The #5and5 - Week Ending 21 August 2015

This was a big week.

There were some light moments, and continued instability from the government but this was a week heavy on detail. Let me have a go at summarising not only the colour and movement of the week, but the detail on jobs, environmental protection, the role of Dyson Heydon in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s royal commission and the labour provisions in the free trade agreement with China.


1. This week the Government desperately tried to talk about their record on jobs and growth (we know this because the their talking points were leaked to the media twice). On Wednesday, Bill gave a great speech pointing out that under Tony Abbott, Australia has the highest unemployment in 20 years, with 800,000 people currently unemployed in Australia, and even John Howard is saying the outlook for growth is sluggish. While this information is not the Best, Bill’s speech holding the Government to account for their two years of chaos and incompetence was the highlight of this week. He summarised it in the first question on Thursday: “If the last two years have been about jobs and growth, why is unemployment up and growth down?

2. Last week I gave a plug for the new book from Clare O’Neil and Tim Watts, Two Futures, which discussed what Australia should look like in 2040. This week, Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, launched his book, The Money Men, which takes a reflective look at Australia’s 12 most notable and interesting Treasurers to understand what lessons can be learned in planning Australia’s future. Alan Kohler called the book “brilliant” and like Two Futures, Chris’ book is available in all good book stores. Free advertisement complete.

3. The government is being dishonest about the contents of the Free Trade Agreement with China. Labor supports free trade agreements but we want them to be a good deal. Tony Abbott has claimed that the agreement still demands jobs have to be advertised in Australia first. This is untrue. Jim Chalmers gave a 90 second speech before Question Time on Thursday showing clause by clause how the agreement fails to guarantee jobs will be advertised in Australia first. 

4. The by-election for the West Australian seat of Canning is four weeks away. The Liberals hold the seat by 11%, so it’s going to be a tough fight to beat Tony Abbott’s pick. This week in Parliament, the Western Australian MPs, Alannah MacTiernan, Gary Gray and Melissa Parke showed how Tony Abbott has abandoned Western Australia, which now has an unemployment rate above the national average and experienced a 0.5% increase in the last month alone. Today, Labor announced our candidate for Canning, Matt Keogh, you can learn more about Matt and how to help him become the next Member for Canning here.

5. This week the Prime Minister’s office brought Joe Hockey out of hiding (Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull are still locked away). Joe decided, rather than talk about policy or stick to the Government’s talking points, he’d attack Labor MP, Jim Chalmers, for having worked as Wayne Swan’s Chief of Staff (I think Joe’s a bit jealous the IMF has never named him the best Finance Minister in the world). Joe bellowed across the chamber that Jim worked for the worst Treasurer in Australia’s history. This was too much for Terri Butler who reminded the Treasurer that, no, Jim Chalmers had never been employed by Joe Hockey. Not as many people get thrown out of Parliament these days but Terri was shown the door immediately. 


1. Last week we learned Union Royal Commissioner, Dyson Hayden, had accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser. The Liberals have tried claiming it wasn’t a fundraiser, despite the invitation reading “all proceeds from this event will be applied to State election campaigning.” On Monday, more documents were released. We learned not only had Dyson Heydon agreed to speak at this event, but he did so while Royal Commissioner and with full knowledge that it was being organised by a branch of the Liberal Party. While I’m typing this, submissions are being made before the Royal Commission asking Dyson Heydon to step aside. 

2. This week the Government launched a bizarre attack on environment groups. It’s another political tactic where the facts don’t add up. The truth is the Adani Coal Mine decision was actually set aside at the request of Environment Minister Greg Hunt! The Government also claims environmental groups are stopping projects, such as the Adani Coal Mine, that create jobs. Let’s check the records. 5,500 applications have received environmental approval under these laws which were introduced under John Howard. Only 0.4% have been taken to court by third party environmental groups, and only 6 of these court cases have been successful. 

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3. What the Government didn’t expect when it launched its fight against environmental groups, was a fight against farmers. But as Joel Fitzgibbon pointed out, under the Government’s proposed changes, farming groups won't have legal standing against big mining companies either. This means if a farmer wants to stand up to a multinational mining company, they have to do it alone, without support from their community or industry groups. 

By not allowing farming groups to have the legal right to challenge projects, it also means farmers would have to put their property on the line to take legal action. It’s also not clear who would have the right to appeal if the environmental site at risk had no immediate neighbours because it was in the ocean.



4. Is it a referendum? Is it a plebiscite? No! It’s… well, who really knows?

On Tuesday an unnamed Government leaker said Tony Abbott told ministers not to “go off script” after Ministers had been arguing through the media “or else!” The unnamed leaker added: “But that’s the hideous problem – what is our position?” Such is the chaos of Tony Abbott’s leadership, he’s telling his cabinet ministers not to go “off script,” without providing a script.


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5. To be fair, that last point isn’t 100% accurate. On Wednesday morning (and then on Thursday and then Friday) a confidential briefing note sent to Tony Abbott’s ministers gave them a script for what to say when asked about cabinet leaks; the briefing note was promptly leaked. It told ministers to say: “our cabinet is functioning exceptionally well.” I think I’ve worked out why Tony Abbott thinks his two years in office have been good - it’s because it says so in the talking points. It also says his government is unified and everybody likes him. By that standard Tony Abbott must consider the cancelling of next week’s cabinet meeting a resounding success for the Government. The best summary of all this was given by Matt Thistlethwaite. He said the Government was as “chaotic as a Tupperware cupboard”. It’s true. They spent the whole week trying to put a lid on the leaks and just like my Tupperware cupboard, no lid seemed to fit.

And a final note of support for the cleaners at Parliament House who are still undergoing action to try to get decent pay for the work they do. They are great people and deserve to be treated better than what is currently occurring. 

That’s it for this sitting fortnight. There’s a fortnight break from Parliament and then we’re back.

This week’s #5and5 song of the week is dedicated to the six months since Tony Abbott promised “good government starts today” - here’s Split Enz with Six Months On A Leaky Boat.

Tony Burke