Australia’s 46th parliament finds its feet

Marnie Banger and Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Governor-General David Hurley has urged Australia’s politicians to disagree better as he declared the 46th parliament officially open.

Six weeks after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government claimed an election victory, the nation’s 151 MPs and 42 of the country’s 76 senators have been sworn in at Parliament House.

“The opening of a new parliament marks a new chapter in our country’s history,” Mr Hurley told MPs and senators in the upper house chamber.

He said politicians had the opportunity to come together to tackle important issues with a fresh outlook.

“Democracy is a robust undertaking, and disagreement is a fundamental part of that contest of ideas,” the governor-general said.

“As the prime minister has often noted, the challenge of modern democracies is not to disagree less, but to disagree better.”

Mr Hurley’s speech outlined the government’s agenda, headlined by a $158 billion income tax cuts package to be debated later in the week.

The address capped a day of ceremonial fanfare to mark the start of the 46th parliament, with the leadership of both houses also settled.

Victorian MP Tony Smith has made federal parliamentary history by being chosen as Speaker – the referee for the House of Representatives – for a third term unopposed.

But in wishing him well, Mr Morrison reminded politicians it’s not themselves they should be focused on over the next three years.

“We all know that our focus should not be on the people who are inside this building, but, indeed, to serve those who are outside this building, who will always remain our focus,” he said.

Liberal senator Scott Ryan was also returned as Senate President, despite a bid from Greens senator Nick McKim to take his job.

Earlier, Mr Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese shook hands, posed for a happy snap and shared what appeared to be a friendly chat before taking their seats for a welcome-to-country ceremony.

Several indigenous MPs and senators – including Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt – watched from the front row as Ngunnawal elder Tina Brown led the welcome.

She stressed the need for the nation’s policymakers to get things done.

“Our nation needs to create solutions, drawing on the wisdom of the ancient Australia and the wisdom of the modern Australia,” Aunty Tina said.

Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese both acknowledged that such a welcome hasn’t always occurred.

It certainly didn’t for the first parliament, where Wiradjuri men Jimmy Clements and John Noble attended uninvited after a long walk to Canberra and officials tried to move Clements, known as “King Billy” along.

But the prime minister said something incredible happened.

“The crowd, Australians, took King Billy’s side. They called on him to stand his ground. He did.”

The government has pledged to find a consensus on constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians and close the gap on health, education and employment.

Mr Albanese, who backs constitutional recognition, urged Mr Morrison to support an indigenous voice to parliament.

The day began with parliamentarians from across the political spectrum at church, where new Canberra Anglican Bishop Mark Short assured them people of faith have their backs.

The bishop said in the “high calling” to serve Australia and its people, they could be assured of his prayers and the prayers of the churches of Australia.

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