On the last day of the first week (a pretty short week Question Time wise) most of the best action was prior to and after Question Time.
The morning was full of wonderful lines, the best of which by far was Bob Katter when commenting on the Radio National about the cyclones and floods: “Even in a well-run disaster, things go disastrously."
That’s the one to beat for line of the year, folks.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam also came out with a good line in response to a story in Fairfax papers that wikileaks cables had revealed Martin Ferguson had apparently said to US Officials that a deal to supply India with uranium could be made within year. Ludlam, channelling former New Zealand PM David Lange said:
"I swear some days you can smell the uranium on Martin Ferguson's breath”.
The interesting thing for me was that the leak was foreshadowed by a question yesterday in QT by Julie Bishop. She asked Ferguson:
Ms JULIE BISHOP (3.11 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Resources and Energy regarding his recent meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna. Did the minister reaffirm the government’s ban on sales of Australian uranium to India while India remains outside the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Has the minister, in discussions with foreign governments, canvassed the possibility of a nuclear deal with India outside the treaty within the next few years?
So it seems fairly likely that Bishop was given a heads up on the story – which is worth noting if only to make sure we pay attention to the questions Bishop asks in the future.
The subject of Julie Bishop and the leaking of her disagreement with Abbott on the cutting of aid funding to Indonesian schools also produced a pearler of a line by Eric Abetz. Abetz said he knew who the leakers were and had some advice:
"People who leak are people who cannot be trusted."
From the man who trusted the leaks of Godwin Grech that has to be the overwhelming favourite to win the 2011 award for line said by a politician most lacking in self-awareness.
Stephen Conroy also gave a press conference to announce a deal had been reached with Telstra on the NBN. It also seemed to be that he gave the press conference so as to absolutely flay the Economist Intelligence Unit:
"It uses a ranking system that says public investment is bad, you get zero marks for public investment and you get 10 out of 10 for private investment. So, surprisingly, Australia ranks poorly in that particular criterion, given that this is a public investment.
"It ignores the fact that [the NBN] gets a commercial return, it ignores the fact that we'll privatise it down the track."
Apart from that, it’s pretty good!
The EUI released a statement, which was pretty bloody lame:
Data was based on officially-released government plans containing targets for speed, rollout, cost and coverage. This methodology was consistent across the report for all countries analysed.
Yep, consistently bad, is about the sum of it.
There was also an issue that supposedly is a “constitutional crisis” all because the Libs in the Senate with the independents passed a Bill to change the Youth Allowance – in effect passing a Bill that would cost $317m in revenue. The Government will recommend to the Governor General not to allow the Bill to be debated in the House of Representatives, because “money bills” cannot originate form the Senate. How do we know this? Good old Section 53 of the Constitution lights the way:
53. Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate.
Now I ain’t some big-city lawyer, but I can read, and that’s about as explicit as it gets.
Yeah, it’s a “crisis”
And so on to Question Time, and of course the floods.
Abbott started with this slow medium pacer:
Mr ABBOTT (2.02 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. With the cost of living skyrocketing for Australian families and electricity prices tipped to double in just four years, why is the Prime Minister planning three new taxes—a carbon tax, a mining tax and now a flood tax? Shouldn’t the Prime Minister be putting her hand into the government’s pockets to fund flood reconstruction, not putting her hands even deeper into the pockets of Australian families?
Gillard responded the fallacy of his argument, that cuts to Government expenditure are somehow not connected to the public:
Ms GILLARD—I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question because it enables me to explain something he clearly does not seem to understand. First and foremost, the government’s budget is composed of money that has been given to the government by taxpayers, and we take that trust very seriously.
She ended with what remains the biggest problem for Abbott’s current line of attack – that he supported a levy not 6 months ago:
I say to the Leader of the Opposition that I am still waiting for an answer to my question: why is it that he could support levies in the past, that he designed his election policies based on a $6 billion levy, that it was good enough for him to seek to levy $6 billion for his election policies, but it is not good enough for him to support a levy to rebuild Queensland and rebuild the nation? The Leader of the Opposition has no philosophical objections to levies. We know that. He has supported them in the past and he has designed them himself. Now is the time to step forward and to show some leadership. I am still calling on the Leader of the Opposition to find it within himself to look beyond political interest at the national interest, and that requires supporting the package the government has outlined for a $5.6 billion expenditure on rebuilding.
Gillard was in a good mood, and so too were her front bench. The obvious break down of unity on the other side (made abundantly clear by Julie Bishop’s body language – I tell you I want to play poker against her!) had them all feeling pretty chipper.
This feeling was no doubt helped by the announcement today that unemployment remained at 5%. Total hours worked did decline, which is not great, but the decline in 8,000 full-time jobs was offset by the increase of 32,000 part0time jobs. Obviously, however, in the long run, you want full-time jobs to rise.
Scott Morrison came in for his first delivery of the year – it was about “teh boats” of course, and asking why:
How does the Prime Minister explain to Queenslanders why $155 million in flood mitigation works for the Bruce Highway has to be cut by the government, yet it can find over $290 million more for blow-outs in the immigration department?
Gillard didn't use the occasion to talk about the Indonesian school funding – a leap which I thought could have been easily made. Her answer instead was nice and direct:
The member who asked the question also asked me about the Bruce Highway, and I thank him for that. We have allocated $2.3 billion to the Bruce Highway over six years. The Howard government allocated $1.2 billion over 12 years. Let’s do that maths again: $2.3 billion over six years versus $1.2 billion over 12 years. We have effectively doubled the effort in half the time. So, if the member wants to come to the dispatch box and say, ‘Yes, the Howard government was remiss. Yes, it was a government of poor choices,’ and then say, ‘This government has made better choices,’ that would be an accurate reflection of the facts.
But, of course, the facts will not ever cross the lips of those opposite, because this is about their political interest, not about the national interest. It is time they lifted their sights. It is time they recognised this nation has come through a summer of natural disaster. The nation needs rebuilding. We have a plan to rebuild it. It is time to stop the cheap politicking and endorse our plan.
After that you would think Abbott and Co would keep quiet, but no, Abbott stood up and delivered a supplementary question:
Mr ABBOTT—Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. On the Prime Minister’s logic, is the government now planning a boats tax to cover the unforeseen additional expenses of border protection?
He should have kept very quiet:
Ms GILLARD—I have contemplated a tax on three-word slogans but thought that it would bankrupt the Leader of the Opposition so quickly it would be inappropriate, so I have changed my mind—but I have contemplated that tax. Maybe we should just put a swear jar on the table here and by the end of each question time we could send some dollars to the Queensland flood relief appeal. But, knowing the Leader of the Opposition, he would say, ‘Send them to the Liberal Party instead,’ if we were collecting those funds.
I say to the Leader of the Opposition: we will do what we stand for, and that is managing the budget carefully; that is making the fiscal decisions to get the budget to surplus in 2012-13; that is stepping up to the national interest and making sure that we rebuild Queensland. We will leave you with your three-word slogans and your cheap politics—it is all you know.
At this point the ALP side of the house was in joyous spirits. Never let it be said the performance of the house counts for naught. If you can’t win the house, you’ll struggle to keep your leadership. The next question demonstrated Gillard’s supreme feeling of confidence as it was given by Rob Oakeshoot, who over the summer has grown a beard. On Tuesday at a press conference Gillard had also noticed that The Oz political editor Dennis Shanahan had also grown a beard – she had referred to his “Bee Gees’ look”. Today, in response to Oakeshott she had some more fun:
Ms GILLARD—I thank the member for his question. I do think I should take this opportunity to record my objection to the beard too—it is something I have said to him face to face. I do not know what has happened over the summer season, but we have Rob Oakeshott here and Dennis Shanahan up there and they are both very poor judgment calls, Mr Speaker! We will see what happens by the time the parliament sits next.
She and the ALP were laughing and all watching knew they were seeing someone born to strut the floor of the House.
Two other performance on the Government side were of note. Kevin Rudd made good use of the material given him by the Libs and once again bashed Abbott over his suggestion to cut funding to the Indonesian schools:
The supreme irony is this: here we have the Leader of the Opposition and today we are debating his policy, which is absolutely opposed to sound counterterrorism policy in Indonesia. What is the Indonesian government doing today? It is putting on trial Abu Bakar Bashir in Indonesia for charges concerning terrorism. The Indonesian government is doing the right thing on counterterrorism. The Leader of the Opposition is doing precisely the wrong thing on counterterrorism.
The other good performer was Bill Shorten. Shorten last year was woeful at the dispatch box. And though when he came to answer his question the Libs yelled “Leader in waiting!” it was all a bit weak, because after this week there is one party whose leader is wobbly, and it ain’t the ALP. Shorten’s answer was on insurance, and while it wasn’t scintillating, it did show him in command of the policy –and for Shorten policy depth is what he needs, not showy one liners.
The rest of the questions by the Libs were trying to bring up the saddest cases they could to justify asking fro more exemptions to the levy. Take Scott Buchholz:
Mr BUCHHOLZ (2.34 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. One of our key volunteers in the flood affected areas of the Lockyer Valley in my electorate is Gerry Keogh from the Sunshine Coast. He saw the devastation on TV, dropped everything and took four or five excavators to Murphys Creek. He has worked for nothing for the past month and has got Humes pipes and Rocla pipes to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of concrete culverts as well. But, because his own home was not flood damaged, he will have to pay the new tax. Prime Minister, how can that be fair?
So I’m guessing all volunteers should get rewarded now? It kind of challenges the reason for volunteering in the first place doesn’t it?
Or how about this example via Halls Gap:
Mr TEHAN (2.43 pm)—My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to a letter to me from Cheryl Schuyler from Halls Gap, who runs Grampians Gifts and Souvenirs, a business that has suffered from the Victorian floods. She said:
We have only been affected by loss of trade and downgraded income—many families and businesses have lost loved ones and have no income at all and yet the Federal Government’s response is to kick people while they are down by proposing another TAX. It never fails to amaze me that a lazy government’s easy solution is just to add another Tax! People are hurting badly; adding to their burden is not the right or just solution.
What is the Prime Minister’s response to Cheryl Schuyler?
Well my first response to Ms Schuyler is to stop reading Andrew Bolt columns. Secondly I would say, if your business has no income at all, you won’t have to pay the levy (no not even the TAX)
Sigh. This is the best the Opposition can come up with. No wonder Julie Bishop spent most of the time looking at the notes on her lap.
After Question Time Tony Abbott moved a Motion of Public Importance on:
The adverse effect of the flood levy on Australians.
His speech was notable for two things. The first in which he displayed this wonderful bit of macroeconomic idiocy:
It [the Government] did not hit us with a levy for the National Broadband Network. It did not hit us with a levy for the BER.
I seriously hope Abbott doesn’t think the way you stimulate the economy is to put in place a levy. The BER was spent to put the budget into deficit to stimulate the economy. The levy is to help get us back into surplus – you and I might disagree that it will do any such thing, but to suggest that they didn’t put on a levy to pay for the BER is a logical reason why they need not do it now, is just one more stick added to the fire that burns away Abbott’s economic credentials.
The second part was when he said this:
I said this week that the Prime Minister has a decent heart, but I tell you what: she has got a tin ear. She sure does not understand anything about mateship, because if she understood anything about mateship at all she would know that mateship is not taxing people; mateship is helping people. She would know that mateship is not what you are taxed to give; mateship is what you choose to give. She would know that mateship does not come from governments; it comes from people and communities.
Abbott speaking from notes delivered this line thinking it a blow. A few of his front bench gave “hear hears” (though not Julie Bishop). Julia Gillard did not forget the line when she stood to give her response.
A good Prime Minister needs to be able to be Prime Ministerial, and she (or he) needs to be a party leader. It is sometime hard to do both,. This week on Tuesday Gillard gave a speech purely as Prime Minister. It was magnificent. Today she flicked the switch to party leader and it was just as good:
Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (3.50 pm)—We have been through a dreadful summer, a summer where Australians have turned to each other, a summer where Australians have shown that they want to look after each other. Australians have acted to help each other. Australians are now looking to this parliament to give them the leadership the nation deserves at this time. Australians know that the nation needs to rebuild from the devastating summer that was. When Australians turn to this parliament they do not expect to see this tragedy being used for cheap politicking.
They do not expect to see this parliament degenerate into a rabble around what needs to be done to rebuild the nation. Instead, they expect decisions to be made and action to be taken, and as Prime Minister I am going to do just that.
That is why I have outlined a $5.6 billion funding package. That is why I have outlined plans to start the rebuilding now. That is why we are prepared to make a $2 billion payment available to Queensland. That is why we have set in place measures to make sure value for money is obtained, including a reconstruction inspectorate, including audited accounts, including a national partnership arrangement and including the involvement of people like Mr John Fahey and Mr Brad Orgill. We want to get on with the job of rebuilding the nation. That is what the national interest requires. And the national interest requires this burden to be shared.
She starts with a nice PM-style remark – the leader of the nation. She is the one responsible. She is strong and in command. But get ready, because now she is about to turn her attention onto Tony Abbott:
Unfortunately, what we have seen on every occasion from the Leader of the Opposition is the national interest cast aside in pursuit of narrow political interests. At a time when Australians were turning to each other, urging each other to dig deeper for flood victims, the Leader of the Opposition was out there asking them to dig deeper to fund the Liberal Party. The Leader of the Opposition is very keen to throw insults around; let me say this: I have never seen such a tin heart.
Of course, the Leader of the Opposition may have been let down by his party organisation, but what he needed to then do was say they had done the wrong thing. But he was asked by Barrie Cassidy:
But to do it in that way, to attach it— the fundraising request— to a letter detailing information about the floods—you don’t think that was just a little insensitive and in poor taste on the part of the party?
And the Leader of the Opposition replied: Well people will make their own judgements.
Never a truer word was spoken. People will make their own judgments on a man who did not condemn fundraising for the Liberal Party when the nation was turning to fundraising for flood victims. On the question of the national interest versus narrow political interest, what we have seen on each and every occasion is the Leader of the Opposition out there seeking to pursue narrow political interest.
Take it from me, at this point Gillard had a completely scornful tone of contempt for Abbott in her voice, and it was slicing through all in the House. Brutal.
Did you hear his speech at the Gold Coast to a group of Young Liberals, when the nation was still reeling from the shock of these natural disasters, before we were even touched by the cyclone and there was more devastation to come, when the people of Queensland and Brisbane were looking at their houses filled with filthy floodwaters and wondering how they were ever going to clean up? There was the Leader of the Opposition on the Gold Coast in front of the Liberal Party faithful, trying to work out how he could surf these floodwaters into Kirribilli. That was the main thing on his mind—all about his political interest. Could he use this somehow to put pressure on the Independents to make a different decision about the composition of the government?
“Surf these floodwater into Kirribilli” Wow. That’s a line I wish I had written. Brilliant.
It is narrow political interest every step of the way.
I say to the Leader of the Opposition: people would take him more seriously if the narrow political interest had also not been on display in putting together his so called alternative package. When we laboured over the $5.6 billion funding package, we laboured in the interests of the nation. The Leader of the Opposition and his team laboured over the reports of focus groups to help them work out what was in their political interest, as reported in the newspaper. Were they studying documents to work out the national interest or studying documents to work out his political interest? We all know the answer to that.
Wow. She delivered all of that, hardly looking down, only when quoting Barrie Cassidy did she pointedly use a piece of paper. It only serves to remind myself to never ever let Julia Gillard get angry at me.
She then outlined just how much the Howard Government used to tax, and then she moved on to the number of levies under that Government:
When the Leader of the Opposition was in government, he was very, very pleased to support levies. He gave the superannuation surcharge levy the tick. He gave the gun buyback levy the tick, though someone on $60,000 paying that levy in 1996-97 was being asked for a bigger dollar contribution than we are asking them for today. Have a think about that—a bigger dollar contribution than we are asking them for today, but he gave that one the tick. He gave the stevedoring levy a tick, the milk levy a tick, the sugar levy a tick, the Ansett Airlines levy a tick and the proposed East Timor levy a tick. Indeed, he was so fond of levies that he went to the last election promising a $6 billion levy to fund his election promises.
Now, of course, he comes into this parliament and says he could not contemplate a levy to rebuild the nation. What hypocrisy is this? It was good enough for the Leader of the Opposition to propose a levy to fund his election promises but it is not good enough for him to support a levy to rebuild the nation. It is all about the political interest, not about the national interest—not at any point.
She played the “I am Prime Minister and in charge of the country and you are just in charge of a party” card perfectly – it is one of the biggest advantages a PM has over the opposition leader – incumbency. From this week on, she has finally taken on the incumbency mantle.
I would relate the rest, but it is a long speech, and so I’ll cut to the end. At this point after going through the proposed cuts Abbott has suggested and shown them to either be unsupported by his own party or economically foolish, she ends:
Ms GILLARD—This levy is responsible, it is fair, it is temporary, it is in the national interest and I support it. I believe the Australian people will understand why we are asking them to make this contribution. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that he should support it too. He has no alternative. He has no credibility. His own frontbench do not agree with the figures he put out earlier this week. In those circumstances, it is time for the Leader of the Opposition to say: ‘I made an error on this one, I am a man capable of acknowledging that and I will support the federal government’s levy. I will support rebuilding the nation.’ That is the right thing to do. It is what Australians are looking for.
Do not go mining for the political interest; act in the national interests. Australians are better than the Leader of the Opposition thinks. They will support this levy—it is the right thing to do—and so should he.
The week ended with the parliamentary scene much changed from Monday: The Libs got themselves into a dumb tangle over budget cuts which they won’t even have to carry out(!) and Gillard gave a great speech, and looked better in Parliament than she has at any time since becoming PM.
If any ALP MPs were wondering where Julia had gone, they found her this week on the floor of the house.