ACTING Speaker Mary Porter struggled to keep control of an unruly Question Time today and was eventually accused by Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson of applying the Assembly’s rules inconsistently, in favour of her own party.
The questions began calmly enough with the Opposition asking about ACTEW Corporation CEO Mark Sullivan’s $855,000 salary, which was misreported as only $621,000 in the company’s last annual report.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said she was “surprised” to find out about the salary about a week ago, but was seeking further advice on whether it was an appropriate amount for the top executive to be paid, as this was not her area of expertise.
Mr Hanson then seized on an earlier comment Ms Gallagher made “across the chamber”, suggesting the Chief Minister did personally believe the salary was too high.
A welcome change of subject came through a question from Labor’s Dr Chris Burke, giving Andrew Barr the opportunity to detail community services reforms, but the Opposition soon steered the discussion to 1980s cartoons.
“Mr Barr, ignore the interjections,” Ms Porter advised from the Speaker’s chair.
“I’ll resist the temptation to respond to the Decepticons,” Mr Barr replied, causing Brendan Smyth to respond from the Opposition front bench, suggesting that if either side were deceitful, it was the Government.
This led to a request that he withdraw a statement describing Mr Barr as deceitful, but Smyth denied ever saying the exact words, “Andrew Barr is deceitful”.
But the big breakdown came shortly after a slightly awkward moment for Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury, when Liberal Giulia Jones prefaced a question about the recently completed Barry Drive Transit Lane project by describing him as her “favourite minister at the moment”.
“When I’ve stopped blushing I’ll come to the question at hand,” Mr Rattenbury said, explaining that the transit lane began operating on Saturday morning in a “soft opening” to avoid weekday traffic.
Rattenbury was cool under continued questioning from the Opposition over whether TAMS was taking too long to undertake urban projects, but things really got heated when Mr Smyth stood to question him on the cost of providing the Centenary Loop bus service, and was denied the opportunity by Ms Porter.
“I thought you were raising a point of order,” the Speaker explained to a bewildered Mr Smyth, who complained he hadn’t said the words, “point of order”.
In the back-and-forth that followed, Mr Smyth and his colleagues argued he had been unfairly denied the right to question Mr Rattenbury, while Attorney-General Simon Corbell supported Ms Porter’s right to give the floor to Labor’s Mick Gentleman “if she misunderstands the point of the Member rising”.
Voicing their displeasure, Opposition members then drowned out Mr Corbell’s answer to Mr Gentleman’s question, the Attorney-General’s voice rising to shout over them.
“That’s it,” Ms Porter said sternly, silencing the room. “You will remain silent. I don’t like using the ‘mother voice’, as Madam Speaker [Vicki Dunne] calls it, but you are acting like a playgroup.”
Jeremy Hanson then had the final word on the matter, rising with yet another point of order.
“Could I ask you to apply those rules consistently,” the Opposition Leader said, pointing out that Mr Corbell had ceased addressing the Speaker, as he should, and was instead “shouting and pointing his finger” at the braying Opposition.