Church bells and protest chants as parliament returns

Kat Wong and Andrew Brown |

Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton have summoned their troops ahead of the first sitting for the year
Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton have summoned their troops ahead of the first sitting for the year

Hi-vis vests and Akubra-wearing protesters have engulfed Capital Hill for the return of federal parliament, with politicians filling the halls with hot takes about tax cuts.

The prime minister and opposition leader had a moment of calm to start the political year, attending a morning church service and offering thoughts and prayers for King Charles who has revealed a cancer diagnosis.

The pair were flanked by a children’s choir and colourful clergy before the parliament bells heralded them to the house on the hill.

Transport workers and anti-renewable energy groups used the date to descend on parliament in separate demonstrations.

Protesters with anti-renewables signs
Anti-renewable energy protesters were among those to gather on parliament’s lawns. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Reflective vests and white T-shirts were strewn across the lawns to commemorate truck drivers and gig workers killed on the roads.

A rally against renewables, on the other hand, railed against the rollout of “reckless” technologies and high-voltage transmission lines.

Indoors, tax cuts were the main game.

Labor wants to give low and middle-income earners bigger tax returns and reduce the amount paid to wealthier workers.

Despite hammering the prime minister over a broken promise, the coalition has agreed to back the reworked package.

With seats still warm after a partyroom meeting, Peter Dutton called a press conference in the same space a short time later.

He fumed about Anthony Albanese’s “lies” but said the coalition would not stand in the way of extra support for families doing it tough.

The tax debate spilled into a rowdy Question Time.

Milton Dick with hand on glasses
Speaker of the House Milton Dick booted three coalition MPs from the lower house. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

It may have been the first day back but Speaker Milton Dick was not wasting any time in trying to restore order to the lower house

Three coalition MPs including the shadow treasurer were booted out for disorderly conduct.

And the speaker needed to remind MPs about how the whole show worked after two months off.

“As we begin this week, and this parliamentary session, I cannot make a minister answer a question ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” he said.

“You may not like the answer, you may not agree, but I simply cannot ask a minister or a prime minister to answer a question yes or no as you would like.”

Angus Taylor bows at parliament door
Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor was one of three coalition MPs to be ejected from the chamber. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The Albanese government will be desperate to push through a tranche of bills before the May budget.

These include an expansion of paid parental leave and a crackdown on migrant worker exploitation alongside workplace relations, housing and foreign bribery laws.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape will also address a joint sitting of parliament on Thursday, the first leader from a Pacific island nation to do so.

The first sitting week for 2024 also brings a new face to parliament, with West Australian Labor senator Varun Ghosh sworn in.

Varun Ghosh with enny Wong and Don Farrell
WA Senator Varun Ghosh was sworn in, supported by his Labor colleagues. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

Senator Ghosh takes over from Labor great and Indigenous leader Pat Dodson, who retired due to ill health.

The prime minister paid tribute to the former senator Dodson, saying his replacement had big shoes to fill.

“Mr Ghosh’s contribution will be different but no less significant,” Mr Albanese told caucus colleagues.