#5and5 Defending seniors
We all arrived back after a weekend where Scott Morrison had denied ever using a phrase which he had used at least seventeen times. So with the words of Murray Watt ringing in our ears that the PM was “the liar from the Shire”, we found ourselves back in Parliament to scrutinise the government without a plan.
Here’s the #5and5:
Film industry visit
Pauline Hanson as deputy chair of an important review
Questions without notice but with rehearsal
Strangest point of order ever from Christian Porter
Scott Morrison never saw Tuesday’s Question Time coming. Question after question went to the impact of the Government’s policies on seniors. Linda Burney, Maria Vamvakinou and Andrew Giles asked about cuts to the pension. Michelle Rowland raised cuts to phone services for people who are deaf. Julie Collins, Anthony Albanese, Richard Marles, Jim Chalmers and Ged Kearney asked about neglect in aged care. Every question pointed to the same problem: a government focussed on privatisation and cuts, even when it hurts some of our most vulnerable Australians.
The Liberal Party do a lot of their fundraising through things called “Associated Entities”. These allow donors to divide their donations across a series of different entities so they can avoid having to disclose the full amount given. Of course they’re supposed to be at arm’s length from an MP’s official duties - because an MP shouldn’t use their office to raise money for their party. So you can see why Labor raised this one in Question Time: one of those entities - the Pinnacle Club - shares the same PO Box and contact details as the office Assistant Minister for Customs Jason Wood. The one place an Associated Entity of the Liberal Party should never be located is in a Minister’s office.
In six years the Government has doubled Australia’s debt and now expects a pat on the back for improved budget figures driven by international factors like the iron ore price - and a $4.6 billion underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. By making sure the program is understaffed they’ve made sure billions of dollars that was meant to help people with disabilities has gone unspent. Bill Shorten raised a series of examples of people unable to get the help they need and Jim Chalmers linked it back to the budget figures on Thursday asking: “Why won't the Treasurer admit that today's budget outcome would not be possible without making Australians with a disability wait for the care that they need and deserve and that they were promised so that he can add $4.6 billion to his budget bottom line?”
There’s legislation before the Parliament at the moment that is part of the government’s agenda to lock in the cuts to the ABC and continue to attack the independence of the ABC. Michelle Rowland gave a great speech at the start of the week that drew all the government attacks on the ABC together, saying: “The Liberal-National government's latest round of ABC funding cuts, totalling $83.7 million over three years, kicked in on 1 July this year. That same month, on 31 July, the government reintroduced this bill to carry on crying its crocodile tears that the ABC isn't doing enough for rural and regional Australia. By cutting ABC funding, this Liberal-National government is taking from all Australians, including rural and regional Australians. All Australians miss out.”
You can read the whole speech here.
Reprsentatives of the Australian film industry came to Canberra this week including Hugo Weaving, Marta Dusseldorp, Leah Vandenberg, Rhys Muldoon, Shane Brennan, and Paul Murphy from the union MEAA. Labor Friends of the Arts organised a meeting in my office where Paul talked about the need for Australian content quotas on broadcast and streaming services, Shane spoke about the need for investment in scripts and local stories, and Leah spoke about children’s content. Anthony Albanese spoke about Labor’s long-standing commitment back to Gough Whitlam for a strong arts sector to tell Australia’s stories. After the meeting Hugo, Leah and I formed a band, took a photo, and then the band broke up. It was good while it lasted.
It’s rare for inquiries to be opposed but this was truly outrageous and we had to vote against it. There have been a series of inquiries into family law - and these issues and circumstances are always difficult and complex. But there is no way an inquiry has a chance of being even-handed when it is co-chaired by Kevin Andrews and Pauline Hanson. Straight away Hanson was out there making comments about how she thinks women make up domestic violence allegations - showing she’s coming to this inquiry with her mind already made up. The Government received a majority in both houses so sadly Pauline Hanson will get the platform she wanted to spout more nonsense.
Last week I wrote to you about the discrepancies between what Gladys Lui said in an interview compared with what she put in a written media release that had been distributed by the Prime Minister’s office. She continued to refuse to address the parliament on the issue. There was a fiery debate in the Senate where Penny Wong confronted the bizarre overreach from the government suggesting that asking questions about Ms Liu somehow reflected on 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage. Penny said: “I’m raising legitimate questions about Australia’s national security and I’m responding to your grubby political tactic of trying to make this about race. It is shameful. And as someone who has experienced racism first hand, I do object, most strenuously.”
Before this Government was elected they won front page headlines with their plan to ”build 100 dams”. Rhetoric like that gets you in trouble if you, well, fail to build even one. With Scott Morrison off to spend time with Donald Trump, question time on Thursday focussed on Michael McCormack. Michael is one of the few long-standing members of the parliament who still wears his green House of Representatives lapel pin so that security know to let him into the building. He is also the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Joel Fitzgibbon asked him to confirm the number of dams this third term government had built was zero. After a fair bit of pressure McCormack confidently declared “we will build a dam”. From 100 to one in three terms.
I’m not sure what is worse from the Government backbench - the members who have under-rehearsed their questions or the ones who have over-rehearsed. Ian Goodenough decided to try to ask his Dorothy Dixer from memory. Which can be very impressive - unless you forget. And if you are going to forget the question half way through asking it, then probably best to not get stuck after the phrase “the Morrison Government’s strong …” followed by a pause while he looked at his noted to try to work out what the next word was meant to be. Turns out it was “discipline”.
Not to be outdone, the new Liberal member for Stirling Vince Connelly decided to not only learn his question by heart but to also have a matching gesture for every phrase. As the question went on his hand gestures became increasingly elaborate until he reached the crescendo when his hands alternated up and down with each syllable of the word “al-ter-na-tive”. The actors who were in Parliament House that very day could all rest easy. Their jobs were safe.
There can be plenty of reasons to raise a point of order. It’s meant to always be backed up by standing orders and most of the time it is. Sometimes it’s just to make a point, like when Albo this week took a point of order on “decency” when Morrison tried to score political points around natural disasters. Years ago when Dutton tried stand-up comedy during question time, Anthony took a point of order on “weirdness”. And I was once thrown out after rising to take a point of order on Barnaby Joyce after I admitted I didn’t really have one, I just thought he should take a breath.
But this week Christian Porter managed to take a point of order that had nothing to do with standing orders, made no point, and made no sense. He objected to one of our questions on the basis that it didn’t include a date. Huh? The Speaker looked back in silence. I didn’t even bother standing to explain why it was so ridiculous - since when did questions have to include a date? Everyone then moved on trying to pretend that Christian Porter’s title isn’t really Leader of the House.
There’s a ball each year in Parliament House to raise money for charity. The speeches used to be sort of “off the record” but can now be found on YouTube. Scott Morrison’s speech was long but most of it was funny until it became a bit weird at the end. Anthony Albanese finished with the elegant riff, “dance like nobody is watching, talk like the intelligence agencies aren’t listening, and donate like Gladys Liu is organising.”
Some MPs were disturbingly keen to change into their dress up clothes even before the House started to adjourn. So have a look at this photo of the Government front bench during a division at 7:15pm and guess which person is in charge of workers’ rights and entitlements.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter gets the dress code wrong – Nine / Alex Ellinghausen
Parliament is back in mid-October and I’ll be in touch then.