The colourful ghost of legendary Labor pollie Fred Daly lurked in the Senate corridors yesterday. But I was obviously showing my age when callow journos looked at me askance (“Fred who?”) when I invoked one of his most famous quotes. The old raconteur once described political fame thus: “You’re a rooster one day, a feather duster the next.”
In my case, it didn’t take a day. More like 10 minutes. And my rapid decline in stature was only in the eyes of government ministers. There Senator Hinch was being congratulated for a raft of amendments (some of which had been endorsed by Opposition Senate Leader Penny Wong) as the ABCC finally got across the line. Thanks to the crossbenchers — and some genuine governmental concessions — Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull finally had his Christmas present.
The back-slapping was brief. Within minutes, they brought on the backpackers’ tax. After initially backing the government’s 19% and then flirting with 15%, I voted for the Labor and Greens and Jackie Lambie’s 10.5%. And it was successful.
The fact was that the 10.5-per-centers always started with 36 votes (Labor, Greens, Lambie), and with only 36 voters guaranteed (Libs + Nats = 30, Xenophon = 3, Hanson = 3), the government was always in trouble. My vote wouldn’t have got them there because Senator David Leyonhjelm was agin ’em and they’d miscounted Senator Rod Culleton, who was never in their bag. And there was the now magic 38. If I had voted with the government, they would still have lost.
I stood by what I said at a media conference the day before. “Let’s get the bloody thing over.” Go with a proven winner. The government was more than peeved. One Liberal senator shirt-fronted me in the lobby with, “But I thought you were on our side?”.
After the vote, I had my first experience of the “full court press”, with visits or phone calls from the PM, Scott Morrison, Mathias Cormann and several corridor skirmishes.
(At the time of writing, ScoMo was holding a press conference saying he was still confident of passing a 15% version of the bill today and I was telling journos that claims I would back it were “bullshit”.)
As I walked into the PM’s office yesterday morning I greeted him with “Another day in paradise …”. The irony was not lost on him.
This week ABCC became a four-letter word. For some it was ever thus. As I said in the Senate the other night:
“As I was about to board the flight to Canberra on Sunday afternoon I received a text from an old Canberra hand — as they used to call them — warning me to brace myself because it was going to be ‘a very nasty week’. I’d already had a taste of it over the weekend as the debate over the looming Senate brawl played out on Twitter and other social media. There was the charming tweet directed at me showing a picture of a pair of blood-stained hands.”
I also said the “Twitter sheep” probably hadn’t read the legislation, let alone the huge amount of groundbreaking amendments that I managed to get the government to accept. Mightily helped along by other crossbenchers Nick Xenophon and a brave Rod Culleton (breaking away from One Nation).
I won’t go into them all again here, but we managed to get a Labor amendment about Aussie workers and 457 visas included, and Penny Wong pulled a couple of amendments after I amended mine on retrospectivity.
That’s why I could honestly say that the bill that passed can and should work for the benefit of workers and employers, and work against the thugs and goons and liars and cheats on both sides.
I can see why newbies in Canberra reportedly put on 7kgs in their first year. I haven’t (yet), probably because of a daily grabbed chicken Caesar salad from Aussie’s Cafe and walking about 5-6kms a day around the building. Plus a new commitment to the bandanna-ed Peter Fitz and his ban on sugar.
But all that goes out the window on a marathon sitting day like the ABCC marathon this week.
Capital Hills’ food guru Annabel Crabb scored a culinary photo scoop with a pic of a junk food dispenser showing every rack for potato chips as bare as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.
I do know that Michaelia Cash had a Snickers bar for dinner and I had a Picnic bar and a Carman’s muesli bar. Why? Because the Australian Food and Grocery Council scored an unwitting PR coup.
They chose that day to deliver Xmas boxes of Aussie sweet treats to all our offices. They were swooped on like a seagull on a hot chip.
Do they have to be declared on the Pecuniary Interests Register? Consider it declared.