#5and5 The Final Parliamentary Week
This was a week when the contrast couldn't be greater. Bill Shorten ready to lead, Scott Morrison ready to shout. Tanya Plibersek a formidable presence in the Parliament, Michael McCormack the Deputy Prime Minister most people haven't heard of. Then of course Chris Bowen the Shadow Treasurer who has done the hard policy work up against Josh Frydenberg who plagiarised Peter Costello and went on to quote himself. It’s difficult to imagine a Budget week that could have been more chaotic for the Government. If Budget week was always going to set the tone for the election campaign, then bring it on.
Here’s the #5and5:
Bill’s Budget reply
Penny Wong and Patrick Dodson
Labor’s cancer package
Linda Burney forces Government to extend payments
The four hour Budget
Melissa Price is a Cabinet Minister
Greg Hunt has his Freudian moment
The slowest fast train
Government defeated on the floor again
1.All of Bill Shorten’s Budget replies have been important Labor speeches. But last night’s was on a whole new level. Everything about the speech was built on the discipline, consultation, and values of the last six years. My favourite moment was the way Bill explained the fact the Government has built the projected surplus on the back of underspends on the NDIS. There was no personal attack on the other side. He acknowledged no one was actively seeking to cause harm to people with a disability. And then he went through the litany of policy decisions that have caused the underspend to occur. There was a depth of understanding of this essential Labor project that should give everyone confidence of how a Labor Government would avoid the policy failures that are causing real harm for people with a disability.
There’s a further response to the Budget that Labor puts our every year that doesn’t receive much reporting. Tanya Plibersek and Sharon Claydon launched the Women’s Budget Statement which went through specific areas where the approach of the Liberals and Nationals specifically disadvantages women. You can read it here.
2. On Wednesday in the Senate there was a censure of a Queensland Senator for deeply bigoted and cruel comments following Christchurch. Penny Wong and Patrick Dodson gave two of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard. They spoke of their own experience of racism and gave hope to anyone who feels targeted by the voices of hatred. Importantly they went to the normalising of hate speech as something we all need to fight. Please read or watch these speeches. They’re extraordinary. Click here for Penny’s speech. Click here for Patrick’s speech.
3. Bill’s Budget reply announced a major policy he developed with our Shadow Health Minister Catherine King to extend Medicare and get rid of so many of the out of pocket costs people face when they are fighting cancer. Bill said “Under Labor, if you're battling cancer, you focus on getting well without worrying about going broke. I can promise you that, if you're in the fight of your life, a Labor Government will be alongside you every step of the way.”
4. After spending six years trying to cut the energy supplement – which helps single pensioners with $365 a year and couple pensioners with $550 a year – the Government announced a one-off energy assistance payment of $75 for singles and $125 for couples to be paid in the next few months. The Government was insisting right up until the day of the Budget they wouldn’t extend it to people on Newstart. So Linda wrote an amendment called a “second reading amendment” and started talking to the crossbench about including thousands of Australians who rely on Government payments like Newstart. The amendment looked like it was going to be carried with the support of the crossbench. The Government was desperate to avoid a defeat on the floor in the final week of Parliament and so it caved and extended the payment. As a result of Linda’s work the extra money will be going to people on Newstart Allowance, Double Orphan Pension, ABSTUDY, Widow Allowance, Special Benefit, Austudy, Parenting Payment Partnered, Partner Allowance, Sickness Allowance, Wife Pension, Youth Allowance and Veteran Payment.
5. Some dear friends are not recontesting the election and I wrote previously about the final speeches of Wayne Swan, Jenny Macklin, Kate Ellis and Gai Brodtmann. This week on the Labor side we had valedictories in the House and Senate from Claire Moore, Doug Cameron and Michael Danby.
But I should also mention the final speech from Christopher Pyne. There’s plenty he’s said over the years that I don’t like. But I do like that he’s been willing to offer some of the genuinely funny moments of the Parliament. There’s also a role the Leader of the House plays in making sure a whole lot of national interest work gets done. His speech was self-deprecating, sincere and really funny. My favourite moment was after he acknowledged that while some people had experienced real hardship, he’d had a fortunate life: “Although I did once have to get my own lemon for a gin and tonic!” So as well as the Labor speeches I’ve included a link to Christopher’s valedictory, click the image above to watch his speech.
1. Sometimes a Budget is fought over for years. For the first time ever this Budget didn’t even last a night. Sometime that night after delivering the Budget, Josh Frydenberg met with Mathias Cormann and Scott Morrison* to talk about the support Linda Burney had for her amendment. They decided to change the numbers in the Budget by $80 million. As Chris Bowen asked in Question Time, “Doesn't this prove that, after six years of cuts and chaos under this Liberal Government, the Treasurer's con job has fallen apart before the ink was even dry on the Budget Papers?”. There’s a thing called the Budget lock-up where the journos go into a room to read the Budget Papers before the speech is delivered. For the first time ever, the Budget lock-up lasted longer than the Budget.
2. It’s pretty standard to ask Ministers about measures in the Budget the day after the Budget. It’s hard to think of a day when questions are more predictable. On Wednesday Mark Butler asked Melissa Price why their 10 year “Emissions Reduction Fund” had actually stretched the same amount of money over 15 years to reduce how much was spent each year. She couldn’t answer. I asked her about $25 million of environmental funding that was going to an institute co-founded by fossil fuel giant Chevron. She took the question on notice. The next day following questions from Kristina Keneally in Senate Estimates, it emerged the Lib MP for Dunkley Chris Crewther had announced successful projects for an environment program when applications to the program hadn't opened, guidelines had not been published, and the Environment Department was completely unaware. Melissa Price said the Government had not awarded any funding under the program because the program wasn’t open. So I asked why the Minister had been quoted in the media release and appeared in videos posted online with the announcements by Chris Crewther. Bill Shorten asked Scott Morrison that given Price and Crewther were now saying the opposite to each other, who did the PM believe? Morrison answered “Both”. I give up.
3. The seat of Flinders will be a tight contest this election and no one knows which way it will land. Obviously our candidate Joshua Sinclair will be working flat out and needs all our support. Everyone has words come out the wrong way from time to time. But if Greg Hunt is defeated then his final answer to the Parliament as Health Minister will be to have declared, and yes I’m really quoting “We are Medifrauds”.
4. In an answer about infrastructure, Alan Tudge said “Another part of that plan is our 20-year fast rail plan” and started to talk about the Geelong to Melbourne fast rail project. Albo took a point of order asking the Minister to be relevant to “when this very slow fast rail will actually commence”. Albo added that to provide infrastructure “you have to start digging”. Brendan O’Connor interjected without missing a beat “Oh he’s digging one!”
5. This term began with Malcolm Turnbull and Christopher Pyne declaring they had a working majority. By the third day they were losing votes on the floor. Well the term finished where it began and the final vote was a defeat for the Government. The Senate had supported a resolution calling on the Government to abolish the cap on buyback in the Murray-Darling Basin which had been put in place by Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce. The message arrived in the House of Reps and the Government moved that the House disagree with the Senate’s resolution. We had a debate and the vote was 72 all. At first the Speaker cast his vote with the Government based on precedent. I raised a point of order referring to the precise form of the motion, the precedents and the public comments made by the Speaker on how the casting vote would be used. To his credit he reflected and cast his vote with those voting no.
It’s important to give credit where it’s due. Sometimes Tony Smith has given his casting vote to the Government and sometimes to us, but in every instance he has followed the precedents and been consistent with his public comments. He’s done a lot to bring integrity to the Office.
Any day now the election will be called. I hope this email has helped let you know what’s been happening in Canberra. Only a fraction of it makes it through in the media and this has been a great way to keep in touch.
Special thanks to all of the times people have stopped me in the street, at events, or on the train to talk about the email.
Please do everything you can to help in the campaign. Whether you volunteer or simply make every conversation count, we need your help. This election will change people’s lives. We’re united and ready.
The next #5and5 will be when Parliament returns with newly elected Members of Parliament and hopefully with a Shorten Labor Government.
In anticipation, thanks.
Manager of Opposition Business
PS for the end of the term I want to share as song of the week, the track I’ve been playing at the local #5and5 live gatherings. Whenever I hear the voices of hatred try to divide us I’m taken back to the Crowded House reunion concert in 2016. So here’s Crowded House with “Don’t Dream it’s over” with the simple reference to those who try to build walls between us: “They won’t win”.
*Prime Minister of Australia