Tony Smith, on the Bruce Billson referral to the privileges committee.
I have not made a determination that there is a prima facie case, but I’m sufficiently concerned by the matters raised to consider they should be examined by the committee.
Speaker Tony Smith says Bruce Billson’s conduct should be examined by the privileges committee
While we are down in the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Tony Smith, is making a statement about the former Liberal MP Bruce Billson. Some readers will doubtless already know that the former Liberal minister has apologised for failing to disclose that he was collecting a salary from a business lobby group, the franchise council, when he was still an MP.
Labor has sought to refer this issue to the powerful privileges committee of parliament to see whether or not any contempts of the House have been committed. Smith says in his statement to the chamber that he doesn’t have sufficient information to be able to have a position on Billson’s conduct, but he says the issue should go to privileges for determination.
I am not in a position to determine the nature of any connection between the appointment of Mr Billson to the franchise council and his subsequent statements and actions, but I appreciate that issues are raised.
That referral has just gone through on the voices.
While we’ve had eyes on the red place, down in the House of Representatives the Green’s climate change spokesman, Adam Bandt, introduced a bill expanding the current renewable energy target. That happened about an hour ago. I wrote a preview of this development this morning.
The bill itself doesn’t matter, given it is unlikely to find much support. It’s the politics that make this development interesting.
The purpose of the Bandt activity this morning is to fire a political warning shot in Labor’s direction as both the major parties determine what they will do on energy policy between now and the end of the year.
If you haven’t followed the energy debate closely let me recap. The government will shortly attempt to put together its response to the Finkel review of the national electricity market, and determine whether or not it proceeds with the clean energy target recommended by the chief scientist.
Labor will then need to determine whether or not to back the government’s package, thereby ending a decade-long war over climate policy.
Both the major parties are under pressure to come to terms, given the market needs certainty.
But if Labor cuts the government too much slack, the Greens have signalled (with this action this morning) they will come at Labor from the left, which is a relevant challenge for Labor in determining how and where to draw the line in any deal with the Coalition.
Like little moving pieces on a chess board. Moving about the place. Best always to keep a close eye on them.
Just for the record, Greens and One Nation voting together.
(The motion was for a citizenship audit.)
More peace, love and harmony in the red room. Cory Bernardi and Lee Rhiannon share a bench.
Sometimes we should say no.
This is the Tasmanian independent, Andrew Wilkie, on Sky News just now talking about North Korea. He’s talking about our obligations under the Anzus treaty if the US comes under attack by the rogue regime. Wilkie says the treaty requires only consultation, not action. He says when Canada says no to America, Washington takes notice.
No idea what this is about, but Penny Wong is clearly amused.
Just for the record, the Greens voted with One Nation on that motion for an audit. Not a development you see every day of the week.
Labor’s Katy Gallagher, insisting she is eligible to remain.
Nick Xenophon, referring himself down the road. (For what it’s worth, the attorney-general, George Brandis, said in passing that Xenophon was as likely to be a dual citizen of the United Kingdom as the pope being found to be a Methodist.)
And the Nationals deputy leader, Fiona Nash.
A few pictures now from that sequence in the Senate, kicking off with Pauline Hanson on the war path.
We are back now to Pauline Hanson, and her suspension motion.
The One Nation leader says the major parties are closing ranks on the dual citizenship fracas and refusing to conduct an independent inquiry or audit to determine whether everyone in the place meets the constitutional benchmarks to be in parliament.
Why are you closing ranks? The people have lost trust in you.
(I note in passing that I don’t recall hearing Hanson support the Greens call for an audit when there were questions about the eligibility of her colleague, Malcolm Roberts. Perhaps she did support an audit then and I didn’t hear it for some reason. But I don’t recall her supporting one. You folks will correct me if I’ve forgotten something.)
In any case, the attorney-general, George Brandis, says the government won’t support the Hanson motion. He says recent history has shown senators are honourable types, who have referred themselves to the high court when they believe they have a case to answer.
The Labor senator Doug Cameron says the opposition won’t be backing this motion either. It’s a stunt, Cameron says. And hang on, says Cameron, how about Malcolm Roberts?
The invisible man!
Cameron says One Nation didn’t make the professional checks on Roberts, so now they want to reverse the onus of proof for other senators.
This is not about closing ranks, Senator Hanson, this is about a professional political party doing what is required to be done.
We went through a professional process, a proper process. No closed ranks from the Labor party, just a professional process to ensure people are entitled to be in.
Don’t put other people in the same boat as you.
Cameron flings in his finale that Hanson is a “racist”.
Hanson objects, quick as a wink, she wants that term withdrawn.
I withdraw, reluctantly.
The One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, has sought to suspend the standing orders on a motion concerning the qualification of senators.
Labor’s Penny Wong has asked Hanson to hit pause on the suspension, while Derryn Hinch and Katy Gallagher make statements concerning issues raised in the past couple of weeks about their potential constitutional problems.
Hinch, the Victorian senator and former broadcaster, points to questions that were raised last week about his possession of a US social security number from a period working in the US in the 1960s and 1970s. He says the legal advice is he’s in the clear, so he won’t be referring himself to the court.
Gallagher, the Labor senator, says she is not a citizen of Ecuador or the United Kingdom. Questions were raised over the past couple of weeks about Gallagher, and a potential citizenship by descent issue. In a statement, Gallagher goes through the processes of checks and legal advice she has taken both before her nomination, and once the new questions were raised. She insists she is eligible to be in the parliament, and there is no reason for a high court referral.
Off to the high court
The Senate has skipped on in short order to referring the Nationals deputy leader, Fiona Nash, and the NXT leader, Nick Xenophon, to the high court. That has just happened.
The Greens leader Richard Di Natale has taken the opportunity to raise the section 64 issues I raised on the blog a couple of posts ago – he says ministers should not be in their posts while these matters are being heard.
Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, makes the same point.
President flags a change to the standing orders after Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt
The Senate is now sitting for the day. As I flagged a bit earlier, Stephen Parry, the Senate president, has just given a short statement giving new facts about how Pauline Hanson entered the chamber during the past sitting fortnight wearing a burqa – and what consequences follow the action.
Parry said Hanson did not, at any point, breach security in parliament house by entering the chamber in the full-face covering. She had sought a security escort from her office to the chamber so she would not be impeded by journalists, and they knew who they were escorting. “At no point” did Hanson put the parliament’s security at risk, Parry said, because she was clearly identified before entering the chamber.
But he wants the procedures committee to look at two things.
- Right now there is no dress code in the Senate. Senators set their own standard. Given the Hanson stunt, he wants the committee to examine whether or not a dress code needs to be set. In the interim, Parry would like senators to have an eye to the dignity of the Senate in their manner of dress.
- He also wants the procedures committee to examine the standing orders, because he had no power on the day to take any action against Hanson. He said he was unable to respond to Hanson’s behaviour on the day because there was no breach of the standing orders.
Just a bit more of Tony before I check in on our friends in the Senate.
Abbott was asked whether the current campaign of character assassination against him (which I confess I have missed despite paying ridiculously close attention to daily politics) was harming his chances of being preselected in the seat of Warringah.
The former prime minister thought not, because the good people of Manly knew him very well, and knew he was doing amazing stuff, like improving Brookvale Oval.
He was also asked about North Korea.
After a few seconds rumination, he thought North Korea was China’s problem. End of story. If China didn’t fix its North Korea problem, that just showed China was not a good international citizen.
It is China’s problem to fix.
‘I can’t quibble with your arithmetic there, Mark’
Fresh from his spot of helping earlier this morning, the former prime minister Tony Abbott has bobbed up on 2GB in his regular Monday fortnightly spot with Ray Hadley, except Ray isn’t there.
Someone called Mark is there, and Tony hopes Ray will be back real soon – and don’t we all.
Proving that irony is not dead, Abbott thinks Bill Shorten should not be disrupting the parliament on the unfortunate constitutional matters. Abbott thinks the idea that he [Shorten] should be making the parliament unworkable, just shows he’s not up to the top job.
(Live blogger clears throat, denoting a short personal intervention.) Some of us were around during the 43rd parliament when Abbott made a daily art form of parliamentary disruption. Sometimes several times a day. It is truly a curse in this business to have a long memory. It impedes performance every which way.
Back to Abbott and Ray’s stand-in.
The former prime minister was asked about the Daily Telegraph’s story I flagged in the first post (in which Malcolm Turnbull is alleged to have called Abbott a word starting with “c” and ending with “t” on an a taxpayer-funded plane many moons ago).
Abbott couldn’t possibly talk about that story. That would be indelicate.
He tells Ray’s stand-in, Mark, that what goes on on the plane stays on the plane. He wasn’t talking then, or now. But he notes that Sharri Markson (author of plane gate) is a very fine journalist.
He also notes that Turnbull and he go back several centuries, and “there have been many milestones in our relationship, some good, some bad”. He also notes that senior politicians have been known to swear in moments of passion. People can, he notes, use “robust language”.
Ray’s stand-in notes that Turnbull is still behind in the Newspoll, and closing in on Abbott’s milestone of 30 polls with the government trailing Labor.
Abbott doesn’t really comment on polls, but he can’t fault the mathematical prowess of his interviewer.
I can’t quibble with your arithmetic there, Mark.
Parliamentary disruption: what is the point?
I want to return for a moment to procedural antics and the high court cases because I’ve zipped over that in pretty basic fashion this morning. Given things are likely to get noisy at some point today, let’s step through the substantive point sitting behind the basic intra-day political tactics.
Labor has eyes on Barnaby Joyce, the deputy prime minister, because it wants to hang a lantern over whether or not his ministerial decisions at the moment are legally valid. The focus is on Joyce, too, because the government commands a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives. That will be upset of course if the high court says Joyce is out because he was a dual citizen of New Zealand. Joyce will also have a stint as acting prime minister later this week.
We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about dual citizenship rendering people ineligible to sit in the parliament. We’ve heard a bit less about section 64 of the constitution. That section says no minister of state shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. In plain English, it means you can’t be a minister if you aren’t an MP.
Three ministers face questions about whether they were validly elected: Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan (who has stood down from cabinet) and Fiona Nash.
Constitutional law experts say if the high court finds the trio should not have been elected because of their dual citizenships, there is a risk that their decision making could be open to legal challenge, particularly Joyce and Nash, who are insisting on remaining in their posts while their matters are heard.
Sydney University law professor Anne Twomey has argued it would be “prudent for those ministers who are currently under a cloud concerning their lawful occupation of office to cease to make decisions which are contentious or might give rise to legal challenges with significant consequences”.
Twomey says it would be better if decision making was made by acting ministers until such time as their cases are resolved.
The government says there is n-o-t-h-i-n-g to see here. As they say in the classics, only time will tell.
Lots of activity up and down the corridor this morning.
I love this catch from Mike Bowers of Nick Xenophon feeding the chooks.
I forgot to mention before when I mentioned Nick Xenophon’s visit to our corridor – there was a short update on media reform.
Regular readers will know the Turnbull government wants to overhaul media ownership regulations. A deal was almost struck in the last parliamentary sitting fortnight, but fell over because the NXT leader wanted a better deal on tax breaks for independent publishers.
Xenophon has revised his ask, and put a set of proposals to the government which may nudge the issue along. He was having trouble raising the communications minister, Mitch Fifield, at the weekend, but the two appear to have connected now.
Media reform is on the Senate notice paper for today. It’s not clear how quickly any deal will come together. We’ll keep an eye on it.
I’ve mentioned that when the Senate begins sitting at 10am, Nick Xenophon and Fiona Nash will be referred off for their day in the high court.
We also expect the president of the Senate, Stephen Parry, to make a statement about the eye-popping event of the last sitting fortnight – Pauline Hanson’s decision to wear a burqa in the Senate chamber.
Parry is expected to refer the issue of a dress code to the procedures committee.
No show without Hunch.
Rainbows are visions, but only, illusions.
Game of Tones: show your letter, or shut it, Bill
Tony Abbott is meanwhile at the door of the House of Representatives, and he is here to help. (You bet you are. You bet I am.)
Abbott is clutching a letter he obtained from the Brits concerning his True Blue citizenship status.
Rather than wandering around threatening Barnaby Joyce, promising disruption and chaos, Abbott thinks the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, needs to demonstrate proof that he is not a British citizen.
Abbott has just told reporters he has proof, so if Shorten has proof he needs to put it in the public domain.
He should show the letter or shut up.
Q: Has someone in the government asked you to do this, Mr Abbott?
I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.
Nick Xenophon is out now in the corridor in the press gallery. Xenophon will be referred off to the high court (with the deputy Nationals leader, Fiona Nash) once the Senate gets under way this morning to have his eligibility considered. Xenophon has a dual citizenship by descent problem.
Xenophon says he intends to press on as normal, because that’s what his legal advice says. He says he intends to act like it’s business as usual “until the high court determines otherwise”.
Xenophon also warns the ALP to back off on Joyce. He says the Australian public already thinks the parliament is a three-ring circus, and it is time that politicians started changing those perceptions by acting like adults.
This is a sideshow. It’s up to the high court to determine this issue.
The One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, appeared earlier this morning on Channel 7’s Sunrise program, praising the cashless welfare card on the basis of her meetings with elders from Kununurra and Ceduna.
[Elders and communities] actually are so pleased with the card. They say now the communities have had a turnaround, there’s not so much domestic violence, kids are going to school, they are actually eating decent meals, the buying good food for the table. It is actually working. Also, the drugs aren’t as big an issue, it’s still there, but it has addressed it.
Hanson said she had travelled to Kalgoorlie and spoken to the council there “and they have a huge problem with the Aboriginals” . It wasn’t entirely clear what “problem” she was referring to, but it seemed to relate to “over 700 agencies that we are funding” that aren’t, in her view, as effective as the cashless welfare card.
Hanson swung in the interview between statements that sound sympathetic (“agencies are not working at the times [needed] to meet the concerns of the local Aboriginals”) and those critical of specialist services for Indigenous Australians (“We’re pouring all the more taxpayers dollars into these agencies … More money is not the answer”).
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who was on the show with Hanson, hit back, suggesting the One Nation leader was blaming unemployed people and Indigenous Australians. Hanson responded: “I didn’t blame anyone, the Aboriginals, whatsoever, so don’t pull that bloody stunt on me I’ve had a gutful of that for the last 20 years.”
At a doorstop after the TV interview, Hanson was asked if One Nation would parachute Malcolm Roberts back into his seat if the high court finds he is ineligible. Hanson backed Roberts.
I think that’s a bit premature to actually make those comments [about] what we’re going to do. I have full confidence in senator Malcolm Roberts to maintain his seat. And I will deal with the situation at the time. But as I’ve said, I’ve always supported him and do believe he should be on the floor of parliament.
Shortly after the prime minister was interviewed on the AM program, the manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, bobbed up on Radio National.
Burke (who is responsible for Labor’s tactics in the House) was asked about the prime minister’s warning to the opposition. Burke thought linking parliamentary tactics and the North Korean security crisis was a long bow. A bit of melodrama, he thought.
Down at the Senate door, the man himself, Barnaby Joyce, pink and sweaty from a morning constitutional, is huffing and puffing and telling reporters it is 100% legit that he remain in cabinet while the high court considers whether he has been validly elected.
N-o-t-h-i-n-g to see here, Joyce puffs.
Parliament needs to be ‘resolute in support of the security of Australia’: Turnbull
The prime minister has stopped by the ABC studios to speak to the AM host, Sabra Lane.
Turnbull spoke about the North Korean threat, which has of course has escalated dangerously over the weekend.
The prime minister repeated the messages he delivered about North Korea last week: that the Chinese government should consider cutting off North Korea’s oil supply in order to turn the economic screws on the regime in Pyongyang.
That absolutely would be a lever that China could pull, and that would put enormous economic pressure on the regime.
The prime minister was also asked about Labor’s threats of disruption to the parliament this week (which I flagged in the opening post).
Q: Parliament is back from today. The opposition says anything can happen. They’re not happy that Barnaby Joyce could possibly be the acting prime minister at the end of this week, given that his election to parliament is in question, the validity of it is in question. If the high court finds that he was invalidly elected, Labor will claim vindication, won’t it?
The prime minister (who clearly doesn’t want to have to battle disruptive antics all week) went in hard.
Well, it says a lot about the Labor party, Sabra, doesn’t it, that at a time when we’re facing the greatest threat of war on the Korean peninsula in 60 years, more than 60 years, on the face of that – in the face of rising energy prices and Labor’s admitted responsibility for that, in the face of all of that, what the Labor party wants to do is talk about creating disruption on the floor of the parliament. Australians will be sickened by the sight of the Labor party’s failure to recognise the priorities of the Australian parliament, is to keep Australians safe and to support the opportunity, the economic opportunity that Australians deserve, and that requires the parliament to focus on the real issues, rather than playing political games.
Just in case we missed it.
The reality is we are facing on the Korean peninsula the gravest threat to peace since the end of the Korean war.
These are dangerous times. Now, what we Australians would expect is the parliament to be resolute in support of the security of Australia.
Fancy meeting you all here
Well good morning good blogans, bloganistas, and welcome to the resumption of federal parliament, sometimes known as the twilight zone – and to the live social experiment known as ‘can Katharine Murphy still live blog’?
Regular readers of Politics Live know that Gabrielle Chan has moved on from the project in order to spend more time being able to hear herself think, and our wonderful new addition, Amy Remeikis, will take command of this project from next week.
So, in the interim, I’m Back in Blog, with Mike Bowers. Given the original Politics Live duo is back together for a week-long reunion tour, we might indulge in the odd bout of shredding.
Please remain calm. You are perfectly safe.
Now, to the day.
Parliament will resume very shortly after a couple of weeks off. Labor has its sights on Barnaby Joyce, who is currently before the high court because of his dual citizenship. Content warning. Disruptive antics may unfold. The prime minister thinks Labor needs to wise up and think of North Korea. More of that in the next post.
Malcolm Turnbull has woken up to a Newspoll which has movement within the margin of error, which in this poll is plus or minus 2.5% (It really is ridiculous, the requirement to write poll stories as if something has actually happened. LOOK. SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED. NOT.) But there is some movement in this morning’s survey which could constitute actual movement, and it’s in the preferred prime minister measure. Malcolm Turnbull’s support has gone from 43% to 46% and Bill Shorten has gone from 33% to 29%.
Sticking with the prime minister, there’s also a front-page story in this morning’s Daily Telegraph which declares Turnbull dropped “a mid air C-bomb” (actually I think the Terror has this in single quote marks) on Tony Abbott when they shared a plane ride back from a News Corp knees-up, 14 months before Turnbull launched a leadership challenge. Let’s call this deep investigative dive strictly deep vault, which means very little to anyone living their lives in the real world. But in the febrile world of politics, leaks like this means the government has fractured internals, and people inside the government now can’t keep their mouths shut – which tends to lead to suboptimal government. But then you all knew that already, right?
The prime minister has been interviewed by the ABC’s AM program, which is where North Korea makes an appearance. I’ll give you a full account of that in the next post.
But first, the obligatory housekeeping. The comments thread is now wide open for your business. Alternatively, you can speak to me on Twitter @murpharoo and you can also stop by my Facebook forum. Magic Mike Bowers is @mpbowers
Fill up your water bottles, breathe deeply and steadily. Here comes Monday.
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