PRESS GALLERY SKETCH: No questions on Closing the Gap

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison was determined to bring every topic back to the issue of border control (Screenshot via YouTube)

Out of all the questions asked during Question Time, pressing issues concerning Indigenous Australians were overlooked, writes Canberra correspondent John Passant.

THURSDAY IN PARLIAMENT HOUSE was another momentous day. In the morning, the Prime Minister tabled the 11th Closing the Gap Report in Parliament. It showed that far from improving, the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are going backwards compared to the rest of us.

Last year we were on track to meet three of the seven targets. This year it is only two. And next year?

The platitudes and even action (such as the Government’s current focus on education) will not change the systemic and fundamental issue at the heart of the problems — the genocide of ATSI people, their dispossession and death then and now at the hands of Australian capitalism. All the Government and Opposition are proposing is Band-Aids on the cancer, rather than addressing the cancer.

In 2020 there will be another report and more words, but the situation will be much the same as it has always been — Indigenous people die about ten years earlier than the rest of us on average, they have more people living in poverty than any other group, they have the lowest education levels and so on.

Nothing that Morrison or Shorten talked about will address that because they do not acknowledge let alone address the genocide and theft of the land then and now.

Then there was Question Time.

The first bit of fun was when 12 people stood up in the public galleries, one by one over about five or ten minutes and yelled that we need to take action on climate change, stop subsidising coal, stop Adani and the like. After each individual was led out, another stood up to proclaim a similar message.

Question Time begins at 2 PM on sitting days in the House and goes till about 3:10 or 3:15 PM when the Prime Minister rises to end the daily ritual. Today, instead of getting to his feet at 3:15 PM and declaring Question Time over for the day, Mr Morrison allowed it to continue. At 150 minutes, today’s Question Time was the longest in the Federal Parliament’s history

What was so important? Were there penetrating questions about the failure of Closing the Gap and how to fundamentally address the systemic genocide of ATSI peoples? No, not at all.

The Government’s backbenchers asked questions almost exclusively on border security. It did not matter what the topic was, border protection got a mention in the question and, of course, the Ministerial answers.

“My question is to the Minister for the Arts. Can the Minister tell the House how strong borders helps Australian artists and are there any alternative approaches that threaten to destroy strong borders and with it the Australian arts scene?”

That was basically the calibre, if not the reality, of the Dorothy Dixers today from the Liberal and National Party backbenchers.

The answers, of course, included the usual lies from Ministers about rapists and murderers being allowed into Australia thanks to the Labor supported Medevac Bill passing the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday.

Labor concentrated for the first half an hour or so on why Scott Morrison had abandoned taking the big stick to energy companies. The Prime Minister called it rubbish. However, the Government has removed its big stick legislation from the agenda following the Greens foreshadowing an amendment that, according to Adam Bandt MP, ‘…would also prohibit coal-fired power stations from receiving public money.’ To avoid another defeat in the House, the Government withdrew its big stick energy Bill from consideration.

Then, in between a few questions about the leaks to the press of the impending Australian Workers Union raids, Labor changed its focus. As the time moved on past the end of the regular question time, Labor began to ask about a Senate motion passed at 12.15 pm on Thursday to support a Royal Commission into the violence and abuse against disabled people.

By this stage, Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John was sitting just inside the exit doors of the House. He was the person driving the Royal Commission motion in the Senate. Government Senators voted against the motion. The Senate agreed to send the motion as a message to the House of Representatives.

Senator Steele-John became angry as the penny dropped that the reason Question Time was continuing was to avoid dealing with the message from the Senate about the disability Royal Commission. The Government was basically wasting time to avoid another defeat on the floor of the House. “Just put it to the vote,” he yelled.

After various questions on the issue and intricate discussions about matters of public importance, Senate messages, standing orders and Parliamentary practice, Bill Shorten moved a motion to suspend standing orders. The aim was to allow a debate on his motion to allow enough time to debate the Royal Commission issue. Morrison, after prevaricating for most of Question Time about the Royal Commission question, said during this debate that the Government had not resolved not to do it.

At 4.30 PM, Question Time shut down, automatically under Parliamentary rules and ended Labor’s attempt to suspend standing orders.

The disability violence and abuse Royal Commission will be on the agenda for debate next week. I understand that Morrison has now said the Government would not oppose it, although as he pointed out during Question Time in his non-answers to Labor’s calls for a Royal Commission, the Government’s focus is the NDIS and the aged care Royal Commission. That is one way to remove a possible election issue, I guess.

Meanwhile, the banks continue to rob us and Aboriginal people die ten years younger than the rest of us.

You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformedare available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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