Chairing a Senate committee is a slightly unusual task, in that one must remain partisan while politely and constructively steering committee hearings and balancing competing demands from member senators. Cory Bernardi, oddly enough, is quite a good and respectful chair while doing his job of protecting the government and running interference against non-government senators. Ian Macdonald, however, is not. You might remember the LNP Senator as the shadow minister dumped by Tony Abbott after the Coalition won in 2013, prompting him to launch a public tantrum and criticise Abbott’s advisers (read: Peta Credlin).
Macdonald chairs the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislative Committee and runs its estimates hearings. Last night the 70-year-old Senator at times appeared genuinely bewildered by proceedings, several times asking Immigration officials to repeat themselves and jumbling their evidence in his head — at one stage, apparently thinking there was an opportunity to highlight how much the government spent accommodating asylum seekers, he seized on a figure provided by officials about Nauruan visa fees, until officials had to gently explain that he had the wrong end of the stick. Earlier, seemingly intent on “clarifying” the issue of the non-consultation of the Solicitor-General on the now-infamous citizenship bill, he asked the legal area of the Department of Immigration if they were experts on migration law, before going on to refer to the Department as the “Department of Migration”. Surely the Coalition can do better?