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Federal Politics

Politics Live: February 24, 2014

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Morrison defends information flow

The opposition targets Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison in question time over his changing account of a riot at Manus Island last week that left an asylum seeker dead.

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 No applause. No really.

Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop bows as she was mistakenly announced as a new member during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop bows as she was mistakenly announced as a new member during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Before we ride off into the Monday sunset, what did we learn today?

  • "I'll take that on notice" is not an all-encompassing get out of jail card. Particularly if Penny Wong is on the committee;
  • Celebrations take many forms (see: the bonfires lit for George Brandis' elevation to Attorney-General);
  • The rains/ pours thing really is true. Craig Thomson now needs to keep a concerned eye on the privileges committee;
  • As Christopher Pyne tells us, MPs might "gild the lily". But this is very different from deliberately misleading parliament; and
  • If at first you don't succeed ... Try and try again. Even if it's just a crockery set;

 

Thanks for tuning in. Andrew Meares, Alex Ellinghausen and I will see you tomorrow for MORE estimates.

 

As we begin to wind up proceedings here, Senate estimates are still raging.

Now the Legal Affairs committee is also quizzing public servants about documents for the home insulation royal commission.

The Finance and Public Administration guys - having moved on from a lengthy discussions about cabinet documents - is discussing government appointments. We expect there to be some mention of the Alastair Furnival/ Fiona Nash issue very soon.

In the Rural, Regional Affairs and Transport committee, Stephen Conroy is talking Operations Sovereign Borders with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

(i.e. is AMSA aware of any "on water incidents" in OSB?)

The Environment committee also rages. Sharks are the issue at the moment.

If you want to stay tuned, you can watch online here.

... had some of my pep.

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares

If only Joe Hockey

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott during Question Time.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Even in really high places of this place.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott during QT. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Prime Minister Tony Abbott during QT. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But I've still got plenty of buddies in this place.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

I know I'm getting the non-good sort of attention as minister right now

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

It being 5.05pm, we now present PHOTOS WITHOUT NOTICE.

The Coalition is a bit excited about referring Craig Thomson to the privileges committee (see: 3.29am post).

They have been keen to emphasise this afternoon that the committee can impose sanctions.

In a letter from Christopher Pyne to committee chair Russell Broadbent this afternoon, the Leader of the House pointed out that if "as appears to be the case" Thomson deliberately misled the House, it may:

  • impose on a person a penalty of imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months;
  • impose on a person a fine not exceeding $5,000;
  • issue a public reprimand or admonishment; and/or
  • request an apology.

 

All sounds pretty full-on. However, given the former member for Dobell is facing a maximum jail term of five years (he returns to court next month for sentencing), it is all relative.

 

We should note that Faulkner was cabinet secretary from 2007 to June 2009.

And the minister for Defence from June 2009 to September 2010. 

So was around at senior Labor government levels for the decision making re: the home insulation scheme.

 

So how many documents does this include?

Kelly says that the non-cabinet documents make up four lever arch folders.

Then, there is a "quantity" of cabinet documents.

Under more questioning, we understand this is less than a lever arch's worth.

Faulkner still wants to know who made the call on the cabinet papers.

Eric Abetz (Tony Abbott's rep in the Senate) says it would have been a "radical" decision not to comply with the Australian Government Solicitor summons.

He takes some advice and adds that it was the PM who made the decision to comply.

"Hardly controversial."

Grab your lever arch folder. And step into my office.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is now appearing before the Finance and Public Administration Committee.

Deputy Secretary (Governance) Elizabeth Kelly is being asked the cabinet documents that may or may not be provided to the home insulation royal commission (see: 11.08am post).

Following questioning from John Faulkner (whose questioning remains slow, steady and utterly menacing), Kelly notes that the Australian Government Solicitor wrote to PM&C and asked for relevant documents to be produced.

With this, the department realised the cabinet documents were "caught" by the terms of the summons. The PM was then briefed.

 

Speaking of Brandisian matters, I know you have all been wondering about what the latest is with the senator's bookcase situation.

Matthew Knott has the update, fresh from the halls of Parliament

More than $15,000 of taxpayer's money has been spent on a second custom-built bookcase for the Attorney-General.

This comes after the first one (which cost $7,000) was too big to be moved.

"It's quite a large bookcase," Parliamentary Services head Carol Mills has told estimates.

But lessons have been learned.

"We have designed it in a way that it can be easily broken down into three smaller bookcases so that we can re-use it if such a large bookcase isn't required into the future."

The phrase "jurisprudential discussion" has just been uttered in the Legal Affairs room.

(Do I even have to point out that George Brandis was the one who used it?)

In the Finance Committee, the Governor-General's official secretary, Stephen Brady has just been asked about that Boyer lecture.

Liberal senator Dean Smith has asked what the deal was with Quentin Bryce's decision to "trespass" on public commentary with comments in her speech last November that were seen as supporting both a republic and same-sex marriage.

(You may recall the emphasis Cosgrove put on not doing this when he was announced as Bryce's successor.)

Brady notes that Bryce was "locked in" to give the lectures before her term was extended by the former Labor government. So originally, she would have been a free agent come Boyer time.

He also points out that the republic/same-sex marriage comments were a couple of lines in a whole lecture series.

Smith still seems miffed that the G-G "abandoned caution" with the move.

Of course, while QT boomed on, estimates continued to hop.

Jonathan Swan has been keeping an oeil on the Legal Affairs kids.

Here, Labor senator Lisa Singh questioned George Brandis on the "process" he undertook to appoint former Institute of Public Affairs spokesman Tim Wilson to the role of "freedom commissioner".

Singh asked Brandis whether Fairfax Media's Good Weekend magazine was correct to report that "George" had simply called Wilson and "asked if [he] was interested".

He replied: "Mr Wilson was approached by me and he was approached by telephone".

The Attorney-General also confirmed that Wilson's $320,000 position was not advertised for, but he pointed out that the legislation did not require that he advertise for the position. 

What did you make of Question Time?

Early assessments over this way (OK, at my desk) are that it was a bit of a fizzer.

Labor clearly had a two-pronged strategy with four questions on Manus Island and then four on Fiona Nash.

I'm not convinced that any hits - big or otherwise - were landed, though.

In fact, the only thing that was clearly established is that Tony Abbott supports Nash.

Interesting tactic too, to leave all the questioning to the shadow ministers, rather than the opposition leader.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Prime Minister Tony Abbott during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Madam Speaker moves on to deliver her ruling on whether or not Craig Thomson should be referred (again) to parliament's privileges committee (see: 1.29pm post). 

Bronwyn Bishop gives it the green light. Given that the committee was looking at the issue in the last parliament. And the recent guilty verdict in the Thomson case.

Christopher Pyne hops up to move a motion to send it committee-wards.

He speaks of the "extraordinary tale" that was "weaved" when Thomson made his long statement to parliament (declaring his innocence) in 2012.

Pyne says that telling the truth in parliament is "extremely important".

Gilding the lily (that MPs sometimes engage in) is a "far cry" from making statements that deliberately mislead.

Labor - via Tony Burke - waves the motion through.

 

At 3.13pm Tony Abbott asks that further questions be put on the notice paper.

With this, Madam Speaker notes that Claressa Surtees has been appointed as Deputy Clerk of the House.

(Former deputy David Elder has recently been promoted to the top job).

Bronwyn Bishop notes that Surtees is the first woman to occupy the role.

During all this, Nick Champion (SA Labor MP and repeat offender) is kicked out of question time.

The first MP of the week.

Nick Champion, ejected from parliament for one hour during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Nick Champion, ejected from parliament for one hour during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Health Minister Peter Dutton takes a dixer on GP super clinics.

("We will get Australia's health system back on track.")

And then it's back to Catherine King and a fourth question to the PM on Nash

Were the actions of the Assistant Minister for Health clean and fair when she removed the star rating healthy food website, a policy decision where her chief-of-staff had a conflict of interest?  And why won't the PM require that the website be reinstated immediately?

"The minister has done the right thing and the former staffer did the right thing by resigning," the PM says.

"The matter is at an end."

(You have to wonder whether this is a statement of fact or an expression of hope on Abbott's part.)

After a third question from King to the PM on Furnival and Nash, Abbott is unequivocal.

He's asked why has he taken no action in relation to Nash's "clear breach" of ministerial standards?

Abbott replies: "I appreciate that members opposite are desperate to find some moral fault with members on this side of the House ... But let me make this point. The minister in question has not breached the standards."

Labor have changed tacks.

We are now onto the second question from health shadow Catherine King to the PM on Fiona Nash's chief-of-staff.

First she asked what the PM knew of the conflict-of-interest when Alastair Furnival was appointed.

Next, he is asked what was required by his office re: Furnival's appointment. And what actions did he take in ensuring that they were adhered to prior to [Nash] making any decisions in her portfolio area that related to the conflict of interest? 

Tony Abbott responds thus:

"The gentlemen in question was required to divest himself of an interest in his wife's business."

He said that it was right that Furnival resigned.

"That's as it should be."

"He's gone. 

Here's the Thomson question:

Andrew Southcott asks Pyne if he will inform the House what funds the HSU provided to a political party in 2007?

With some glee, the Leader of the House notes that the HSU gave the Labor Party $1.2 million in '07.

He then notes that many thousands of dollars of HSU money was used to elect Craig Thomson.

(Have we been here before?)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Leader of the House Christopher Pyne during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Leader of the House Christopher Pyne during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

After a Julie Bishop dixer (can you update us on your recent visit to Fiji?) we are again back with Marles.

In his fourth question to Morrison, he asks:

Who is the person on Manus Island in charge of the detention facility? Prior to the death of Mr Barati, how often did the minister speak to that person? When did the minister first speak to the person after the death of Mr Barati? And how often has the minister spoken to that person since?

Morrison replies that the "operations manager" is an appointee of the PNG government.

The minister says he met the manager in September last year and he maintains contact through the Immigration Department. 

He underlines the fact that the centre is run by the PNG government.


Marles asks a third question of Morrison on Manus.

In the minister's previous answer, he said he first received information on Tuesday questioning the precise location of Mr Barati's death. So why did the minister not release his correction to the media until Saturday night at 8:44pm?

Morrison answers that he said on Tuesday that there were "some conflicting reports".

Things are getting crankier in here.

SM then addresses Tony Burke.

"I ask the Manager of Opposition Business, how long did it take him after the Nauru processing centre burnt down to announce ... Now you get up, don't you!" 


Scott Morrison during question. Photo: Andrew Meares

Scott Morrison during question. Photo: Andrew Meares

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has just enjoyed a boomish recitative on the carbon tax repeal.

The choice line being "get out of the way and let us repeal the carbon tax".

He also talks of a "go-slow" in the Senate.

More Manus questions coming ...

Richard Marles, Tony Burke and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Richard Marles, Tony Burke and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

After a dixer to Warren Truss about regional aviation (in which Truss talked of the carbon tax being a "job destroying tax"), we are now back to Richard Marles and Scott Morrison.

Precisely at what time and on which day was the minister first advised that the information he provided in his previous press conferences [about Manus violence] was wrong? 

"I'm happy to answer, Madam Speaker," Morrison begins.

"Over... the week, I received further information and on Saturday, I received information that made it clear that it was essential to correct the record."

Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles is up.

He's got a question for Scott Morrison.

Last Tuesday, the minister cautioned people to be very wary of unsubstantiated reports that may be put into the public domain.

What caution did the minister take in the very same press conference when he said last week's death of Reza Barati at the Manus Island facility occurred outside the facility's perimeter? 

Morrison begins by expressing his condolences to Barati's family.

"I'm sure [Marles] would join me."

The Immigration Minister goes on to talk about the government standing by its asylum seeker policies, "because they are stopping the boats and they are saving lives".

He also notes he has conducted five press conferences to update people on the Manus Island situation.

We're barely 20 minutes in to this question time and already Joe Hockey is up on his second dixer.

First, he dealt with one from Kelly O'Dwyer on the weekend's G20 meeting (which gave him the opportunity to name drop "Christine Lagarde"). 

The second is from South Australian backbencher Tony Pasin.

It's about Australia's debt and deficit levels (which gives Hockey the chance to joke about Wayne Swan promising a surplus, once upon a time).

He ends on this flourish: "you know the great lesson of opposition? You've got to have consistent principles!"

 

 

 

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Having a chat. Photo: Andrew Meares

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Having a chat. Photo: Andrew Meares

As an aside, is it parliamentary to say "stuffed around?"

Andrew Wilkie has the crossbench question today.

And it is to Malcolm Turnbull about Tasmanian constituents who are being "stuffed around" by the NBN rollout in Tasmania.

Turnbull begins by blaming the last government. The rollout "stalled" last July ...

BUT

He is pleased to report that work has resumed.

As James Massola notes, Pyne's move to head of Shorten's question is met with derision from the Labor benches.

Graham Perrett heckles: "You're running a protection racket! You're running a protection racket!"

(now, where have we heard that line before? Hmm?)

A bit of biff over BS's second question to TA.

Since the Abbott Government has been elected, thousands of jobs have been lost - Toyota, Holden, Forge in WA, Alcoa in Geelong, Rio Tinto at Gove. Why hasn't the PM had the courage to visit these workers in their communities?

The Opposition (Christopher Pyne) doesn't like the argument contained within this.

Bill Shorten changes courage to "fortitude" but Madam Speaker still does not let it through.

Eventually, Shorten asks why the PM why he "won't talk" to workers who have lost their jobs.

Abbott is not bothered by any of this.

"My job as Prime Minister is to fight in this parliament for the policies that will help those workers ..." he begins [cue: Labor hollors]. 

"That's what I'm doing every day, Madam Speaker!"

 

The first dixer (also to Abbott) is on the impact the carbon tax is having on the Australian economy.

Nola Marino, the member for Forrest, has the honour of posing this zinger.

The PM again calls on BS to "get out of the way" and allow the carbon tax repeal to go through.

The first question is from Bill Shorten to Tony Abbott and is on job losses. 

The PM notes that he deeply regrets said losses.

But then winds up to opine on the need to scrap the carbon tax and the mining tax.

He concludes by noting that "this Leader of the Opposition, he cannot transcend his background as a union official".

(Don't know about you, but I reckon the Thai silk beats this ...)

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Despite that small wobble, Butler swears in while smiling calmly.

She shakes PM Tony Abbott's hand when all the official stuff is done and takes her seat as an MP.

 

Terri Butler new MP for Griffith. Photo: Andrew Meares

Terri Butler new MP for Griffith. Photo: Andrew Meares

QT begins with the formal welcome of Terri Butler, the new member for Griffith. 

"Admit her!" Bronwyn Bishop commands to a small group waiting at the chamber entrance. 

There is much chuckling as Julie Bishop (running a bit late) appears instead at the door.

 

 

Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop bows as she was announced as a new member during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop bows as she was announced as a new member during question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Question time is hereth.

Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison arrive for question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison arrive for question time. Photo: Andrew Meares

Speaking of the Environment Committee, Peter Hannam provides this update on proceedings:

The Abbott's government renewable energy target (RET) review has been the main focus of the hearing so far.

Labor's Louise Pratt has tried to press the government, including Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, on the impact of a RET review on the plan to cut Australia's goal of cutting 2000 emissions by 5 per cent by 2020.

So far, though, officials and Cormann, have batted back the question. For example, Cormann said the question was "hypothetical", and that "there is no suggestion of abolishing the RET".

 

As thrilling as the discussion about the Thai silk in the Prime Ministerial dining room is (apparently the material has become "saggy" over the years), we will shortly leave the Senate for the House of Reps.

During question time, however, the estimating will continue.

If you’d like to tune in to the live broadcasts, you can watch online here.

A few things due to come up during the next couple of hours are: the Human Rights Commission (Legal Affairs Committee), the Governor-General’s office and the Prime Minister’s department – where there just may be questions about Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash (Finance and Public Administration Committee).

In the Environment Committee, the Clean Energy Regulator is also due after lunch.

The Finance and Public Administration Committee is back!

They are running a little bit behind time today. The G-G's office and PM's department are due to have come up by now. But we are still on the Department of Parliamentary Services. 

And we are talking about furniture.

Labor senator John Faulkner asks Carol Mills if there has been any reupholstering done in the PM's office or cabinet ante room.

Yes, some of the chairs in the PM's sitting room in his office suite have new leather, she replies. To the tune of about $5,000.

We also learn that Tony Abbott has asked for four tub chairs for his office.

Plus some additional lamps.

Mills also talks of a matching plinth for a bust of Winston Churchill. We understand it is just the one Winston bust.

With all Senate committees now on a lunch break, question time starts to loom on the lower house horizon. 

From Labor, we can expect the attack to include a Manus Island/ pressure on Morrison focus, with a good dash of jobs thrown in. 

In dixer land, early bets are on Craig Thomson.

Thomson's replacement in Dobell, Karen McNamara, has asked Speaker Bronywn Bishop to refer his case to the House's privileges committee.

(This relates to accusations that Thomson misled parliament by insisting he was innocent in 2012.)

Bishop has said she will consider it.

Labor say the matter has already been referred to the privileges committee - in the last parliament. And reckon this is a capital S Stunt.

"This just highlights the pathetic stunts that Christopher Pyne will play rather than actually getting on with the job of Education Minister that taxpayers pay him to do," a Bill Shorten spokesman says.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne meeting with the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group on Monday.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Education Minister Christopher Pyne meeting with the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Bonfires on every mountain top.

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis Senate Estimates. Photo: Andrew Meares

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis Senate Estimates. Photo: Andrew Meares

During said Legal Affairs hearing, there has (not surprisingly) been many questions that relate to intelligence matters.

This includes reports of Australian bugging the East Timor cabinet room.

Not much has been revealed about Australian intelligence matters, however.

As Brandis notes: "the government does not confirm or deny or comment on intelligence matters".

Greens senator Scott Ludlam is not impressed.

"There appears to be a lot of dodgy stuff going on behind the curtain that you've drawn..."

While Nick Xenophon (yes he's moved committees!) chats to George Brandis about whistleblowers in the Legal Affairs hearing, we pause to note an exchange between LNP senator Ian Macdonald and the AG earlier this morning.

Macdonald is of course most recently famous for his rant about "obsessive centralised control" within the Abbott government.

Today, he wants to know if there were parties when Brandis assumed his post.

"I think there were bonfires lit on every mountain top in the kingdom," comes the reply.

(but no Commonwealth money was spent.)

A couple of news updates from outside the Senate committee rooms:

  • Sarah Whyte reports that construction company Transfield Services will be paid $1.22 billion by the government to run detention centres at both Manus Island and Nauru; and

 

  • Heath Aston reports on candidate funding disclosures released by the Australian Electoral Commission this morning. These reveal that John Singleton spent nearly $750,000 on his unsuccessful bid to get former fast bowler Nathan Bracken elected to parliament, along with central coast mayor Lawrie McKinna

 

 

The Finance committee goes to the lunch break with a question about chocolates.

Penny Wong asks if there are Department of Parliamentary Services branded chocolates (she's had a tip).

At first, Carol Mills says no, but later comes back to say that some were produced for fund-raising reasons.

No DPS money was spent on the candies.

Wong presses on: "Are they good chocolates?"

 

Perhaps you noticed that Bill Heffernan is sporting a very impressive bandage on his hand (see: 11.29am post).

The Pulse understands that the senator chopped the top of his finger off during a farming accident about three weeks ago (!!).

We are happy to report that everything has been reattached and is now on its way to being OK.

 

Senator Bill Heffernan. On Monday. In estimates. 
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Senator Bill Heffernan. On Monday. In estimates. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Penny Wong is not happy, Carol.

The Labor frontbencher is trying to ask follow up questions from the last estimates session about something called the Coalition Advisory Service.

Last November, it was revealed that the CAS had hired 10 staff.

It is understood CAS replaces Labor's Caucus Communications Team - which provided daily "lines" to backbenchers and media clippings to Labor MPs. It also had something of a "dirt unit" function.

Wong wants to go back to a question that she says has already been "on notice", and learn the costs of calls made by the service. 

I would like to know have you billed, and for how much?

"The Department will have to take that on notice."

Uh oh.

Wong: "Can we in future get someone who can actually answer these questions?"

 

Carol Mills on Monday.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Carol Mills on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Madigan has now moved on to asking about the parliamentary flag.

Does this have to be made in Australia?

Mills notes that the current flag is Australian-made. But there is nothing in the tender rules that stipulates this must be so.

Xenophon then asks Senate President John Hogg whether he thinks the flag flying above Parliament House should be Aussie made.

"I don't think my view is relevant in this matter."

It should also be noted in this that Madigan is taking a very different approach from Kim Carr's really noisy question asking.

He has just been asked by committee chair Cory Bernardi to "please direct your voice toward the microphones".

 

 

As Matthew Knott reported earlier this month, there has been some confusion about the final destiny of an Australian-made crockery set that senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon have been trying to donate to Parliament.

Apparently, after initial rejecty noises, the 750-piece set has now been accepted.

Now Madigan wants to know when it will be in use in the members' dining room.

Carol Mills really is a diplomat.

The department is "exploring ways to use it to most effect," she replies.

She notes that it does not match the existing (UAE-made) set.

Madigan is undeterred.

"I think you’ll find there’s a number of crests in use..."

Xenophon tells Mills he will ask the same question at the next estimates.

Stay tuned.

Australian made. Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon on Monday.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Australian made. Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

And now the moment we have all been waiting for.

The bit where the Senate scrutinises crockery.

Heffernan is appalled.

"If I was a mischief maker and I knew a certain person … in two or three months' time, then I could over a period of time bring whatever I wanted to into Parliament."

The Heff says that Parliament House is the most important symbolic building in the country, "for government".

"If we can't afford to secure the building, we shouldn't be here."

Senator Bill Heffernan. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Senator Bill Heffernan. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Bill Heffernan, Liberal senator about town and habitual photo bomber, is concerned about what this might mean for security in the building.

He has been grilling Mills over her department's thoughts about cost cutting.

Mills notes that she has been looking at making security more efficient. One option that has been examined is cutting down on bag screening for some select types of pass holders to Parliament House.

 

Parliamentary Services is now appearing before the Finance and Public Administration Committee.

And Secretary Carol Mills has come out swinging.

As Noel Towell reports, her department is going broke.

More "difficult decisions" are looming if there is no let-up to the department's budget problems, she says.

 

Carol Mills, Department of Parliamentary Services Secretary, during estimates.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Carol Mills, Department of Parliamentary Services Secretary, during estimates. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

While this is going on, Education honcho Christopher Pyne is meeting members of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group in the private dining room at Parliament House.

With all those cameras, I think the vibe is quite My Kitchen Rules.

Not that there's anything faddish about that.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne meets with the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Education Minister Christopher Pyne meets with the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"I'm not going to disclose to you what happens in cabinet!"

George Brandis before Senate Estimates on Monday.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

George Brandis before Senate Estimates on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

It is morning tea time in the Senate wing. As everyone catches their breath over an Arnott's biscuit, we recap one of the closing scenes in the Legal Affairs session just gone.

Kim Carr has been back on the case about cabinet documents and the home insulation royal commission (see: 10.29am post).  

He begins: I take it the government has taken the decision to provide the commission with cabinet documents ...

Brandis replies that if cabinet papers are requested by the commission "they will be dealt with" in the manner outlined in his letter to Labor counterpart Mark Dreyfus of February 7.

The rest of the conversation then played out something like this:

Carr: Is that a cabinet decision?

Brandis: It's a government decision ...

... I'm not going to disclose to you what happens in cabinet!

Carr: ... An executive inquisition!

Brandis: Senator Carr ... may I counsel you to be careful in your language, lest you find yourself in contempt of the royal commission. 

Carr: Statements in Parliament are in contempt of a royal commission?!

(Going off all the outrage and logic leaping at play here, I'd say something stronger than a Monte Carlo is needed.)

Senator Kim Carr during Senate Estimates. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senator Kim Carr during Senate Estimates. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Legal Committee moves on to another royal commission.

Brandis tells the room that Justice Peter McClellan, who is heading up the commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, had a meeting with him last week.

Justice McClellan has flagged that the commission may need an extension.

An interim report is due on June 30 this year, with a final report in December 2015.

When she announced the terms of reference, former PM Julia Gillard said that an extension may be required.

 

Labor's Kim Carr has just pressed officials about how much the home insulation royal commission will cost.

He is told $20 million.

(This is the same figure included in the government's mid-year update.)

Carr then wants to know how much of this will be spent on lawyers.

Attorney-General George Brandis says this is a "vague" question.

There is talk of taking it on notice.

George Brandis before Senate Estimates on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

George Brandis before Senate Estimates on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Attorney-General's Department is appearing before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

So far, the committee has been much concerned about the royal commission into the former Labor government's home insulation scheme.

Over the weekend, Michael Gordon reported that the Abbott government will make Labor's cabinet documents available to the commission.

(There has been a touch of consternation about this.)

In the hearing, as Jonathan Swan reports, Attorney-General George Brandis said he was "like Caesar's wife" when it came to the royal commission.

Brandis said he was not aware of any requests having been sent to the government for the previous Labor government's cabinet documents, but he could not rule it out.

"I have made a point of having nothing to do with the royal commission," he said.

The Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, Roger Wilkins, said his department had not received a request for the cabinet documents.

This man makes public servants really nervous.

Senator John Faulkner during Senate Estimates on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senator John Faulkner during Senate Estimates on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

"In the beginning ..."

Rosemary Laing before Senate Estimates at Parliament House on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Rosemary Laing before Senate Estimates at Parliament House on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

If this seems a bit harsh re: Quentin, the PM's press release notes that:

"There will be a number of events to formally mark the end of Ms Bryce's term as Governor-General in the week of General Cosgrove's swearing-in."

We can report that a Prime Ministerial press release has landed in our inboxes.

Peter Cosgrove will be sworn in as Governor-General on March 28.

Chief Justice Robert French will do the swear-in.

With this, Cosgrove and his wife Lynne will move into Government House in Canberra.

And we can officially make jokes about the Governor-General General.

 

Laing is then asked by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie about the Lord's Prayer.

You may recall that Greens senator Richard Di Natale has suggested recently that it should be scrapped from parliament.

I was just wondering if you just outline the origins of the daily prayers, McKenzie asks.

"Well, in the beginning, Senator ..." Laing replies, to hoots from the room. 

Even McKenzie gets the gag.

"Well done, Dr Laing!"

The Senate Clerk explains that parliament began in 1901 with no prayers. But then there was a petition from the Presbyterians.

Hey presto, prayers were adopted, with the Presbyterian version of the Lord's Prayer (to the annoyance of the Catholics).

Laing notes that although the prayers have been the subject of "much discussion" over the years, there has never been the numbers or the will to change them.

 

Things are a bit more genteel over in the Finance and Public Administration Committee where the Senate department is appearing.

Here, there is a debate about what Hansard should record.

Liberal senator Helen Kroger is asking Senate Clerk Rosemary Laing what Hansard is.

"Hansard is a report of what happens in the chamber," Laing replies.

(There is some conjecture about how accurate it should be and what interjections should be included).

Laing says she takes a "purist" view that the recording of interjections is not the primary purpose of Hansard. 

It should record the words of person with the call.

 

The Immigration and Border Protection portfolio will appear before estimates tomorrow.

One can only imagine the scrambling that must be going on in the department today (we need briefs and we need them STAT!)

 

Labor are not calling for SM to go, but they are sticking to the line that there are questions that need to be answered about what is happening on Manus Island.

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke was immigration minister when Kevin Rudd made the PNG resettlement deal in July last year.

On Sky News this morning, he was asked a question of his own.

Given you were the minister when the deal was struck, do you accept any responsibility for what is going on in PNG?

Burke doesn't skip a beat.

"First of all I want to know what’s going on there now."

But there are others within the parliamentary waters - such as the Greens - who would like to see Morrison go.

Christine Milne has called for SM to be sacked from the ministry following the violence on Manus and death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati

However, the PM has already backed in his man with a comment that is sure to go down in the history books.

"You don't want a wimp running border protection," he said on Sunday.

"You want someone who is strong, who is decent, and Scott Morrison is both strong and decent."

(What the?!)

 

 

Morrison, for his part, is calmly and methodically trying to hose down the clanger.

When asked yesterday if he really knew what was going on on Manus Island, he replied:

"Well, I've given five press conferences on this topic. There is one incident, one piece of information that I've updated and clarified ...

... As time goes on the picture becomes clearer."

 

But before we get to the Senate, a word or five about asylum seekers.

Over the weekend, Scott Morrison was forced to correct the record (*culpa alert*). 

As Bianca Hall reported on Saturday, "most of the violence probably took place within the [Manus Island] detention centre's fences, rather than outside ... as Mr Morrison had previously claimed".

Hi there and welcome to Canberra on this Monday morning.

We've got the House sitting from 10am and as usual, question time at 2pm. 

Over in the Senate wing, public servants with folders upon folders of briefings and talking points are preparing for estimates.

(Aka, the opposition try for as many gotcha moments as they can over anything that can be tied to government spending ... which means just about everything.)

 

 

Parliament is back and sitting with the treatment of asylum seekers once more in the spotlight.

The Greens and refugee advocates want Immigration Minister Scott Morrison sacked but Tony Abbott doesn't want a wimp running border protection

Meanwhile, the Senate faces another round of estimates hearings. Here, the Prime Minister's own department is up, along with Attorney-General's, Environment and Infrastructure.

Ya want to take that on notice?

"You don't want a wimp running border protection."

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media during a press conference at  in Canberra on February 17.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media during a press conference at in Canberra on February 17. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen