precise moment that everything shifts. We had started the week pursuing the Government’s handling of the NBN, but at 2pm on Tuesday Bill Shorten rose to ask the Prime Minister about resources for the Australian Federal Police. From then on the whole week started to spiral out of control for the Government. As always here’s what happened in Parliament this week, here’s the #5and5.
1. You would have heard earlier in the year that Kate Ellis won’t be running again in the seat of Adelaide at the next election. This is a huge loss. Kate has been an outstanding frontbencher for many years and has been a strong advocate for early childhood education. With Kate standing down from the frontbench Bill Shorten announced some changes in portfolios: Tanya Plibersek adds vocational education to her responsibilities, Amanda Rishworth joins the Shadow Cabinet and takes on Early Childhood Education and Development in addition to her existing portfolios, Doug Cameron adds TAFE to his responsibilities to become Shadow Minister for Skills, TAFE and Apprenticeships and Matt Thistlethwaite has the extra job of being Shadow Assistant Minister for an Australian Head of State.
2. This probably wasn’t the birthday present Malcolm Turnbull hoped for this week. Jason Clare rose to wish the PM a happy birthday with a searing criticism of the unwelcome gifts the PM has sent to the Australian people. It was 90 seconds long but for the PM it must have felt like hours.
3. The Government is getting so close to One Nation it may as well be in Coalition with them. Stephen Jones called them out on Monday with this question
“My question is to the Prime Minister. When asked about the decision to contract out the announcement of $15 million of government grants to One Nation, the Prime Minister said: … grants of all kinds are approved in the usual way … Is it also usual for the government grants to be announced by non-government members and senators, in this case with oversized cheques bearing large photos of the heads of One Nation Senators Hanson and Roberts? And if there is now a coalition agreement with One Nation, will the Prime Minister table a copy of that agreement right now?”
4. Last week I let you know how WA Liberal Michael Keenan had made the disgusting claim that there was a party political difference on whether people wanted to lock up paedophiles. This week he continued with the claims in Question Time. I demanded his comments be withdrawn and to the credit of the Speaker he was made to withdraw and then sat down when he tried to keep going. Later in the week, there were some fantastic speeches one after the other explaining why mandatory minimum sentences don’t work - this time on firearms legislation. One after the other Clare O’Neil, Mark Dreyfus, Anthony Albanese, Gai Brodtmann, Ross Hart, Anne Aly, Matt Keogh, Brendan O’Connor, Emma Husar, Andrew Leigh and Terri Butler showed that Labor was not afraid of a debate on mandatory minimum sentences. Then Michael Keenan said Labor was only arguing against mandatory minimums because of “left-wing ideology”. The problem for Keenan was he didn’t realise the next speaker was Bob Katter who also opposes mandatory minimums in firearms legislation. Bob Katter described this Government as having the worst group of Ministers he has seen in his 44 years in Parliament and he said the worst of all of them was Michael Keenan. He later added “If I'm called left wing outside this Chamber, I'll take defamation action I can assure you!” Near the end of the debate, Albo said about Keenan “What we see today is a Minister who, unlike most people in this place—we often get told that we grow older by multiples of the calendar while we're here—gets less mature the longer he is here.”
5. I’ll get to the Michaelia Cash issues shortly but you have to include the whole Labor Senate team in the best list this week for the extraordinary work in Senate Estimates. Chris Ketter uncovered the Government’s so-called crackdown on multinational tax avoidance isn’t much of a crackdown, with the ATO confirming the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law has raised zero revenue. Kimberley Kitching uncovered a copy of the Parliament’s 1,000 page security manual had been lost. Penny Wong had an extraordinary exchange with the Public Service Commissioner after discovering he was spending his time combing Labor transcripts and writing to conservative group the Institute of Public Affairs about what Penny had said. Compare this to what Pauline Hanson did during Senate Estimates to use up time and therefore protect Senator Cash from having to answer more Labor questions. Hanson came in and asked the penetrating question how long Senator Cash had been in Parliament? Really. But my favourite moment was when Sam Dastyari decided to mimic One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts by asking the Bureau of Meteorology these questions on behalf of “the people on the internet”: “How many members of the Illuminati work at the Bureau of Meteorology and what is your relationship with this shadowy organisation? To what extent does George Soros direct your day to day activities, and how often does the Bureau of Meteorology meet with NASA to doctor scientific evidence and when is your next meeting?’ The Bureau told Senator Dastyari he would be happy to take the questions on notice.
1. The Government won’t be pursuing the constitutional reform requested by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives through the Uluru Declaration. Patrick Dodson spoke for Labor saying about the Government's behaviour “It wasn't honourable because they didn't discuss any of this with their own advisory committee. They didn't discuss it with any of the Indigenous leadership. They certainly didn't discuss this with the Opposition [...] So there is nothing honourable about what's happened here. And certainly to then come back and say they made a judgement that a proposition that has been put by the First Nation's people would not pass the referendum test: now who knows that?” It’s still not clear whether the Uluru Declaration's other main proposal for a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling had not been abandoned.
2. Michelle Rowland continued to attack the Prime Minister over his handling of his second-rate copper NBN, pointing out that even the Government’s hand-picked CEO of the NBN has now said about the project that “It's too early to tell whether or not it's a success or a failure.”
3. So now to the issue that derailed the whole week. On Tuesday, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police responded to a question in Senate Estimates from Penny Wong about cuts to the AFP saying they “Mostly apply to our discretionary funding – so that is areas that fund a large portion of our anti-narcotics, our organised crime work, our general operational work, our fraud and anti-corruption...” Bill Shorten raised this with the PM at the start of Question Time on Tuesday and later that same day, Bill returned to the issue in Question Time after a story appeared online revealing a lack of resources had caused the AFP not to investigate the importation of 1.6 tonnes of cocaine. What none of us could have predicted was how the Government would respond to the AFP not having enough resources. What we didn’t know was that straight after Question Time the Government was ringing the media telling them to get TV cameras ready to watch AFP officers at work. And the work the AFP had been orchestrated to do by this Government? The cameras weren’t heading to watch a drug bust - but to a union office to look into a donation to GetUp! 10 years ago.
4. The cameras turned up before the police did. The next morning Albo was on his weekly radio spot with Christopher Pyne and asserted that the media had turned up before the police because they had been tipped off by Michaelia Cash’s office. The allegation was then put to Michaelia Cash and she denied her office had been involved. She was asked repeatedly by Labor Senators. She denied it five times. More would come out later but at this stage we had to deal with Question Time in the Reps. Tanya Plibersek focussed on the Government’s priorities asking the PM “Yesterday it was revealed that the Federal Police did not have the resources to fully investigate a 1.6 tonne cocaine importation. When the Federal Police already don't have enough resources to do the important work they do, why is this born-to-rule Prime Minister diverting the limited resources of the Federal Police so that he can attack his political opponents?” I asked the PM about whether Senator Cash’s office had leaked the raids to the media and all he would say was that Senator Cash hadn’t advised the media - he wouldn’t answer about her office. It was like he knew not to.
5. Labor’s Senate team was relentless. Doug Cameron, Murray Watt, Kimberley Kitching, Deb O’Neill and Don Farrell fired question after question and it was clear Michaelia Cash was wishing she was anywhere but in the same room as Labor’s representatives. Alice Workman from Buzzfeed revealed online that journalists had in fact been tipped off by Senator Cash’s office before the raid and the game was up. Now in the knowledge that the secret was out, Senator Cash finally admitted her office had tipped off the media but also claimed she had only just found out. So here’s what we are meant to believe: a staff member of Michaelia Cash tipped off the media without telling anyone else, he watched her mislead the Parliament five times and still said nothing, he attended a briefing of the Prime Minister about this issue and still said nothing, he watched the Prime Minister be asked about this twice in Question Time and still said nothing and then during the dinner break that evening he then decided to let Senator Cash know what he had done the day before.
What we are meant to believe about Malcolm Turnbull really stretches credibility: the media had reported an allegation that Senator Cash’s office had tipped off the media, Senator Cash told him she hadn’t advised the media, and then the PM, a former barrister who is trained in cross-examination never thought to ask her whether her office had tipped off the media - the only allegation that had been made. Essentially this whole saga can be summed up with Bill’s final question of the week: “Is the reason that the Prime Minister hasn't sacked his Employment Minister that the Prime Minister is in this up to his neck?” The question was ruled out of order.
No matter what the High Court decides later today, this Government is already well and truly in chaos.
All our thoughts and prayers go to Linda Burney who is dealing with the most awful circumstances a parent can face. Linda is deeply respected and much loved across the political divide. This photo, taken while speeches of condolence were being given by the PM and Bill Shorten explains the grief we share better than my words ever could.
Parliament is off for a few weeks, with the Senate returning for a Senate-only sitting week, and then both the House and the Senate back on Monday the 27th of November, for the final sitting fortnight of the year.
PS A lot of people wanted a Johnny Cash song this week so here’s the link to Ring of Fire. But I’m still wanting to remind you that the Gang of Youths new album Go Farther in Lightness is so very good. It’s already one of my favourite albums of all time. Any chance I get I’ll keep telling you about it. While some of the lyrics from “Keep me in the Open” don’t work for Parliament, the opening line “It’s been a hell of a week” is such a perfect match for the PM that I’m including it too.