What Kevin Bacon is to other actors, John Setka is to, well, any topic you could name. In the final sitting week of Parliament before the winter break, there was no issue that could not be linked to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s Victorian secretary. Setka told a workers’ rally in Melbourne on Tuesday that the union was going to “expose” inspectors from the Australian Building and Construction Commission:

“We will lobby their neighbourhoods. We will tell them who lives in that house. What he does for a living, or she … They will not be able to show their faces anywhere. Their kids will be ashamed of who their parents are when we expose all these ABCC inspectors.”

Beyond a repudiation from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and others, Labor was not that keen to discuss Setka’s statements during question time on Wednesday and Thursday. But the Coalition clearly thought he was an important topic of conversation and engaged in some impressive verbal gymnastics to get to him. 

In the Senate this was largely a direct journey. Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was asked several questions about Setka by curious Liberals. But the real fun came in the House of Representatives, when there wasn’t a topic from either side whose answer was not Setka. Here’s a selection of our favorites:

Topic: Schools

Question from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

The Prime Minister’s schools policy is marked by division, chaos and confusion …When will the Prime Minister simply withdraw this rushed legislation, go back to the drawing board and stop $22 billion worth of cuts to schools?

Answer from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

First of all:  We may well ask when the Leader of the Opposition will stop spreading falsehoods about $22 billion that he never had …

Which reminds me: I hear the member for Gorton calling out. He is interjecting. He says it is a joke.

Which obviously relates to: Let him speak up today and tell us how much of a joke or how humorous John Setka’s threats to track down ABCC inspectors, to threaten them with violence, were.

Topic: Australian Federal Police

Question from Liberal MP Scott Buchholz

Will the minister update the House on the government’s recent investments in our law enforcement agencies, and what are the threats to those agencies?

Answer from Minister for Justice Michael Keenan

First of all: In this year’s budget, the government has invested a further $321 million in the Australian Federal Police…

Which Reminds me: …no government is more committed to the Australian Federal Police than this one. But we have been reminded just yesterday that not everybody shares our commitment to the Australian Federal Police.

Which obviously relates to: Just yesterday the Victorian secretary of the CFMEU, John Setka, viciously attacked the men and women of the Australian Federal Police.

Topic: Penalty Rates

Question from Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen  

Prime Minister, in just 10 days’ time, nearly 700,000 Australians will have their penalty rates cut, while millionaires will get a tax cut. Given real wages are going backwards, will the Prime Minister use what is left of this parliamentary sitting week to stop millionaires getting their tax cut and stop ordinary workers getting their pay cut?

Answer from Malcolm Turnbull

First of all: Every element of our program is designed to ensure that there is stronger economic growth and more jobs …

Which Reminds me: One of the things we know is that, in Australia, we stand by the rule of law. We know that the rule of law protects the great and the small. It protects the small businesses. 

Which obviously relates to: Labor, on the other hand, is out there taking money and providing letters of endorsement, Leader of the Opposition, to the CFMEU’s rally yesterday in which John Setka, one of the Leader of the Opposition’s major benefactors — indeed, one of his controllers — threatened to follow, track and bully ABCC inspectors.

Topic: Agriculture

Question from Nationals MP Kevin Hogan

Will the Deputy Prime Minister explain to the House how the government’s achievements support hardworking Australians in the agricultural sector? Is the minister aware of any threats to the sector’s ongoing success?

Answer From Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce

First of all: We have had so much to celebrate in the agricultural sector since we have been the government. This sector, on the last GDP figures, is the fastest-growing sector in our nation.

Which Reminds me: You asked what the threats are. I can tell you what a threat sounds like. 

Which obviously relates to: A threat sounds like this — and I quote John Setka: “Let me give a dire warning to the ABCC inspectors: be careful what you do …”

Topic: Asylum seekers

Question from Liberal MP Ross Vasta

Will the minister update the House on the importance of strong and consistent border protection measures? What are the risks associated with alternative approaches?

Answer from Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton

First of all: It is the case, as all Australians know, that this government is absolutely resolute when it comes to border protection policies…

Which reminds me: … this Leader of the Opposition has tried to fool the Australian public into believing that they actually have in the Labor Party the same resolve to stop boats and put the people smugglers out of business that we do. But we know it is not the case.

Which obviously relates to: We have seen in the headlines of The Australian newspaper and elsewhere over the course of the last couple of days that John Setka from the Victorian branch of the CFMEU is a great friend of the Leader of the Opposition …

But why take all that time, when you can just cut straight to the chase? When Labor’s Warren Snowden asked about Turnbull’s “secret hit list”of schools that would receive cuts under Gonski 2.0, Turnbull didn’t pivot toward Setka as much as charge: “The only hit list that honourable members opposite should be concerned about is John Setka’s hit list, and that includes hardworking public servants …”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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