#5and5 the new Deputy

One of the longest-serving MPs in the Caucus told me on Wednesday that this is the worst he’s ever seen the Parliament. A building designed for policy debate has become the home of innuendo and smear. That’s why the email is late this week. It’s not an easy one to write. I’ll try to make sure you are given a bit of a window into some of the parts of the week that were largely overlooked in the commentary. In a week that looked so bad if you were in the building, I can only imagine how it looked to the rest of the nation.

Here's the #5and5.


1. Labor’s Senators worked tirelessly and drilled down into the detail of policy after policy. A series of the issues we will now be pursuing nationally is only possible because of the long hours Senators put in when Estimates is on.

2. In the final moments of sitting before the House rose on Thursday a bipartisan committee was established to look at Constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. In supporting the resolution Linda Burney said:  “I welcome this motion. This committee will provide us with an opportunity to come together in a spirit of bipartisanship and with the goodwill to constructively realise the aspirations of First Nations peoples outlined in the Uluru statement.”


3. On Monday, Michael McCormack became Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. On Tuesday Barnaby Joyce refused to rule out a comeback. That’s right. The Nats went back to leadership speculation the day after they had chosen a new Leader. This is something of a record. We tried asking the new Deputy PM how long he would last in the job given Barnaby hadn’t ruled out returning to it but it was ruled out of order. That sort of question has been asked in the past but I guess you don’t normally ask it on day two.


4. There are often events in the evenings in sitting weeks where MPs gather for particular causes. There have been a few lately for different speakers and short films about the threats to our oceans. There was a promotional event for the movie “Blue” which is still screening in different parts of the country and some of the scientists, advocates and divers who star in it were there. Importantly, for the first time in a long time we had a significant number of Liberal MPs attend. This was unexpected and hopefully leads to some internal work within the Government to prevent Josh Frydenberg from undoing the network of marine parks which Labor put in place in 2012 when I was Environment Minister. If Josh Frydenberg goes ahead with the proposal that’s on his desk right now it will be the largest removal of area from conservation ever. No country in the world has ever removed so many hectares from conservation. I’d rather the Government kept the protections right now than have to fight to get them back. Either way, Labor won’t be taking backward steps on protecting the ocean.


5. This will be a surprise. I’m putting Christopher Pyne on the Best list. And it’s not because he had some moment of bipartisan unity. In fact it’s about an answer on Wednesday where he got stuck into us. It was completely partisan. But it wasn’t the angry shouting we so often get. It wasn’t the useless aggression that has come to characterise Question Time lately. It was quite funny. And even though it was at our expense, Labor laughed along. Once Christopher Pyne declared that Richard Marles was someone “who I very much care about” the whole room knew there were some punchlines coming. Parliament isn’t meant to spend the whole day agreeing with itself. This was one of the only moments when the place vaguely recognised how Ministers used to use “Dorothy Dixer” answers in years gone by.


1. Are your devices still buffering because of poor internet? This week Michelle Rowland discovered there is a way of getting a first class connection. All you have to do is be Malcolm Turnbull. Apparently there’s one address in Point Piper where the NBN connection is quite magnificent. When the PM had a go at Labor claiming we were using the “politics of envy”, Bill Shorten hit back with this question: “My question is to the Prime Minister. Senator Fifield has claimed that the Prime Minister's copper NBN is 'the envy of the world'. Given that the Prime Minister is personally responsible for the highest level of internet complaints on record, a $20 billion cost blowout and a copper network that can't deliver the speeds that Australians want or need, isn't it clear that the only thing that the Prime Minister has achieved is to make the internet speeds at Point Piper the envy of the rest of Australia?”

2. One of the strongest outcomes from previous Senate Estimates was when Michaelia Cash denied repeatedly that her Office was the source of leaking to the media that the AFP was about to conduct raids. It resulted in the media and TV cameras turning up before the police did and was clearly designed by the Minister’s Office as a partisan attack on the AWU. This week reports emerged stating that Michael Keenan’s Office had also tipped off the media. Under fierce questioning from Mark Dreyfus and Brendan O’Connor, Keenan said “I’m not going to be cross-examined.” This was an odd argument given Question Time is a bit difficult to conduct if we’re not allowed to cross-examine Ministers. I raised this in a point of order saying “If the Opposition can't ask questions for view of it being cross-examination, should we continue with Question Time ever? Surely that's the point of it.” If the reports turn out to be accurate, Michael Keenan will have misled the Parliament.

3. With Tasmania going to the polls this weekend, there were plenty of speeches pointing out the way the Liberals have let the State down. All our Tasmanian MPs spoke. I could say none of the Tasmanian Liberal MPs spoke but that would be unfair. The Liberals have no Tasmanian MPs in the House. In Question Time Julie Collins asked why the Prime Minister is slugging over 80 per cent of Tasmanian taxpayers with more income tax every year, while giving a $65 billion handout to big business. Justine Keay asked about the biosecurity failures of the Tasmanian and Federal Governments, with fruit fly reaching Tasmania, Tanya Plibersek asked about cuts to Tasmanian public hospitals and Albo asked about the collapse in infrastructure funding for Tasmania.

4. The week began with the awful story where a woman had made a confidential complaint of harassment to the National Party and both the complaint and her name had been leaked to the media. Tanya stood up and put a question to the PM that didn’t refer to the Nats and didn’t try to score any political point. Tanya simply demanded all Members of Parliament should agree that anyone who brings forward a sexual harassment complaint should be afforded confidentiality. It was above politics and it needed to be said.

5. Michaelia Cash. I’ve left this to the end deliberately. Michaelia Cash’s comments using parliamentary privilege to slander women staffers was easily the worst of all things that happened this week. The responses in the committee from Penny Wong, in the House from Tanya and the statement defending staff from Bill could all have topped the Best list. I’ve left this to the end for one simple reason. I knew that once I started typing this part I’d be too angry to do the rest of the email. I’ve seen too many occasions where women staffers become the subject of gossip and innuendo, where their professionalism is undermined by smear, and where they are treated as less than the smart, professional, and dedicated workers they are. I’ve seen women miss out on promotion because of it and I’ve seen women leave altogether. But there are two things I’ve never heard. I’ve never heard a politician, let alone a Cabinet Minister use parliamentary privilege to slander staff the way Michaelia Cash did. And I’ve never heard the same sort of smear and gossip used against a male staffer. All I hope is that women who want to contribute to public life in years to come for whatever political party they believe matches their views, realise it was the people who condemned Michaelia Cash’s comments who represent modern Australia.  Michaelia Cash doesn’t. And to the women who have already made the decision to work tirelessly for a political cause, you deserved so much better than this and we will keep fighting to make it better.

Parliament is off for a few weeks now. So best wishes to Tasmanian Labor this weekend, and to SA the following weekend. And of course at a Federal level we will have a very big focus on helping make sure Ged Kearney becomes the new Member for the seat of Batman.

‘til then


PS If Parliament hadn’t been sitting I would have been at the Enmore on Wednesday night watching the band the “Barking Spiders”. Some of you might also know this band by the second title it often uses “Cold Chisel”. For Senator Cash the line “I don’t need your cryin’ lies, I don’t need stupid alibis” says it all. Here’s “You got nothing I want”.

Tony Burke