Penny Wong has unleashed on an “outrageous” senator as tensions boiled over in the upper house.
Lumped with additional hours to get through the mountain of legislation before the end of the parliamentary sitting year, senate question time on Tuesday was more unruly than ever.
It was an uphill battle for president Sue Lines to maintain control, as the senators yelled at each other across the aisle over anything and everything.
“We are not at a football match. We are in senate question time. You are to be silent,” she yelled.
Of particular interest to the Coalition was comments made by Infrastructure Minister Catherine King, in which she said she was “pretty confident” the $125bn Victorian Suburban Rail Loop was “right for investment”.
Senator McKenzie took up the issue on Tuesday, quizzing government senate leader Penny Wong about what assessment the government had taken before reaching that conclusion.
“On what basis of rigorous assessment, other than her own confidence, did the government approve $2.2bn in funding in the budget for the suburban rail loop project?” she asked.
“I do recall the extent to which all of us have tried to campaign for state elections in this chamber and I’m not sure if any of us have been very successful,” Senator Wong responded.
But repeated interjections from the Coalition senator caused Senator Wong to launch her own counteroffensive.
“You are in a permanent state of outrage, aren’t you? There’s never any light and shade with this particular senator. We’re always right up there aren’t we,” she hit back.
“It is interesting to get a question which goes to business cases … from a (former) minister who never demonstrated that during her period in government. The public record speaks for itself.”
After being handed a document from colleague Don Farrell, Senator Wong added the government was “honouring an election commitment” but noted it would be subjected to an assessment by Infrastructure Australia.
Meanwhile, senators McKenzie and David Van drew the president’s ire for repeatedly referring to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as “Chairman Dan”.
“I ask you to refer to people by their correct titles,” she said before asking Senator McKenzie to withdraw her remark.
“You know the rules,” Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, who caused a stir earlier in the year for her comments in the chamber about the Queen, joked in a moment of self-awareness.
Around halfway through question time, the parliamentary delegation from New Zealand had either had enough, or had something better to do, packing up from the public gallery and moving on.
You can almost hear the senators counting down until the end of the parliamentary sitting calendar.