I blame the BBQ ribs. Rowan Dean, Peter Van Onselen, Troy Bramston and I had just finished a great dinner at a steakhouse close to Sky News’ studios. Over the course of the meal there’s banter, heckling and dispute over political interpretation of the day’s events. Rowan is a cracking dinner companion who transforms into a ferocious on-air personality. Just when I am feeling most generous, he guilts me into making this written contribution. Like you, dear reader, I wonder why Spectator subscribers would want my insights, especially given my political pedigree. For whatever it’s worth, here’s a glimpse into my week – the first sitting of the 2015 parliamentary year.
Monday 4.30am, I pull out of the driveway of my western Sydney home and head for Canberra. Always been a fan of driving. Growing up in the western suburbs, lengthy car trips are a fact of life. Late December, I drove from Salt Lake City to Chicago, taking in the magnificent Mount Rushmore (Sydney to Adelaide is a similar driving distance). Long drives let you think or catch up with the avalanche of calls normally pressing down on MP’s diaries.
The day’s framed by the fracas engulfing our political rivals. A leadership test for Tony Abbott, less than half way through his first term. Jaw-dropping. Given what we went through in our last term of government, conservatives gasp at the gall of Labor MPs commenting on leadership. But that’s the point: the Coalition promised to be different. They solemnly vowed mature, unified, adult government.
Numerous reasons are offered to explain the pressure the Coalition is under. My favorite is that the public has a ‘dispensible view of government’. Or the ‘24/7’ news cycle makes it hard to govern. Rubbish. Across generations, the constancy of the Australian voter is clear: do something different to what you promised before an election, you’ll be punished. Labor experienced this. The Coalition’s getting the same treatment. Deal with it.
Result: noted shirtfronter battles empty chair, just survives. Empty chair licks wounds, eyes off post-Budget challenge.
An op-ed I wrote for the Australian Financial Review triggers a few uptight comments in the local venture capital and tech community. I relate a prediction offered to me by a US venture capitalist: don’t expect to see an Aussie VC fund operating in five years. I’m a big fan of tech and the digital economy. The sector’s growth will add new dimension to an economy dominated by mining or agriculture. But to succeed, local startups need two critical ingredients: greater access to skills, greater access to capital. I believe the concerns of the Australian tech sector must be made wider public concerns. You know: creaky wheels getting the oil…
Later, ‘I’m on doors’: Canberra-speak for wrestling the press pack in a test of verbal dexterity for federal MPs. I’m likening the mess of the Abbott Government leadership spill to The Hangover movie. Journalist challenges: is that a fair comparison? ‘What,’ I respond, ‘because The Hangover was more popular?’
We’re in the House to hear the PM deliver the annual update on the Closing the Gap report, our nation’s effort to help address significant indigenous disadvantage. Embarrassingly modest, nominal progress being recorded. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten highlights this may be the case because word isn’t matching deed – rightly pointing out $500m of budget cuts make it hard to ‘close the gap’. This prompts a walkout by Coalition MPs. Staggering. I recall how many times, as Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott made pointed references in speeches occasioning the visit by various Heads of State. We never walked out, having the strength to bear it.
A quick 7am bi-partisan basketball game. My warm-up shooting fire fails to sustain into the game. Senator Zed Seselja is a tough defender. At least the Abbott Government has a ‘win’ this week. Later, I give speeches about some local electorate success stories. Some light, after a harder speech earlier regarding the horrific events of Martin Place. I talk about the need to fight our urge to anger, to direct this energy to an important purpose: unifying to defeat terrorism. Friend, sparring partner Josh Frydenberg kindly sits through my speech. Having returned from a visit to the harrowing Auschwitz, Mr Frydenberg’s family knows the pain that hate’s touch brings. After I speak we shake hands on the floor of the House. He’s a good man.
I’m Deputy Chair of the House of Reps Economics Committee.
RBA Governor Glenn Stevens appears before us, explaining why the RBA suddenly cut rates after previously signaling a ‘period of stability’: poor growth is the culprit. Poor confidence isn’t helping. That’s what happens when the Abbott Government flubs its first budget, confounding many with sudden decisions, conflicting expectations, which is spooking consumers and investors. My public aside to the RBA Governor – that questioning the central bank is like quizzing The Sphinx – prompts the riposte: ‘you have no idea how boring I can be’. Touché, Guv.
I provide my monthly report to the Blacktown Branch of the ALP. I joined the branch at 19. I’ve grown up with these members. They’re political family. They laugh as my son wanders in front of me, brandishing an iPad, oblivious to my report. The moment isn’t lost on me: the passage of time, the joy of watching the young, the promise of a new generation.