The end of the year is suddenly upon us. Next week is formally the last sitting week of the year, although the Government had been speculating that it might have an extra week because of the Senate’s sloth in considering bills.

The annual Prime Minister’s Press Gallery drinks are on at the Lodge on Tuesday night. Hopefully Mr Rudd will have overcome the cold he appears to have picked up while travelling, although it gave his voice a smokey, Jim Waleyesque timbre in Parliament yesterday. Tuesday is a popular date — the Greens have scheduled their drinks at the same time, and the Opposition had theirs pencilled in for Tuesday evening as well.

Who says Labor is PC — or for that matter Midnight Oil fans? At the Holy Grail late on Wednesday night, Labor staffers encouraged karaoke singers to perform “U.S. Forces” with cries of “dance like a spastic, dance like Peter Garrett!”

New independent MP Rob Oakeshott was missing from Parliament this week due to his wife giving birth. Oakeshott appears to have been assiduously cultivated by the Government, with Daryl Melham and Chris Bowen spending considerable periods of Question Time sitting and chatting with him. Oakeshott originally left the NSW Nationals to become an independent with encouragement from then-Premier Bob Carr, who worked hard to reward Oakeshott’s electorate.

Another renegade Nat, Bob Katter, took his penchant for long questions to new extremes on Tuesday. Understanding orders Katter only gets a question once in a blue moon and always takes full advantage. This week he rose and launched a ripper over 260 words in length.

Normally during Katter’s questions at around the 100 word mark there’s a rising hubbub of comments and smirking from his colleagues on both sides of the chamber and during this one he stopped and assured the House he was nearly finished, then complained that it was a serious matter he was asking about.

The question was railing against banana imports and AQIS’s process for considering them, the problem being, from Katter’s point of view, that we considered these things objectively and scientifically while no one else in the world did. Inexplicably for people ostensibly devoted to free trade, the Opposition then gave up one of its own questions so Katter could ask a follow up — a tiddler at 116 words — on sugar. Says a lot about Julia Gillard’s Parliamentary dominance that the Opposition readily gives up its own questions so protectionism can have a voice in the Chamber.

Oh and forget Movember — Andrew Laming yesterday sported a faux-hawk in Parliament. But in the battles of the moustaches, Darren Chester’s p-rnstar-style handlebar still effortlessly outdoes Andrew Southcott’s dead caterpillar.

Stephen Conroy has been copping plenty over broadband with the National Broadband Network bids finally closing on Wednesday. Yesterday he commendably took some time out to go to the Canberra Hospital at Woden to launch a new program from the Starlight Foundation, which does splendid work in supporting seriously ill, disabled and hospitalised kids. But there was no escape from the internet for Conroy. The program was Livewire, a government-funded program to enable kids in hospitals to access broadband. One imagines it will be filtered properly.

Peter Fray

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