CANBERRA -- It has taken us until two weeks back from the Christmas break, but the House of Representatives has finally had a properly fiery Question Time with Malcolm Turnbull the target of an attempted censure motion over his handling of the escalating Stuart Robert saga.
QT started with opposition leader Bill Shorten instantly on the attack, taking the Prime Minister to task over reports of a taskforce being established to investigate the privatisation of Medicare. Rumours about changes to the government healthcare program have been floating around for several days, but Wednesday was the first time Turnbull had explicitly addressed the whispers.
"The Government is totally committed to Medicare as every member of this House knows. The examination of a more efficient way of transacting with citizens, with patient, consumers, is obviously a high priority for this Government. It should be a high priority for any Government," he answered, stating that a move to bring components of Medicare and healthcare onto more accessible, efficient technology such as mobile phones was being investigated.
"Any outsourcing would only apply to back office operations and the administrative actions of making payments to individuals and providers. It doesn't include setting fees or rebates and it doesn't have any impact on the cost of health care, other than that it may result in services being delivered more efficiently."
Soon after, Clive Palmer tweeted that he had a question to ask, which set off a chain of comedy.
Palmer asked Turnbull about representation of women in his cabinet, with Member for Herbert, Ewen Jones, standing up soon after to defend his PM and lay a zinger on Palmer.
Jones was instantly ejected from the chamber by the speaker, his comment -- about Palmer's controversial Queensland Nickel mine which recently fired many workers -- being ruled out of order. Turnbull stood up to give the world's most nonchalant "sorry not sorry" apology.
It was, again, under-fire minister Stuart Robert and his 2014 visit to China that came under most scrutiny. He was asked no less than four times by shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus about the trip, giving the same answer four times, the same answer he has given for two days running; "I thank the member for his question and I refer the member to my previous answer yesterday."
Each answer was met with a howl from the opposition, with Shorten waiting until near the end of question time before pulling a trump card; first asking the PM when he would sack Robert, then moving a motion that the House censure Turnbull for failing to act sooner.
Stuart Robert looks at his watch during question time
"When will the PM sack the Minister for Human Services? Just like with the former special Minister for State and the former Minister for cities, isn't the PM waiting for Parliament to rise before he takes out his trash because he is too arrogant to see one of his Ministers forced to resign whilst Parliament sits?" Shorten said.
The Government did not vote to censure their own leader, so the motion failed.
With such a sustained attack on Robert, it seems unclear how long he will manage to hang onto his position before the axe is swung.