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Bill Shorten rebukes Stephen Conroy over attack on governor general

Bill Shorten has rebuked a senior member of his team for making remarks critical of the governor general.

On Monday morning, Stephen Conroy accused Sir Peter Cosgrove of “demeaning the office of governor general” by participating in the recall of both houses of parliament. It is understood he made those comments without the knowledge of the opposition leader.

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On Monday afternoon, Shorten had pulled Conroy back into line.

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“The governor general has one of the most important roles in our democracy and that should be respected by everyone,” he said in a written statement. “Senator Conroy should confine his remarks to the government.”

Parliament was recalled on Monday in order for the government to pass two controversial pieces of industrial relations legislation.

“I have, on the advice of my ministers, recalled you so that these bills can be considered again and their fate decided without further delay,” Cosgrove said during the joint sitting. “My government regards these measures as essential for the rule of law in our workplaces. My government also regards these measures as crucial to its economic plan for promoting jobs and growth.”

Cosgrove was criticised on social media for a perceived snub towards Labor’s deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, whose hand he did not shake after the joint sitting.

Cosgrove did not see Plibersek offer her hand and, as procedure dictated that he only needed to shake the hand of the Senate president, prime minister and leader of the opposition, he did not stop to address her. He did, however, shake the hand of the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, which could have led Plibersek to believe he would also greet her.

The action prompted those on the Labor benches to yell out “know your place”.

The governor general has called Plibersek to apologise for the unintentional slight.

Joyce said he did not realise he had broken protocol by shaking the governor general’s hand, saying he did it because he saw a “bloke with a smile on his face” walking his way.

“I throw myself at the floor of the constitutional court,” Joyce told reporters.

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Conroy, the opposition defence spokesman, said Cosgrove’s role harked back to the constitutional crisis that saw the former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam dismissed.

“What we’ve had today is the ghost of 1975 revisited upon us; the long, dead arm of Sir John Kerr crawl out of his grave to participate in a travesty of democracy in this country,” Conroy told the Senate. What we saw is a blight on our democracy today. We’ve seen a democratically elected decision overturned by the Queen’s representative.

 

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We’ve seen today a governor general overturn the will of this chamber, a democratically elected chamber. That’s what we have seen, a tawdry political stunt and the governor general has demeaned his office.

“Never has the need for a republic been more evident than today.”

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was scathing of Conroy’s comments.

“Well, not for the first time, senator Conroy has disgraced himself and I look forward to the leader of the opposition publicly disassociating himself from those appalling remarks reflecting, as senator Conroy did, on the integrity and the office of the governor general,” he told reporters on Monday.

The president of the Senate, Stephen Parry, warned Conroy that his comments were against the rules because they brought the office of the governor general – and, by extension, the Queen – into disrepute.

“This is the last bastion of standing orders that we must defend,” Parry said.

Conroy’s comments raised the ire of those on the Coalition benches, one of whom called the senator a “grub”.

Gough Whitlam would be rolling in his grave,” the attorney general, George Brandis, said.

Brandis told the chamber to pass both the registered organisations bill and the bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

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“The time has come for the Senate to delay no longer, to procrastinate no longer … and pass these bills,” he said.

The leader of the Greens, Richard Di Natale, said Turnbull recalled the house to protect the Coalition’s electoral interests.

“It highlights that there is nothing conservative about this government,” he told the chamber. This is a radical measure by an extreme government.

“Nothing brings the Coalition together like some good, old-fashioned union bashing … There No 1priority is their own survival.”

In March, Turnbull took the extraordinary step of proroguing parliament – that is, to end the existing session of parliament without dissolving the houses in order to clear the formal schedule.

He recalled both houses specifically to pass both industrial relations bills, saying if they did not, a 2 July double dissolution would be a certainty.

An early poll is looking increasingly likely as Labor, the Greens and the majority of the crossbench dig in to oppose the bills.

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