‘What a joke’: Senators trade blows

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A fight over contentious workplace reforms has caused the Senate to descend into outright chaos, with party leaders screaming over one another at the dispatch box.

The disruption began when the Coalition renewed its attack on the government after top bureaucrats were accused of googling the cost of its industrial relations bill to business.

On Tuesday, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said it incorrectly included an article penned by a “spiritual healer” titled “How Much Should I Charge As A Consultant in Australia?” as a footnote to regulatory impact statement accompanying the bill.

The document accompanying the bill’s explanatory memorandum also contained a footnote to a web page, “How much do Payroll Services cost?” on business marketplace website bark.com.

Senator Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham went head to head during a trying debate during question time.Senator Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham went head to head during a trying debate during question time.

“Is this an acceptable source for government departments to use to calculate bargaining costs for businesses?” LNP Senator James McGrath asked.

Labor frontbencher Murray Watt, who represents the workplace relations Minister in the Senate, noted the department also used the Australian Financial Review, PayScale and LinkedIn as sources.

“Frankly I think it would have been a better idea for the department to use some of those other more reputable sources on its website, rather than the one that they chose to do,” he said.

“We are going to hear attack after attack from the Coalition on wage rises, despite the fact the Australian people voted for them.”

Senator Birmingham was frustrated at the answers from Murray Watt.Senator Birmingham was frustrated at the answers from Murray Watt.

His comment didn’t sit well with opposition Senate leader Simon Birmingham, who jumped to his feet to immediately shut down Senator Watt.

“Senator Watt keeps misleading the chamber about what the country actually voted for. The bill he is talking about, the people didn’t,” he began, before his mic was shut off.

This caused Penny Wong to spring immediately to her feet, as the pair shouted and aggressively pointed at one another while the President Sue Lines tried to regain control.

Penny Wong hit back, accusing him of throwing “meat to the backbench”.Penny Wong hit back, accusing him of throwing “meat to the backbench”.

“I know he wants to throw some meat to the backbench on an ideological issue, but he knows that is not a point of order,” adding she wanted the President to rule on the issue quicker.

Meanwhile, on the crossbench, a frustrated Greens senator Lidia Thorpe threw her hands in the air and yelled “Who is running this country. What a joke.”

The shenanigans continued throughout the remainder of the hour as the government answered questions on everything from the battle with the EU on prosecco (”What about pizza? Is that going to go next?) and the State of the Climate report.

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