#5and5 Worst. Dixer. Ever.
This was our first full week of Parliament since the election. The Government was briefing journalists in the lead up to Monday about how dominant they would be in the Parliament. Well… that’s not quite how it turned out for them. Here’s what I count as the five best and five worst moments for the week.
Anthony Albanese’s speech on Monday night
Labor’s defence of superannuation
Medevac repeal bill passes the House of Reps
Debating legislation before it has even been read
Worst. Dixer. Ever.
I’m starting to miss Christopher Pyne
During debate on drought funding this week Anthony Albanese gave a great speech calling out the Government over its shameless wedge politics. That’s all the Government did this week - try and wedge Labor. On drought funding, on foreign fighters, on unions. As Albo said:
What has he said this debate is about? Has he said it's about the need of the rural communities? Has he said it's about farmers? No. He has said it's about Labor. That is what he has said and what he has said about every bill he's introducing and debating before the parliament this week—that it is about Labor. Well, I've got news for the Prime Minister. He won the election. He should start acting like the government, instead of like an opposition in exile, scared of governing.
2. There’s no doubt the Government is now in the early stages of a major attack on retirement incomes. Our new Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, was straight on the attack with questions and a motion in the House condemning the government for the attempts of some Government members to:
· Make superannuation payments optional rather than universal
· Freeze superannuation at 9.5% rather than going up to the legislated rate of 12%
· Include the family home in the pensioner assets test.
Jim managed to get Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to rule out the changes but the Government is still doing a review. That could bring all these attacks on retirement incomes back to the centre of political debate next year.
Labor MP Peta Murphy gives her first speech in Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Nine
3. There were some extraordinary first speeches from new Labor MPs and Senators this week. Rather than comment on each one my suggestion is simple: read them all. I’ve put the links at the bottom of the email. Even some of the Liberal Ministers have been privately acknowledging the talent of the new members of Labor’s caucus.
4. Every single Labor question on Wednesday came from the backbench. (Well it was meant to be every single question. There ended up being one from me as a follow up to Angus Taylor but more about that later.) The questions from backbenchers went to the government’s attacks on superannuation, its failure to act on wage theft and its never-never infrastructure promises. The answers to the infrastructure questions were extraordinary. They campaigned only a few months ago that if the Liberals and Nationals were elected a series of infrastructure projects would happen. Now the minister responsible, Michael McCormack - who you may not have heard of but is currently Deputy Prime Minister of Australia - couldn’t say when any of them would start. For most of the projects nothing will happen until well after the next election. Great work from Susan Templeman, Peter Khalil, Matt Thistlethwaite, Mike Kelly, Sharon Claydon, Brian Mitchell, Libby Coker, Meryl Swanson, Fiona Phillips and Graham Perrett for raising these issues.
5. The interjections that come during speeches are rarely picked up by the microphones and almost never make the Hansard but I had some favourites this week. Nationals MP Mark Coulton is widely liked around the building - but, well, he’s not the most lively debater. He answered his first question as a Minister on Thursday - which caused some bewilderment because many of us didn’t actually realise he was in fact now a Minister. Chris Bowen broke the silence by calling to the Government backbench: “This is now the bar to make the frontbench. Morrison has decided you are all worse than this!” At another point in the week Peter Dutton gave one of his over-rehearsed performances to attack Anthony Albanese. It was meant to be menacing and make Anthony feel uncomfortable. Instead, just as Dutton was reaching his crescendo of anger, Albo interjected: “Come on. Fire up. Go hard son. You can do better than this.”
1. It’s hard to believe we are even having this debate. You’ll remember last year, Labor joined with the crossbench to pass legislation in both houses to make sure that people on Manus and Nauru would be able to receive proper medical care if they were sick. The Government is now trying to repeal that legislation. We are really having a debate in the parliament of Australia over whether sick people should receive medical care. The bill passed the House of Reps and will go to the Senate next week. But before it passed the Reps Anthony came in and delivered a calm and powerful speech about the hypocrisy of the government.
2. Monday was everything the Parliament should not be. The Government introduced legislation which it claimed was to help farmers currently affected by drought. But here’s what it also did: it removed funding from the Building Australia Fund and was designed in a way that any benefit to communities affected by the current drought was more than a year into the future. On balance it was better for the legislation to pass than fail so we supported it, but we opposed the process every step of the way.
The process just couldn’t have been worse. The government said the legislation was urgent. It wasn’t, because it would have no impact for more than a year. The government introduced the legislation and expected everyone to start debating it immediately. That means we were expected to debate legislation which had just been introduced. Worse than that, they didn’t even bring enough copies of the legislation into the chamber so that members could read it. So after introduction the Parliament stopped and we waited around doing nothing as more copies were brought in. To get the crossbench to support them at a critical stage of debate a Government minister told them the Parliament would stop at 7.30pm and debate would continue the following day to give everyone a chance to read the bill. But then when it got to 7.30pm the government broke that agreement and Parliament kept going. In short they lied to the crossbench, abused the Parliament and pushed through legislation that no one had been given time to properly consider simply because they thought it was a tactic to put pressure on Labor. It’s no way to govern and you can guarantee it will catch up with them.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor came under our Question Time attack this week. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Nine
3. The man who famously sent himself the congratulatory message on social media - “Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus” – was under pressure all week. Mark Butler repeatedly asked the Minister for Emissions Reduction whether emissions we’re going up or down and he refused to say. Albo took a point of order trying to be helpful - “It was a very specific question. It goes to annual carbon emissions. Are they higher—that's up—or lower—that's down—under your Government?” - but Angus still struggled to work out the difference. Then Terri Butler kicked off a line of forensic questioning about a meeting Angus Taylor had with Environment Department officials. The government tried to avoid a Senate inquiry by claiming Angus Taylor was responding to a letter he had received when he sought the meeting. The problem for the Government was we later learned the letter was dated more than six months after the meeting occurred. This issue has a long way to go.
4. At the exact time Labor has been making sure our questions are short and sharp - leaving Ministers no room to move - the Government has been going in the opposite direction. It reached peak farce at 3pm on Thursday when Dave Sharma, the new Member for Wentworth, asked this: “Will the Prime Minister update the House on further action the government has taken this week to deliver on its priorities?” Imagine. You’ve had a successful career as a diplomat. Finally won a seat once held by a former Prime Minister and the first question you ask in the Parliament of Australia is this? You’d have to wonder why Dave Sharma stood up at all.
New Leader of House Christian Porter struggled this week. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Nine
5. I’m starting to miss Christopher Pyne. There you go, I said it. If anyone thought the Government’s management of the Parliament hit rock bottom last year, the new Leader of the House, Christian Porter, is determined to dig deeper. There’s plenty of examples but the most absurd was when the Speaker named Labor’s Nick Champion. Christian Porter stood up to move the motion that must at that point be moved by the Leader of the House but he got the words completely wrong. Albo and I called out the correct wording. He tried again – and got it wrong again. The Clerk then stood up, trying to hand him a piece of paper which he still muddled before eventually getting the procedural language right. The Speaker put the motion to the vote and the bells started ringing, at which point Anthony Albanese stood up to raise a significant problem; the motion we were voting on used the name of Nick Champion’s old seat which had now been renamed, which meant we were about to kick out a member of Parliament who didn’t exist. So Porter tried again and for what felt like the 27th time lucky, the Government expelled Nick from the House for 24 hours.
There’s one other issue that I didn’t put on the list but I really want you to know about. It happened quietly with a series of speakers but no disagreement. For a long time Labor has been campaigning for a fairer deal for Timor Leste over resources in the Timor Sea. The legislation that passed the House of Representatives just before we finished on Thursday finally resolves that. In their speeches, our MPs named a long list of Labor figures who advocated over the years for this to be fixed: Tom Uren, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Janelle Saffin and Laurie Brereton.
Parliament’s back on Monday and I’ll be back in touch next week.