The first full day of parliament under new Prime Minister Tony Abbott was greeted with rancorous debate, name calling and threats from the Speaker to eject boisterous protesters from the public gallery.
Just a day after Mr Abbott said the parliament should “never be a place where motives are impugned or characters assassinated”, the feuding ebbed and flowed as debate unfolded on the carbon tax and debt ceiling bills.
It peaked during question time when the government launched a prolonged attack on Labor’s record and pressured Labor leader Bill Shorten over his opposition to repealing the carbon tax.
And it peaked again when new Speaker Bronwyn Bishop allowed the government to call Bill Shorten ‘Electricity Bill’, triggering an unsuccessful motion of dissent from the Opposition.
However, the prime minister himself put in a relatively subdued performance, “humbly” urging the opposition to respect the coalition’s mandate – just a few hours after he introduced legislation to unwind Labor’s tax.
Treasurer Joe Hockey was in a more fiery mood, calling on Labor to support his plan to raise the debt ceiling to $500 billion. Labor wants debt capped at $400 billion, arguing the government hasn’t explained why it needs more than that.
“The tenants trashed the joint and now we’re trying to fix it,” said Mr Hockey. “And the biggest impediment is the Labor Party, addicted to debt and deficit.”
Here today, gone …
While the two major parties fought a war of words, Clive Palmer was notable for his absence.
A day after arriving in Canberra in a blaze of publicity and declaring he was a “full-time, 100 per cent” politician, Mr Palmer chose to sit out the first eight votes of the new parliament, including the first votes on the carbon and mining tax repeal legislation.
During the election campaign, Mr Palmer’s Palmer United Party (PUP) campaigned to remove the carbon tax and repay carbon tax payments from big polluting companies for their first year of liabilities.
“I’ll be abstaining from voting on the carbon tax and the mining tax repeal bills, and the reason I wasn’t in parliament … was that they were introduced,” Mr Palmer told reporters.
“I don’t think I need to abstain. However, I don’t want to have a perception from anybody that I’m acting in the wrong way.”
Mr Palmer’s company Queensland Nickel is refusing to pay a $6.2 million carbon tax bill and is challenging the tax in the courts.
The first votes of the new parliament were procedural, after Labor attempted to force Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to explain reports that the government is negotiating a new people-swap deal with Indonesia.
Mr Palmer said he did not take part in those votes because they were part of the same session as the carbon tax and mining tax repeal bills.
“I didn’t want to have my presence in the chamber affecting how another member may vote,” he said, adding those were the rules under corporations law for company directors.
Mr Palmer, however, did attend the first question time of the new parliament.
Carbon tax argument
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott laid the groundwork to repeal the carbon tax, prompting noisy protests from the public gallery.
“The Australian people have already voted upon this bill and now the parliament gets its chance,” he said. “It delivers on the Coalition’s commitment to the Australian people to scrap this toxic tax.”
Mr Abbott was forced to wait more than an hour to move his signature legislation after Labor used stall tactics in parliament over unrelated matters.
He was further delayed when the opposition interrupted his speech to ask for copies of the legislation before protestors in the public gallery got to their feet and drowned him out.
Labor and the Greens have vowed to block the legislation in the Senate, but business groups have joined forces to pressure them to let it through before the end of the year.
Here’s how the day unfolded.