Brand new National Party chief honcho and Deputy Prime Minister, MickMack’s story of humble beginnings — “I am from Marrar. It is a little village of 368 people” — wasn’t the only “log cabin to White House” example we’ve witnessed in Canberra in recent days.
I was genuinely surprised to discover last week that Acting Prime Minister, Mathias Cormann, could not speak English until he was 23 when he came to Australia from Belgium to follow a backpacking girlfriend on holidays. I know that’s an opening for smartarse comments that “Down Under’s version of Arnie still doesn’t speak English” but it is pretty impressive that the Finance Minister and Government Leader in the Senate has come so far.
Two years after that vacation, Cormann migrated here. His elevation to Acting PM (the first senator to fill that role in 10 years) apparently was big news in Belgium. He told the Financial Review that TV crews went to his old home town. “This is his primary school, this is where he worked, this is his dad.”
While Malcolm Turnbull was in Washington to visit President Trump and talk up Trump’s huge company tax cuts, his replacement was doing the same thing back here, bombarding cross-benchers with a thick tome featuring flagged notations and attachments with titles like “Myths and misleading claims in the business tax debate” and “Bill Shorten on business tax cuts”.
Senator Cormann has his work cut out, as I mentioned here last week. He will need all that pragmatism he is renowned for: One Nation’s Pauline Hanson made her company tax cut opposition well known on her first day back for estimates hearings.
Speaking of estimates. For minor parties, and especially for a lone Justice Party senator, the hearings get hectic. And it wouldn’t be estimates without the regular verbal jousts between that testy old Legal & Constitutional Affairs Legislation committee chair, Senator Ian Macdonald, and his sparring partners Wong, Watt and McKim. Not very seemly, but entertaining.
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At the new super-sized Home Affairs Department hearing, I raised the intriguing issue of the man who isn’t there – Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg. He’s been on forced, extremely well-paid, leave since May 2017 after being accused of — as it will become known in Canberra — “doing a Barnaby” and allegedly intervening to get his partner a job at Sydney Airport.
Department Secretary Michael Pezzulo, regarded as the smartest and shrewdest (some would say slipperiest) public servant on the Hill, conceded he, and the PMO’s office, had seen a report three months ago but no action had been taken to sack or re-instate the commish, who is paid $619,905 a year. The shit fight has now been flick-passed to the new Attorney General Christian Porter.
I said at estimates: “It must concern you that someone is being paid half a million dollars not to work?”
Mr. Pezzullo: “Well, Senator, that’s an opinion”. Straight out of Yes, Minister.
This sounds like poli-speak but this week I had a genuine epiphany. I actually jumped out of bed around 2am to hit the typewriter (laptop) when it dawned on me.
I had just arrived back in Canberra for that grueling week of estimates hearings. Following on from days of Senate family court/law public hearings in Sydney and Melbourne. And in that brief time at home I had the epiphany. It was prompted by a Justice Party Facebook comment from a woman who said something along the lines of, “I’ll pay attention to your campaign to protect children after you take care of the farmers”.
And I thought: bullshit. I was elected and sent to Canberra to campaign on justice issues. I started, and dedicated, this party to fight for the rights of vulnerable people — young and old. Sure, I have to vote too on issues like Gonski and company tax cuts but that’s not why I am here.
You’ve got 56 Liberal, National and Labor senators around the country who you voted for. Write to them. I decided to pledge to stick to my knitting, as they say. I am on track and proud of it. In the past 24 hours, in a lift in Melbourne and a café in Canberra, two men have shaken my hand and said, cryptically, that they were raised “in care”. Two more victims of child sexual assault. It’s these unspoken victims that I am in Canberra to represent, and I must not forget that.
That is my cemented credo. I’ll talk to other people about other issues concerning them but these are my goals. There are hundreds of other, supposedly influential, politicians in this town. Go talk to them.
One day, the Beetrooter is telling a TV crew that he’s “not going anywhere”. Next, he calls a morning presser to announce his resignation as National Party Leader and therefore also Deputy Prime Minister. Proving yet again Hinch’s Law: anyone who says three times “I will not resign” – will.