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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Amy Remeikis

The week in parliament: things get ugly on immigration detention with political blood spilled on both sides

Australian home affairs minister Clare O’Neil speaks during question time in parliament
Home affairs minister Clare O’Neil duked it out with the Coalition over the indefinite detention decision. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The Christmas spirit is yet to spread across the halls of parliament, with the last joint sitting week of the year very much business, business … ugly business.

The parliamentary year has been brutal. This last week was no different, as both the major parties duked it out over the indefinite detention decision. As is often the way in politics, forgotten in the parliamentary battle are the people in the “middle”. At times it seemed it was forgotten that the refugees and migrants released by the high court decision are people. The Coalition only refers to them as “hardened” or “hardcore criminals”, which is not true, while Labor’s Clare O’Neil wished she had the power to “lock them all back up again”, criminal record or not.

The back and forth descended into O’Neil accusing the opposition (aiming at Peter Dutton) of supporting “paedophiles over children” and supporting “domestic abusers over their survivor victims”, a comment she was made to withdraw after Michael Sukkar and Dutton went toe-to-toe with Tony Burke over whether it was acceptable. Burke effectively argued it was tit-for-tat, labelling Dutton as someone with “a glass jaw who can dish it out but can’t take it”.

That comment was eventually withdrawn, but not before political blood had been spilled on both sides. But, let’s face it, at this point in the political cycle there was barely a raised eyebrow, given the tone of recent debates.

Speaking on Sydney radio station 2GB on Friday, Dutton said the assertion against him was “the complete opposite of the truth” and he had been praised in parliament before for setting up the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation. “It is one of my life’s passions to make sure that women and kids are safe and I feel very genuinely and deeply about it,” he said.

The Tony Abbott tribute band is warming up for the big stage and next year it’ll be pushing for prime billing. And it doesn’t mind how it gets there. Voters are rapidly losing patience with the government on multiple fronts, and the cost of living is overshadowing everything it does.

There’s one more joint sitting day next week. One more day to set the stage for the coming year. And, in all the noise, the leaders will deliver their annual Christmas messages – including to each other. Given there is still the preventive detention fight to have, it’ll take a Christmas miracle for those words not to sound hollow.

Ed Husic weighs in on theatre controversy

Meanwhile, Albanese frontbencher Ed Husic has continued to call for an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Husic was the first Labor minister to say he believed Palestinians were being “collectively punished” and has repeatedly raised concerns over the rise in antisemitism (which he labelled “corrosive”) and the rise in Islamophobia. Husic has also defended the right of people to protest against the deaths of civilians in Gaza and late on Friday weighed in on the controversy surrounding Sydney Theatre Company performers expressing peaceful messages of support for Palestinians.

He pointed to a Sydney Morning Herald report on cast members of The Visitors reading a three-minute statement in support of a ceasefire after a performance at the Canberra Theatre Centre on 8 November. The report quoted the performers of the co-produced STC show saying “we refuse to look away from the mothers, the fathers, the families, and the communities being pulled apart” as part of a wider article about STC having been “plunged into crisis” after three actors returned for a curtain call wearing traditional keffiyeh scarves after a performance of The Seagull. Two STC board members resigned after the actor’s silent statement, with reports of subscribers cancelling their financial support.

Husic referenced the matter on his social media, quoting the “we refuse to look away” line from the actors’ statement and commenting: “I can’t believe that recognising the plight of others has apparently ‘rocked the theatre world’. We can recognise the humanity on BOTH sides of this horrific chapter’.” In a separate message on the same thread, Husic said”: “I thank those who had the courage to show their heart.” Husic said he did not have anything to add to his statement when contacted, but confirmed it was his account. The industry minister has continued to condemn the deadly 7 October attack on Israel, but both publicly and privately has pushed for Palestinians to be remembered as well.

Among the anger, a truly shining moment

In one of the only truly shining moments of the parliamentary week, almost lost among the anger and noise, was the Nationals MP Darren Chester paying tribute to Labor MP Peta Murphy.

Murphy is a favourite among all members of the house. She is known for always playing it straight, her sense of humour and good faith. She has never held back in arguing her case, even when her audience is ideologically opposed. But she makes them at least think about things, which in this climate is a miracle. Murphy was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 37. Nine years later, and just two days after she was sworn in as the member for Dunkley after the 2019 election, she learned she had metastatic breast cancer.

Murphy has continued to show up to parliament despite her health challenges and the brutal cancer treatment she endures and, this week, Chester paid tribute to his friend’s courage – despite some good-natured interjections from her during his short speech. Chester told Guardian Australia he wanted to “acknowledge her courage in continuing to fight for causes which she is passionate about”.

Among the personal in-jokes (including that Murphy once met the Australian music star “K Flip” in New York, and upon being told their name was G Flip immediately responded: “Well, actually, it’s K Flip to all [their] friends”) Chester made sure Murphy knew she was loved.

Labor MP Peta Murphy in parliament this week
Labor MP Peta Murphy in parliament this week. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

“Right now my friend the member for Dunkley is facing some serious health challenges; we know that. She is facing those challenges with courage, humility and good humour. It is bloody hard to watch,” he said.

“But I know she has earned the respect of all members in this place, on both sides of the chamber. We wish her great health and happiness as she faces those challenges in the days ahead. In the words of Pippi Longstocking: please remember you are the strongest girl in the world.”

For one shining moment, the whole chamber agreed.

Don’t spoil the Christmas magic!

Another small amount of Christmas cheer came with the annual release of the Ian Goodenough calendar. The calendar features 12 months of the Western Australian Liberal MP at different locations across his electorate of Moore. There’s Goodenough holding a tennis racket in a shirt and tie, with Michaelia Cash. Goodenough digging up coastal weeds in the sand in a business shirt and hi-vis vest. He’s posing with local teams, meeting constituents, looking at things, standing on wet sand in dress shoes and sitting in plane simulators. He’s a snappy dresser. So he had everyone talking about whether his face had been Photoshopped on to an image of someone walking barefoot along the beach wearing a Santa hat. In that pic, he appears to be wearing a festive polo shirt and board shorts. But no belt or shoes? It’s suss. But no one wants to spoil the Christmas magic here!

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