Friday, February 15, 2019

Government control of parliament slipping

The government has endured another chaotic sitting week in parliament, extending Question Time to prevent a second embarrassing loss on a piece of major legislation. Government MPs used delaying tactics to avoid a vote on establishing a royal commission into abuse in the disability care sector, resulting in the longest Question Time in Australian parliamentary history. The government also postponed its “big stick” energy bill after acknowledging that it could not be debated without the Greens successfully amending it to block taxpayer funding for new coal plants. A Senate inquiry report into the Turnbull government’s $444 million grant to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation called the decision “highly irresponsible”, recommending that the Commonwealth recover whatever money has not been spent.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led organisations are preparing to lobby for a greater share of Indigenous funding after the latest Closing The Gap report found Australia had failed to make progress in most key areas. National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation chief executive Pat Turner told Guardian Australia a planned tripartite agreement between the Council of Australian Governments and Indigenous organisations could set “a real precedent here for how governments should be working with Aboriginal people”. Speaking in parliament on Thursday, prime minister Scott Morrison said “I don't know when it will be true” that Indigenous and non-Indigenous children have the same opportunities. In his reply speech, opposition leader Bill Shorten said there was a more fundamental problem. “If we can’t admit racism exists, then we’re wasting the time of our First Australians today”, Shorten said.

A refugee held in offshore detention since 2013 has been awarded an international human rights accolade for raising awareness about conditions in the Manus Island detention facility run by Australia. Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese man who was granted refugee status in 2015 after fleeing violence in Darfur, was named the winner of the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders at a ceremony in Geneva on Thursday. Aziz has provided more than 4000 audio messages that have formed the basis of The Messenger, a podcast exploring the reality of life in offshore detention. Martin Ennals Foundation chair Dick Oosting said Aziz has “never stopped raising his voice for those who have been stripped of their most basic rights together with him”. Aziz, who will return to detention on Manus, said “opposing this cruel system helps preserve my self-esteem and my human dignity. I will continue to fight until all of us are safe and free.”

And Senate president Scott Ryan has revoked One Nation staffer James Ashby’s parliamentary pass after a violent confrontation between Ashby and United Australia Party senator Brian Burston. In a statement, Burston said he intended to file a restraining order against Ashby, and that he would refer the incident to police. Burston also admitted he smeared blood from his hand on One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s office door, telling the Senate that “while I do not remember the incident of the blood on the door, I have come to the conclusion that it was myself”. Burston and Ashby scuffled outside parliament’s Great Hall after Ashby began using a phone camera to film the senator and his wife. At the time of writing, home affairs minister Peter Dutton had announced no new measures to protect innocent Australians from gangs of violent far-right politicians.



“In 1957, on an otherwise ordinary day in Victoria, a boy took his three-year-old sister across the road to a neighbour’s house where the little girl was sexually abused. It was the beginning of a nightmare that lasted until the girl was 16. But it wasn’t her adult neighbour who continued to abuse her. It was her older brother. The boy who delivered her to the paedophile in the first place.”


“The original UK version of Camping, by English writer and actor Julia Davis, was a work of comic monstrosity ... That approach – not of cringe comedy, but of car-crash comedy – rarely squares with the sparkle-eyed American moral code in which self-improvement is possible and progress is inevitable. Davis’s British, grimacing uptightness is now Lena Dunham’s buzzing neurosis, slicked with HBO gloss. Worse, there is now something to learn.”


“One-third of all food along the food chain is wasted, Ronni tells me. It is estimated that every year in Australia $20 billion worth of food goes to waste, half of which is a direct result of our behaviour as consumers. We are fussy about the appearance of our fruits and vegetables, and reject quality food that is cosmetically unappealing. On average we discard 20 per cent of the food we purchase.”


“Days after returning from a Thai prison, refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi has been assured by the government he is set to become an Australian citizen soon ... Scott Morrison told the 25-year-old he hoped to see him at an Australian citizenship ceremony soon. ‘I don’t think it’s too far away’, he said.”


“Ironic watching Labor and Liberal senators lining up for photo op with Hakeem at Parliament House today. Same people who yesterday voted against a Senate inquiry into how the hell he was in a Thai jail on Oz advice in the first place.”


“The No Dumb Orange Presidents clause of the Constitution couldn’t be more explicit. It says it in plain English in our nation’s founding document:

‘Whoever shall hold the office of President, and preside over these United States as its Chief Executive, must not be a dumb, orange man.’

Alex McKinnon
is Schwartz Media's morning editor.