#5and5 Longest Question Time, shortest crisis.
It wasn't only the first week back for 2019. It wasn't only the beginning of just 10 sitting days in an eight-month period. This was the week that we had the shortest constitutional crisis in history and the longest Question Time in history. Here’s the 5and5:
Albo in Narnia
Marles catches Pyne
Just say sorry to the victims of the banks
Closing The Gap
Floods and fires
Disability Royal Commission
Wilson, Keenan and Cash
1. Since we finished up last year, everyone knew on our first day back we would be dealing with legislation to make sure people on Nauru and Manus could access the health care they need. Amendments had been agreed between Labor and the crossbench to act on issues that had been raised by security agencies. But the Attorney-General Christian Porter thought he could stop it all with a constitutional crisis. He had sent legal advice to the Speaker but asked the Speaker to keep it secret. Speaker Tony Smith acted impressively and tabled the advice an hour before the debate was due to start. We made two small adjustments to our motions and amendments and the issues raised by Porter were fixed. The Attorney-General Christian Porter is now responsible for the shortest constitutional crisis in history.
But it didn’t stop Christopher Pyne from explaining his outrage in a truly unique Pynean way - apparently there was a relationship between Labor dealing with these issues and the circumstances that led to the English Civil War of the 17th Century. I’m sure Christopher found this case was particularly compelling. At the very least it was hard to look away.
The amended bill passed the House by one vote. That means every local campaign that has ensured a seat was not held by a Lib or a Nat helped make this happen. It also means none of this was possible until Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison deposed Malcolm Turnbull. But most importantly it means sick people will receive the health care they need.
2. On the anniversary of the Apology on Wednesday, Linda Burney’s portrait was unveiled at Parliament. There were some beautiful speeches and tributes to one of the most respected Members of the Parliament. There was even a quick rendition from Jenny Macklin and Ross Turner of the first verse of “Lean on Me.” The lyrics beautifully describe how Linda has always approached the challenges that have confronted her:
“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow.”
3. If you aren’t familiar with the CS Lewis Narnia novels this won’t make a lot of sense. If you are, then this was great fun. In an interview published on Monday, Christopher Pyne made some really good comments about the over the top aggression in politics at the moment. He then lamented losing Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister and described him as his “Aslan”. Albo picked up on the theme and asked this:
ALBANESE: My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that, in a candid interview earlier this week, the Minister for Defence was reported to have said, 'Malcolm is Aslan to me.' Noting that the pathway to Narnia is through the Cabinet, will the Prime Minister finally tell the Australian people, including the Minister for Defence, why his beloved Aslan, Malcolm Turnbull, is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia?
SPEAKER: That question is out of order, and the Member for Grayndler knows it.
4. Not to be outdone, Christopher Pyne then delivered what he thought was a stinging attack on Richard Marles referring to a Defence commitment that had been in Labor’s draft Platform in paragraph 44 and wasn’t in the final paragraph 44. As is often the case with Christopher Pyne it was good humoured with even a passing reference to the TV show they share on Sky News which I am told is broadcast at some time each week. At the end of Question Time Richard Marles got his own back with these words:
MARLES: Mr Speaker, I would like to raise a matter of personal explanation.
SPEAKER: Does the honourable member for Corio claim to have been misrepresented?
MARLES: I do.
SPEAKER: The member for Corio may proceed.
MARLES: During question time the Minister for Defence referred to paragraph 44 of the draft ALP platform, which provided Labor's commitment to a two per cent spend on GDP. He asserted that this being contained in the draft platform indicated that I'd had a win and that the absence of this in the final platform suggested that I'd had a subsequent loss. Whilst it is true that paragraph 44 has been changed in the final platform of the ALP, paragraph 49 of the ALP platform states:
Labor is committed to achieving and maintaining spending on defence at two per cent of GDP.
So I would like to assure you, Mr Speaker, and, through you, the Minister for Defence, that the win was sustained.
Honourable members interjecting—
SPEAKER: Members on both sides! I thank the member for Corio for correcting that. No doubt, he and the Leader of the House can discuss it on Friday.
5. Labor continued to press for extra sitting days to respond to the banking Royal Commission. Chris Bowen asked:
“My question is to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and every Member of his Government voted against a banking Royal Commission 26 times. Having delayed the Royal Commission, the Government should not delay Parliament implementing its recommendations. Given that the Parliament is only scheduled to sit for 10 days in eight months, why won't the Prime Minister schedule extra sittings of the Parliament to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission?”
Tanya Plibersek stood up in Question Time to see if the PM would apologise to the victims of the banks.
“My question is to the Prime Minister. Why won't the Prime Minister say sorry to the victims of the banks for voting 26 times against the banking royal commission?”
The PM refused to answer, instead deferring to the Treasurer, who somehow turned it around and blamed Labor.
You can tell when Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is feeling the pressure because even though he keeps a confident tone, the words turn to gibberish. My favourite from previous Question Times was when he declared “I end where I finish.” This week he came up with a new way of emphatically stating something that sort of didn’t need to be said: “There is only one side of politics on this side of the House”.
1. The Closing the Gap report was released on Thursday. Once again, while progress is being made in some areas, the gap remains unjust and unacceptable. Bill Shorten said “The truth is that, at this 11th Closing the Gap exchange, I'm frustrated. I suspect that many Members of the House feel that frustration too—frustration and disappointment that, after a decade of good intentions and tens of thousands of well-meaning, well-crafted, well-intentioned and heartfelt words from five prime ministers, we assemble here and we see that not enough has changed. Mind you, I was halfway through expressing these views to the colleagues when Senator Pat Dodson cut me off, and he said, 'Comrade, how do you think we feel?' And really that is our task, to put ourselves in the shoes of all the people who are giving everything to this endeavour.”
2. After the summer we’ve just had Townsville’s Cathy O’Toole spoke of the floods and Julie Collins spoke of the Tasmanian bushfires. Click here to watch Cathy’s speech. Click here to watch Julie’s speech.
3. At 12.15pm on Thursday the Senate resolved that there should be a Royal Commission into the violence, abuse and neglect of people with a disability. This has been our policy for some time. It was moved by Senator Jordon Steele-John and co-sponsored by Labor Senator Carol Brown and Senator Stirling Griff. Government Senators voted against it but lost. The message was then going to come to the House of Reps for a vote. We didn't know and had no control over whether that Senate message would arrive on Thursday afternoon or first thing on Monday. So Bill Shorten asked Scott Morrison whether or not they would support the Royal Commission. Scott Morrison claimed that he had not ruled it out even though all his Senators had just voted against it a couple of hours earlier in the Senate. Then as the Government realised that the message may well turn up that afternoon in the House, they started extending Question Time. Under parliamentary rules, if Question time is still going, a message from the Senate isn't allowed to be reported. We then entered the longest Question Time in the history of the Australian Parliament. Last year they shut down Question Time so that they could roll Malcolm Turnbull. This year they had the longest Question Time in history so that they didn't have to vote on whether there should be a Royal Commission into people with a disability suffering violence, abuse or neglect.
4. What Mark Butler describes as the Government’s 11th energy policy was scrapped this week. The ‘big stick’ that became a toothpick was pulped. While the Government claimed it hadn't really gone, it was meant to be debated this week and they made sure it wasn't. With only one week left of Senate sittings before the election that means they have decided they have no intention of making it law. This is another example of where the Government can’t command a majority in either House of the Parliament. It’s chaos in Canberra at the moment. The PM’s only strategy is to shout.
5. A series of Government Members ran into trouble this week. A former Government staffer has now given sworn evidence that Michaelia Cash and Michael Keenan’s Offices were involved in the media tip off that caused the TV cameras to turn up to a Federal Police raid before the police did. It’s increasingly looking like either the sworn evidence is wrong or the Australian Parliament and the Australian people have been misled by the Government. You might have seen a lot of the work that Matt Thistlethwaite has been leading exposing the appalling way Tim Wilson has been politicising a parliamentary inquiry. The accounts of the Liberal Party abusing it for fundraising, of Liberal Party membership forms being handed out and people only being able to register to turn up if they have also signed on to a petition supported by the Liberal Party are all now being considered as to whether or not they will go to the Privileges Committee.
Unless we can get all the crossbench to agree to the extra sitting days, next week will be the second last sitting week between now and August. But here’s a few things we know. The Government can’t avoid voting on the Royal Commission into abuse of Australians with a disability again. Labor will keep pushing for action on the banks. And Scott Morrison will be very, very, very loud.
PS. Song of the week this week is in tribute not only to Linda Burney, but also Jenny and Ross. Here’s “Lean On Me”.