The 5and5 - Week ending 2 September 2016

This week was the first time parliament has met since the last election and it certainly wasn’t a boring week! Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke explains what happened.

No government has had a worse first week in Parliament. Ever.

No Opposition has had a stronger first week in Parliament. Ever.

So welcome back to the #5and5.

The Best

1. I’ll send you information with highlights of all the first speeches in a few weeks’ time. But this one can’t wait. Very rarely you get a moment in Parliament which you immediately know you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Linda Burney, a proud Wiradjuri woman, is the first female Indigenous member of the House of Reps. She represents one of the most multicultural seats in the nation. And her seat of Barton, is named after the architect of the White Australia policy. Early in her first speech she invited Lynette Riley, sitting in the public gallery, to sing us into the Parliament.

2. Even though Patrick Dodson was sworn in as a Senator months ago, the early election meant he hadn’t given his first speech. So on Thursday afternoon the Father of Reconciliation rose to address the Senate for the first time and to explain the need for constitutional recognition.  He told of his time in Katherine hiding in the long grass as a child while he watched his mates being taken away from their families by authorities.

3. The first major debate came on Wednesday when Bill Shorten led the charge on the failure of leadership of a PM who’s constantly caving in to pressure from the extremists in his party. Example after example followed in speeches from Tanya Plibersek, Chris Bowen, and Catherine King.

4. The main focus of the week for Bill was on the need for a Royal Commission into the Banks and Financial Services. He asked questions, moved motions, and importantly met with victims who’ve had their lives turned upside down by some awful practices.

5. Tuesday was largely ceremonial with the address of the Governor General and the swearing in of new members. MPs come up to the table in groups of the same party. I love this photo. It captures a group of Labor MPs which was a pretty special mix of the diversity of Labor’s caucus. In this group you had people who took the affirmation and among those who chose to take an oath, there are copies of the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran.


The Worst

1. The Government is in chaos. For all the claims that they had a working majority it only took three days for them to become the first majority government in 50 years to lose control of the floor of the House of Representatives. There’s a bit of detail on this one. But I’d like to explain how it happened. And the story began in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Penny Wong and the Senate team started the process of gathering a majority in the Senate to demand a Royal Commission. By Thursday a majority had been formed and the Government realised it couldn’t stop the vote from winning. The Government members were so worried about their own people crossing the floor to vote with Labor they decided to not even call a division and the motion was carried on the voices. This happened at around 12:30pm on Thursday. From that moment we were waiting in the House of Representatives for the message to be formally reported so we could act and demand the House agree with the Senate’s motion.

It took until 4:15pm for the message to be reported to the House of Reps. At that moment the government moved the message be deferred and I moved an amendment to deal with the issue immediately. We lost that vote and it looked to most like it was all over. The last chance we had was to stop Parliament finishing at 5pm. That way we could try a different amendment. So at 5pm when the Speaker put the vote that we adjourn Labor voted “No” and we won. The faces on the Government benches were priceless as they realised they had lost control of the floor of the Parliament. We decided on one objective. We wouldn’t waste time with other resolutions or any other issue. Our sole focus was to push for a Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services.

Albo moved a new amendment to bring the debate on at 5:20pm or the first chance after that. We then won the next two votes. The fourth vote was a tie so we went into full debate. Bill declared to the Parliament: “We will never, never, never give up seeking justice for the victims of banks and financial services. We will never, never, never give up seeking a banking royal commission.”

The debate kept going while the Government was trying to get its MPs back to Canberra. Eventually they managed to get the house to adjourn by one vote. It’s a pretty amazing combination for a government to manage to reach the heights of arrogance and incompetence simultaneously.

By the way, this is a quote from Christopher Pyne which I reckon he now wishes he’d never said: “If the Government cannot control the Parliament, it cannot run the country.”

2. You might remember a few weeks ago Scott Morrison got all angry (not new) started shouting (not new) and demanded Labor support an Omnibus Bill containing 21 measures, but he wouldn’t show us the Bill (he’s done this before too). Well, this week it turned out Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen were absolutely right to insist on seeing the legislation first because it turned out there were additional measures in it that Morrison had kept secret when he first demanded we declare our support.

But it gets worse. Jim Chalmers then went through the tables in the documents that were tabled in the parliament and worked out the numbers simply didn’t add up. When Chris Bowen demanded the Treasurer explain the $107 million black hole Morrison refused to admit he’d made a mess of it during question time and then snuck back into Parliament later in the day with new documents to correct the record. Arrogant plus incompetent. It’s becoming a theme.

3. The Senate team has been putting Nigel Scullion under huge pressure. He’s the one who claimed the information he’d previously received about Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory didn’t pique his interest. There’s plenty more to come on this issue.

4. A cabinet leak revealed that the PM and Treasurer were rolled on reforms to negative gearing by ministers loyal to Tony Abbott. I don’t usually quote Tony Abbott but did have a point saying this a Government that is in office but not in power.

5. The right wing radicals running the Liberal party are pushing to remove protections against hate speech (s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act) and they seem to be winning the internal fight. All but one of Malcolm Turnbull’s backbenchers in the Senate has now signed on to weakening the protections against hate speech.

Prime Minister Turnbull was given repeated opportunities to rule out weakening protections against race hate speech. He refused every time.

So, all of that happened in just two and a half days of parliament sitting. But the most telling feature of the week was how miserable the Government members looked from the moment they arrived. I had the chance to point this out to them on the Tuesday afternoon but as the week went on they just became gloomier.

We are away for a week and the #5and5 will be back the week after that. Who knows, the Government members may even turn up.

Chat then,
Tony Burke

P.S. Song of the week is dedicated to what Malcolm Turnbull must have been silently singing to those MPs who left parliament early on Thursday. Here’s Mental as Anything with If you leave me, can I come too?

Tony Burke