#5and5 Second week back - Anniversary of the Apology
Yes, there was a lot this week about the crisis in the government between the PM and his Deputy Barnaby Joyce. But that’s not all that happened. Here’s the #5and5:
1. This week marked 10 years since Kevin Rudd delivered The Apology to the First Australians. This wasn’t only being remembered in Parliament. Around the nation people asked each other “Where were you that day?” and remembered a moment which had been delayed too long yet meant so much.
For me, I was a brand new Ag Minister when Kevin’s Office asked me to escort some members of the Stolen Generations to their seats on the floor of the House of Reps. As we walked one man from WA told me “All my life I’ve been treated like I didn’t belong in my own country, and now the Minister is my usher”.
The PM and Bill Shorten both spoke to mark the anniversary with Bill saying
“What I do know, what we know today is that saying sorry was the right thing to do, and it was the least we could do. Ten years after saying sorry, we need to know that we mean it with belated compensation for survivors, with support for the healing of their descendants, with national action to tackle the crisis of Aboriginal kids growing up in out-of-home care. We need to show that we mean it by removing the shadow and anxiety from Aboriginal parents and grandparents now that their kids could still just be taken from them. We need to show it by adopting in our hearts the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We need to show that we mean it by not turning a blind eye to those who criticise the black armband view of history, or the paternalism, or the indifference, or who use words like 'Aboriginal industry'. We need to show it by closing the gap so the next generation of Aboriginal children do not get the deal that their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have had. This is the challenge for the whole parliament. Not just this day, every day of the year.”
2. Bill Shorten announced Labor’s support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart to establish for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders a Voice to Parliament being legislated and for compensation to the Stolen Generations. When Bill asked about both sides of politics working together on the policy to advance the Voice to Parliament Malcolm Turnbull’s reaction was volcanic. He rejected the idea out of hand and started threatening a deeply divisive election campaign. Bill reminded him of John Howard’s refusal to offer an apology all those years ago with this question:
“Yesterday, the Prime Minister told Parliament that the 'Apology to the Stolen Generation will never be forgotten'. Yet John Howard's Government, the Government the Prime Minister was a Member of, spent years opposed to an Apology to the Stolen Generations. Will the Prime Minister avoid the mistakes of the past, proudly stand on the right side of history and reconsider his opposition to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament?"
3. I think it was Mark Twain who said “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. The same applies to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It has been put at risk. This happened when Barnaby Joyce first claimed the extra 450 gigalitres of water didn’t have a “hope in Hades” of being delivered. It then got even worse when allegations of massive water theft became public last year. Labor’s position is different to the Greens who never supported the Plan and tried to prevent it from becoming law back in 2012. But we still voted for the disallowance on Wednesday. The reason for us was simple: we can’t support any amendments to the Plan until a few key issues have been addressed including water theft, the 450 gigalitres, and proper consultation with the Traditional Owners in the Basin. On Wednesday night we came very close to reaching agreement with the Government on these issues but the negotiations still fell short. That’s why we voted to disallow. Negotiations to keep the Plan alive and to restore the system to health continue.
4. While Question Time seems to get most of the attention, the main debate in the Reps most days happens straight after at about 3:15pm and goes for an hour. This week Joel Fitzgibbon led a debate on the Government’s failings in rural and regional Australia, Catherine King took the Government on over health care costing more and becoming less accessible and Julie Collins spoke about the crisis in home care for older Australians.
5. The Government launched the National Childhood Heart Disease Action Plan at Parliament House. At the launch Liberal Minister Steve Ciobo spoke powerfully and emotionally about his son who was born with childhood heart disease. Here’s how AAP reported it: “Roughly eight children each day will be born with congenital heart disorder. Mr Ciobo's now healthy nine-year-old was one of them.” Steve Ciobo said “The only reason why our oldest son is alive today is because of the world-class surgeons, pediatric cardiologists and others that saved his life.”
1. Ten years ago as well as giving the Apology, Kevin announced the Closing the Gap targets. Every year there would be a report to Parliament against consistent targets to track progress on key outcomes like life expectancy and infant mortality. The results 10 years on are not good: Close the gap in life expectancy within a generation – not on track; Halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade - on track; Ninety-five per cent of all Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early childhood education – on track; Close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years - not on track; Halve the gap for Indigenous children in reading, writing and numeracy achievements within a decade – not on track; Halve the gap for Indigenous Australians aged 20-24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates – on track; and Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade – not on track.
2. Would Barnaby Joyce be Acting PM next week or would the PM stop it? All week Mr Turnbull told us he would be Acting PM and then at the start of the final Question Time we were told Barnaby was mysteriously going on leave and Mathias Cormann would be Acting PM. Bill was straight on his feet asking how we could have a Deputy PM who wasn’t allowed to deputise for the PM? It’s a vote of no confidence plain and simple. Barnaby’s comments this morning which have been made while I’m typing this mean the vote of no confidence goes both ways.
3. Some of the most devastating questions asked this week were directed to Barnaby Joyce, and they showed how hopeless he is at doing the job he’s paid to do. Bill, Albo, Amanda Rishworth and Luke Gosling asked him about infrastructure in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory. His responses were inane. Albo then put Barnaby’s responses straight back to him with this question: “My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure. I refer to his answers today in which he has defended Victoria receiving under 10 per cent of federal infrastructure funding by mentioning funds that have been reallocated; argued Inland Rail would benefit Tasmania; defended South Australia receiving two per cent of funds in his portfolio by talking about his colleague's portfolio; and, on the northern roads program being not spent, he referred to the Nullarbor. Isn't the Infrastructure Minister simply not up to the job that he has been appointed to?
4. There aren’t too many lighter moments in a week like this but Richard Marles and Jason Clare made sure there was some reason to smile. On Tuesday former NZ PM and leader of New Zealand’s National Party announced his resignation. Richard couldn’t hide his smile as he asked Malcolm Turnbull: “My question is to the PM. PM, today the Leader of the National Party has resigned. I understand he's a New Zealander named Bill English. Would the PM perhaps for the first time this week like to reflect on the legacy of a former leader of the National Party?”
Not to be outdone Jason Clare made sure Wednesday finished with some wit. There’s a provision in Standing Orders that hardly anyone knows about that allows questions to be asked to backbenchers who Chair committees. Now there’s a Nationals MP who hardly anyone knows about called Ken O’Dowd who started announcing he was making inquiries into the need for a delegation to visit Barnaby Joyce this week to talk about his leadership and suggested he could be the new leader. So Jason took the rule hardly any knew about and asked this question to the MP hardly anyone knew about. And everyone knew the inquiry Jason really meant was about Joyce’s leadership. Everyone knew this wasn’t really about the Committee. “My question is to the Member for Flynn in his capacity as the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth. I note the strong leadership the Member has provided in the Committee's current Inquiry into the Trade System and the Digital Economy. Is the Member able to inform the House of the progress of recent inquiries that he's been leading? Is the Member still accepting submissions from interested parties? When does the Member expect his efforts to reach their conclusion? And when does the Member expect the report to finally be tabled?”. Ken O’Dowd’s eventual answer was sufficiently incoherent that by the end it was quite plausible that he could in fact replace Barnaby Joyce.
5. There’s no doubt Mark Dreyfus’ legal background makes him the sharpest cross-examiner in the Parliament. His questioning of Barnaby Joyce on Thursday hit the mark perfectly. Barnaby had denied he knew about his previous Department paying money to a business owned by the same man who is currently giving Barnaby Joyce a home rent-free. Mark Dreyfus then asked how Barnaby could be unaware given the money was for an event Barnaby attended in front more than 80 witnesses. Barnaby still claimed even though he was there that he didn’t know. And at one level, Barnaby is probably capable of that. This week, Chris Bowen focussed in on the rent-free home, pointing out how the Government’s policy response to housing affordability had gone from get rich parents to get rich mates.
Parliament is off for a week and then back for a week which will include Senate Estimates. And a special welcome to Canberra to our newest Labor Senator Kristina Keneally.
PS song of the week is one that I always think of when I read the Uluru Statement from the Heart: here's Goanna with Solid Rock.