Labor came to parliament with an axe to grind on Thursday. The ‘Abbott axe’, to be precise, a phrase which members of the opposition used to probe the government during question time.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten opened proceedings with a question about job losses at the CSIRO: “Why are 600 staff to face the Abbott axe?”
Anthony Albanese wanted to know about funding for highway projects: “Will these projects face the Abbott axe?”
Former Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus asked about cutting emergency payments to bushfire victims: “Isn’t forcing them to face the Abbott axe the cruellest cut of all?”
Later, Mr Shorten grabbed as many portfolios as he could fit into a sentence and asked if the titular axe would be swung at them: “Will you confirm that regardless of what the Commission of Audit finds, that health, education and pensions will be safe from the Abbott axe?”
All the talk of garden implements came on a busy day on Capital Hill, with the House of Representatives voting on the carbon tax repeal bills.
“This is about the word of the Australian people, this is about the commitment of the incoming Government, this is about rectifying a fundamental breach of faith with the Australian people following the 2010 election,” said Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
In a statement, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “It will be up to the Senate to respect the will of the people and vote to scrap this job-destroying tax.”
But things got off to a rocky start after Labor disputed a decision by Speaker Bronwyn Bishop on a proposed amendment, delaying the vote.
The Speaker ruled that Labor wasn’t allowed to move an amendment to the carbon tax legislation which sought to establish an emissions trading scheme.
Labor’s Tony Burke protested, suggesting Ms Bishop was showing bias by using “we” to describe the government’s position, but the government used its numbers to defeat the dissent motion.
The bills eventually passed late in the afternoon. The real battle to axe the tax will begin in early December in the Senate where Labor and the Greens hold the balance of power.
Later, Ms Bishop became embroiled in a debate about social media after opposition MPs Rob Mitchell and Graham Perrett used Twitter to comment on her performance.
Mr Perrett did not use his own words but retweeted, or republished, several commentators including one saying Ms Bishop was a “terrible appointment” to the chair.
A good speaker, even if not unbiased, must have the respect of both sides of the House. Bishop doesn’t & won’t. Terrible appointment
— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) November 21, 2013
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne brought the offending tweets to the notice of Ms Bishop.
“I’d ask you to consider whether this is disorderly conduct and what action you might like to take,” he told Ms Bishop.
Ms Bishop said all members should be aware the same rules applied to the use of electronic and social media in the chamber as speaking.
Mr Perrett apologised for the comments he retweeted.
“I did make a line-ball call and I will certainly refrain from so doing in the future,” he said.
And as a final display of her authority, Ms Bishop ejected Labor’s Nick Champion from the House … for a second time in two days.