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Cat calls mar carbon tax debate in Australian Parliament

July 7, 2011 - Canberra

Heated scenes erupted in the Australian Parliament on Thursday amid calls for proper carbon tax debate and a conscience vote on the resumption of the live cattle trade.

The debate witnessed cat calls from both the treasury and opposition benches, sending Parliament into uproar today and guaranteed the expected rowdy end of the session before the winter break, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The "meow" came from the Government backbenches as Liberal Deputy Leader Julie Bishop was seconding an Opposition bid to launch a censure motion aimed at the Government's carbon plan.

Speaker Harry Jenkins twice said he had not heard the feline reference during rowdy exchanges, but invited the unnamed culprit to withdraw it.

No Labor MP stood to take the blame as the Opposition loudly said they knew who it was and pointed.

After the vote, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the noise had been made by Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon and that she had instructed him to personally apologise to Ms Bishop.

She said that "as a woman in Parliament" she considered the remark was inappropriate.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott thanked the Prime Minister for her "gracious statement".

The incident followed a Senate committee hearing about a month ago in which Liberal David Bushby made a similar noise directed at Finance Minister Penny Wong. Senator Bushby later apologised in public and personally to Senator Wong.

That didn't stop women's affairs minister Tanya Plibersek raising the matter in Parliament. Today, the Opposition accused Plibersek of hypocrisy for not protesting the "meow" from her own side. She indicated she had not heard it.

Rejection of the legislation introduced today will deny the Government 2.8 billion Australian dollars in savings and make it even harder to push the budget into the black.

The fate of the measure is now in doubt as key independent Tony Windsor expresses doubts about supporting it.

But the Government will still deliver a surplus, Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Sky News today as she argued for the bill.


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