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Plenty of action behind the scenes for ‘boring’ Albanese government

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he wants to "take politics off the front pages".

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he wants to "take politics off the front pages". Photo: AAP/TND

This may have been one of the most consequential weeks for the Albanese government.

In Canberra, the government has pushed its workplace bill to the Senate – and possible death – while it still has a chance of legislating an anti-corruption commission by Christmas.

But much of the government’s most important work went on outside Parliament.

In Egypt, Australia pushed for a debate on financial support for poor countries cutting emissions at the COP27 UN Climate Conference.

It was followed by a small diplomatic triumph for Australia that passed without notice.

The Minister for International Relations and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, appeared on the diplomatic stage alongside Henry Puna, the secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Mr Puna is the head of the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s international bloc.

Only months ago there was a media storm over reports that China was about to persuade countries in the Forum to sign a security pact.

A senior member of a Pacific government told The New Daily that they believed Australia was taking countries’ concerns about climate change seriously where they had not before.

Scott Morrison was lambasted when he began eating during the opening ceremony of the 2021 PIF – a breach of a custom of respecting a chief while they are speaking.

Shadow Pacific Minister Michael McCormack caused uproar in 2019 by saying Pacific Islanders would survive climate change because there would always be fruit-picking jobs in Australia.

Signs of change

And a bid to co-host COP31 with the Pacific has been widely supported in the region.

Mr Albanese has been preparing for what could be a significant visit overseas next week including a possible meeting with China’s premier Xi Jinping.

After years of enmity and cut economic ties this week there was a sign of seeming progress, Chinese state media referred to Australia as an “important partner for dialogue and co-operation”.

With only eight days of Parliament remaining, it will be do or die for the bill that will bring changes to workplace laws not seen for many parliaments.

The laws will enshrine multi-employer bargaining and help increase pay in feminised industries, while also outlawing secrecy clauses on pay rates for employees.

Pocock under scrutiny

Independent ACT Senator David Pocock stands in the way.

Senator Pocock, who recently called for the ACT’s federal public housing debt to be appealed, is making noises of protest.

He is also under intense scrutiny and represents one of the country’s most progressive constituencies.

Less coverage was given to news that former defence minister Stephen Smith and former defence chief Sir Angus Houston handed in their first draft of a review of Australia’s military capabilities.

Defence spending has been criticised as inefficient and wasteful and delivered baffling materiel, but the review will also say something about Australia’s place in the world and how it is best defended.

Up to 10 million Australians may have been affected by the Medibank hack.

Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil has used emergency powers to bring together law enforcement bodies and told them to start proactively disrupting hackers and scammers to stop hack victims being harrassed.

There were positive signs but also qualifiers for another key piece of legislation promised by the government: A national anti-corruption commission that was given the thumbs up from a parliamentary committee.

According to conventions

Mr Albanese even found time on Thursday for electorate matters and travelled to Marrickville for a funeral for which he was granted a pair by Peter Dutton.

How? It’s not government by one person but in the tradition of ministerial responsibility.

Taken together, the issues on the ministers’ to-do list this week would make for a substantial agenda; reviving Pacific diplomacy, repairing China ties, identifying defence inefficiency; and taking on hackers.

Decisions about how policies should be implemented is too often overlooked by the lure of new policies, which can be perceived as part of an MP’s legacy.

Mr Albanese said he was trying to “take politics off the front pages”, as he did at a charity event last week.

But that doesn’t mean that, out of view, his government is not setting its own pace.

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