Federal Politics

Politics Live: February 25, 2014

Question time Tuesday

Labor goes on the attack in question time, but seems unsure which topic to pursue.

 Go the whole hog!

Prime Minister Tony Abbott during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Prime Minister Tony Abbott during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen 

And what did we learn today?

  • Senators seem just as interested about the time they are given to ask questions as they do actual scrutiny of the government;
  • Stephen Conroy should probably not be let out on Senate committees unsupervised;
  • Parliament is not a Scarlett Johansson-free zone. Weirdly.
  • The House agrees that Craig Thomson is persona non grata. But disagrees about who agrees the most; and
  • Tony Abbott not only has "full confidence" in Scott Morrison, the Coalition thinks he deserves a round of applause. 

 

Andrew Meares, Alex Ellinghausen will type you tomorrow. Until then!

But before we go, David Johnston has just given Conroy and his jumper a real serve for his "outrageous" performance in estimates today.

"[Accusing] a serving three-star General staff officer of the Australian Army of a political cover-up ... is simply beneath contempt," Johnston says.

"The real question now is this - does Bill Shorten endorse the actions of his defence spokesman's unprecedented attack on one of Australia's most senior and respected military leaders?"

 

As we begin to wind up this evening (camomile tea beckons), we note that the Finance Committee is asking questions about "government staffing".

Duty senator Michael Ronaldson is arguing (in response to questions from John Faulkner) that it would be hard to get a "cigarette paper" between the way Labor and the Coalition do things.

If you sense a Nash-esque connection, you are perfectly correct. All sorts of questions about who approved what and when are being taken on notice.

The Communications Committee is revving up for an ABC appearance after dinner.

The Finance Committee has the Australian Electoral Commission at 9pm.

The Rural and Regional Affairs Committee will be examining the issue of sustainable resource management around the same time.

You can follow all the power and passion online right here.

 

And Conroy can't just bandy around phrases and get away with it.

Not according to Defence Minister David Johnston, who is holding a doorstop shortly to respond to Conroy's "attack" on Angus Campbell today.

 

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Like confetti.

Senator Stephen Conroy on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Senator Stephen Conroy on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares 

Earlier this afternoon, we reported Stephen Conroy's rather extraordinary turn in the Legal Affairs Committee (see, in particular: 3.46pm post).

But he has been active elsewhere today.

In the Environment and Communications hearings, Conroy had a right old go at NBN Co chief executive Ziggy Switkowski.

The former communications minister accused Switkowski of lying the Senate.

And said that NBN Co's rollout targets were as "low as a pencil on the floor".

Mitch Fifield, who was the government's rep at the hearings, accused Conroy of "bandying around phrases such as 'contempt of the Senate' like confetti".

As the Operation Sovereign Borders part of estimates winds up, here are two more stories out of today's hearings:

David Wroe writes that a post-mortem on the body of Reza Barati still has not been carried out. Eight days after he died.

Sarah Whyte writes that gay asylum seekers who were warned about PNG's harsh laws against homosexuality have changed their claims in fear of homophobic attacks. And not being resettled.

Joyce sure has some lines in the bag for this parliamentary number.

He's making the case that Thomson's story clearly did not add up - even before his case went to court.

"He crossed more lines than a ballroom dancer on a parquetry floor ..."

Corruption is a "profound insult" to everything we stand for, Shorten says, as he concludes, with a hugely serious face on.

He is quickly followed by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Joyce says he would like to commend Shorten for the speech.

"He just missed one thing ... it was two years too late."

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Bill Shorten stands. Big moment for him here, balancing politics with well, Craig Thomson.

"We support the motion without reservation ... without equivocation," he says (getting his rhyme on early).

"It is a terrible shame that Craig Thomson's reprehensible behaviour" has cast doubt on the union movement.

 

Ok, so back to the House.

Christopher Pyne has put in a poetic effort this afternoon.

He has described former HSU boss Kathy Jackson as a "revolutionary".

"Revolutionaries sometimes have to cut corners," he said.

"She’ll be remembered as a transforming union leader..."

... we interrupt our broadcast of Pyne Time for this (and yes, that is Mike Kelly in the back there):

 

But all is not sweetness and lightheartedness in the Parliament.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne is up in the Green Room with his Craig Thomson apology motion.

Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek are there. But the House is not full on either side

"We are deeply particularly offended by what happened  ..." Pyne says.

As a learned colleague just pointed out to me, this has an um, slightly different feel to the crowds who gathered in 2008 for Kevin Rudd's sorry speech.

 

Liberal senator Zed Seselja now has the conch in the OSB hearing.

A whole new vibe has descended on the room.

Seselja begins by saying that he will apologise for Stephen Conroy's "coverup" comment (Conroy only withdrew it).

"It was an unfounded attack on someone of your distinguished service..." he tells Campbell.

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Bowles tells the committee that asylum seekers on Manus will have the opportunity to give evidence to the inquiry about last week's violence.

There will be interpreters.

And this will not impact on their protection claims.

It must be a relief to all that Sarah Hanson-Young is back asking the questions.

She asks Martin Bowles when he found out the identity of Reza Barati.

He says he'll have to have a think and take it on notice.

She then asks if he is aware of reports that there was more than one person who was shot last week.

He replies no.

"There was one injury, a shot to the buttocks."

 

This man is a former Special Forces soldier.

(So while the jumper can offend, it cannot intimidate.)

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell Commander Operation Sovereign Borders. Photo: Andrew Meares
Lieutenant General Angus Campbell Commander Operation Sovereign Borders. Photo: Andrew Meares 

This man and his jumper have been let loose on Australian democracy.

Senator Stephen Conroy during Senate Estimates. Photo: Andrew Meares
Senator Stephen Conroy during Senate Estimates. Photo: Andrew Meares 

Conroy uses what remaining time he has left to ask whether or not OSB is a military operation.

Campbell makes the point that while he is a military officier, he is heading up a multi-agency effort.

(This is an appreciable change of tactics after the Iraqi Scuds stuff.)

Martin Bowles, Angus Campbell and Mike Pezullo. Photo: Andrew Meares
Martin Bowles, Angus Campbell and Mike Pezullo. Photo: Andrew Meares 
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