Federal Politics


Turnbull's plaintive cry not all that questionable

Just how much power does Malcolm Turnbull wield over the wild world of Australia's Parliament?

These days the man who once wore the glorious leadership crown is relegated to the shallower pools of the shadow communications portfolio.

But just as Kevin Rudd continues to pull provocative poses on the Labor backbench, the member for Wentworth has not slipped into total irrelevance. No siree.

Last week, Turnbull gave a small oratorical performance all the way over in Perth. Despite the time difference, it still managed to generate quite a stir in Canberra.

Among the litany of Turnbull's concerns about the state of public debate was that question time invited ''contempt''.

Most of the questions are asked of the prime minister and for the past two years, the opposition has been ''almost entirely'' focused on people-smuggling and the carbon tax, he said. When MPs huddled round yesterday afternoon, on first blush it appeared that Turnbull had been heard but not heeded.


The first question, from Tony Abbott to acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan, was about Labor adopting all the Coalition's anti-boat policies.

''I'm not sure the member for Wentworth will thank him for the question,'' Swan observed, before adding something about needing a ''fair dinkum'' policy.

But maybe the Coalition was listening to Uncle Malcolm after all - because after this, there were no more questions about boats. And in something of a historic moment, there was none on the carbon tax.

To Swan's delight, the opposition spent the rest of the questions they had on matters budgetary.

As Abbott quizzed the Treasurer on Labor's list of ''unfunded'' spending commitments, the acting PM observed: ''I reckon the member for Wentworth is going to be pretty happy because at least he has got the Leader of the Opposition to ask a question on the economy!''

Turnbull, one leg swung over the other, tablet device on his lap, gave a textbook rendition of nonplussed.

The final question of the day was a Dixer from Ed Husic to the innocuously titled ''Minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy''.

Husic inquired: ''Why is the National Broadband Network important for Australia's economic future?''

Anthony Albanese stood, and with the straightest of faces began to talk of old copper networks. With a few wiggles about satellite services, competing in the region and the importance of getting questions on the NBN from Labor, Albo segued into Turnbull.

''Because we know that there have been no questions on the National Broadband Network from the shadow minister since 2010!''

However, Turnbull was demonstrating his support for the NBN in ''other ways'', Albo said.

And by ''other ways'', he meant investing in France Telecom and Spain's Telefonica, both of which have fibre-to-the-home work on the go.

With Turnbull (for once) pointing and yelling at the Labor benches, the minister representing had some advice of his own: ''I say to the member for Wentworth, he should put his mouth where his money is!''