A remarkable exhibition of Abbott Government incompetence, extravagance, deception and division was on display at Senate estimates hearings in the week just ended.
This shambolic parade started with the value-subtracting Defence Minister David Johnston who, on his own admission, did not attend a Cabinet National Security Committee meeting because his presence “wasn’t going to add too much.”
It continued with the Treasurer Joe Hockey who flew a celebrity chef to Washington to cook a slap-up dinner for fellow finance ministers and Rupert Murdoch.
Senate estimates heard that Mr Hockey and his office played a hands-on role in selecting a chef to dispatch to America earlier this year.
Given recent problems with the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ employment statistics, perhaps it would have been better if Mr Hockey had paid as much attention to selecting a new Australian Statistician.
The former Statistician retired back in December, but estimates heard the position was not advertised until February and remains vacant nearly a year later.
Mr Hockey was not the only senior Liberal caught out living high on the hog as the Government cuts pensions, family payments, schools and hospitals.
The Department of Parliamentary Services spent $23,000 installing a “hot box” and upgrading the kitchen in the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s Parliament House office and has delivered a “mobile bar” to her suite six times since her appointment.
Under Mrs Bishop, the Speaker’s office is in danger of becoming known as the House of Fun(d-raising) for the Liberal Party.
It is in little danger of becoming known as a place of sober decision-making after it emerged that Mrs Bishop’s decision to segregate Muslim women visiting Parliament was a knee-jerk response to a prank call to a Sydney radio station.
Those revelations triggered division between Mrs Bishop and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott over his claim that he asked her to reverse the segregation directive – a claim she denied in the House of Representatives this week.
The divisions continued when Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan used estimates to act as the Government’s in-house truth-bomber by calling out Mr Abbott’s Parliamentary Secretary Josh Frydenberg:
Heffernan: Shouldn’t they have a standard, like you have with brakes? Have you ever ridden behind a motor bike without a rear mud guard? You get sprayed with crap and stones. Why would we agree to remove them? What brain dead person did that?
Conroy: I think his name was Frydenberg.
Heffernan: What a load of crap.
Estimates also heard further evidence of the Abbott Government’s Budget deception when a senior Treasury official said the $7 GP Tax would do nothing to improve the sustainability of hospital finances.
It was also revealed that Tony Abbott is hiding the multi-billion-dollar cost of his paid parental leave scheme.
Mr Abbott failed to disclose the cost of the scheme in the Budget, claiming it could not be finalised until he reached agreement with State Governments on how his scheme will apply to State public servants.
But senior Treasury officials told estimates that federal and state government officials reached agreement on this issue months ago, just after the Budget was handed down.
The Health Department also revealed that the government’s potential liability for the wind up of Medicare Locals is $112 million. This is despite the Prime Minister promising no Medicare Locals would close before the last election.
And what would a week of Senate estimates under Tony Abbott be without discovering further patronage?
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has appointed two Liberals – one a former staffer to Tony Abbott and one a former Liberal election candidate – to the Migration Review Tribunal even though they were not recommended by a selection panel.
Labor will continue to use Senate estimates and Parliament to call the Abbott Government to account for its broken promises and incompetent behaviour.