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Federal Politics

Politics live: February 13, 2013

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As it appears to be all quiet, (apart from the Climate Change Minister Greg Combet just referring to Tony Abbott as "Australia's biggest bulls*^t artist" in a press conference .. bit of a late afternoon heart starter) - I think we'll wrap for tonight.

Let's do the evening summary.

Today in federal politics:

  • The House of Representatives this morning passed the Act of Recognition ahead of a referendum on the question of recognising indigenous people in the Constitution.
  • The parliamentary debate happened in terrific spirit, with excellent speeches from Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott.
  • The passage of the legislation happened on the fifth anniversary of Kevin Rudd's apology to the stolen generation.
  • Question Time was another session of "your mining tax is a disaster" (Coalition) versus "we are into jobs and growth and you have a secret agenda to cut government services." (Labor).



(Mr Combet's remark just now came in the following context: he was welcoming President Obama's commitment in today's state of the union speech to doing something positive about climate change if Congress remained deadlocked. Mr Combet was contrasting America's position with that of the Australian Coalition. Mr Combet generally prefers to describe Mr Abbott as mendacious. Not today.)

Bulls*^t not withstanding, have a great evening.

Thank you to Andrew Meares and Alex Ellinghausen who captured the mood of the chamber so eloquently.

As always.

See you on the morrow.



Obviously the audience was somewhat perturbed.

By-the-by a rather unorthodox social media contribution from the normally very straight-up-and-down ABC has generated some interest this afternoon.

Photos without Notice.

You really didn't go to that Labor candidate's meeting, did you Malcolm?

Shadow minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull with Mr Abbott's Chief of Staff Peta Credlin

Shadow minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull with Mr Abbott's Chief of Staff Peta Credlin Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Photos without Notice.

Back at you Joe.

Treasurer Wayne Swan at the dispatch box

Treasurer Wayne Swan at the dispatch box Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Photos without Notice.

Here's looking at you Swanny.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey gestures at Treasurer Wayne Swan

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey gestures at Treasurer Wayne Swan Photo: Andrew Meares

Photos without Notice.



Treasurer Wayne Swan and Resources minister Martin Ferguson

Treasurer Wayne Swan and Resources minister Martin Ferguson Photo: Andrew Meares

I'll hand over to Andrew Meares for a few minutes now for his Photos without Notice.

This is his selection of frames from Question Time.

The worst government in history reference was part of the post-Question Time matter of public importance debate.

Mr Abbott launched into a critique of the mining tax.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is responding. The mining industry is doing just fine, don't you worry about that. Investment is up.

Royalties are a dud system. But "we are not breaking our agreement."

Mr Ferguson says the transitional arrangements set up a process where state governments would not be encouraged to punch holes in Canberra's mining tax revenue by increasing their royalties. That process is rolling out right now, in line with recommendations he made as Resources Minister, assisted by businessman Don Argus.

Has there been a worse government in our history, Mr Abbott is inquiring of no-one in particular in the House right now.


And, as promised, just a catch-up for those interested on President Obama's state of the union by another of my favourite bloggers, Ezra Klein from the Washington Post.

"Imagine, for a moment, that President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposed tonight. Within a couple of years, every four-year-old would have access to preschool. The federal minimum wage would be at $9 — higher than it's been, after adjusting for inflation, since 1981. There'd be a cap-and-trade program limiting our carbon emissions and a vast infrastructure investment to upgrade our roads and bridges. Taxes would be higher, guns would be harder to come by, and undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship. America would be a noticeably different country."

WonkBlog has posted a transcript of the President's speech for those interested in reading the unfiltered material.

A bit of Francis Urquhart for hard core Pulsers before we go back to think about Question Time some more.

Ousting the king.

"You're a monster Urquhart!"

Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband Malcolm Turnbull.

Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband Malcolm Turnbull.

Shadow communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has a question on the roll-out of the national broadband network.

The Prime Minister responds by saying she is not aware that Mr Turnbull recently attended a closed-door strategy session for Labor candidates at the forthcoming election, but she would not be surprised to see him there, seeking better company.

People who believed in climate change science. That kind of thing.

It's a cutting reference.

Mr Turnbull responds in kind, suggesting the Prime Minister might end her circumnavigation of the globe of irrelevancy and deal with the substance of the question.

The Prime Minister is asked by Liberal Nola Marino about comments from Labor whip Joel Fitzgibbon yesterday about the mining tax.

Do you retain confidence in him given he basically bagged your tax is the question?

The Prime Minister heaps praise on her parliamentary team. She notes her parliamentary team has presided over the passage of a bunch of legislation in this minority parliament.

Mr Pyne interjects with a reference to Francis Urquhart (a fictional chief whip who tears down a fictional Prime Minister in order to become Prime Minister himself).

Brilliant reference in the circumstances, although I'm not sure the Member for Hunter is eyeing The Lodge for himself. And I'm 100 per cent confident Joel Fitzgibbon shares no qualities in common with a character once described as the epitome of evil.

Speaker Anna Burke is not amused.



Now it's Julie Bishop's turn on the mining tax. The Liberal deputy leader refers to comments today from Independent Andrew Wilkie concerning adjustments that should have been made to the mining tax revenue forecasts given the slump in iron ore prices.

The Prime Minister goes through the forecasting process.

She says the revenue projections (regardless of the tax in question) are done by the experts in Treasury. There is a variance now that wasn't forecast by Treasury. Revenue has not returned in the way Treasury predicted. Conditions are defying the economic orthodoxy and the Treasury models. We've had fluctuation in commodity prices, a high dollar, soft profits, continuing sluggishness in the world economy.

Don't you understand these factors, Ms Gillard inquires of Ms Bishop?

You should. Don't insult the professionals at Treasury.


Manager of Opposition business Christopher Pyne lists Ms Gillard's commitments when she took over the leadership from Kevin Rudd - when she argued the government had lost its way. Mr Pyne argues none of the commitments have come good.

Will the government explain when the government will find its way?

Ms Gillard chooses derision. What an example of the Opposition's new strategy of positive plans for the future, the Prime Minister notes.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet lost me back a moment ago with a reference to blood and guts and methane and drinking water.

Fortunately Resources Minister Martin Ferguson is on his feet to bring me back to proceedings. The mining industry is going gangbusters seemed to be the nature of Mr Ferguson's contribution.

Oh dear, there goes Mr Hockey.

Speaker Anna Burke has thrown him out. Too much shouting.

West Australia Liberal Steve Irons wants to know how the government plans to pay for new projects it has promised to pay for from the proceeds of the mining tax when there aren't proceeds from the mining tax.

Mr Swan says the projects will happen because they are already in the Budget bottomline.


Treasurer Wayne Swan during Question Time.

Treasurer Wayne Swan during Question Time.

Mr Hockey has a supplementary for Mr Swan. Will he guarantee that the states won't be worse off as a result of the current discussions concerning royalties and the mining tax?

Mr Swan:

"We will work with the states to get a satisfactory resolution to grow the industry and get a satisfactory return for the Australian people."

The shadow treasury spokesman Joe Hockey wants to know if the man across the dispatch box, Wayne Swan, plans any change to the royalties arrangements under the mining tax.

Mr Swan says those issues are under discussion by treasury officials, Commonwealth and state.

"We are determined to work through with the states the intersection of the resources tax with royalties."

Mr Swan says the very clear answer is we are working with the states to get a resolution.

Today's first Labor Dorothy Dixer allows the Prime Minister to speak on her favourite subject: jobs and growth.

Ms Gillard says President Obama has been onto it in his state of the union address: jobs and growth.

But the Prime Minister says unlike our mates in the US, we haven't had a recession. Our public finances are sound. Unlike the US we can build for the future standing on a platform of strength. In the US, there are still 12 million people out of work. His challenge is different to ours.

But his focus is on jobs and growth, and that's good for the world.

Here's Mr Abbott and the first question. It's the mining tax and proper costings wrapped up together.

The Prime Minister takes the opportunity in her answer to riff on the need to find offsetting savings in this tight fiscal environment. She suggests the Coalition is planning secret cuts.

Mr Abbott persists.

What changes has the Prime Minister in mind to address the revenue shortfall in her mining tax?

Ms Gillard refers Mr Abbott to her remarks yesterday. (She said yesterday the government had no plans to change the structure of the mining tax, and would continue discussions on transitional issues with the state governments.)

Anyhow, we mustn't digress.

Question Time coming up in a tick.

I'll chase down some reports on President Obama's speech later for Pulsers.

I'm sure a number of you will be following the state of the union address on Twitter.

One of my favourite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, comments thus.

Are some of you having a sneaky look at President Obama's state of the union address before Question Time?

I confess I might have half an ear on it ..

What about the bill of rights type argument - that Constitutional recognition will give rise to a whole host of unintended consequences. More legal actions. Those kinds of risks?

What do you say to that point?

Ms Hosch suggests people shouldn't get ahead of themselves here. People worried about the consequences of Mabo and native title, and for that matter the apology.

"The sky didn't fall in. I think we need to hold firm on that."

She suggests these concerns can be worked through in the design of the proposition.

(I suspect this will be one of the major arguments put by opponents of recognition - it will create a legal minefield - an explosion of litigation, that sort of thing.)

Ms Hosch and Mr Glanville are asked whether they are frustrated by the slow progress.

Shouldn't this issue be at the referendum stage by now rather than this position of preamble?

Ms Hosch isn't troubled.

"Momentum is obviously critical but I think we also need to be mindful that most Australians don't know what's in the Constitution. There's a lot of work to do to make sure people understand and make an informed choice."

She says indigenous people need to be involved is settling the proposal.

"If it takes more time, we need to live with that - but we shouldn't take our foot off the pedal."

She's asked whether she's worried about political opposition.

Ms Hosch says not all Aboriginal people will agree with recognition (as opposed to treaties or something more ambitious) as the best course of action; and some people won't accept the change just because.

Which is why it's important to explain the proposition.

Mr Glanville.

Some contend the referendum will fail.

But fear is a lessening place. A place where people are not their best selves.

Now it's Jason Glanville's turn.

He says the actual story of Australia is a story of creativity, adaptation and survival.

The story entrenched in the current legal structures instead begins with dispossession and discrimination.

This is a choice, and we can make a different one. The apology Kevin Rudd delivered five years ago today didn't give children from the stolen generations back to their mothers - but it said terrible things happened, it wasn't your fault, and we are sorry.

A statement with the authority of the parliament. A watershed for Australia. The day we faced the truth about our history. A moment of acknowledgement.

Constitutional recognition, he says, would deliver similar transformation.

"When we put this right, we will make us a better nation, a stronger nation and a wealthier nation."


Ms Hosch:

"It's time to count us in.

It's time to put this right.

It is time to make our Constitution even more Australian."

Ms Hosch says the goals of recognition are simple. Some people will dismiss the proposed change as symbolism, but symbolic statements have intrinsic worth, she says.

Is anyone prepared to argue that the Gettysburg Address was without practical, enduring meaning?

The Australian Constitution needs to acknowledge the simple truth that the continent was not empty when the settlers arrived. The absence of recognition has proved a means of entrenching discrimination against indigenous peoples since white settlement. This needs to change, she says.

"How can you feel like a citizen when you are not recognised by the Constitution as being here?"

She says the proposal will be opposed by small groups of people on the far left and the far right - but she believes the middle is with the change.


Let's go to the National Press Club now for an event marking the Act of Recognition. Two of the up-and-comers in indigenous affairs, Tanya Hosch and Jason Glanville.

"It's the fifth anniversary of an apology that we thought would never come," Ms Hosch reflects, before acknowledging the giants in the room - the campaigners who have come before her.

She says there is a growing movement to recognise the first chapter in the Australian story.

"History is calling us. It is urging us to finish the work of 1967. This generation has to complete the task."


Delivering moments is the way we package news in the digital world.

Andrew Meares delivered a brilliant visual moment from this morning's parliamentary debate on the Act of Recognition (see the post at 9.53am).

On The Pulse Live, we cover the day as a sequence of moments. On social media, the audience does the same.

But we also can use digital to tell richer stories. I'd encourage you to watch the full conversation between Mr Katter and Tim, in which they address a number of substantial issues, including the future of the mining tax and his view of how the KAP will fare in this election year.

This is what excites me about digital: the whole and the parts.


Katter warms to mining tax (Video Thumbnail) Click to play video

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Katter warms to mining tax

Bob Katter is coming around to mining tax reform, but rules out party discussion on same-sex marriage.

PT9M56S 620 349

All week I've been trying to find a moment to alert you to Tim Lester's new Breaking Politics show.

I have a small window now, so let's do it!

A couple of videos for you.

First a "moment."

Bob Katter gets very cranky with Tim for raising the issue of same sex marriage, which has caused a boilover in his Katter's Australia Party.

Same-sex marriage a non-issue for Katter's party (Video Thumbnail) Click to play video

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Same-sex marriage a non-issue for Katter's party

Dispelling talk of an imminent "implosion" of Katter's Australian Party over the issue of same-sex marriage, Bob Katter declares it's not on the agenda for his party's Friday national executive meeting.

PT1M39S 620 349

Here's Michael Gordon's news update on recognition.

Australia has moved one step closer to recognising its first people in the country's founding document after one of the federal parliament's rare and uplifting moments of unity between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

Both leaders committed themselves to address what the Prime Minister called ''the unhealed wound that even now lies open at the heart of our national story'' and the Opposition Leader dubbed ''this stain on our soul''.

The passage through the House of Representatives of an Act of Recognition was met by applause from the public galleries and from indigenous leaders including Patrick Dodson and Lowitja O'Donoghue who had been invited to witness the moment from the floor of the house.

The legislation recognises the ''unique and special place'' of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples and is designed to give momentum for constitutional recognition after the September election. It passed the lower house on the fifth anniversary of the apology by former prime minister Kevin Rudd to the stolen generations.

''We must never feel guilt for the things already done in this nation's history, but we can – and must – feel responsibility for the things that remain undone,'' Ms Gillard told Parliament.

''No gesture speaks more deeply to the healing of our nation's fabric than amending our nation's founding charter.''

Speaking from hand-written notes, Mr Abbott told Parliament Australia was the envy of the world, except for the fact that ''we have never fully made peace with the first Australians''.

''We have to acknowlwedge, that pre-1788, this land was as Aboriginal then as it is Australian now, and until we have acknowledged that we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people,'' Mr Abbott said. ''We need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forbears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people.''

Back to the mining tax for a tick.

Lobbyist Mitch Hooke, who represents the interests of Australia's big miners, has been out with media interviews warning the Gillard Government not to tinker with the resources tax.

The Minerals Council of Australia has made its presence felt by taking out advertisements in the national newspapers.

"We would feel betrayed [if there were changes]. The deal would be compromised. All bets would be off," Mr Hooke told ABC News in an interview this morning.

"We have an agreement, we've stuck to the agreement, we've worked through the design parameters, we've stuck to that, we've committed to that. We'll work with the government of the day, but don't tinker with this."

Our breaking news reporter Daniel Hurst has been following estimates hearings this morning.

Last year, we learned that Fair Work Australia - no doubt bruised from all the controversy surrounding its seemingly interminable investigation into the former Labor MP and trade union official Craig Thomson (remember that?) - had resolved on a name change.

This morning, we get the price tag.

Here's Daniel:

The federal government's decision to change one word in the name of the national industrial relations umpire is expected to cost about $100,000.

A parliamentary committee has been told Fair Work Australia's rebranding as the Fair Work Commission prompted a logo redesign costing $2100.

Fair Work Australia general manager Bernadette O'Neill said internal costs linked to the January 1 name change were estimated at $97,500.

"Some of the costs haven't been realised yet in relation to stationery and signage," she told the Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

(Note: This post has been amended to correct the attribution/speaker of the final two paragraphs.)


We need to press on with the day in politics.

Let's catch up.

The mining tax is continuing to grab headlines.

And the early news cycle carried a stoush from a Senate estimates hearing last night. Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan swore at the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. Senator Conroy suggested Senator Heffernan had been drinking.

From the sublime to the ridiculous really.

The Prime Minister and indigenous leader Lowitja O'Donoghue.

After the vote in the House.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with indigenous leaders including Lowitja O'Donoghue.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with indigenous leaders including Lowitja O'Donoghue. Photo: Andrew Meares

Hi, I'm Malcolm Turnbull.

The Liberal frontbencher explains why recognition matters.

Indigenous Minister Jenny Macklin explained the task in her contribution.

This legislation is only the first step.

"With support across the Parliament for this Act of Recognition, we continue to build the momentum we need for successful constitutional change.

We do not intend the Act to be a substitute for constitutional reform.

To maintain momentum towards a successful referendum, a sunset provision in the Bill limits the effect of the Act to two years. Speaker, we expect this will also provide an impetus for a future Parliament to assess how the campaign for change is travelling, and the appropriate timing for a successful referendum.

The Bill also provides for a review to consider and advise a future Parliament on proposals to submit to a referendum, taking into account the valuable work that has been done by the Expert Panel.

We know that legislation is not the appropriate forum to make all the changes we want to see.

These changes must ultimately be made in our nation's foundation document."

Tony Abbott on Twitter.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin acknowledges indigenous leaders on the floor of the House of Representatives, as does Speaker Anna Burke.

Parliament does it's duty with the vote. And there's applause.

Chief photographer Andrew Meares gives you today, in a nutshell.

The spirit of the campaign.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with indigenous leaders including Djawa Burarrwanga from Yirrkala on the day the recognition bill is introduced.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with indigenous leaders including Djawa Burarrwanga from Yirrkala on the day the recognition bill is introduced. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Abbott is acknowledging politicians and business leaders intent on improving the lot of indigenous peoples.

"I also honour the Prime Minister. So often in this place we are antagonists. Today, on this matter, we are partners and collaborators.

Most of all, I honour the millions of indigenous people living and dead who have loved this country yet maintained their identity and who now ask only that their existence be recognised and their contributions be acknowledged.

I particularly honour their representative in this Parliament, my friend and my colleague Ken Wyatt, the Member for Hasluck.

Madame Speaker, there is much hard work to be done. It will, as the Prime Minister candidly admitted, be a challenge to find a form of recognition which satisfies reasonable people as being fair to all. It won't necessarily be straightforward to acknowledge the first Australians without creating new categories of discrimination which we must avoid, because no Australian should feel like a stranger in their own country.

I believe that we are equal to this task of completing our constitution rather than changing it. The next Parliament will, I trust, finish the work that this one has begun.

So much of what happens here passes people by. Sometimes it even annoys them. May this be an occasion when the Parliament lifts people's spirits, makes them feel more proud of our country and more conscious of our potential to more often be our best selves.

As the Prime Minister said, we shouldn't feel guilty about our past but we should be determined to rise above that which now makes us embarrassed.

We have that chance."

The Opposition leader Tony Abbott rises to follow the fine speech of the Prime Minister.

Australia, Mr Abbott says, is a wonderful country.

"But we have never fully made peace with the first Australians.

Until this is achieved we will be an incomplete nation and a torn people. In short we need to atone .. to enable us to embrace the future as a united people."

The Prime Minister says the coming period will require parliament to achieve consensus around the wording and the content of the proposed constitutional amendment.

She closes thus:

"We must never feel guilt for the things already done in this nation's history. But we can – and must – feel responsibility for the things that remain undone.

No gesture speaks more deeply to the healing of our nation's fabric than amending our nation's founding charter.

So I commend this Bill to the House as a deed of Reconciliation in its own right.

And as a sign of good faith for the referendum to come.

We are bound to each other in this land and always will be.

Let us be bound in justice and dignity as well."

Ms Gillard:

"Speaker, this Bill introduced by my friend and colleague, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, has two main purposes. Firstly, it acknowledges in law that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the first inhabitants of this nation. It acknowledges they occupied this land from time immemorial – they honoured and cared for it, and do so to this day.

Secondly, this Bill seeks to foster momentum for a referendum for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Bill gives the Parliament some of the tools it will need to build the necessary momentum for constitutional change.

These include a legislative requirement for a review of public support for a referendum, to be tabled here in Parliament six months before any referendum bill is proposed."

Ms Gillard, at the dispatch box for her second reading speech:

"In the decade of deliberation that created our Constitution, there were conventions and debates across this land. But there is no record of any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person taking part.

Indigenous people did not ordain our Constitution nor contribute to its drafting. They had no opportunity to vote for it, and yet all were affected by what it said and what it failed to say. They were affected by provisions that even by the standards of the time seem questionable and strike us now as harsh and inhumane.

But they were also affected by the "great Australian silence" which fell upon our founding document. Because among the 128 sections of the Constitution, there is no acknowledgement of Australia's First Peoples.

No mention of their dispossession.

Their proud and ancient cultures.

Their profound connection to the land.

Or the unhealed wound that even now lies open at the heart of our national story."

Here is the Prime Minister.

Julia Gillard acknowledges she stands on land that was from time immemorial the land of the Ngunawal people.

Ms Gillard says parliament would not be at this point today without Kevin Rudd and his apology to the stolen generation - and the good will of indigenous people who accepted that gesture.

Part of the challenge associated with achieving progress in this area is the spectrum of views concerning how far to go. Some folks think Constitutional recognition too modest a step. Some think a treaty would be the way to go. Folks concerned about the "rights" agenda would be of the view you don't proceed down this path at all.

Please get involved in the discussion. I'd like to hear reader's views.

You can comment here on the blog, and I'll try and respond depending on how brisk the day is; or chime in on Twitter, using our hashtag #thepulselive

The legislation to be passed today is designed to focus attention on the importance of Constitutional recognition for Australia's first people.

It is a judgement in effect that Australians weren't yet sufficiently aware of the issues to move straight to a referendum. Referenda in this country don't have a great record of success.

And while my own view is Constitutional recognition is a long overdue measure - it is not a universal view. And of course, the country needs time to consider and debate the detail of the change, and its implications.


The Age's national affairs editor Michael Gordon provides this lovely scene setter to the day's events.

"The Act of Recognition to be backed by Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott confers a positive acknowledgment of the unique place of the country's first peoples, their culture and their languages - and is the forerunner to a referendum to enshrine this recognition in the constitution. In the spirit of reconciliation, the Prime Minister will acknowledge the courage of Kevin Rudd in delivering the apology to the stolen generations this day, five years ago - and of the indigenous people for accepting it."

In 1967, indigenous people pinned badges to the lapels of politicians in support of the referendum. Today, Carla McGrath (pictured below) paid a visit to Opposition leader Tony Abbott in support of indigenous recognition in the Constitution.

Today the House of Representatives will pass an Act of Recognition for indigenous Australians - the first step towards Constitutional recognition. This event coincides with the fifth anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations.

It will be an important day in national affairs. Thanks for joining us as we cover it, and the rest of the day in politics, live.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is pinned with a recognition  badge by Carla McGrath on the day the recognition bill is introduced at Parliament House.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is pinned with a recognition badge by Carla McGrath on the day the recognition bill is introduced at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares