We are screaming, both literally and figuratively toward the end of another week of federal politics, or at least our politicians are. Tuesday was rather noisy and vitriolic after somewhat of a reprieve on Monday when Question Time lacked at least some of the bluster we’ve become accustomed to during this 43rd parliament.
In a sure sign that the derp still exists in Australian politics a Coalition MP was forced on Tuesday to withdraw the term “bullet-head”, made in relation to a Government Minister toward the end of Question Time, a very silly and immature interjection indeed.
On top of the level of immaturity creeping back up to a higher level of visibility, the Tuesday session of Question Time again went according to plan except for the government returning some of the political discourse to talking about the education payments announced by the Gillard Government in the May 8 budget.
The Gillard Government are still trying to cut through in relation to the carbon price/carbon tax, call it what you will. In particular the Labor Party are trying to assuage fears that the carbon tax will cost many families more than they have received and/or will get in compensation from the government. This will again be the dominant focus of questions from their own side of politics during Questions Without Notice today.
A second major focus, as it was yesterday will be the schoolkids bonus education payment which was one of the major elements of the budget delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan just over a month ago. Other packages to families and low and middle income earners from the budget could also make an appearance in Dorothy Dixers.
A further feature, albeit smaller will be the marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke last Friday, with the government wanting to parade the announcement both domestically and internationally even though it hasn’t exactly been received well at home.
The Coalition will again mirror the government on at least one count, quite likely two, with questions on both the nearing carbon price and quite likely one or two, perhaps more on the announcement of new marine reserves by Tony Burke.
Tuesday saw a marked increase in volume from the Monday session of Question Time, with Standing Order 94a used on more than one occasion, including to remove the Member for Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop from the House after she stood to withdraw and said “I withdraw the term bullet head”, one of the more unfortunate interjections of recent times. This kind of behaviour looks set to continue right up until the winter recess, even if it comes in different levels of severity and will probably result in a number of hour-long sin bins over the next 5 sitting days.
Now a sufficient picture of how Question Time will play out exists in your mind you can avail yourself to other opportunities rather than sit through the hour and a bit of mere theatre, though I suspect most of you reading this may have already worked out better plans. If not and you don’t already know, it all kicks off from 2pm.
So it’s Tuesday in the first of two weeks in the federal parliament in Canberra before we can all thank our lucky stars that the news won’t be filled with noisy parliamentary soundbites and dodgy antics for a good month and a bit. Monday didn’t exactly go as predicted though the content was exactly what just about anyone who knows even a skerrick about the current parliamentary discourse even if the exact proportions of each debate ingredient turned out to be slightly different to what seemed likely. Nonetheless, the content of the debate itself was just as predictable as you could expect and today will be no different.
The Coalition have chosen, since of course, the breaking of the August 2010 election promise to focus their attacks on the carbon price which is fast hurtling toward us at warp speed. They’ve chosen to focus on the broken promise, the compensation and the costs, direct or knock-on effects and the perceived impact on the economy all at once and that will certainly be continuing today and right over the next two weeks of parliamentary debate which ends just two days before the carbon tax commences on July the 1st.
The government does not particularly surprise either these days with the policies they try to sell during Question Time through the use of the Dorothy Dixer largely mirroring or at least being similar to the ones that the Coalition tries to rail against every parliamentary sitting day from 2pm until 3:1opm even if the exact level of focus on each does come as a bit of surprise.
Today will be no different. The Gillard Government, with Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan fronting the parliamentary attack will continue to use Question Time to get soundbites into the media selling the household assistance package that is pegged to the carbon tax even though their advertisements fail to make that link.
They’ve been trying at the very least to tread water over the very idea of a carbon price since the promise was broken after the 2010 election and need to up the sell for the policy which is within weeks of operation. They also need to remind some voters that they’ve just received compensation payments for the imposte of the carbon tax beginning in July. They need to do that much just to maintain the status quo.
Although the use of Question Time by the ALP Government to market their plans for vastly more marine reserves around our coastline was not a surprise yesterday, it was quite a surprise the number of times it was raised, even if it was just a little more than expected. That is certain to continue with the government needing to persuade all parties that everything will be okay, even though many just aren’t listening anymore.
The Labor Party may also use the topic of marine reserves to try and score political points after the Opposition denied Tony Burke a pair to travel to Rio de Janeiro for the full Earth Summit to present the policy of his party to the world though the public seem increasingly weary of politicians doing this so this doesn’t bode too well for a party struggling for willing listeners.
So that’s how it’s going to play out, you don’t even have to watch Question Time now if you don’t wish to subject yourself to it. The only question left now is who will find themselves in the “naughty corner”, likely the cafeteria or bar after finding themselves on the wrong side of the Speaker and the 94a. There could be a few.
We’ve had two weeks reprieve from shouty parliamentary soundbites and nasty exchanges but tomorrow the show rolls back into town in the nation’s capital with a two week sitting period before the long winter break commences and we get some sizable respite from the major arena of political hostilities. The two week period ahead will be the last parliamentary sitting before the carbon price appears on July the 1st and that very subject is almost certainly going to dominate that daily hour of screaming back and forth that we refer to as Question Time.
For the Opposition in Question Time for the next two weeks we can expect well beyond all reasonable doubt that the majority of questions to the Gillard Government from their side will be around the impending carbon tax. This has been the case off and on for some time in the parliament with it dominating the parliamentary debate most of the time when either the Minerals Resource Rent Tax or the Craig Thomson case weren’t the flavour of the day.
It is possible that some of the National Party members or Shadow Environment Minister will get to ask a question or two of the Environment Minister following the announcement on Friday of a swathe of new marine reserves around the Australian coastline. This also could be relegated to a question or questions in the Senate.
The government itself will also focus most of its questions in both chambers of parliament on the carbon tax too after it shared the spotlight with budget commitments since the May 8 fiscal statement. For the government it will be about continuing to sell the compensation package that has begun to roll out and the other associated sweeteners mean to blunt any impact that the price will have and even overcompensate many.
In what may well mirror the Coalition it is almost certain that the Dorothy Dixer will also be used to sell the proposed changes to marine reserves that Tony Burke announced last week, especially since environmental issues, like the Murray-Darling Basin plan have had a minor airing during Question Time in recent sitting periods.
Emotions will be running high again with so much political energy thrown into and burned by talking about and introducing the carbon tax so it can be expected that the 94a will get a workout or multiple MPs will get a stern talking to from the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke as the parliamentary battle rages and perhaps descends into the sad depths it has in recent weeks.
It’s Thursday folks and that means, for those who get their political fix from watching the nightly news bulletins that it’s the last day of the week that you have to endure shouty and often silly grabs. It’s been a rather subdued week of Question Time from Canberra with the House of Representatives not seeing a single motion to suspending Standing Orders in the three days that have elapsed in this sitting week and that doesn’t look set to change today. It has however been a week full of one-off vitriolic comments and that is an immense shame. It has been a very predictable week in Australian politics again and that will almost certainly continue today to round out the week.
The Coalition have spent the first 3 days of Question Time this week focusing on the Roy Hill Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) and the reported consultation gaps (read complete lack thereof) between the Prime Minister and her Minister for Immigration. Aside from the nearing carbon price commencement on July 1st this issue has completely dominated political debate in the parliament since the decision was announced by the Immigration Minister last Friday at the National Press Club.
Things could change slightly today in Question Time in the wake of comments from the Prime Minister to a group of miners overnight which could precipitate a return to questions around the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.
Of course, the other focus of the Coalition as it has been since the broken promise just after the 2010 election will be on the carbon tax which will be commencing in just over a month. It is entirely possible that this could become the main focus of tomorrow ahead of, or in place of the EMA debate which only has so much to give.
The Gillard Government will undoubtedly pursue the same two-pronged post-budget, pre-carbon price commencement Question Time strategy that has been used almost continuously since the budget was delivered on the 8th of May. This will mean most attention is drawn to selling the family and low income earner assistance that was delivered as part of the supposed surplus-returning fiscal statement delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan only three and a bit weeks ago. The questions as they have relentlessly, will focus around the education payments and the increased family tax benefits.
The other focus which has been essential for the Gillard Government in an attempt to claw back ground on the issue after losing it just after the election has been to highlight the overcompensation that many will receive after the carbon price commences in July. This means many questions about how the Household Assistance Package will help the electorates of those asking Dorothy Dixer’s to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Climate Change, the Minister for Family Services, Communities and Indigenous Affairs, Treasurer and perhaps other ministers.
Further, although minor in focus during Questions Without Notice and not guaranteed, the ALP Government backbenchers have asked their ministers about environmental issues and education, although the latter has largely been tied to the payments tied in with the budget.
So that’s likely to be Question Time for Thursday with only minor exceptions likely or the level of focus of each topic varying a little bit. After today we’re set for two weeks respite from the Canberrra theatre before two more weeks of parliament and then the long winter recess saves the day for those of us not too keen on the theatrical side of politics, especially when it ain’t no Shakespeare and isn’t funny enough to match the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Yesterday was an abnormally quiet and subdued day by recent parliamentary standards with tempers comparatively subdued and the shoutyness of Parliament House at a more reasonable level. Probably helping the matter was the comparative lack of focus on the Craig Thomson/Health Services Union matter which, while prosecuted during Question Time, didn’t reach the proportions that we have become accustomed to in parliamentary and political debate. The fact that there was again no suspension of Standing Orders motion for the entire hour and ten minutes or so of Question Time today probably served to help quell tempers and give the parliament at least the appearance of a modicum of modesty.
But alas my friends, tomorrow is another day and in this very minority parliament we have learnt that just about any depth will be plumbed and no stone left un-turned. We have also learnt that this 43rd parliament has in it the innate ability to surprise, even if that is rare and surprises cannot be discounted for Question Time today.
But this is probably how it will unfold:
The Coalition have used Monday and Tuesday in Question Time to pursue the matter of the Enterprise Migration Agreement that was struck between the Gillard Government and Gina Rinehart and endorsed today, with further safeguards inserted, by the Labor caucus. They have done so because of the reported divisions and lack of consultation between the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister in the matter so there is a chance that they will continue to pursue this matter in Question Time tomorrow in the House of Representatives, possibly until the end of parliament on Thursday.
A return to an intense focus on the carbon tax by the Opposition is a real possibility, with questions related to the matter rarely being displaced from the main forum of Question Time, especially when the commencement date nears and the compensation has commenced flowing.
It is not unreasonable and indeed completely likely that the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson will again be the subject of a question or two, perhaps three when Questions Without Notice commences tomorrow. It is likely that there will be a question or questions related to a memo that was sent three years ago by Fair Work Australia which suggested that the authorities should be called in to inquire into the Health Services Union as there were questions on the matter yesterday.
For the ALP Government the narrative will be just as predictable with it beyond all doubt that the majority of questions tomorrow and on Thursday most likely being all about selling the budget delivered on the 8th of May and also about trying to quell fears about price rises under the carbon tax with the Dorothy Dix being used to outline just what payments particular areas of the population have and will continue to receive as the policy rolls along from July the 1st.
The stage is set, the roles devised and the complexion of Question Time pretty much a certainty except for the exact number of questions focused on each issue and dependent upon there being no left field questions that pretty much nobody saw coming.
They say that politics is unpredictable and of late you could not disagree more with that statement, especially when talking about the Question Time strategy employed particularly by the Tony Abbott led Opposition, but also the plan of attack of the Gillard Government. But that all seemed to change for at least yesterdays hour or so of Question Time where the usual focus of the Coalition was turfed out for the most part and the issue of importing overseas workers for a mining project took centre stage in the political debate during Question Time in Canberrra.
This issue came to the fore because of the leadership tensions which it apparently stoked and will likely fizzle out as a story fairly quickly and as a major point of attack for the Coalition who will probably return to the usual suspects of topics if not today, then tomorrow or maybe later this week.
The Coalition may continue to attempt making some political mileage out of the leadership issue tomorrow in relation to the deal struck between Gina Rinehart and the ALP Government, but it will almost certainly be less of a focus than it was during Question Time today.
What seems more likely is a return to the script which has been performed to within an inch of its life and that is the Coalition returning to focus on the carbon tax which will play front and centre of the political strategy and be the major election issue that the Liberal and National Party will fight on during the (presumably) 2013 election campaign.
There might also be somewhat of a focus on the Craig Thomson/HSU debate which despite not being particularly evident yesterday, except for during Senate Estimates still bubbles along as an unresolved issue for the government even though they have ditched the Member for Dobell from the caucus. Pretty much every avenue of parliamentary attack and then some around this issue has been utilised.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan which is currently being debated in Canberra may also be a subject of parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives, though this is much more likely to occur in the Senate and come from Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.
The government will likely again focus on the economy with the post-budget message still needing to be sold to the groups targetted in the fiscal statement just weeks ago.
The ALP will also focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the Household Assistance Package which will provide compensation for the carbon price which will commence in just over a month on the 1st of July, with initial payments hitting the accounts of pensioners already this week ahead of the introduction of the controversial policy.
It could also be legitimately expected that the Labor Party focus their questions too on a wider range of issues with one or two questions possible about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and other issues not canvassed by the Opposition in which the government thinks they can get a good message out on.
Whatever tomorrow holds, you can be certain that it will be the start of a return to business as usual after some ever so brief respite from the one issue politics that has seemed to dominate political discourse in Australia in recent years and accelerated under this minority government.
All the Question Time action begins at 2pm though you will be forgiven if you decide it’s best to give it a miss.
Another parliamentary week is upon us after a one week break post budget week and it promises to provide fireworks from the very start with a statement from Craig Thomson, the embattled MP for the electorate of Dobell who stands accused in a report by Fair Work Australia of a list of alleged civil law breaches. Question Time as always will be a regular and theatrical feature which this week promises to be more of a saga than a short film, but still with plenty of comedy interspersed with the drama and political warring.
The Coalition will undoubtedly focus its week in Question Time on Craig Thomson, starting just a short time after his speech to the House of Representatives today which is set to provide his explanation for events that have landed him in hot water.
The Opposition will almost certainly seek a motion to suspend standing orders in relation to this matter today as they have done so previously and on such a day would be unlikely not to engage in the same political tactic.
For today at least, it seems that most, if not all questions from the Coalition to the Gillard Government will be about Craig Thomson and it seems very unlikely that the Opposition will seek to ask many, if any questions on the budget which was two weeks ago tomorrow.
If there are to be any questions on matters other than Craig Thomson and the HSU then it is likely it will be the carbon price through the prism of advertisements which have just started showing which promote the Household Assistance Package, read compensation for the carbon tax, which mention nothing about what the payment is for.
The ALP Government on the other hand are likely to focus on just that, the budget.
In particular, the government will focus on the education and other payments announced or amended in the fiscal statement by Treasurer Wayne Swan and quite possibly the NDIS which has been the focus of some uncertainty in the last two weeks.
Returning to surplus will also be a broader focus in Question Time from Dorothy Dixer’s particularly with the Treasurer stepping up to the despatch box as Acting Prime Minister while Julia Gillard is overseas talking all things Afghanistan.
It too is entirely likely that the carbon price will get a look-in from the government as payments of compensation start to flow ahead of the starting date of the scheme.
Deputy Speaker Anna Burke is back in the chair as acting Speaker for the second week and the Coalition will want to be on their best behaviour or they will find themselves in the tense environment today with depleted numbers when they will be wanting to make moves which require all the votes they can muster and then some.
The statement from Craig Thomson commences at about midday and shortly after that at 2pm we will have Question Time which promises to be even more amped up than we have experienced in recent times and that says a lot.
The carbon tax, carbon price, whatever you wish to call it is now just a matter of weeks from fruition, coming into effect on July 1 at a starting price of $23 per tonne. This policy backflip has been the cause of so much poll pain for the Australian Labor Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and sees the ALP trailing the Tony Abbott led Coalition by double digits.
With every major policy, especially the ones that cause controversy and are much harder to sell (think WorkChoices as a recent example) generally comes a substantial advertising campaign trying to bring the public around to what the government of the day thinks are the benefits of such a package and how these benefits will outweigh the much argued about costs.
That is no different than with the so-called “Clean Energy Future” policy package which has been legislated by the Commonwealth parliament and set to take effect in roughly a month and a half.
The Gillard Government has announced a $36 million advertising budget to attempt to sell the package to a wary and largely switched off public that didn’t particularly enjoy the change of mind brought on by the minority government situation.
In just the next 6 weeks, the government will spend $14 million of that total budget allocation in a likely wasted attempt to ameliorate concerns over the package. This amounts to a total spend per day of appromimately $270,000 over that month-and-a-half long period.
The media blitz focuses on the compensation packaged related to the carbon pricing legislation which totals $4.2 billion and makes the total spend on advertising the Clean Energy Future package $70 million dollars.
This in itself is a very high amount for a Labor Government that took office, under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, promising to reign in unnecessary government spending on advertising and public relations, particularly in the wake of the Howard Government spending an enormous $121 million dollars promoting the controversial WorkChoices legislation which played a significant part in the downfall of the Howard Government after over a decade in office.
Compared to the spending on WorkChoices advertising, $70 million dollars does seem small, but only in comparison. Advertising to attempt to change public perceptions on legislation seems a dubious idea and could be better spent on other policies.
What is most horrific about the current advertising package is not the cost, but the way that it attempts to sell the household assistance that will be received by millions in the very near future.
The latest advertisement, which has just started airing makes absolutely no mention of the fact that the assistance package is part of the response to the inevitable price rises which will be caused by the instigation of the carbon price. It is just referred to as the “household assistance package” and this gives the impression that the government are trying to sell the package to the unaware as effectively money for nothing.
There is no reference anywhere in the entire 30 seconds of any of the related ads, be it the ad targetted at seniors, singles or families of those two words that have become so dangerous for the government, ‘carbon’ and ‘tax’, that when put together, even as the “carbon price” iteration, spells disaster for the on the nose government.
So when you see those ads and think of the extra money you will be receiving from the government, remind yourself that you are not receiving money for nothing.
NOTE: Not referring to the Dire Straits song when I use the phrase “money for nothing”. Just to clear that up