#5and5 week ending 1 June 2018
The Reps only sat for three days this week and Senate Estimates went for four. Here’s my summary of the best and worst of the week in Parliament.
1. This week is Reconciliation Week. It marks the anniversary of both the 1967 Referendum and the 1992 Mabo decision. Before the first question was asked on Tuesday, Bill Shorten stood to acknowledge the week and commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart:
“It has now been a year since the gathering at Uluru and the presentation to the nation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the call for an Indigenous voice in the Constitution and a genuine empowered say in the decisions which govern their lives. It may not have been the outcome many of us expected, but neither was the verdict in Mabo. It is not for us to sit here and say that change is too hard for the Parliament to enact or for the people of Australia to support. It is not for us to mischaracterise the voice and call it a third chamber of Parliament; instead, it is our job to work with First Australians and all Australians to close the gap in housing, health, jobs, justice and education, and to enshrine their voice on our nation's birth certificate. That's what this week and every week should be about.”
2. There wasn’t an answer, but the question already said it all. This question from Tanya Plibersek opened Question Time on Thursday:
“My question is to the Prime Minister. Last night in the Parliament, the Member for Fadden said the Government should make it cheaper to rent $100 million superyachts by cutting the GST. Is the reason the Prime Minister has refused to support Labor's policy to axe the GST on tampons that he, just like the Member for Fadden, would prefer to abolish the GST on superyachts? Is this Prime Minister and this Government so out of touch that they consider tampons a luxury and superyachts a necessity?”
3. You might remember that when Sussan Ley introduced her Private Members’ Bill on live sheep exports she wouldn’t commit to voting for procedural motions to bring it on. Well on Wednesday night Joel Fitzgibbon told the House he had found a way of bringing it on for debate without any procedural motions at all. There was already a Bill before the Parliament that dealt with live export penalties and Joel announced he’d be moving the whole of Sussan Ley’s Private Members’ Bill as an amendment. The Government had already given notice that we were going to spend Thursday debating live exports. First thing Thursday Christopher Pyne stood up and moved that we not deal with the Government’s Bill at all. So the Government at the moment is doing nothing about the live sheep trade at all. The legislation they said was important has been shelved to avoid a situation where their own Members might cross the floor and make a responsible decision about the live sheep trade.
4. I try to make sure this email brings you in touch with moments in Canberra that would never make it onto the news. Last week both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten delivered tributes to Sir John Carrick. He was a former Senator and a deeply significant figure in the Liberal Party and the speeches were generous and heartfelt. This week in the Federation Chamber (that’s the second chamber for the House of Reps which rarely makes it onto the TV) Anthony Albanese gave a very personal speech about his friendship with Sir John Carrick. Albo knew him through Tom Uren who with Lieutenant Carrick had been sent to Changi. Often I try to share a quote with you but it’s too hard to pull out a single quote. You can find the speech here.
5. I know many of the people who read the #5and5 are working flat out to help our by-election candidates. Every day we devoted some of our questions to the by-election campaigns. Bill directly challenged the PM first to support Labor’s commitments to TazReach health services so that sick Tasmanians in the north-west and the west coast can get the specialist care they require, in their communities, instead of being forced to travel to the mainland. He then challenged the PM to support Labor's commitment to invest $10 million to establish a chemotherapy treatment service at Caboolture Hospital, meaning cancer patients in Longman won't have to travel long distances to get the care that they need. You guessed it. Each time the PM’s response was something resembling nothing.
1. So last week we were told that One Nation wouldn’t support the $80 billion big business tax cuts. This week one of the One Nation Senators committed that he would vote for them. The truth is, since they came back to the Parliament, One Nation has been behaving like the Liberal Party and increasingly, the Liberal Party is behaving like One Nation. They vote together 90 percent of the time. Oh, and on tax cuts, my favourite interjection of the week was when Scott Morrison was answering a question and Tanya Plibersek interjected. Often you have to be very loud to be heard but Tanya picked a rare moment when the Treasurer paused and asked “Why are you so angry?”
2. The Government is giving an amnesty to employers who have stolen superannuation money from their employees. It’s extraordinary. Bill opened Question Time on Tuesday asking the PM why businesses who have broken the law for as long as 25 years should now be forgiven and rewarded with a tax deduction. In his answer, Malcolm Turnbull either had no idea or was too ashamed to be upfront about it. Chris Bowen was up next with this: “My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his own Government's legislation currently before the Parliament. Is the Prime Minister even aware that it is now Government policy to reward dodgy businesses who have robbed workers by failing to pay their superannuation for more than 25 years—by not only waiving all penalties for the businesses but also giving them a tax deduction.” Deliberately failing to pay someone what they’re owed is theft. Forgiving them, and then rewarding them with a tax deduction beggars belief. In a rare moment of self-awareness, the PM let these words escape his lips on Thursday: “They can accuse me of being a friend of big business for as much as they like. No, they can. But you know something, I’ve never sold out the people I represent.” I guess that’s why there’s an amnesty for businesses that steal. He’s representing them with passion.
3. Michaelia Cash. Oh dear. Where to begin… So the Federal Court issued a subpoena for Michaelia Cash to appear before it. The Minister will be fighting the subpoena which I guess is no surprise. It would mean giving evidence under oath. She didn’t turn up to Senate Estimates which made us wonder if she was claiming to be sick. Then it turned out she was in the building and held a media conference. It didn’t matter what she was asked, whether it was about the leak of an AFP raid, or the subpoena issued against her the answer was always the same: Bill Shorten. After asking the Prime Minister repeatedly why he had a Minister who was incapable of doing her job the PM refused to defend Senator Cash and decided to throw mud around instead. When her junior Minister stood up to answer a dixer late in Question Time Chris Bowen interjected: “He’ll be a Cabinet Minister by the end of the day”. Well, the next day Michaelia Cash did turn up for work at Senate Estimates but decided to not answer anything. Every question was being taken on notice. It became so ridiculous that Labor’s Murray Watt decided to test what it would take to get an answer. He asked what time it was. He asked what day of the week it was. But Michaelia Cash wasn’t giving anything away so she wouldn’t answer those questions either.
4. The Prime Minister was doing everything he could to avoid providing answers about Greg Hunt. Tanya asked: “I refer to reports the Health Minister unleashed a torrent of expletives and physically intimidated a 71-year-old grandmother. Why did the Prime Minister and his Office ignore this behaviour for over six months, given the high standards expected of Ministers under his Ministerial Standards? Is the PM so arrogant and so out of touch that he chose to ignore this shocking behaviour until it was raised by the media?” Then Catherine King asked “Is the Prime Minister or his Office aware of any other incidents or complaints involving the Health Minister's language or behaviour towards stakeholders, public servants or staff?” Twice the PM refused to answer whether or not the reports that had surfaced on Thursday were an isolated example or whether it was more of a pattern. Eventually in the final question for the week Catherine asked Greg Hunt the question which the PM was refusing to answer. Turns out there is at least one other example involving a former senior public servant. And what’s more Greg Hunt let it be known that Malcolm Turnbull knew about it even though he’d been asked twice a few minutes earlier and refused to answer.
5. So the last two emails I mentioned we were trying to find out the cost break down of each stage of the Government’s income tax changes and that Scott Morrison has refused to answer. In Senate Estimates Jenny McAllister uncovered that the public service has done the calculation. The answer is known but they’ve decided to not tell us.
There’s someone who I rarely mention in the email. He’s rarely the best. He’s rarely the worst. In fact when Paul Fletcher stands up in Parliament the usual mood in the place is - well - nothing. You know how the dementors in Harry Potter suck the soul from anyone they encounter and you are left with an empty shell? Well what the dementors can only do to one person at a time, Paul Fletcher can do to an entire parliamentary chamber. Each time he is asked a dixer from the Government you can hear a chorus of Labor MPs pleading with the Prime Minister, “No don’t do this to us all. You can shut down Question Time early, we won’t complain. It hurts us as much as it hurts you” And I’m not sure how the Reps Clerks manage to do this but his three-minute time limit always feels like an hour. Warren Truss used to possess the same skill.
Parliament is off for the next fortnight and then we are back for the final two weeks before the winter break.
PS. One theme, two songs. In 1982 there was a comedy album by the HeeBeeGeeBees. As you’d expect the main song was a parody of the Bee Gees which included the immortal lyric “Meaningless songs in very high voices”. In honour of Paul Fletcher here’s another track from the same album which was performed on Countdown that year: Status Quid “Boring Song”.
And for those who view the 1980s as something that occurred a generation before they were born, here’s Billie Eilish with “Bored”