As MPs filed in for the last question time of the sitting week, expectation was in the air, with both sides waiting on the decision by the High Court, due 15 minutes into the hour of questions.
What would happen if the High Court said no go?
Four of the five “rebels” who had not long ago attempted to convince their colleagues to move to a free vote in Parliament were sitting together in a bloc. While Warren Entsch and Trent Zimmerman usually sit behind Tim Wilson, member for Brisbane Trevor Evans moved into the seat usually occupied by Andrew Hastie (the Western Australian MP is on leave this week due to the birth of his second child).
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was checking his phone regularly, and apart from the extreme level of noise (even by the standards of this week), the actual substance of the questions was the same.
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The opposition has had one strategy so far this week — get Barnaby — and this question time was no different, with early questions on the deputy prime minister’s ability to make decisions on gas export controls. The deputy PM, it must be said, was wearing his green sheep socks for the second, if not the third day in a row. Either he has multiple pairs of the same style or he forgot to pack more than one pair for this sitting week.
It was as if we were in a car veering off the road, but at the last minute ended up straight between the lines, heading to our original destination.
When the decision came, tweeted by reporters in court and Melbourne, delivered to the PM by text message and the Opposition Leader by note, and shared between MPs and reporters alike, the volume in the chamber dropped a few levels, but it didn’t last long. The news that the High Court had struck down the challenges to the postal survey meant that the government could stick with the plan, and there would be no fireworks.
The result meant that Barnaby Joyce got a reprieve from Labor attacks for the first time in days, with Bill Shorten taking it upon himself to put the result to the chamber (“he Prime Minister co-sign a letter with him to every household in Australia in support of the Yes vote, he asked. The PM didn’t take the bipartisan bait, not an inch was given.
The tone was set, the PM repeated the line that “Lucy and I will be voting yes”, and despite a second attempt from Shorten to get the PM’s signature on a letter, it was again batted away. And then we were back on the same road we’d been on all week — would Barnaby Joyce be allowed to make any decisions as acting PM, was the PM confident any decisions he made would be valid, and the government continuing to paint Shorten as both beholden to the unions and ripping off workers.