#5and5 Week ending 2 June 2017
It was tax, health and education this week. Well all that, plus infrastructure, climate, One Nation and finally a strange tale involving a giraffe. Let me have a go at explaining the five best and worst things of this week in Parliament.
1. There were countless references to the Government’s tax changes favouring the top end of town, but I think this question from Bill Shorten probably summed it up best:
“My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that under his Government real wages for high-paid executives are growing, but they get a tax cut, and that real wages for people on modest incomes are going backwards, but they get a tax increase? Does the Prime Minister have any idea what is going on in the real world?”
2. How many people on $60,000 will it take to fund the tax cut the Government is giving to someone on a million dollars? Chris Bowen asked the question but the PM stayed as far away as he could from answering. The answer is 55. That’s right, it will take the tax increase of 55 people on $60,000 a year to pay for the tax cut Malcolm Turnbull is giving to each person on a million dollars.
The impact of the Government’s tax changes on those on modest incomes was brought home when Jenny Macklin asked this:
"My question is to the Prime Minister: The National Foundation for Australian Women has warned some women will be hit by an effective marginal tax rate of 100% because of this Government's tax increases, cuts to family payments and increases to university fees. Why is the Prime Minister shouting about millionaires paying a top marginal tax rate of 49.5% but saying nothing about the women who will pay an effective marginal tax rate of 100%?”
Malcolm Turnbull went on to say a large number of words, none of which answered the question. Eventually Sharon Bird stood up saying there was only a minute left and the Prime Minister had not yet addressed the impact on women. At this moment we discovered the Prime Minister, who hadn’t given an answer, had also concluded his answer. Sometimes saying nothing, says it all.
3. The week started with a focus on health. Catherine King went on the attack after it was revealed that a secret Medicare taskforce had been tasked with plans to massively cut funding to public hospitals. The Government started to fend off the claims with Health Minister Greg Hunt claiming the policy had been rejected and it all predated him. Labor Senator Murray Watt then uncovered in Senate Estimates that not only had the taskforce continued meeting and discussing the secret plans while Greg Hunt was Health Minister, the Government would continue to engage with the taskforce. Catherine King blew Greg Hunt’s claims apart when she asked “So if the taskforce has been stopped, how come it is still going?”
4. I’m not sure what’s going on with the choice of words from Liberal Ministers. Last week Scott Morrison offered to “eddikate” us all. This week Greg Hunt announced “Well let me stand up for the reputation of the ALP.” He then corrected himself and said, “the AMA”. And then a minute later he was back standing up for the ALP. Labor MP Mike Freelander made clear the AMA didn’t represent all doctors when he rose on a point of order saying ”The AMA does not speak for all doctors. I am a 40-year member of the AMA…”
5. The week finished with Bill referring to the elephant in the room. Although, curiously, the elephant was a giraffe - Healthy Harold, the face of the Life Education program. Here’s how his speech started:
“This week we have actually seen the 'tale of two puppets'. I do not mean Punch and Judy and I do not mean Bert and Ernie. I mean the Member for Wentworth and Harold the giraffe! They are both noble, stately, proud creatures. They are both exotic. They enjoy a water view. They are at home with the safari set. They are both famous for looking down on everyone, and in some parts of the world both are endangered species!"
Now, we are hearing some familiar rumblings from the Liberal backbenchers. They have started to wonder if anyone is listening to the Prime Minister. They are questioning, with that head-slapping Conservative attitude, 'Is our message getting through?' And yet the first puppet to get it in the neck was not the Member for Wentworth; it was our friend, poor old Harold the giraffe. At least he sticks his neck out for something! This is what Life Education has said:
“The recent news that our 2017/18 Budget Submission was unsuccessful now finds Life Education defunded by the Australian Government for the first time in ‘literally decades’.”
Sometimes it is the little things that speak volumes about the Government.
In a Budget which contained $65 billion given away to large companies, banks and multinationals; in a Budget which has $37 billion protected for property investors; and in a Budget with $19 billion for tax cuts for the top two per cent, This mean-spirited government couldn't find $500,000 for a program that last year reached nearly 750,000 children, talking about a healthy lifestyle, about the dangers of drugs.”
1. Tanya Plibersek continued to rail against the Government’s $22 billion cut to schools. In case you were wondering how the Government can keep claiming it is increasing funding while almost everyone is saying their funding is being cut, here’s what’s going on. The Government isn’t comparing its policy to Labor. It’s comparing its policy to Tony Abbott’s cuts. These cuts were never legislated and never part of the signed agreements, they simply appeared in the 2014 Budget. So when the Government claims schools will get more money, it simply means ‘More than Abbott’, or more accurately ‘Still a huge cut but a bit less than the Abbott cut’. All week Labor MPs exposed the examples of needy local schools receiving less money while some of the most privileged schools in the country are getting an increase.
2. Even though the Abbott cuts were never legislated, the Turnbull cuts are making their way to the Senate right now. This week they went through the House of Reps. Labor fought the cuts at every turn and forced every procedural point. Eventually, all the Liberal and National MPs voted six times to endorse the $22 billion cut. The next battleground on school funding will be on the floor of the Senate.
3. On Budget night you could have been forgiven for thinking the Budget had been good for the nation’s infrastructure. But the Government hasn’t been pushing this line quite as hard since then. And there’s a reason. Anthony Albanese has exposed how this was the worst Budget for infrastructure for years. On Tuesday Albo tore apart the Government’s claims on funding for roads and rail. “Two years ago they created the NAIF. Zero dollars has gone out of the NAIF. It has just paid for the members of the board to float around and have meetings. In this Budget they created another NAIF—the No Actual Infrastructure Fund. That is what they created in this Budget, because there is only one new project in this entire Budget over the Forward Estimates: the Far North Collector Road near Nowra—$13.8 million. The local paper, the South Coast Register, said in their editorial that they had not even heard of this road.”
4. Every day there were new revelations in the media about the One Nation circus. Almost every day Labor Senator Murray Watt pursued One Nation and followed up with the relevant agencies in Senate Estimates. Yet Malcolm Turnbull remains desperate to not offend Pauline Hanson so he can organise a preference deal with her at the next election. I asked the first question on Tuesday about why when there have previously been legal questions surrounding the actions of senators or former ministers, the Prime Minister has referred the matters to the appropriate legal or administrative authority but in this case, the Government has done nothing: “Why has the Government taken no such action in response to serious allegations involving Senator Pauline Hanson, including allegations about inflating invoices, conspiring to conceal the donation of an aircraft and breaching electoral laws?“ It won’t surprise you that after hearing this question Malcolm Turnbull was still refusing to do anything.
5. By now you will have heard the news that America is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. As rumours started that the announcement was coming, the Chair of the Coalition’s Environment and Energy Committee, Craig Kelly, decided to post on Facebook. And yes this was one of those middle of the night posts: "It's not confirmed yet, but have the champagne on ice." Mark Butler decided to ask the last question of the week to Malcolm Turnbull to lock the Government into the Paris agreement. Let’s never forget the Howard Government refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol when George W Bush refused to act. The Liberal backbench won’t give up on this, and we’ve come to learn what that means.
Senate Estimates wrapped up last night so when Parliament returns on Monday week, both houses will be sitting again.
PS Song of the week was really hard. I searched for one that used a giraffe in its film clip but that took me straight to Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams. I used a Taylor Swift song a while ago and I think it should be kept for special and rare occasions. So I switched to a circus theme, avoided the Britney song and landed with Eric Clapton’s Circus. Some of the lyrics are perfect to describe the sad circus of One Nation. But I’m going to cheat this week and offer a second song. Many of us have been back listening to a fair bit of Soundgarden following the death of Chris Cornell. And given Trump’s decision on the Paris agreement here’s a second song for the week: Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun