The CFMEU was on the 6 o’clock news (again) recently when they hooted and hollered and tried to intimidate former prime minister John Howard as he took a lunchtime stroll near Sydney’s Martin Place.

Pity the union protesters hadn’t waited and been there a few weeks later. They could have figuratively (or maybe not) killed two birds with one stone: him and me.

I was in Sydney to have lunch with Howard, at my request, and we did get some soap opera-style double takes as we walked together to a mid-city restaurant.

Over the decades, our relationship had been fairly antagonistic. The TV and radio heavy grilling the treasurer/opposition leader/ prime minister.

I asked him to break bread with me because I was impressed with his new career as a TV presenter in the series he did for the ABC on Bob Menzies. Frankly, I was surprised to enjoy his interviews with Clive James and Bob Hawke and Thomas Keneally.

As we sat down, I observed: “The politician turned media star lunches with the media star turned politician. Who would have thunk it?” What odds of that reversal even a couple of years ago?

***

The Rod Culleton and Bob Day electoral imbroglios (both men have now lost their Senate seats) sends some obvious messages to all politicians but a special one to cross-bench senators. One cogent one is that all minor parties must, in future, always stand a minimum of three candidates in any Senate race.

In Western Australia, One Nation stood three candidates: Culletin at No. 1, followed by his brother-in-law, Peter Georgiou at No. 2 and Culleton’s wife, Ioanna Culleton, at No. 3.

Although Culleton was ruled ineligible, that still left two One Nation candidates in the race, which preserved PHON’s vital above-the-line status and gave the seat to Georgiou.

In South Australia, Family First mibht not be so lucky. The High Court ruled yesterday that former senator Bob Day had an inappropriate pecuniary interest with the Commonwealth and therefore was ineligible to stand at the July 2 double dissolution election.

If the Culleton situation applied, a recount — supervised by a single  High Court judge — would elect the other Family First candidate, Lucy Gichuhi. But with Day out of the picture, Family First really had only one candidate on election day. That was not enough to form a party ticket for above-the-line voting.

(There are now belated questions about Kenyan-born Gichuhi’s possible dual citizenship which would rule her out too under section 44. And that could reignite the debate about Tony Abbott’s citizenship.)

Labor, with an intense vested interest, has argued that all Family First’s above-the-line votes should be discarded because the countback would probably then elect another Labor senator. That would give Labor 27 Senate votes and 28 if (as the Libs do) you always include Jacqui Lambie.

Yesterday’s High Court ruling seemed to go in favour of Family First getting the nod.

The judgment said that if those votes were disregarded it would “constitute a most serious distortion of the real intention of many thousands of voters”, mainly those Family Firsters who voted above the line.

The government will be hoping that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

***

Outside the lift door, at the top floor entrance to the Canberra press gallery, or media gallery as I guess I must now call it (the National Media Club?), is a full-sized cast-iron end to a Furphy water tanker.

I’m told it was first presented to the journos by an earlier Furphy boss at the Old Parliament House to recognise that the brand name had joined the journos’ lexicon for false rumours, as spread around the water barrel since Gallipoli days.

I have a miniature Furphy on my Senate desk as a reminder of a visit to their Shepparton factory last year.

The fifth-generation family company came to mind last week as the Senate went past midnight and into an extra day as we battled over section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act and then the cuts to company tax.

Labor opposed any cuts to company tax for turnovers of more than $2 million — even though Bill Shorten had lauded such cuts in the past. Some crossbenchers (me included) had greenlighted cuts for companies up to $10 million.

That’s where my little Furphy ornament came in. I realised that this true blue, Aussie-as-you-can-get family company, employing 150 Victorians, would not benefit.

As I said on the Senate floor: ‘‘Lifting the threshold from 10 million to 50 million will mean that nearly 900,000 small to medium sized companies, employing more than 4 million workers, will get tax cuts.”

I also looked at Gippsland, where closures are really making things tough for employers and employees alike. Places like Gippsland Aeronautics, which employs 75 people. They would have missed out on any cuts if we’d stuck to $10 million.

Interesting to see now if the government has wedged the opposition. Haven’t yet seen Messrs Shorten and Leigh vow to repeal the cuts.

***

How’s this for a double standard? Imagine if a couple of male senators started sniggering and making loud, unflattering remarks about a female senator who appeared to have spent too much time at the snack table during non-sitting weeks.

That’s what happened in reverse recently when Senator Sam Dastyari, testing the buttons on his white shirt, was called to the floor to scrutinise a division vote.

Two female senators called out things like “What’s that hanging over your belt, Dasher?” and “You’ve porked up a bit, Sam”. 

Pssst … it’s true. But, typically, Dasher’s making self-deprecating jokes about it.

Peter Fray

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