A secretive parliamentary day in Canberra

Yet another riveting day in Parliament Question time, replete with insane Dorothy Dix questions from Government MPs, and relentless questions from Labor about the broadband connection attached to the residences of the Prime Minister – the Lodge in Canberra, and his Point Piper home in Sydney – of 100 megabits per second, even though while Malcolm Turnbull was Minister for Communications, he claimed most people would only need 25mps. This, of course, became the big news story of the day and, perhaps, this was the aim of Labor’s tactics all along.


But, other issues were brewing throughout the day. Australia has a new Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack, but most people wouldn’t know who he is, or the difference between McCormack and David Littleproud, David Gillespie, Andrew Broad, or any of the other 21 MPs and Senators that make up their parliamentary team except, of course, for Barnaby Joyce, the recently deposed leader.

So, who is Michael McCormack? It’s the question asked by many in the media and, in a most unfortunate introduction to the Australian public, McCormack is becoming known as the man who wrote an article in 1993, claiming, among other things: “unfortunately gays are here and, if the disease their unnatural acts helped spread doesn’t wipe out humanity, they’re here to stay”.

He has since apologised many times for writing the article, which appeared in Wagga’s Daily Advertiser, and he did vote in favour of marriage equality legislation in December last year (according to the wishes of his electorate, which voted 55 per cent in favour of the legislation), so should we still hold this against him 25 years later? My feeling is that the original article was so bigoted and intense in its hatred of homosexuality, that it’s a definite “no”, but we can leave his apology for others to judge.

By a strange co-incidence, he resides in the same house in Brucedale that my wife grew up in, with the McCormacks moving in after her family moved away from the Wagga region in 1969. There’s still a connection with Wagga, but whenever I’ve been there to ask about the local member, most responses have been non-committal, or indicate a level of frustration about the lack of representation for the region, especially when compared with the previous member, Kay Hull.

It’s fine if you’re an Australian history buff, or into cricket, but, locally, the people I’ve spoken to in the Riverina either don’t know who he is, or don’t think too highly of him. Certainly, more people will get to know who he is, now he’s leader of the National Party and the Deputy Prime Minister, but don’t expect an increase in the number of National MPs at the next election as a result of his leadership.

His rise to the leadership has also put focus on the agreement between the Liberal Party and the National Party – a political document negotiated between the leaders of the respective parties that remains a highly guarded secret. It’s a document that is renewed whenever the Coalition forms government, or whenever the leadership of either party changes.

We don’t know what the contents are, but they are so contentious that Malcolm Turnbull has spent almost $87,000 in public funds to ensure the document remains a secret. Every major coalition in contemporary democratic systems around the world has released its standard terms of reference for governance – New Zealand, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, Switzerland – but the Liberal–National Party has decided that it’s no-one’s business, except for their own. I think in the interest of good government – and for the protection of public funds – the agreement should be released.

The day finished off in the Senate Estimates Hearings – the Senate is not sitting this week – with the focus on the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. And it was well worth watching.

The critical questioning was from newly-installed Senator, Kristina Keneally, with the forensic efforts that would have made former Senators Robert Ray and John Faulkner proud. The issue was the removal and censorship of Emma Alberici’s article, ‘There’s no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia’s top companies don’t pay it’, and appearing on behalf of the ABC were Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, and Editorial Director, Alan Sunderland.

As the proceedings continued, it was obvious why both Guthrie and Sunderland should not be at the ABC, both obfuscating and denying the obvious truth: Alberici’s article was removed after complaints from senior members of the government, and it’s own Liberal-appointed board members.

They acquiesced to government demands, failed to uphold journalistic standards, and left Alberici out to dry. Senator Keneally’s final question to Guthrie was: “do you have confidence in your senior economics correspondent, Emma Alberici?” Guthrie failed to answer. It says much about the current state of the ABC and what it thinks about quality journalism. And if you ever wanted Michelle Guthrie to support you in anything, just forget about it; she’ll throw you under a bus every time.

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