The last Parliamentary fortnight before the winter recess begins with the focus on national security, amid claims that the Abbott Government has bribed people smugglers to keep them away from Australian shores. Bill Shorten foolishly overplays his hand, demanding that the Government respond to the allegations. Of course, no government comments on operational matters. When further allegations are made that Labor engaged in this practice too, Shorten is left flat-footed – relying upon the very language which, only 24 hours earlier, he decried. It is the start of a week of cascading catastrophes for Shorten. The climax comes on Thursday, when in an unguarded moment, his hapless Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, admits to Sky’s Kieran Gilbert that Labor’s approach to Australian terrorists fighting overseas with ISIL is to bring them back to Australia. ‘Well, you get them back here. Right?’ he volunteers, thus setting up a perfect point of differentiation between Labor and the Coalition: Labor wants to bring the terrorists home, the Government wants to keep them out. Not for the first time do I have reason to be grateful that Dreyfus is my Shadow: he is the political gift that keeps on giving, as his furious ALP colleagues privately acknowledge.
The week starts with a sentimental occasion for me. The LNP has preselected Jo Lindgren to replace former Senator Brett Mason. By custom, new senators are escorted into the chamber by Black Rod and two supporters; my colleague Barry O’Sullivan and I perform this ceremonial office. Jo is the great-niece of Neville Bonner, the great Queensland Liberal who became Australia’s first indigenous member of parliament 44 years ago. I remember Neville with great fondness. Like so many other Young Liberals of my generation, I was a beneficiary of his generosity and encouragement. So it is a special moment to escort a member of his family to take her place in the chamber he once graced. Two of the three indigenous members of the current Parliament sit in the Liberal Party room, neither of them a ‘captain’s pick.’
It is Magna Carta week. On Monday, the 800th anniversary of the famous (and much-misunderstood) settlement between King John and the barons in the fields of Runnymede is marked by a commemorative event in the Great Hall – complete with a birthday cake! I run into the Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who shows me the online materials he has developed for schoolkids explaining Magna Carta’s importance. It is reassuring to know that, after years of being fed a diet of semi-literate left-wing agitprop, our children will at last have the opportunity to learn about the history of the most important of all the human rights: freedom. Nobody in recent times has been a more effective advocate for human rights than Tim, on a variety of fronts: common law rights, economic empowerment of indigenous people, discrimination against gay people. And unlike so many in the human rights establishment, without a trace of that unattractive world’s trademark narcissism, victimhood and self-absorption.
The Great Hall is also the venue for Q&A’s Magna Carta special later that evening. The highlight is a priceless moment when Bronwyn Bishop (who is made for show business!) rounds with a tigerish smile on Gillian Triggs and tells her that she has to choose between being a statutory office holder or a political activist – if she wants to be a politician, she should stand for Parliament. As a television moment, it is almost up there with Lloyd Bentsen’s put-down of Dan Quayle. Still, the great television event of the week is of course The Killing Season. All eyes in Parliament House – and, I am glad to say, across the nation – are riveted by the sheer morbid fascination of it all. Did those unpleasant and savage people really run the country a mere two years ago? (Sad, but true.) Is it possible they were really so ghastly? (Yes, they were.) And how did the ALP come to degenerate into nothing more than a bad political soap opera? The Killing Season provokes a rare compliment by the PM to the ABC. Over in the Senate, where so many of the assassins lurk – think of Sam Dastyari, Kim Carr and Penny Wong – their mood verges on the hysterical.
Not only do we celebrate the octocentenary of Magna Carta on Monday; on Thursday we mark the bicentenary of Waterloo. 2015 is notable for its large number of centennial anniversaries of great battles – Gallipoli, Waterloo and, on 25th October, the sixth hundredth anniversary of Agincourt. This is a much-anticipated anniversary for lovers of that period of English history – with whom my staff is replete. My senior adviser James Lambie is fond of declaiming the great eve-of-battle speech from Act III of Henry V, while our receptionist Lexie, RADA-trained, delights us by randomly reciting Shakespeare. My Chief of Staff, Paul O’Sullivan, a former Director-General of ASIO, could be a modern Francis Walsingham. All of which gives my office a pleasingly Elizabethan air.
The twin themes of freedom and battle merge on Friday evening, when I represent the government at a reception aboard the mighty American aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is making a goodwill visit to Brisbane. With a complement of nearly 6,000 and 86 fighter aircraft, it is the biggest warship ever to come to my home city. Brisbane was General Macarthur’s headquarters at the time of one of the greatest naval engagements of WWII, the Battle of the Coral Sea. I welcome the ship and its crew to Australia – noting that it is named in honour of one of the great heroes of liberty. At the close of a week dominated by reflections upon Magna Carta and all it represents, it is appropriate that the ship’s crest bears the inscription ‘The Spirit of Freedom.’