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19 November 2014

Mr Bean and Colonel Klink star in Senate question time name-calling

Senators exchange jibes during a fiery question time after Labor seeks details on free trade agreement with China

Colonel Klink Mr Bean

Labor senator Sam Dastyari invoked Colonel Klink (left), while Eric Abetz said Dastyari reminded him of Rowan Atkinson, pictured (right) playing Mr Bean. Photograph: AP/AFP The Senate has descended into name-calling, with the government’s upper house leader Eric Abetz accusing his counterpart Penny Wong of taking an “immature and very un-Australian approach”.

During a particularly heated question time on Tuesday, the Labor senator Sam Dastyari also invoked the Nazi prison comedy Hogan’s Heroes to describe Abetz as “Colonel Klink”.

Wong opened with a series of questions seeking detail about the free trade agreement between China and Australia, the full text of which is yet to be released.

She then asked Abetz to confirm the agreement included an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, “which will allow Chinese investors including state-owned enterprises to take action against the Australian government”.

“The ISDS to which the Senator referred is a provision in free trade agreements that I think have now been part and parcel, and I stand to be corrected, I think in about 20-plus agreements including ones that the former Labor government negotiated,” Abetz replied.

“So this is a classic case: if Labor does something it is perfect. If the Coalition does something, by definition it must be wrong. This is the sort of immature and very un-Australian approach that Senator Wong is taking.”

Dastyari later pursued concerns about the government’s submarine building program and the potential for the work to be done in Japan rather than Australia.

At one point, Abetz said: “I’ve always wondered why the honourable senator [Dastyari] reminds me of a certain actor, Rowan Atkinson. You know why? He’s at his best when his mouth is shut.”

Abetz was forced to withdraw his comment but then suggested that “it would be exceptionally difficult for anybody especially on the other side to say that Senator Dastyari is at his best when he’s got his mouth open.”

That led to Dastyari raising a point of order: “I asked Colonel Klink on the other side moments earlier a very specific question about the future of the Australian submarine project. I’d like the colonel to give me an answer.”

He was also forced to withdraw the description.

The attorney general, George Brandis, accused the Greens of hating prosperity when he was asked about the free trade agreement’s failure to resolve disagreement over China’s push to lower foreign investment scrutiny for Chinese state-owned enterprises.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said reports indicated this would be discussed in the second stage of negotiations, and suggested it was a “potential risk to our national interest”.

Brandis replied: “I’m disappointed but I’m bound to say not surprised that you take such a negative dog-in-the-manger view of what has been almost universally received as one of the great achievements in Australian trade policy … Of course the Greens hate the concept of trade because they hate the concept of commerce and they hate the notion of prosperity.”

The crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie, who is involved in a dispute with her Palmer United colleagues over tactics, asked the government questions over the “disgusting pay offer” to Australian Defence Force personnel and accused Tony Abbott of “using members of our military as extras in a Liberal party publicity stunt”.

Brandis said the government could not “afford to be as generous as it would wish to be” because of the debt levels it “inherited from the worst finance minister in Australian history, Senator Penny Wong”.

Lambie suggested the cost of fairer defence pay could be “taken from Indonesia’s foreign aid budget given Indonesia has a military almost 10 times the size of ours”.