#5and5 Whose Side Are You On?
It was meant to be their three-week victory lap. But by the end of week three plenty of Government members were desperate for Parliament to just stop. Here’s my take on the five best and worst moments in Parliament this week.
Taylor v the Butlers
Labor backbenchers call out racism
Mark Dreyfus calls for a National Integrity Commission
Government members share a platform with extremists
False claims called out
Industrial Relations bills
1. The best moment this week came right at the end. For ages now the Prime Minister has been chanting an absurd refrain directed at Labor: “Whose side are they on?” After Question Time finished on Thursday, Anthony Albanese stood up and took the question head on. He explained the PM’s question was all about pitting Australians against each other, and that’s not who were are. He said:
We're on the side of unity, not division. We're on the side of equality, not inequality. We're on the side of political conviction, not political expediency. We understand that we need to promote what we are for, not just what we are against, unlike those opposite. We understand that we want an economy that works for people, not people who work for the economy. We understand aspiration, but we understand that that's not just about individuals. That is about the better life that working Australians want for their family, neighbours, community and country. We support those who are struggling and who need a helping hand.
2. There’s something quite poetic about seeing one of the most born-to-rule members of the Government being brought to heel by two Butlers. Angus Taylor had another horror week and was peppered with questions from Mark Butler and Terri Butler. Christian Porter took endless points of order trying to prevent Angus Taylor from answering the questions. One of my favourite moments was when Porter didn’t object to a question and you could see Angus Taylor looking at him, pleading for an excuse not to stand up. It’s all about a meeting organised help with Josh Frydenberg’s old department about a critically endangered species which was listed under environment law. Subsequent to the meeting Frydenberg’s office sought advice about whether they could change a listing against scientific advice and keep the reasons secret.
To avoid the conclusion that Taylor sought the meeting because it would advantage his own interests he put forward three reasons for requesting the meeting:
a. Someone wrote a letter to someone else six months after the meeting
b. Someone wrote a letter to someone else three years before the meeting
c. He had a conversation with a bloke in Yass.
I’ll leave it to you to determine whether those reasons stack up.
3. The new members of the Labor Caucus continued to deliver some extraordinary, passionate and funny first speeches. Links below. Read them. You’ll learn a lot about some individuals who will be making a significant mark in the Parliament.
4. There is a global rise in far-right extremism and it is not simply lone wolves. There is an organised movement and Tim Watts delivered a brief but powerful speech about the dangers. Josh Burns went on the next day to talk about Raheem Kassam being welcomed to Australia by Government members. Mike Freelander gave one of the final speeches of the week to talk about the rise of white nationalism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Click on the links to read them in full.
5. As soon as the bells had finished ringing on Thursday morning to start Parliament for the day, Mark Dreyfus was on his feet calling for debate to be suspended so we could push the Government to establish a National Integrity Commission. Even though the Government promised before the election to establish one, they voted against Mark’s motion.
1. It was a big week for Chris Bowen, delivering the MPI speech on Wednesday and firing a series of questions at Greg Hunt over an MRI licence that was provided to a private company in Adelaide. The Minister claimed the process had been independent but under questioning admitted the decision had in fact been made in his own office. And guess who ran the company that received the licence? The Vice President of the South Australian Branch of the Liberal Party.
2. On Monday night the ABC ran a major report about people receiving automatically-generated debt notices from Services Australia that were wrong. Bill Shorten and Linda Burney fired questions at Stuart Robert, who is presiding over a system which even he admitted was sending out debt notices where – when challenged – resulted in no debt actually being owed 20 per cent of the time. Stuart Robert also claimed on the program the department only went back seven years. But Bill Shorten presented a letter demanding payment for an alleged debt from 21 years ago.
3. Compare the strong speeches against racism I mentioned earlier with how the PM responded to questions from Anthony Albanese about Government members sharing a platform with extremists at the upcoming far right Conservative Political Action Conference. Extremist speakers are being granted visas by the Government to come here and spread hate. Government members are sharing the platform at the same conference. Albo gave the PM two chances to stand up and reject these extreme views. The first time the PM simply stayed in his seat and had Immigration Minister David Coleman answer the question for him. The second time the PM stood up and tabled a letter from Mathias Cormann. He didn’t have the courage to offer a single word of his own.
4. We tried something different in Question Time on Wednesday. Every question reminded a Minister of a statement that had been made and asked them why they had said it given it wasn’t true. It wasn’t hard to fill a question time with enough examples. We covered everything from the economy and robodebt, to endangered species and health care. My favourite response came from Guardian journalist Katharine Murphy who tweeted: “Strangely audacious this QT strategy requiring politicians to account for previous statements. Invites imagining a world where actions have consequences, and where statements are either right, or wrong.”
5. I’ve left this to the end because I’m the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and it seemed a bit much to push my own area to the top of the list. But be in no doubt, the IR bills the Government introduced this week are extreme and dangerous. The so-called “Ensuring Integrity Bill” is all about preventing union members from being in control of who they elect and what decisions they vote for within their own union. It has outrageous rules for the deregistration of unions. For example if a group of nurses took unprotected industrial action to argue for better nurse ratios to improve patient care, the entire Nurses Federation could be hauled into court for deregistration. It also weaponises the law so any employer can threaten to have individual union officials disqualified during negotiations.
And the so-called “Workers Benefits Bill” tries to create a new two-tiered system where if workers’ future leave entitlements are managed in a fund that is co-sponsored by the union and the employer to provide extra benefits like funeral cover then a new regulatory regime comes in. But if the leave entitlements are managed in a fund where all the earnings go straight to the employer for profit then that’s fine.
Before I sign off, a few words about the most important person in the House of Representatives. Nothing happens in the house without the Clerk. The position is one of the most important in the whole public service. Every law, every procedure, and the election of every Speaker only happens because the Clerk is in the room. David Elder has been Clerk for five years. He has worked for the Parliament for nearly 40 years. Thursday was his final sitting day before he retires. He has never sought publicity or praise. Nevertheless, anyone who cares about our democracy owes him a lot of gratitude. He’s retiring not far from the building so he’ll still be able to see the House but hopefully, for his sake, he won’t have to hear us. Everyone wishes him well.
Parliament doesn’t sit for the next five weeks. I guess no one is happier about that than Angus Taylor.