'Apologise to the koalas!' Yes, it's playtime in parliament again
UNDER THE FLAG
Why does the Coalition hate koalas? That's all Environment Minister Tony Burke wanted to know.
Asked a question about the government's controversial new powers over coal mines and gas wells, Burke deftly turned the conversation to Australia's most beloved marsupial icon (with apologies to quokkas and pademelons).
The government stands accused of over-regulating miners by imposing excessive ''green tape''. But Burke argued that one man's green tape is another man's environmental protection, adducing compelling koala evidence to bolster his case - the Queensland LNP, led by Premier Campbell Newman, had opposed his decision last year to list koalas as vulnerable, saying it would impede business and threaten jobs.
"When we talk about protecting iconic species like the koala, we don't see it as green tape": Tony Burke. Photo: AAP
''When we talk about protecting iconic species like the koala, we don't see it as green tape!'' Burke thundered.
''Apologise to the koalas!'' yelled manager of government business Anthony Albanese.
Earlier Prime Minister Julia Gillard, taking a question on the drugs-in-sports scandal, had said that Australians did not want ''to see us play politics with sport'', but other topics, including the koala, the arts and of course, boat people, were kicked around in the parliament's usual playful fashion.
Gillard began her day with a Tony Abbott-esque visit to a school in an outlying Canberra suburb, where she answered questions about her government's media law reform package.
The proposed changes have led to accusations of censorship and free-speech-suppression, not to mention the depiction of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy as Josef Stalin on the front page of a Sydney tabloid.
''I am passionately committed to free speech, passionately committed to free speech, and also committed to a diversity of voices,'' the Prime Minister assured journalists.
Independent MP Bob Katter is also passionately committed to free speech, although in his case, it is more accurately described as ''free association'' speech.
The Member for Kennedy gave an afternoon press conference casually noting that ''it would appear that my vote will be crucial on the issue of the media legislative changes''.
And he didn't like the proposed changes one bit. He worried about politicians appointing the ''public interest media advocate'' who will oversee the Press Council (for the record, he did not think the Press Council was worth a ''tinker's damn'', but that was not the point).
Katter said he wanted a supervisory body comprised of senior journalists, retirees, trade unions, small business people and First Australians to appoint the public interest media advocate. He left blank the detail on who would appoint the members of the supervisory panel.
''I'm not going to upset the apple cart, I am not going to change the goal posts after the try has been scored,'' he said, a metaphor megamix.
The press conference was briefly interrupted by the free speech of NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, who poked his head out a door into the senate courtyard and yelled, ''Hey Bob! Bob!''
''Mate, I'll give you a go later on!'' Katter yodelled back, before re-commencing a monologue about Australia's over-reliance on food imports.
Katter's speech is so free that on Thursday it will be liberated from the chamber altogether - he has announced he will hold his own question time on Twitter.
And Conroy's Soviet-chic legislation looks destined for the gulag.