The Senate team led a lot of the news reports this week with some extraordinary work in Senate Estimates. The questioning of the Federal Police, Foreign Affairs, and Finance kept exposing more and more failings by the Government. And each new piece of evidence gathered in the Senate found its way straight to the floor of the House of Reps. Here’s the #5and5:
Responding to the Banking Royal Commission
Big week for education
90 second statements
Cash and Keenan
AG is mistaken
We have a technical problem
1. We’ve been asking for the Parliament to sit for extra days to deal with the recommendations of the banking Royal Commission. The Government claimed it couldn’t get the legislation together in time. So Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and Clare O’Neil went and had some of the legislation drafted for them! This week Labor gave notice in the Parliament of bills to protect people from dodgy car loans, dodgy funeral insurance and dodgy insurance claims handling. We also made a series of other announcements to clean up the banks, including making sure the big banks have Royal Commission implementation plans in place by 1 August and requiring them to submit the plans to the Royal Commission Implementation Taskforce. Cathy O’Toole, Labor’s MP for Herbert, made clear how important the insurance reforms are in the wake of the the Townsville floods. Bill Shorten brought all of it together on Tuesday, asking “My question is to the Prime Minister. Today Labor has three bills ready to implement recommendations of the banking Royal Commission. When will the Prime Minister stop running a part-time Parliament and schedule extra sitting days so Labor's bills can become law before the next election? Why is the Prime Minister putting the banks ahead of the people, just like he did when he voted against the banking Royal Commission 26 times?”
2. It was a big week for education policy with both Tanya Plibersek and Labor’s Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development Amanda Rishworth giving speeches in the Parliament, and Tanya addressing the National Press Club and making a major policy announcement. Many students with a disability are currently missing out on the help they need. That’s why Tanya announced that Labor has committed an extra $300 million to ensure students with a disability get the support they need at school. This will mean individualised learning for students with a disability, with more teachers, teacher aides, teacher training, updated technology, or upgrades to school facilities to improve access.
3. A large number of Labor MPs went on the attack during 90 second statements over Government Members always thinking there’s one rule for them and another for everyone else. While these speeches rarely make the news they happen as all MPs are filing into Question Time and can be really powerful. Anthony Albanese had Government Members squirming with his line “They say, ‘Hello, world.' I say, ‘Hello, conflict of interest'!”
4. When the Government called for a boycott of Aldi and Coles over milk, Joel Fitzgibbon was straight out of the blocks on the attack. First it was revealed that the Ag Minister also owned shares in Woolworths. Secondly, by calling for a boycott of the other two major supermarkets, the Government was effectively calling on consumers to boycott the farmers who supply to them. This makes Australia the only nation in the world where the Government is calling for a boycott of its own farmers.
5. The final speeches of retiring MPs are always pretty special. So I’m putting them in the “best” list, even though the four Labor MPs who are retiring all know that I wanted them to stay. Across the four days we had four final speeches from Wayne Swan, Jenny Macklin, Kate Ellis and Gai Brodtmann. See above for a video of some of the moments from each of the speeches. The candidates replacing all these MPs are fantastic and will make a huge contribution in the years to come. But we are still losing from Parliament some people who have shaped Labor’s agenda and the social reforms of Labor going all the way back to the Keating years. I’ll miss them a lot. Both Kelly O’Dwyer and Julie Bishop also made speeches about leaving. Labor made sure we had a large number of Members present in the Chamber for both of them to show a level of respect and grace that is often lacking in the Parliament. Sadly, and I have to say surprisingly, that courtesy wasn’t returned for the Labor speeches.
1. This week, much of Parliament was dominated by what the media has called “the Helloworld scandal”. This story started with reports about Mathias Cormann. Journalists reported that a Helloworld company has a multimillion contract with the Government. The CEO of Helloworld is Mr Andrew Burnes – who is also the Treasurer of the Liberal Party. When Mathias Cormann organised a personal trip to Singapore he directly called his friend Mr Burnes and asked him to organise the flights for him. Until it was raised by a journalist this week, the flights had not been paid for.
The story then spread to Joe Hockey. He is listed as a million dollar shareholder in Helloworld. Journalists reported that as Australian Ambassador he arranged for Embassy staff to meet with a Helloworld company. Senate Estimates was told Mr Hockey attended the meeting. Estimates was also told that one of the representatives of this Helloworld company asked Mr Burnes how they were able to get a meeting so quickly, and provided evidence to Estimates that the response from Mr Burnes was “Hockey owes me.” Mr Burnes denies this. The Government has said Joe Hockey has always acted appropriately. Our attack on the story was led by Jim Chalmers. He drew attention to Scott Morrison’s earlier claim that he wore a badge to remind people whose side he was on. Jim told the Parliament “Members will remember that, when the member for Cook became the Prime Minister, he said that he wanted all Australians to know whose side he was on. Well, Prime Minister, you have ticked that box this week. Every single Australian knows... just whose side you're on.”
2. The evidence given to Senate Estimates was damning for Michaelia Cash and Michael Keenan. When examining why no charges had been laid over the media being tipped off about a Federal Police raid, Senate Estimates uncovered three key facts: a) there was prima facie evidence a crime had been committed; b) one of the factors that meant the Director of Public Prosecutions couldn’t take it further was because witness statements hadn’t been provided; c) both Michaelia Cash and Michael Keenan had refused to provide formal witness statements or speak to police. So let’s just stop for a second and think about the detail of that. Australian Government Ministers have refused to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police. And Scott Morrison is defending them.
3. The Speaker reported back on the issues I had raised about Tim Wilson treating a parliamentary committee as though it were a Liberal Party branch meeting. While the issues didn’t reach the strict requirements for a referral to the Privileges Committee they did receive a sharp rebuke from the Speaker. The behaviour of Wilson has been typical of the whole Government. They treat taxpayer resources as though they belong to them.
4. It was also a week of Government attacks disappearing in a matter of seconds. Josh Frydenberg devoted an entire answer to a statement from the Queensland Cancer Council. The moment he sat down I asked to table a copy of the document where the Queensland Cancer Council retracted the statement that the Treasurer had just been quoting from. Needless to say they didn’t let me present the document. Even more embarrassing was when the Attorney-General defended the Government on Helloworld by saying on TV in the morning that the company hadn’t won the tender. The official Hansard tells this story better than I can:
Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (14:44): My question is to the Prime Minister. Today the Attorney-General said in relation to the tender of government travel covering the US embassy: 'Well, I understand that they were unsuccessful in that tender.' How can the Attorney-General know this and publicly declare it when the tender has not been completed? Has the government been seeking information on the tender as it progresses instead of keeping it at arm's length?
Mr PORTER (Pearce—Attorney-General) (14:44): It is just an error. I have no knowledge about the contract.
It wasn’t the only thing the Attorney-General had said that day that wasn’t true.
5. On Monday, to avoid being defeated on the floor of the Parliament, Government members started voting for a whole lot of things they didn’t believe in. When I made a speech about it, I also referred to the fact their so-called “big stick” energy policy which they used to tell us was urgent had also disappeared from the list of bills to be debated. At that exact moment, the lights went out! I was suddenly speaking in a particularly dark House of Representatives. But the technical problems turned out to be bipartisan. When Liberal climate sceptic Craig Kelly spoke, the microphone didn’t work. The Speaker responded: “Without being rude, I can always hear the Member for Hughes without a microphone! But for those who can't, we will put it on.”
So thanks to the Government’s fear of the Parliament, we only have three sittings days left between now and August. That’s right, in a period running over five months, Parliament will sit for three days.
PS Song of the week goes to New Zealand R&B artist Ginny Blackmore. You don’t find a more timely chorus than “Hello, hello, hello, world, You're mine and I am yours.” So here’s Hello World by Ginny Blackmore.