The Politics    Monday, May 24, 2021

An emphasis on Estimates

By Rachel Withers

Kristina Keneally. © Commonwealth Parliament

Labor wants more attention paid to what goes on in Senate committees

The Opposition is today going hard after the government in various Senate estimates committees, as the House of Representatives returns for a two-week sitting period that is expected to be heavily focused on the vaccine rollout and – it now appears – government rorts. Via his Twitter feed last night, Labor leader Anthony Albanese gave a hint of the onslaught to come, reiterating his calls for a national integrity commission, while shadow minister for government accountability Kristina Keneally made it clear she didn’t want anything missed, launching the party’s very own live blog of the often underlooked proceedings. Keneally has been using the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to probe Home Affairs officials on donations made to the Coalition by Canstruct around the time it was awarded a major contract to run detention facilities, with Keneally’s questioning of duty minister Amanda Stoker – replete with matching pictures of the Canstruct chief executive and the prime minister – causing the committee to be briefly suspended. Labor has also been asking pointed questions: on the controversial Leppington triangle deal, with an independent report finding the Department of Infrastructure didn’t take all reasonable steps to ensure its value; on the Safer Communities program audit, following a 7.30 investigation into former minister Peter Dutton’s failure to follow department recommendations; and, as always, on what the government knew and when of former staffer Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations, amid revelations that no changes have yet been made to the rules regarding after-hours office access.

Labor is giving the game away somewhat with its Estimates live blog, laying out exactly what it intends to spend the rest of the day asking about, from questions about the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s failure to reach its fundraising targets to the pork-barrelling of the Building Better Regions Fund. It’s unlikely many people are actually reading it. But Labor is certainly signalling its intention to keep the pressure on the government’s misappropriation of funds as the election approaches.

Down in the House, Labor has used Question Time to keep the focus on the Brittany Higgins allegations, with Albanese asking Scott Morrison how it was possible that none of the reviews he had ordered into the incident had yet been completed. The prime minister told parliament he was expecting a report “very very shortly” from his department secretary Stephanie Foster, who has been tasked with examining the processes in place for supporting those who come forward, though the PM made no mention of the status of department head Phil Gaetjens’ inquiry into who in the PM’s office knew about the alleged rape, which Morrison confirmed had recommenced after the budget. In fantastic timing for the government, recent comments from Grace Tame also got a run, after she revealed the PM’s immediate response to her powerful Australian of the Year speech was to lean over and say, “Well, gee, I bet it felt good to get that out”. Shadow minister for women Tanya Plibersek asked Morrison if it was true, and though he was smart enough not to contradict Tame’s account, he seemed confused as to why that was seen as such a yikes-worthy response. “I think in raising her voice in that way, it would have been great to so many victims of sexual abuse and harassment around the country,” he said. “That is exactly what I meant, Mr Speaker.”

It wouldn’t be a post-budget Question Time without half a dozen questions from Labor about wage growth (or real-time wage cuts): Jim Chalmers, Ed Husic, Richard Marles, Emma McBride and Tony Burke all got one in, to little effect (it’s only a matter of time before Labor creates a live blog for its questions about wages). Shadow treasurer Chalmers quizzed Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on the latest jobs figures, which revealed the total number of jobs had actually gone down amid thousands leaving the job market, but it only gave Frydenberg an opportunity to grandstand about unemployment going down. The most important questions of the day were focused on the disastrous vaccine rollout. The Opposition leader asked the PM for a “straight answer” on whether Australians will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which Morrison was, of course, unable to give, while Independent MP Helen Haines called the PM out on his wildly unpopular proposal of a vaccine passport for interstate travel, which he intends to take to next week’s national cabinet, despite opposition from state premiers as well as experts. Morrison blamed the media for the vaccine passport idea, even though it is he who has raised it repeatedly.

Health Minister Greg Hunt, meanwhile, attempted to undo some of the damage he may have done to vaccine take-up last week when he said there would be enough mRNA vaccines for everyone at the end of the year. “The message is very clear,” he said, before attempting to cultivate the sense of urgency the government has long neglected. “If you are not vaccinated and you catch COVID, you could die. That is the message to all Australians.” With four new cases of COVID-19 having been confirmed in Victoria today, the real consequences of the federal government’s dawdling may also be about to become clearer.

“We lost primary vote and preferences to our ‘left’. While trying to match the populist dog whistling of the conservatives and One Nation, delivered no dividend either.”

Labor Environmental Action Network convenor Felicity Wade says the NSW Upper Hunter byelection loss is proof Labor cannot win by moving right, as the party splinters over the result.

“We need to tackle discrimination, racism and bigotry and all those terrible ills, but not in a way which threatens the rights of those, the overwhelming majority who do the right thing every day.”

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon argues Labor needs to move right, during a morning media blitz that included ABC TV, ABC Radio, Sky News, 2GB, Sunrise and an in-person press conference.

Are Australians too complacent about COVID-19?
Australia’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has been stymied by a combination of different factors including supply, distribution and vaccine hesitancy among the public. Today, Dr Melanie Cheng on where Australia went wrong with its vaccine rollout.


The percentage of voters who think the COVID-19 vaccine should be compulsory, in the first Australia Talks National Survey since the pandemic began.


“Mums and dads taking time off work to look after their babies will be promised more generous paid parental leave under a Labor government, putting pressure on the Coalition to expand the scheme ahead of the election.”

Senior sources say Labor intends to formally re-adopt a policy it took to the last election, paying superannuation on top of the existing paid parental leave arrangements.

The list

“Cusk has long interrogated female subjectivity and the crushing ways in which this can be received. In Second Place she takes her themes further still, and the result is a stunningly powerful novel of interweaving philosophical digressions”

“If you walk into a newsagency and see a big book of sudoku or other puzzles, that book is likely published by Lovatts Crosswords & Puzzles. The company supplies crosswords to many magazines as well. It is well respected in the publishing world. I did not know that it is a family company, one that used to have a very unusual structure. The man at the party turned out to be Dom Lovatt, son of the founders, and over the years the company’s business model had cost his family a fortune. A large proportion of the profits had been paid back to the staff.”

“It’s no surprise that our politicians watch each other like hawks. Especially as everyone accepts that the Frydenberg budget was a starting gun for election campaigning. One key Queensland Labor strategist says Morrison knows Flynn is the Coalition’s most marginal seat: the fact he gave it priority after the budget merely confirms this. Labor believes the government’s research in the Sunshine State, like the opposition’s own data, shows 2019 was a high-water mark for the Coalition. Right now, Labor stocks are improving.”

The Monthly invites readers in Melbourne to enter the draw for a chance to win a double pass to How to Live… at RISING on Friday, June 4.

With tenderness, intimacy, and humour, Lynette Wallworth unearths memories of her coming-of-age as prophetess in a radical Christian community, and recounts her exodus back to freedom. As she stages the drama of her loss of self and path to rediscovery, she finds a world governed by the influence of cults not unlike the one she left behind.

Entries close at 11.59pm AEDT on Tuesday, May 25, and the winner will be notified on Wednesday, May 26.


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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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