• Hannah Phillips

The Week in Parliament


The crossbenchers, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and Adam Bandt are happy to

leave My Joyce’s future to the High Court.


Labor started the week promising that it would challenge the legitimacy of Barnaby Joyce’s remaining on the

front bench. The argument became a trifle confused when they also challenged the legitimacy of the Coalition to form government because of the doubts over the Deputy Prime Minister’s eligibility to sit in Parliament.

The matter was put to the test on Monday when the Leader of Opposition Business in the House, Tony Burke, moved for a suspension of standing orders so that Barnaby Joyce’s right to be a minister could be debated.

The motion lost by one vote, presumably Mr Joyce’s, because the crossbenchers voted for the motion. The crossbenchers’ position was that he should stand down.

However the crossbenchers’ patience wore thin later in the week and by Wednesday they were voting against Tony Burke’s third motion to suspend standing orders. They were clearly concerned that the Parliament should get back to its core business and were happy to leave Mr Joyce’s future to the High Court.

Anthony Albanese developed a new approach for Labor on Wednesday when he asked a number of questions of Infrastructure Minister, Darren Chester, about projects that had recently been started in Mr Joyce’s electorate of New England.

He asked whether the Deputy Prime Minister had already started campaigning for the inevitable by-election that would follow an adverse High Court decision. Mr Chester unashamedly delivered a campaign speech for his National Party leader.

A Senate committee released a Labor majority report that recommended an import ban on flammable building materials. Government representatives opposed the ban, a view that was supported by the fire authorities who appeared before the committee.

The view of the experts was that cladding had considerable advantages and the risk could be managed. Labor Senators, led by Senator Kim Carr, said that the flammable materials were the equivalent of asbestos.

From the Gallery

• High Court high jinks: The High Court decision on the same sex marriage postal survey came out during question time yesterday. The arrangement was that the Australian Government Solicitor texted the Minister for Finance while he was in the Senate. The Minister for Finance then texted the PM who, on indulgence, advised the House. Since the judgement had to be communicated accurately and at high speed we can only admire the dexterity of Mathias Corman’s thumbs as he transmitted the message while paying attention to grave matters of state.

• Bill channelling Tony: In the House of Reps question time on Wednesday the opposition broke one of Tony Abbott’s long standing records when Labor moved the seventh consecutive motion to suspend standing orders. As Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott only managed six in a row. When the Libs did it – and Abbott did it often: 84 times in the three years of the Gillard minority government – Labor called it destructive, desperate, a distraction; part of the longest dummy spit in political history and a symbol of the then Liberal leader’s relentless negativity. Bill Shorten and his leadership team must reckon it was a pretty effective political tactic because they’ve adopted it holus bolus: according to Hansard, the opposition’s moved to suspend standing orders 33 times since the 45th Parliament kicked off in late August last year. In the first year of the Gillard

government Abbott employed the tactic a mere 28 times, giving Labor the edge here as well. Don’t expect it to stop any time soon.

• PM changes his media strategy: With the same sex marriage survey dominating the air waves, the Prime Minister’s ratcheted up his FM radio appearances, taking part in in at least ten interviews over the past six weeks which is a big step up from two he managed in March, five in May while he was spruiking the budget and an average of two in June and July. Since FM radio stations are widely thought to have an audience comprised largely of young people, Mr Turnbull now apparently sees some merit in the John Howard tactic of using talkback radio to chat directly with voters and sidestep those vexatious press gallery journos. The Opposition Leader pips him at the post on this score as well, racking up 21 interviews in August alone.

• The Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC held the latest round of investitures at Government House for Australian Honours and Awards. The recipients included those from professional endeavours, community service, Defence and Emergency Services personnel.

• Foreign Minister Julie Bishop addressed the Australia-Japan Research Centre and ANU Japan Institute’s Japan Update 2017 at the Australian National University on Wednesday.

Bill Shorten says Labor’s four point plan will lead to lower electricity prices

In the wider community which is outside the bubble that is Parliament House, attention was focused on two issues this week: the same sex marriage postal survey and energy.

The public appeared to be resigned to participation in the survey and were even seeming to enjoy the prospect. An Essential survey showed that about 80% of the electorate intended to complete the survey forms and that the great majority of them would vote ‘yes’.

Apart from some cries of confected outrage on both sides of the argument, the debate seemed to be conducted in good humour and with respect. As Tiernan Brady of Marriage Equality Australia pointed out at the Press Club on Wednesday, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Australians had friends who were lesbian, gay or transgender had broken down the sense of difference.

The energy debate was bedevilled by the fact that most of the political class and the media had no idea what they were talking about. The common cry was that the government needed to develop an energy plan.

In fact it has two energy plans on the table: the Finkel Report which deals with the longer term issues including emissions reductions, and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report that deals with

the next ten years.

There are matters of contention in both the reports but they should now become the subject of parliamentary examination. Labor has come up with a four point plan to deal with the current electricity crisis. This involves ending the ideological dispute over electricity; agreeing on a clean energy target; implementing a gas reservation measure; and adopting a bipartisan policy on an energy security reserve.

Bill Shorten says that this would lead to lower electricity prices while, at the same time, meeting higher emission standards. Curiously, with the exception of the security reserve, the opposition framework does not address any of the issues raised in the AEMO report.

The Opposition Leader declined to comment on the recommendation that the Liddell power station be kept open. Yesterday the NSW government announced the release of thirty year old cabinet documents.

Among the documents released were cabinet papers related to the refusal to grant Donald Trump a licence to establish a casino in Sydney because of his connections to the mafia.

Barrie Unsworth, who was Premier at the time, said that, back then, he was unaware of who Donald Trump was but that he believed it was a good decision.

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