As unlikely as it may seem, there are days when Parliament debates substantial issues – climate change, mining revenue, the woeful lack of mental health infrastructure …
And then there are days like today.
We had Christopher Pyne, Shadow Spokesperson for Education and Manager of Opposition Business in the House, launch into a full-throated attack. His argument seemed to be a variation of ‘for want of a nail, etc’, but somewhere along the line his logic became a little tangled.
Let’s see if we can tease it out:
* the government has terrible border protection policies (read: people are coming here in boats!)
* because they have terrible border protection policies, they have to spend lots and lots of extra money trying to fix things (read: stop the evil refugees seeking our help at all costs!)
* because they spend money trying to ‘fix’ border protection, more guns have turned up in Australia (wait, what?)
* because there are more guns, there are more bikie gang wars in South Australia
* therefore, the government is responsible for bikie gang wars in South Australia because they didn’t stop the boats.
No, I’m not kidding.
Of course, you can see the nasty little implication, can’t you? All these evil boat people who the government can’t keep out must be bringing the guns in with them … and presumably selling them to their bikie contacts in Adelaide. Perhaps it was even all planned this way!
Funny, I never knew that the Hells Angels had chapters in Afghanistan.
As ludicrous as it sounds, this was the subject of a serious speech in Parliament today from a senior member of the Opposition. Bad refugee policy equals bikie gang wars.
But if you think that’s absurd, try this.
In Question Time today, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott asked an apparently serious question of the Prime Minister: why hadn’t she taken the recommendations of the Future Fund and appointed former Treasurer Peter Costello as its head?
Fair question, actually. Why wouldn’t you choose the guy who actually set up the fund in the first place? The long-serving Federal Treasurer who left the Budget in surplus when Labor was elected to government back in 2007? The very person, in fact, who the fund’s Board wanted for the job?
Well, there are a number of reasons, actually, and Stephen Koukoulas lays them out in devastating fashion. But let’s put those aside for a moment, because Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s answer said all that needed to be said: because the government decided that, notwithstanding the recommendation of the Board, they felt that someone else would do better. That someone, David Gonski, has a resume at least as impressive as Costello’s – and without the partisan political history.
Abbott was fairly outplayed – not that this stopped him. Before Gillard’s backside had hit her seat, he was up at the box again, using a supplementary question to press the point. Not to be outdone, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey joined in, and their combined questions started to bear a suspicious resemblance to an annoying three-year-old: ‘But whyyyyy???’
And then we truly entered the realm of the ridiculous. Abbott attempted to suspend standing orders for the 46th time since the Gillard minority government came to power. In itself, that would have been enough to qualify as a stupid waste of Parliamentary time. It was the substance of the motion, however, that carried the day.
Abbott called on Gillard to ‘explain herself’. Why hadn’t she appointed Costello? What did she think she was doing? How dare she and Finance Minister Penny Wong make a decision that didn’t slavishly follow a recommendation with which he agreed?
It was unbelievable. Here was Abbott attempting to take the government to task for not practising nepotism – not providing ‘jobs for the boys’. This was the same Opposition that pointed the finger and cried foul when former Labor leader Kim Beazley was appointed as our US Ambassador (while conveniently failing to complain when former Nationals leader Tim Fisher became Ambassador to the Vatican). There should be no favouritism – apparently unless it means that a former big-name Liberal misses out on a plum government job.
And it got worse. Gonski was an ‘outsider’, Abbott argued. How can we trust him to do the job properly?
This from the man who outright accused Treasury of corruption in order to justify bringing in an outside accounting firm to go over the Coalition’s costings during the 2010 election campaign.
Remember, all of this was in context of Abbott attempting to interrupt the normal business of the House. The matter of Peter Costello not getting a job was so important that all other business had to immediately cease.
(It must have given Costello a warm glow to hear that. Certainly warmer than when his former colleagues refused to support him for the Liberal Party leadership and chose instead to engage in some truly vicious character assassination.)
But really, it was Hockey who walked away with the award for the week’s Most Nonsensical Argument, when he rose to second the motion.
Basically, it boiled down to this: it’s OUR Fund and it’s OUR turn. (Insert metaphorical foot stamp and pout.)
Yes, you see, it was a Coalition government that created the Future Fund. It’s too good for the likes of some grubby little Labor appointee. Why, you could say it’s … it’s … Costello’s birthright! Hand it over at once, and let the man lead as he was born to do!
Okay, I may be paraphrasing a little there. But this … is pure Hockey. This was how he wound up his speech:
‘If the government won’t do the right thing and appoint Peter Costello to chair the Future Fund … then they should get out of the way and let us govern!’
(Flourish, decisive nod of the head, retire to seat and stare at the government in self-righteous indignation.)
Yes, you read that right.
Hockey seemed to think that was a stinging ultimatum. It was an utter absurdity.
What does he expect? Perhaps the scenario plays out like this in Hockey’s mind:
Gillard, crushed by Hockey’s inescapable argument, suddenly stands up and says, ‘Whoops, Joe, you’re right there. We want our man in the Future Fund job, so I’ll just swap places with Tony here and off you go, Bob’s your uncle – Bob Menzies, of course, wouldn’t want you think I meant our Bob, ha ha. Oi, Swanny, hand over the cash box, it’s Joe’s turn now.’
Everyone in the House shuffles chairs, and a message is sent to the Senate telling them the news. Joyous bells ring out across the land as people everywhere celebrate their rescue from the terror of doing it hard on $160,000 a year, and a New Golden Age of Prosperity and Corporate Success dawns as unicorns gallop gracefully over the rolling hills of the Australian capitalist utopia.
Which is a scenario as ridiculous as Hockey’s demand. I mean, honestly. Does Hockey really think Gillard will call an election just because he tells her to do so? And then what? Not campaign? Put out an ad telling everyone she’s decided to ‘let’ the Coalition govern? All on his say-so?
It’s probably a good thing that this is the end of the Parliamentary week, because – barring a sudden invasion of clowns into the Senate, the Clerks deciding to play Jenga with the accumulated volumes of Hansard, or the Serjeant-at-Arms running amok in the Press Gallery with the Mace – I don’t think it could get any stupider than this.
And the worst part of it is that, apart from a small amount of exaggeration here and there (and the occasional unicorn), it’s all true. As the man says, you can’t make this stuff up.
These are the people we elected. Depressing, isn’t it?