When little-known senator Ralph Babet jumped to his feet on Tuesday to raise concerns about the transparency of Scott Morrison’s government, there was a split- second of silence as his colleagues pondered his question.
The question was directed at Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, who represents the Prime Minister in the Senate.
The United Australia Party senator asked her: ‘Now minister… the former Morrison government, this mob over here, honoured an appallingly low rate of just 48.7 per cent of Senate order for production of document requests. How terrible.
‘Does the minister believe that the former Morrison government was a transparent government? Because I don’t think they were.’
She rose to her feet as those behind her appeared perplexed. Some even grumbled about the failings of the previous government.
Then Liberal senator Michaelia Cash stated the obvious: Beware the supplementary questions.
When Senator Ralph Babet jumped to his feet in the chamber on Tuesday and raised concerns about the transparency of Scott Morrison’s government, there was a split second of silence as his colleagues pondered his question
The Government is under increased pressure to be more transparent, amid further questions about the decision to block Qatar Airways from having more access to Australia. The decision is said to have cost Australian travellers up to 40% on their airfares.
But Penny Wong has been in parliament for 21 years, and her guard was up.
‘I am going to anticipate your next question… I am someone who has been her for quite a long time. I have never seen as many OPDs [orders for the production of documents] used as indiscriminately as the Opposition… are using them,’ she said.
‘I don’t believe any fair minded person looking at Mr Morrison’s secret ministries or the Robodebt tragedy would think the standards of transparency were sufficient.
‘We remember what Mr Morrison was like and the lack of accountability… even to his own colleagues when he took their jobs from them.’
Mr Babet said she obviously knew where he was going this ‘not being your first rodeo’.
‘Your government is at 20.4 per cent. Twice as secretive as Scott Morrison’s government. Why?’
Minister Wong has been in politics for 21 years, and it was apparent her guard was up
Ms Wong said: ‘We remember what Mr Morrison was like and the lack of accountability… even to his own colleagues when he took their jobs from them’
Ms Wong argued there had been a significant increase in the amount of OPDs being filed, and the amount being approved, but has vowed to investigate Mr Babet’s question.
Ms Wong was subjected to most of the scrutiny in the Senate on Tuesday given her role as the representative for the Prime Minister in the chamber.
She was also peppered with questions from Nationals Leader of the Senate Bridget McKenzie, who questioned the division within Labor about the Qatar Airways decision.
Ms McKenzie asked for clarity as to ‘what exactly the national interest grounds’ in blocking additional flights from Qatar were.
‘The minister considers a range of factors when determining whether an expansion of bilateral air rights is in our national interest,’ Ms Wong said.
She maintained there was nothing unusual about the government’s decision, and noted Qatar is welcome to increase flights into Adelaide, Avalon, Cairns, Canberra and the Gold Coast.
Mr Albanese and Labor are being peppered with questions about the decision to deny Qatar Airways more flights into key Australian airports (pictured, the PM with former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce)
Her answer was met with jeers from the Coalition, demanding to know just what those factors were.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Mr Albanese was facing intense questioning of his own.
The Nationals MP for Cowper, Pat Conaghan asked if the PM had ‘a conversation of any kind with Mr Alan Joyce prior to the government’s decision concerning Qatar Airways’.
The PM, realising the breadth of the question, responded: ‘I can confirm that I’ve met Alan Joyce, which is basically what the question was.’
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton later asked if Mr Albanese had any conversations with Virgin Australia over the application.
Mr Albanese said: ‘Yes.’
Later, Mr Albanese faced another question, this time from LNP’s Bert van Manen, who asked if he had any conversations with Mr Joyce or senior execitves regarding the application before a decision was handed down.
Mr Albanese said: ‘No.’
Labor was elected on a policy of transparency, and is now facing increasing calls from across the chamber to honour that commitment.
While the Coalition would like an inquiry into the Qatar decision, the Greens are first calling on the government to release documents from the time of the decision.
While the Coalition would like an inquiry into the Qatar decision, the Greens are first calling on the government to release documents from the time of the decision