Despite Scott Morrison’s recent attempts to paint himself as a man of action, evidence shows that the government is fast running out of genuine ideas and legislation.

There is no better illustration of the Coalition’s lack of control than this week’s Senate sittings, where the government was forced to filibuster its own bills and debate the Governor-General’s address-in-reply from 2016 in order to stop parliament running out of legislation.

Chaos in the Senate

Earlier this week, the Coalition packed the list with relatively uncontroversial bills which had bipartisan support. They also filled out the speaker lists in order to spend more time debating these bills.

For example, the government spent two days debating its own bill tackling the black economy, even though the bill was supported by Labor. When Labor moved to force a vote, the government bizarrely voted against the motion. This effectively meant they voted against passing their own bill, in order to keep debate on foot. Another bill, concerning enhancing ASIC’s capabilities, saw five government senators speak in its favour, compared to one from Labor, even though the opposition also supported the bill.

On Wednesday, the government took the unusual step of putting the Governor-General’s address-in-reply from 2016 on the agenda. This was, according to the opposition, essentially another measure to stop parliament running out of business.

ALP Senator Alex Gallacher said the address-in-reply only comes up “when you’re a little bit thin on legislation”. Victorian Labor Senator Jacinta Collins condemned the move as “simply filling the void in the government’s agenda”. Ironically enough, the Governor-General’s address, which was made in 2016, outlined the Turnbull government’s agenda. It mentions issues such as tax cuts (now shelved), and same-sex marriage (now belatedly passed). But that government, and their to-do list, are now both gone.

Strong on strawbs

Far away from the farcical goings-on in the senate, Scott Morrison did his bit to prove himself a proactive pollie well-attuned to the anxieties of middle Australia.

He announced a royal commission into aged care, preempting a shocking Four Corners investigation, along with a mid-week plan to throw money at the Catholic schools problem. But it was the ongoing strawberry contamination scandal that brought out the best instance of Morrison’s knee-jerk agenda.

As Coalition MPs lined up to pledge their loyalty to embattled strawberry farmers (with Craig Kelly even going so far as to claim that the fruit could cure baldness), the prime minister pushed through new laws raising the maximum prison sentence for food tampering to 15 years. Which means that now, organ trafficking, torture and indecent assault now all carry lower penalties than putting needles in fruit.

Notably, the legislation isn’t retroactive so the original needle bandits, if they’re ever caught, won’t be affected. But it gets Strawberry Scott a photo-op in a truck, and at least makes it look like he’s getting shit done.

Which, to be clear, he absolutely isn’t.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey