Okay, so for some the title of this post will perhaps be a bit of a misnomer. There will be some that are really looking forward to what 2013 means in terms of Australian politics, and there will be others that have greeted the start of 2013 with a sense of dread. Regardless, it’s going to be an epic year on the frontline of the political battle, with the coming months a winner takes all period in politics.
So why will some think of politics in 2013 with a sense of foreboding, and others with a feeling of political glee? In short, it’s because of an event, an 8 letter word starting with ‘e’. Give up? Of course you don’t. You’re thinking, well duh, he’s clearly talking about the federal election. And you would be 100% correct.
Coalition supporters and those swinging voters that have long switched off Labor are itching to have their say at the ballot box. On the other side, you have some Labor supporters that think the job can still be done, who are relishing the contest. Then you have others who feel the election is lost- and it almost certainly is.
The election year will bring something that was conspicuously absent in 2012 and that is serious policy announcements and refinement of existing policies. The politics of personality will still be played and pursued with the same level of vim and vigour as it was last year, but at least there will be a much more positive side to the political discourse as the election- likely sometime from August, approaches.
But with the good of an election year also comes the not so good. Promises will be made and most kept. However, some will inevitably be broken. In years gone by, we had ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises, but this has been replaced. We still have policies readily announced, to be implemented as soon as possible, but now in the political lexicon we have a little something called ‘aspirational’ policies. The latter are policies that are usually big commitments and worth implementing, but because of fiscal concerns will be flagged as something for the future. But like non-core promises, surely some will never, ever be introduced.
This election year, do not expect big-spending promises- well, at least not new ones anyway. Expect the Opposition, as they have since the early days of the Labor Government, to spend a significant amount of time focusing on the budget position. According to the polls, good economic management is something strongly associated with the right side of the political spectrum, so why wouldn’t the Coalition take every chance to prosecute this?
Election years also bring carefully targeted spending commitments from governments struggling to maintain their grasp on power and that will not be any different, despite the poll result appearing to be a fait accompli.
Aside from the budget, expect taxation, chiefly the carbon price and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, to continue to be a major feature in the political to-and-fro. According to the polls, the former is becoming less of an issue for the government, though still it still at this stage presents a problem.
Budget and taxation aside, the election campaign, which feels like it has already been going for some time will largely be a case of both sides of the spectrum trying to position themselves as stable and able to provide effective government.
Like any given year, whether there is an election pending or not, parliamentary sessions take place. Expect the commonwealth parliament to be a slightly different beast, but not altogether foreign to those of us who observed parliamentary politics in 2012. Undoubtedly there will be much more substance in the parliamentary debate this year, but the same noise and antics will be an ever-present feature, with the theatre that is parliament convening for the first time this year in early February. But of course, the election is all that just about anyone in the general public cares about.
It’s only early January and things are yet to heat up, apart from the weather. But do not let the relative silence fool you, because 2013 is set to be one frenetic year. The election is the event to look forward to this year. Then again, maybe not.
Labor had been in the doldrums for a long time and then along came a Newspoll, probably errant, but buoying the ALP nonetheless. That pleasant feeling must not have lasted for long. Another Essential Media poll this week put the lead Coalition lead at about where it has been this year, 55% for the Opposition and 45% for the Gillard Government. As if the realisation that things were likely nowhere near as good as they seemed last week, along came Lindsay Tanner today to make unpleasant feelings a whole lot worse.
The former ALP MP and Finance Minister under the leadership of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd again sparked the flames that Labor probably felt had been extinguished, or at least brought under control after the February leadership vote which Mr Rudd lost so comprehensively. But far from just rubbing salt into the slowly healing Labor Party wounds in relationship to leadership matters, Mr Tanner also ventured deeply into criticisms of the ALP, questioning whether or not they still hold any values.
The former frontbench MP today said of the decision to dump Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard that it was a “poll-driven panic” which of course even the most casual of political observers, even the uninformed, would say is an accurate classification of the circumstances and events that saw Kevin Rudd so ruthlessly dumped by the Labor Party.
He goes on to say that the factional bosses have learnt from the shockingly stupid and incredibly premature move in mid 2010. That is almost certainly the case too. While now actually faced with little to no prospects of re-election for a long period of time, the Australian Labor Party have remained strongly attached to the leadership of Julia Gillard.
Again covering old territory, though slightly more recent, Tanner said that the strongly vitriolic criticisms directed at Kevin Rudd, just prior to and during the February leadership brouhaha were silly then an would have lasting consequences for the electorally troubled party.
But where the dismay at the ALP from Lindsay gets more interesting, though no less dated, indeed, arguably much more long-term than the Rudd leadership coup and internal party ructions around that, is whether there are any Labor values anymore. He says that “the Labor Party is ceasing to be an incubator and a driver of reform.”
This is not far from the truth. Despite what you think about the costs and benefits of the National Broadband Network, which are both high and highly questionable, it is essentially a Labor reform and one that would have historically been recognised as such.
There are other Labor reforms, like the NDIS and the recent Gonski and dental health announcements which would be recognised as Labor reforms. But these have tended to be grand announcements which the ALP has little or no intention of funding, nor would they think that their administration would have to fund them, though part funding has been allocated to both the National Disability Insurance Scheme and oral healthcare changes. In the case of the NDIS too, Tanner says the design and development was outsourced to the Productivity Commission and would not have been in the past.
Tanner goes on to say that the Labor Party is becoming “a reactor, a passive political player that sits there responding to circumstances and pressures rather than being the driver of where our nation heads.”
This suggests that Tanner believes the ALP is becoming more conservative in nature, that is not tending to engage in change because it might be the smart thing to do in certain policy areas.
The use of the word ‘reactor’ by Mr Tanner also tends to bear out this argument as conservatives too, when actually engaging in change tend to react well behind the curve.
It has become clear, through actions too, particularly post-Rudd that the plea of the former ALP PM in 2010 to not swing to the right, has fallen on deaf ears. Almost immediately the new Prime Minister swung to the right on asylum seekers, a move that probably resulted in a wry smile on the face of former Prime Minister John Howard.
But again, this is old news. The party of the right, the Liberal Party swung farther to the right, from social liberal mixed with some religious conservatism to almost full-blown conservatism with a little liberalism mixed in from time to time. This probably occurred earlier than Labor began their evolution into a party that doesn’t particularly represent their traditional values.
Uncomfortable for some, this could be largely down to political realities which appear to show that some form of conservatism suits the people, those going out to vote. But both sides of politics could lose more true believers of the ideologies that are supposed to dominate the core thinking of the two major political parties.
These lessons from Tanner are in no way new, apart from the fact that this is really the first time he has publicly directed both barrels at the party he once served in government. What his words do is bear out some truths in the shift that has occurred in ALP politics both after Kevin Rudd and more broadly over the political history of the ALP, the last 15 to 20 years in particular.
Tanner’s words, repetitive as they are, also prove that these lessons, though repeatedly taught are proving hard to learn from.
Parliament and Question Time are back after just a weekend break. It has been a rather eventful weekend, with tensions exploding from within elements of the Islamic community of Australia in response to a lame video by an American individual. The government here and most across the Western world, including the United States of America, were quick to condemn the video when it became known. These events seem likely to change the complexion of Questions Without Notice early in the week at least as the government seeks to explain their position and possibly answer questions on the matter from the Opposition.
Last week, like the previous sitting week, was all about the Opposition asking questions about the spending priorities of the Gillard Government, especially in relation to the budget, which the government is trying to say, will return to surplus.
The carbon price was next in line on the list of priorities of the Coalition, with a number of questions on the issue throughout the week. But unlike many previous weeks in this, the 43rd parliament, it actually took a backseat to something else on the political agenda of the Liberal and National Party Coalition.
Of course too, it would not have been a parliamentary week, or even a week in politics in general, without the Tony Abbott led Opposition asking the government some questions on asylum seekers and refugees.
The government again continued to have their backbencher’s ask questions on a number of issues including the economy, health, education, infrastructure, the environment and workplace relations as well as immigration.
In the week ahead, not much is likely to change as far as the overall make-up of Questions Without Notice goes. Early on in the week, probably limited to Monday, there is likely to be a question or questions from both sides of the political fence as Australia seeks to make sense of the angry protests which took place at the weekend.
After that, it is likely that the Coalition and the government will return to other issues. But the policy areas considered will likely remain the same. Only the number of questions on each regular issue will change.
Asylum seekers might well dominate the week, at least early on, as the Opposition seeks to goad the ALP into allowing the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas and the turning back of asylum seeker vessels. This comes after the first asylum seekers have begun to head to Nauru
If asylum seekers isn’t the main political game this week, it will again be government spending priorities, taxation and the budget that make up the majority of questions that come from the Liberal and National Party’s.
That small matter of the carbon price will also make an appearance, but it may not be as prominent again as it has been in previous weeks of parliament.
The Labor Government for their part will also aim to respond to the events of the weekend during Question Time, with Government MP’s likely to ask a question or questions on the matter, but probably limited to Monday.
After that, attention will again to return to the spending priorities of the government, those announced and half-announced, including health, education and infrastructure in particular. There will however, also be questions on the environment, the economy in general and workplace relations.
The only unknown factors in Question Time are the exact make-up of questions on each issue, whether any other topical issue arise during the week and just how bad the behaviour is and how hammy the theatre.
There’s a big debate going on in Australia about marriage equality. The issue has been elevated in the public consciousness very successfully over the last 5 years. Same-sex marriage has now become so popular as an ideal that it now continuously receives poll support of more than 50%. The recent ALP National Conference voted in favour of allowing a conscience vote in the federal parliament on allowing people in single gender relationships to wed. This was received with congratulations, even though a motion to change the party platform so that the Labor Party could pursue the issue as a party bloc failed. There is still much pressure on the Liberal Party to allow their MP’s the same courtesy when the legislation comes to a vote in Canberra.
In light of these developments it was odd that Julia Gillard, one was asked to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby, given that her party would be able to use their consciences in a vote on the legislation and two, that she accepted the invitation from the controversial and homophobic lobby group. The Prime Minister is, after all, not even a Christian. For some reason though, and one that’s proved hard to explain, the Prime Minister is personally against a change to allow for same-sex couples to join in marriage.
But today, Prime Minister Gillard has announced that she will no longer speak at the ACL conference when it takes place. This comes after horrific comments yesterday from ACL head, Jim Wallace which have sparked outrage from supporters of equal marriage.
The PM, in pulling out of her speaking duties at the conference said that Mr Wallace’s comments in a debate last night over the issue were “heartless and wrong”. That’s bang on the truth.
The controversial ACL chief last night said ”I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years”.
Mr Wallace went on to say ”The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”
So there it is, the head of the ACL compared the health of people in single-sex relationships to that of smokers, a strange journey into the absurd that we’re no stranger to from the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby.
For his part, today Mr Wallace denied that he was comparing the health effects of smoking and same-sex partnerships, but from the comments it doesn’t take a master of the English language to work out that that’s the exact comparison that he was making.
But this isn’t the first case of verbal or textual diarrhoea and homophobic comments from Jim Wallace. Every so often the Managing Director of the ACL lets his fingers or his mouth spew forth ridiculous statements including the incredibly hilarious argument that allowing gay marriage would mean that bestiality and other unacceptable practices.
The fact that this isn’t the first stupid foray into the same-sex marriage debate from Mr Wallace calls into question why Julia Gillard agreed in the first place to speak at the Australian Christian Lobby national conference.
Polls show that even a significant number of Christians support allowing same-sex couples to marry and those attending church on a regular basis are in the minority, so why give so much attention to such a group? Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that it’s one group of voters that she can manage to hold onto as the Labor Party head towards a likely election defeat in 2013.
It must be said though, that Julia Gillard isn’t the first Prime Minister or Australian political leader to court the attentive ears of the Australian Christian Lobby, leaders previous have done so. So perhaps the organisation does curry more favour than surface examinations show.
But that’s beside the point. The point is that there have been a number of stupid assertions from Jim Wallace and the ACL and the Prime Minister, desperate for attention should not have even considered speaking at the conference unless it was to correct some of the offensive rubbish that has been released.
Question Time, that hour and a bit of politics most sitting days, that Australians despise even more than the broader political discourse itself. Questions Without Notice frustrates everyone, from those who accidentally stumble across it on television or the radio and feel like they’ve had acid poured on them to the rusted on supporters that subject themselves to it freely on a regular basis.
Question Time in particular needs new rules to make it work better.
Some of the following are serious rule changes, the others, clearly not. The point is, that Question Time is still a joke despite changes to the Standing Orders- the rules that govern parliament and Question Time, when Australia discovered they’d voted for a minority government.
The Speaker of the Lower House is a very important position in the scheme of things. There should be a change which sees an independent Speaker, not necessarily an Independent MP, ideally a suitably qualified member of the public, elected to take the chair. This Speaker would ideally be elected by a popular vote of the people, but if an Independent MP or other suitable person were to be elected by the parliament, with at least 2/3 of the parliament in agreement, this would suffice.
Next cab off the rank- questions. Debate is not allowed in questions and questions asked in the House of Representatives are now limited to 45 seconds and to 1 minute in the Senate. This is simply too long.
Questions in the lower house of parliament should be limited to no more than 30 seconds- 15 to 2o seconds would be brilliant. It would be preferable, indeed beneficial, if questions asked in the Senate were limited to the same amount of time. Y0u could call it ‘The Katter Clause’.
The so-called ‘Dorothy Dixer’ should be completely removed as a feature of the parliament. If the government of the day wants to talk about their policies, have a press conference. Question Time should be all about holding those on the government benches to account, not allowing them a public relations exercise.
In addition, as far as questions go, there should be a new rule that business, education and health must be the focus of a certain number of questions every week. In an ideal world, that would mean one question in each area every day that parliament is in session.
Answers to questions asked during Question Time, in fact at any time, by anyone, politician, journalist or citizen during any political discussion involving our parliamentarians invoke very strong feelings. Even with a new ‘direct relevance’ clause our politicians waffle, blissfully aware that they are nowhere near answering a question.
Politicians should, as a matter of course, be ordered to be directly relevant to every single question asked of them from the moment they open up their traps. Any minister not immediately relevant is sat down by the independent Speaker. This will be hard for, well all of them, but if they want our respect they have to be weaned off the bullshit.
Not only that, but the time limit for answers to initial questions should be at least halved- from 3 minutes to at least as little as 1 minute and 30 seconds, but it would be glorious if answers could be limited to just 1 minute.
Ideally too, a device to measure decibels should be installed and if any one politician records more than a reasonable amount of loudness, they are sat down for their screeching. Call it a screechometer if you like.
The number of point’s of order that can be raised should be unlimited.
If in the course of Question Time the Opposition wants to table a document that they say supports their claim, in the interests of openness and accountability this should always be allowed.
Interjections really get under the skin of both sides of politics, they appear to cause the most angst in both chambers. They result in name-calling and can completely destroy the tone of any reasonable debate that exists in the parliament. If someone is overheard making offensive remarks about another politician across the chamber, they should be immediately booted, but only after being asked to withdraw first.
Both the government and the Opposition should have what could be described as a ‘captain’s challenge’. This would be a rule where the Prime Minister or Manager of Government Business on the government side and the Leader of the Opposition or Manager of Opposition Business on the other side can call for a video review by a third umpire when they think interjections are at their loudest on the opposite side. Question Time is then stopped and on the video evidence, anyone found interjecting on the opposite side of the chamber is immediately evicted for an hour under Standing Order 94a.
A bullshit meter was also considered, but frankly, they would cost too much as they’d be broken a number of times every day and our economy simply could not support that kind of spending.
Question Time for Wednesday has come and gone. It was a rowdy affair from the start, but appeared to quiet down towards the end as the variation in Dorothy Dixer’s crept in and the initial boisterous behaviour of both sides over the carbon price questions relaxed just a little at least.
It was a little surprising that the Opposition did not choose to use just one more session of Question Time to have a bit of fun over the half-pike on asylum seeker policy which will see offshore processing return to Nauru and Papua New Guinea in the near future. The House of Representatives passed the amended bill just before Question Time today with the support of the Opposition and is assured of passing through the Senate.
Instead of just one more day attacking the Gillard Government over offshore processing, the Coalition chose to resume hostilities over the recently commenced price on carbon. This returns the debate to the long-term issue which has been the main debate of the 43rd parliament since that August 2010 statement from the Prime Minister just prior to the election that brought us a minority government.
The questions from the Liberal and National Party Opposition were largely centred around price rises and the carbon tax as they have been for some time and will likely continue to be right up until the next election due around mid-2013. Carbon tax questions were also about the broken promise as they have been since it was broken.
The government, for it’s part also chose to have a focus on the carbon price. Again, they too returned to their common strategy on the issue which is to highlight the compensation available to low and middle income earners in an attempt to compensate for associated price rises.
There were also Dorothy Dixer’s on the aslyum seeker bill that passed the lower house, as well as on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and education reform.
And so it goes that this gives us a hint of what is to come during Questions Without Notice on Thursday, the last session for the week.
It is now certain that, barring any last minute topical subjects, that Question Time will be dominated by questions from the Opposition on the carbon price as it applies to price rises as well as that promise.
The government will also likely return to the carbon price fight again with questions from backbenchers based around the payments and tax cuts that will be received in return for the introduction of the policy.
It is entirely possible that in the Dorothy Dixer mix will be questions on the NDIS and education reform as there were in the previous session.
With Standing Order 94a used on Wednesday and the noise in the parliament not abating, will there be more of the same tomorrow? Or will our parliamentarians ease into the weekend after a full-on week? The answer to the former is a definite ‘yes’ and the latter a certain ‘no’
Leadership rumblings: they’re like a perennial thing in politics these days unless it seems you’ve had the same Prime Minister or Premier in for more than a term or so and doing consistently well. Comments last night from Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, whilst not explicitly suggesting or admonishing Julia Gillard to depart from the top job have added fuel to the leadership fire. This fire began smouldering basically on the day Ms Gillard snatched the leadership from Kevin Rudd 2 years ago with the public not taking particularly kindly, especially in Queensland, to the move to oust Rudd from office. Throw in an array of political and policy failures along the way, some neglected under Kevin Rudd and not dealt with or attacked in the wrong way by Julia Gillard and that inferno is now well and truly alight.
The appearance of Joel Fitzgibbon, a key Gillard-backer just months ago during the February leadership spill brought on by the Prime Minister on Q&A raised not just the question of who would be leader at the next election, Gillard, Rudd or a third candidate, but also exactly what qualities and appeal that leader would need to possess to be electorally enticing.
From the outset, it is important to point out that the next election for Labor, despite leadership choice will surely be a lost cause for the ALP. Not only will it be a loss for the government, but on polling numbers for months on end, it has the makings of an epic defeat where the Labor Party could be all but wiped out in Queensland.
To lose an MP or two in Queensland, without gaining any elsewhere would be a big enough worry for the ALP Government so on the nose with the public and enough to seal their fate. But the government also look likely to have trouble saving seats in New South Wales too which due to it’s population has a number of seats on offer that the Coalition failed to grab, but could easily have won in 2010.
Staying with Prime Minister Gillard will almost certainly lead to a massive defeat, with the current Prime Minister seen by the public as the face of the credibility crisis that the Labor Party faces at the present time. Out of the three leadership options of Gillard, Rudd or anyone but Rudd and Gillard it is the one likely to lead to the biggest electoral defeat.
Were Labor to go with the second option, a return to Rudd, they would need to mend the massive wounds caused by the Rudd-Gillard spat which has been continuing even since the PM secured 2/3 support of her party room in the February ballot for the ALP leadership. That would mean countless ministers either resigning their posts and as they said at the time, refusing to serve under Kevin Rudd or it would mean a reconciliation of sorts between these senior figures and the reinstated PM. The latter would be hard for the public to buy with the harsh words splashed across the news just months ago and the former would just add to the electoral rot.
That said, in spite of the immense problems a Rudd return would bring, it would serve at the moment as the best option that the ALP have to at the very least save some of the furniture and perhaps do a bit more than that. But it would also give the Liberal and National Party much more electoral fuel to run with and ultimately likely still end up with a Labor electoral loss.
This is where Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments about populism mattering in politics come to the fore. Kevin Rudd is by far the most popular person in politics in Australian in just about any poll that is realised and that is despite the Opposition under Tony Abbott enjoying such an extensive lead in the race for The Lodge. It is true though that a Rudd return has been shown to translate into a winning position for the ALP but this would have to be accompanied by policy backdowns and reversals at the very least.
The idea of populism mattering in politics doesn’t just apply to leadership too. Populist politics as far as policy development and implementation goes is also smart politically, at least in limited use over ideologically pure politics and is common practice of just about any democratic government anywhere in the world.
A third candidate would probably be the most disastrous option with none of the floated alternatives, be it Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten, Simon Crean or otherwise polling anywhere near competitive in preferred leader stakes. It would be best to save one of these candidates until after the election to lead the Labor Party in a process of rebuilding rather than to waste them on an election they would lose and not admirably.
All in all it looks at least for the foreseeable future that the government will persevere with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but you would have to think that Kevin Rudd or a third candidate, regardless of the pitfalls are still options that are being canvassed, surely with electability being foremost on the collective mind of the caucus.
Labor have a lot of questions to ask inwardly of themselves over the next 12 months before the 2013 election but basically every answer will be a completely negative one with the most important question then being “what do we do to help put us in the best position to rebuild in a fast and efficient manner”. Also, a little dose of populism despite the ugliness of the term in politics might just help a little.
Politics at the federal level in this country is at a low ebb, no doubt about that. That’s not to say that Australian politics has been or ever will be as popular as MasterChef. But politics under this 43rd parliament and the first minority government since wartime. These woes for politics certainly have a lot to do with broken promises and relentless aggression.
The lack of desire for the leaders of both sides of politics, despite the clear election winning position of the Abbott-led Coalition means, in terms of the Prime Ministership means it will not be the usual “who do you trust”, with trust so clearly lacking in politicians, but “who do you trust the most”.
More interestingly, in terms of party leadership it looks more and more certain every day that the equation will be “who are you dissatisfied with the least?”
Now of course in Australia we don’t elect our Prime Minister directly, the political party that takes government does that for us and as such, it doesn’t particularly matter what the electorate think so much of a leader, they’re almost always from a very safe seat for their own party. But when it’s close in the vote that’s a clearly different story with the leadership position all the more important. Ordinarily it can be expected that the choice of and performance of leader does have an impact of some repute on which party voters choose at the ballot box.
At the next election, it’s basically certain, pretty much lock it in Eddie, that the Coalition will win with Tony Abbott becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia and the Liberal and National Party coalition seizing the government benches.
In terms of voter dissatisfaction with the leaders, Newspoll has seen the Prime Minister languishing at levels of unhappiness with her performance in the Labor leadership at around 60% or thereabouts for many months.
The news regarding this same measure for Tony Abbott, despite being very competitive, even ahead at times in the preferred Prime Minister stakes is not a whole lot better with dissatisfaction in his performance as leader of the Coalition at levels consistently in the mid to high 50s on percentage terms.
Consistent Nielsen poll results show very high levels (over 50%) of voter dissatisfaction with the performance of both leaders. The last four Nielsen poll results show Prime Minister Gillard not having moved from a level of dissatisfaction in her performance of 59-60%. Again, that’s more than half saying they are not happy with the way things have gone.
Again in the Nielsen poll results over the same period Tony Abbott enjoys (though that’s quite the oxymoron because the results are still extremely poor) a lower level of unhappiness with his performance than that which the Prime Minister has experienced. For those same four Nielsen polls, Mr Abbott has seen a dissatisfaction level which has moved between the low 50s to the mid-to-high 50s, that’s again over 50% who aren’t too pleased with his performance as leader of the Opposition.
We are likely to see these trends continue until the next election with voters not particularly liking either leader in terms of their performance. But after all, in our two party system we ultimately pick between two political parties and at the next election, the voter disdain at the performance of the Opposition Leader will not count for much when such a large swing is on the cards. All in all it will surely be a case of who do you despise the least.
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.