The dark cloud hanging over Arthur Sinodinos has rained on Tony Abbott’s red tape bonfire.
It meant that Wednesday’s question time was virtually a two-issue session, with no overlap between them.
Labor had 13 questions and every one of them involved Bill Shorten quizzing the prime minister over Sinodinos, who’d just stood aside as assistant treasurer while a corruption inquiry looks at his role in a water company.
Not that Shorten got far.
Indeed those 13 questions didn’t elicit much more than Abbott volunteered in a brief statement immediately before question time; namely that Sinodinos had done the right and decent thing and Abbott looked forward to his restoration to the ministry.
Most of Shorten’s questions were brushed aside. Abbott’s first answer was simply that he had nothing to add. Later he repeated, again and again, that Sinodinos had done the right thing. He’d acted in the best Westminster tradition. He’d given long and honourable service to Australia. He was appointed to the ministry because he was a man of great distinction. The government was determined to uphold the highest standards in public life.
Abbott corrected Shorten when the Labor leader spoke of Sinodinos resigning. He’d stood aside. However he has lost his ministerial salary and entitlements.
The prime minister seemed untroubled by the inquisition. There was no shouting, no counter-attack. Just an impregnable defence and an air of being resignedly amused by the puny blows directed at him.
For its part, the government tried to repeat its morning annihilation of all that red tape that’s supposed to be strangling the citizenry.
Backbenchers queued obediently to ask various ministers about the perfidy of regulation and what the government was doing about it.
The answers were largely a repeat of the morning performance, with less zest; though Barnaby Joyce managed a spirited rant on the carbon tax – which seems now to be included in the vast ocean of unwanted regulation.
Labor seemed to enjoy Joyce’s performance. When his time ran out several shouted “more, more!”.
There was the mandatory revelation of a Labor government disaster – this time Kevin Andrews provoking a paroxysm of indignation by claiming that 62 public housing units which the former government built in Moree in northwestern NSW were already falling to bits.
The only left field question came, predictably enough, from the crossbench, with Andrew Wilkie wanting restrictions eased on industrial hemp, “which cannot be smoked”.
Abbott said it was being looked at, which given his fatwa on regulations, was the least he could do.