It was a good 15 hours after the Senate handed the Prime Minister the double dissolution trigger he had sought before Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that, subject to the Governor-General’s approval, Australians would be going to the polls on July 2.
Turnbull kept journalists waiting for an hour outside the construction of high-rise apartments in Belconnen in our nation’s capital to make this confirmation. He was held up by the joint party room meeting.
The meeting went for longer than expected after six members raised questions about the government’s approach to the banks. Some members, particularly Nationals members, perceived it as a weak point for the government to not have anything to counter Labor’s call for a royal commission.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott was often referred to as an Action Man, and it’s clear the government will be attempting to project Turnbull in the same way in the lead-up to the July 2 election in order to combat the view that he is dithering.
Hence the plan (announced today) to restore funding to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). While Labor wants a royal commission, Treasurer Scott Morrison told the party room that this would take three years of hearings, and then a report. He said “people want action” and a beefed-up ASIC, as the cliched phrase goes, would be a “tough cop on the beat”.
The line was repeated by Turnbull, who said that the Coalition were “men and women of action” and he praised Employment Minister Michaelia Cash’s failure to pass the ABCC bill — snatching defeat from the jaws of victory — in the Senate on Monday as “electrifying”.
After leaks came out about a potential taxpayer-funded advertising campaign about the budget before the government enters caretaker mode, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce warned the party to be disciplined in the lead-up to the election, asking colleagues to consider what it would mean if Chris Bowen were to become treasurer, “the Derek Zoolander of Australian politics”.
Joyce is not the first to make that reference, but it is still just as baffling.
The pop culture references continued when the House of Representatives began, and no one quite knew what they were there for. There was no legislative agenda from the government, so Labor began making mischief by attempting to bring on a royal commission into the banks, and the return of the High Speed Rail Authority, but Christopher Pyne was having none of it.
Labor MP Tim Watts commented: “Today became the Seinfeld sitting — the sitting about nothing. You could have played the Seinfeld theme music instead of the division bells throughout this morning, it was such a farce.”
Sadly, Hansard did not capture the member for Gellibrand’s rendition of the iconic theme song.
When question time rolled around, it felt like the last day of school before break. A few Labor MPs got the boot for rowdy behaviour, but their early mark was only 30 minutes shy of the House of Reps adjourning for the day at 3.30pm. The mood was lifted by a question from Bob Katter about northern Australian infrastructure spending. Katter wasn’t sure the point made it across to the journalists, so he arrived in the press gallery before the end of question time with a copy of his question and his beautifully hand-written notes on Joyce’s response.
Embattled member for Fairfax Clive Palmer held a press conference at 3pm on Queensland Nickel because he wasn’t allowed to speak about it in the House of Representatives. Palmer made a lengthy statement that he would be conducting another review into the insolvency of the company, and rejected auditor claims that he acted as a shadow director. Palmer will be recontesting the seat of Fairfax, he told journalists, despite the poor polling. He ruled out running for the Senate, because he said he didn’t like the colour red.
Over in the land of the red carpet, it was a similar state of play to the House of Reps with no agenda, but before everyone went home, Labor was able to use its numbers with the Greens to set up a Senate inquiry into political party donations and will call Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos later this week to spill the beans on the Free Enterprise Foundation and its murky relationship with the New South Wales Liberal Party.
Turnbull’s cunning plan to recall Parliament for just two days out of three weeks had some unintended consequences.