The Politics    Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Imputation nation

By Rachel Withers

Image of Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton during Question Time in the House of Representatives, July 27, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton during Question Time in the House of Representatives, July 27, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Opposition spent today’s Question Time obsessed with the CFMEU

The 47th parliament has held its first full day of business and, as anticipated, it was a busy one. The Albanese government used the morning to introduce its aged-care reforms (with which it also tabled 23 reports into the sector from the past decade), its bill to abolish the cashless debit card and, of course, its emissions-reduction legislation, which it hopes to pass through the lower house this fortnight. Introducing the bill, Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen said that it “sends a message that Australia is back as a good international citizen”. The Opposition benches were empty. The Greens are inching closer to backing the bill in the Senate, even if it still doesn’t live up to their demands on coal and gas, which leader Adam Bandt keeps referring to as “pouring petrol on the fire”. The PM poured a little petrol on the debate on 7.30 last night, repeating more of the Coalition’s ridiculous lines about clean coal and the economy. Labor is more than willing to call the Greens’ bluff, it seems, with Bowen saying that the government is willing to “walk away” from the legislation if it must. Labor sources are said to be quietly confident that the minor party would cop the blame if negotiations fall apart.

It was the first Question Time under the Albanese government, however, that many people were waiting for, wondering just how “respectful” this new parliament would be. Labor’s first order of business this morning was making changes to the Standing Orders, including more family-friendly hours (no quorums after 6.30pm) and several tweaks to Question Time, with crossbenchers to now get three questions per session, much to the annoyance of the Coalition. Manager of Opposition business Paul Fletcher used his 90-second statement to complain about the changes, lambasting Labor’s plan to allow parliament to declare bills urgent in order to push business through more quickly (an “effective gag”, tweeted Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy), noting that gag motions were one of the things that Labor used to rail against from Opposition.

So how was Question Time? As it turned out, there was a marked improvement, although it would’ve been hard for there not to be after several years of Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce bellowing nonsensically from the despatch box. Dorothy Dixers clearly aren’t going anywhere and the first one was a doozy, with new Hasluck MP Tania Lawrence seeking to know more about Labor’s “plans for a better future” (no, seriously). “Old habits die hard!” tweeted exasperated independent Zali Steggall. Katter got his 45-second question, although it wasn’t exactly clear what it was, while Treasurer Jim Chalmers managed to respond to Adam Bandt’s question about Stage Three tax cuts without mocking him or the Greens, instead “sheepishly” congratulating the minor party on its increased representation. New Speaker Milton Dick had a strong handle on the lower house, getting things back under control remarkably quickly, but it’s clear that the Coalition will have to get used to not having the Speaker on side, with Dick rejecting every point of order Fletcher attempted to make.

It’s clearer than ever that the Coalition has no intention of taking its role seriously. Despite the increasingly concerning economic climate, almost all of the Opposition’s questions were about the CFMEU, in a major tantrum over the government’s plan to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. (“Why is Labor making a bad situation worse?” was the Coalition catchphrase of the day.) Liberal deputy Sussan Ley’s suggestion – that that the PM didn’t think “vile behaviour” such as assault should be pursued – saw the new parliament’s first QT biff just 20 minutes in, with each side accusing the other of unfair imputations. (Dick, unsurprisingly, took Labor’s side on this.) As Albanese noted, when he once again had the floor, the Opposition could have been asking about inflation, or the cost of living, or the pandemic, or any of a whole range of issues, but was instead focused on the “same old bucket”.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Question Time today concluded, as it so often does, with shouting: Coalition MPs were up in arms about “an imputation” they believed Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil had made about her predecessor, Karen Andrews, by updating the house on the report into election-day messages about a boat arrival. (“If you do not want to be accused of acts of cowardice and breaching your duty and the trust you owe to the Australian people, don’t do it,” O’Neil replied.) Question Time is vastly improved by the absence of Scott Morrison, though there’s no doubt that both sides are still in it to score points. And there’s no doubt the Opposition will remain completely preoccupied with the CFMEU for the rest of the sitting period.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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