Monthly Archives: May 2012

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

A Look at the Sport of Goalball

With the London Paralympics nearing commencement it’s time to have a look at another of the 21 sports that will be a part of the 2012 Games. After taking a look at the rough and tumble of Wheelchair Rugby, otherwise known as ‘Murderball’ it’s time for a change of pace and time to look at the rather unique sport of Goalball.

THE PARTICIPANTS:

Goalball is a sport for vision-impaired athletes that was developed to help blind World War II veterans in their post-war rehabilitation. It became a Paralympic sport at the 1980 Paralympics after being a demonstration event at the 1976 event.

A game of Goalball consists of two teams of 3 visually impaired athletes, with one centre player and two wingers on each team. Three substitutes are also permitted.

The athletes with a lower level of blindness wear blindfolds when competing in the sport which allows for less visually impaired athletes to compete in the sport with people that have a higher level of blindness.

THE GAME ITSELF:

The game is played by the teams participating taking turns at rolling or throwing a ball that has a bell in it toward their opponents goal with the aim of the defensive team being to block the ball, by listening to where the bell sound is coming, from going into the goal at their respective end of the field.

The players must throw the ball within 1o seconds or an infraction has occurred.

The game has two 10 minute halves.

PENALTIES:

Possession is generally lost if a player throws the ball before the match official has indicated for play to begin, if the ball goes over the sideline, or the ball rebounds off a defending player, crossbar or goalposts and goes back over the centre line.

For more serious rule breaches a penalty throw is awarded if:

  • Players interfere with their eyeshades
  • Excessive noise is created which distracts from the ability to hear the bell in the ball
  • If coaching comes from the benches after the referee has said “quite please”
  • The ball does lands short of the opponents court, too long or too high
  • Not being in team area when defending your goal line
  • Delaying the game in a deliberate manner
  • If the same player throws the ball for a 3rd time in a row
  • For conduct against the spirit of the sport

When a penalty is awarded only one defender is allowed on the court, effectively like a football goalkeeper during a penalty shootout.

THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS:

At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the women’s Goalball final was won by the United States of America in a very tight match with the USA prevailing over host nation China 6-5.

The men’s gold medal match was won by the Chinese team over Lithuania after being two goals down with less than a minute to go in the game, closing the gap and winning by one in the end.

The bronze medal was won in the men’s competition by the Swedish team and by the Danish team in the women’s event.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The life of this tense, predictable and too unpredictable 43rd parliament enters another week as it screams even closer to the long winter recess with this week and then another two week sitting period left in June before over a months break. But for now there is still another 3 weeks of sitting before the parliamentarians and viewers of it get some respite from the rowdiness and almost formulaic approach to Question Time that has emerged over a period of time. Our parliamentarians might be having a winter break from parliament, but they won’t be going into political hibernation, the thirst for power and political momentum precludes that.

As always there is a small combination of areas which the Coalition will use in their pursuit of the Gillard Government during Question Time. It is quite likely to be full-on attack strategy today in the hour and a bit of Question Time, though shock and awe it will not be because the subjects of focus have been discussed and debated for some time in the broader political debate.

As has been said previously, the carbon price is nearing commencement, due to come into effect on the 1st of July, pretty much just a month away and will likely be the major focus during Question Time, perhaps, though this is the slightly unpredictable factor, being the matter of the focus of most Opposition questions.

Events surrounding Craig Thomson, the MP for Dobell are also likely to bear some focus during Question Time from the Coalition despite the fact that the subject and avenues of action around it have been exhausted and this goes to the very nature of this minority government with power being the main game in the halls of Canberra.

Leadership and confidence is also quite likely to enter the Question Time debate with whispers flaring up over the weekend, thanks to a policy announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday which has brought divisions in the caucus out into the sunshine again.

There were also reports over the weekend in relationship to the leadership issue that Joel Fitzgibbon, the Chief Government Whip, a Gillard supporter had openly been counting numbers for a Rudd return to the Prime Ministership, a post he lost so unceremoniously.

Further to these areas of debate, a question or two, perhaps more to mix things up and keep them slightly different may well be on the believability of the predicted budget surplus and the spending contained within the budget.

A question or questions from the Abbott-led Opposition in relation the operation of the Fair Work Act, as well as Fair Work Australia, not in relation to the Craig Thomson/HSU matter will also be a distinct possibility.

The ALP Government, for its part will almost certainly continue its effectively sole focus since the budget and that is, selling the budget. The government will use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt selling aspects of the budget that will provide low and middle income earners with extra money for educating their kids and for their families.

The Government may choose to talk about the Clean Energy Future (read, carbon tax, carbon price) but this is likely to have much less of a focus given the controversial nature of the policy and is likely to focus on the compensation package provided in an attempt to blunt the inevitable costs of such a policy.

Events will be borne out from 2pm today and they are not for the faint-hearted.  Indeed only the masochistic political wonks around this fair rock of ours should delve into the frustrating wonder that is Question Time. But seriously, politics is really cool.

Wheelchair Rugby: ‘Murderball’ Explained

With just 96 days to go until the London 2012 Paralympics, it’s time to start taking a look at how some of the sports that are unique to a Paralympic Games are played. The first in this series is Wheelchair Rugby (Quad Rugby in the USA) also colloquially referred to in the biz as ‘Murderball’ because of the rough and vigorous nature of the game where injuries like broken digits are not uncommon.

The sport was also made famous with a documentary named Murderball made about the sport.

The current world number one team (as at 11 November, 2011) in the sport of Wheelchair Rugby is the United States of America, who are also the reigning Paralympic and world champions looking to defend their title and ranking in just a matter of months in London. They are closely followed  by Australia in second place on the list and Japan in third, with Sweden and Canada rounding out the top 5 sides in the world.

ELIGIBILITY:

Players must have a functional impairment of both the arms and legs to form a part of a team in the sport. The most common cohort in the game are those with spinal cord injuries, but people with multiple amputations and neurological disabilities like Cerebral Palsy also qualify to play.

Players are given a classification based on functional ability between 0.5 and 3.5 with the former being the higher end of physical impairment and 3.5 being the highest level of physical ability.

THE TEAM:

There can be up to 12 players in a team with 4 players on the court at any one time. These 4 players must have a combined classification total of no more than 8 points at any time.

THE PLAYING FIELD:

Murderball is played indoors on a basketball court. Instead of the basketball key area an 8 metre wide and 1.75 metre deep forms a goal area with cones marking the dimensions. The end line is the goal line.

THE BALL:

The sport is played with a regulation size volleyball that must be 280 grams and white in colour.

THE RULES OF THE GAME:

Play starts in the back court of the player whose team is in possession of the ball. The player in possession of the ball must advance the ball into their opposition’s half within 12 seconds.

Players must pass or bounce the ball every 10 seconds in any manner necessary.

A team has a total of 40 seconds to score a point or must give up possession of the ball and the attacking team cannot be in the key area with the ball for more than 10 seconds without scoring.

The defensive team is not permitted to have any more than 3 players in the key defending their line at any one time.

In defending their line, the team can attack the player in any manner aside from attacking a player from behind or physically interfering with another person.

Defensive fouls are remedied with a 1 minute penalty and offensive fouls lead to a loss of possession.

The clock is stopped and possession reversed if the ball goes out of bounds.

When the player in possession of the ball has two wheels over the end line a goal has been scored.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The end of the parliamentary week is upon us and hasn’t it been an extraordinary one? The hostilities have persisted throughout the week, not letting up even in the days after the speech to parliament by the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson in relation to allegations of misuse of union funds. Indeed the week in Canberra is far from over though only a matter of hours remain in probably the biggest, most acrimonious week Australian politics has seen in a long while.

One more day of parliament for the week means another testy hour or so of Question Time ahead from 2pm this afternoon, perhaps even less if the now regular feature, the suspension of Standing Orders gets another run, which you’d have to say on the balance of probabilities is almost a sure bet.

The Coalition will almost certainly continue with their two-topic attack which has tended to be the way forward in Question Time for the Opposition for a very long time indeed. This strategy will see the Abb0tt-led Coalition almost certainly proceed full-steam ahead with questions surrounding the carbon price which with each day that passes nears its commencement date of July 1 this year.

The Coalition will also, despite moves this week to quell the matter, including allowing the referral of Craig Thomson to the Privileges Committee be likely to pose a not insubstantial number of Craig Thomson related questions to the Gillard Government. It is also incredibly likely that despite the Thomson matter being referred to the Privileges Committee that a further suspension of Standing Orders related to the matter (and it has been the subject of a few) will occur.

The ALP Government’s Question Time strategy is completely predictable too and has been regularly based around the same broad topic, albeit in different guises also over a significant period of time.

The overwhelming focus of the Gillard Government in Question Time has been the state of the economy, both in domestic and internationally comparative terms and that has been outlined and worked on over many months.

The current specific focus in relation to the economy is all about the budget and the spending associated with it that Labor says will assist low to middle income earners  and their families particularly with the cost of education through the taxes reaped from the mining boom.

The government in also prosecuting a projected return to surplus of the budget that Wayne Swan handed down just over two short weeks ago amid what almost equated to  acceptance that the government had already returned the budget to surplus when it has not in fact done so and will not in fact do so until the end of fiscal year 2012-13 on June 30 next year and we may not know for sure until even later than that.

There is also a very real possibility, with unforeseen spending requirements and further revenue write-downs among other factors that the idea of a $1.5 billion surplus a bit of a struggle.

Question Time as always begins at 2pm and promises to be a heated contest that will offer no respite until about 3:10pm when the Prime Minister will ask that “further questions be placed on the notice paper”, unless of course the suspension of Standing Orders has brought questions to an earlier close.

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s State of Origin Wednesday and although that doesn’t matter to many in Canberra you should still expect to see a few Queensland and New South Wales MPs trotting around parliament in the appropriately coloured tie or supporter pins, perhaps arriving adorned in maroon or blue scarves. But I digress. It really will be just another Wednesday in Parliament House with two days left in the parliamentary week to try and land blows and for the government to deflect a few and try and land some themselves though that is, to say the least beyond difficult at the moment. That means two days of Question Time, about 2 hours and 20 minutes to cause as much political trauma for each other as the two sides possibly can. Oh, and some badly acted theatre.

The Coalition will be set to continue with the same two-pronged strategy that they have engaged with over an extended period of time in the Australian political discourse.

The Coalition seem set to continue to focus on the carbon tax, carbon price, however you’d like to refer to it as has been the strategy pretty much since that now infamous promise was broken nearing two years ago in the wash-up of an election that delivered the first minority parliament Australia has seen for decades.

The pricing of carbon begins on July 1st and the Opposition will use any report of purported damage to individuals and to the economy of having the carbon price in place that they can find.

But amongst the debate over the carbon tax lies a debate over the future of the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson who just at the start of the week finally made his long-awaited statement to the parliament over the allegations of civil wrongdoing which have been made against him. The Opposition though, while having some small wins in the debate since the speech on Monday are running out of and also being starved of opportunities  in the matter, with the statement to go before the Privileges Committee.

The Gillard Government will also be continuing their theme from the post-budget sittings of parliament and continue to try to sell aspects of the budget which contain extra spending for families  and low and middle income earners.

More broadly in relation to the budget too, the ALP Government will undoubtedly use Question Time to try and sell the idea of returning to surplus, though this might just prove a significant challenge.

With just two days left to go in the parliamentary week and with the state of affairs as tense and troubling as they have been in this 43rd parliament, you can expect the 94a to be rolled out and whacked across the noses of offending MPs and Senators.

As always, Question Time begins from 2pm and you can catch it pretty much anywhere you are as long as you at least have a laptop and an internet connection. The countdown to Question Time begins!

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Tuesday in a two week parliamentary session before parliament rises again for a short break and then sits for another two week period in mid June and the parliamentary tensions have amped up after the speech by Craig Thomson to the parliament disputing the claims against him. The carbon tax commencement date is also nearing and has been a major focus of debate outside the Thomson issue. If the history of this 43rd parliament is any indication then the verbal warring will not let up and could even continue to escalate even further.

The Coalition, despite the Thomson speech to parliament yesterday looks set to continue with their focus, as it has been for  a prolonged period of time now, on the carbon tax which will commence in just over one months time on July 1st. This attack has been central to the campaign strategy for the Abbott-led Opposition and will continue to be the major facet of the political attacks from the Coalition.

The speech by Mr Thomson just 24 hours ago  will continue to take much of the Coalition focus outside of the parliament and a significant focus inside both parliamentary chambers. The scope of that focus is limited now that Craig Thomson is sitting as an Independent (though Labor voting) MP suspended from the Labor Party, thereby limiting the questions that can be asked of the government on the matter.

The Gillard Government, as they have tried to since the budget two weeks ago will focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on trying to sell elements of the budget which provide payments for low-to-middle income earners including the education payment and family tax benefit increases. The importance of returning to surplus will also almost certainly remain a part of that strategy as it has been used during Question Time.

Parliament looks set to be rowdy with all members in high tension mode and all the action of Question Time begins from 2pm. Will the 94a get a workout? Find out in just a few short hours.

100 Days to Go, But What’s the Paralympics All About?

Today marks just 100 days until the event the world will be watching, no not those games starting with ‘O’ and ending in ‘pic’, but the widely known about and often reported on Paralympic Games- well, this is true in an ideal world anyway. From the 29th of August until the 9th of September the London 2012 Paralympic Games will take place in the shadow of the Olympic Games which will have ceased just a short period of time prior to the commencement of the Paralympics. 

Little is known or reported about the Paralympic Games, so what’s it all about?

THE COMPETITORS:

The Paralympic Games are open to competitors with a physical disability, including those who are visually impaired or deaf. The Paralympic Games have also included athletes with an intellectual impairment in both the 1996 and 2000 Paralympics, but these participants were excluded from both the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games after cheating on the part of the Spanish team particularly in the intellectually disabled basketball team. These athletes will return to the Paralympic Games in London for the first time since the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

The London Paralympics will be the biggest to be held so far with approximately 4,200 athletes from 165 countries participating in the event and 16 of those nations will be competing for the first time in London.

THE SPORTS:

The 4,200 athletes participating will compete in a total of 21 different sports, with the majority of sports included in the Paralympics also featured as Olympic sports save for some modifications to cater for differing levels of impairment.

This year athletes will compete in:

  • Archery
  • Athletics
  • Boccia
  • Track and Road Cycling
  • Equestrian
  • Football
  • Goalball
  • Judo
  • Powerlifting
  • Rowing
  • Sailing
  • Shooting
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Sitting Volleyball
  • Wheelchair Basketball
  • Wheelchair Fencing
  • Wheelchair Rugby
  • Wheelchair Tennis

The sports that are unique to the Paralympics are:

  • Boccia, which is similar to Bocce
  • Goalball which is similar to European Handball for visually impaired participants    
  • Powerlifting which is Weightlifting but performed different for participants with a higher level of physical impairment 
  • Sitting Volleyball which is similar to regular Indoor Volleyball, but performed seated on the court
  • Wheelchair Basketball which is similar to Basketball but undertaken in a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair Fencing which is like regular Fencing but for people in a wheelchair
  • Wheelchair Rugby which is also know as “Murderball” and involves similar play to the multiple forms of rugby but is performed indoors 
  • Wheelchair Tennis which is like Tennis but competitors play in a wheelchair

The Australian team is expected to do well, particularly, as has been the case historically, in swimming, athletics, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball where medal prospects are traditionally very strong.

One of the best sports to watch is the swimming which sees people with a range of impairments competing in classifications with people who have similar abilities and compete in the same manner as those in the Olympics. It is amazing to see double arm amputees finish the race head first on the touch pads.

Wheelchair Rugby or “Murderball” is one of the most spectacular sports to observe that involves people in a wheelchair. This sport sees players with specially designed wheelchairs with heavy duty protection play in much the same way as rugby players but by “tackling” each other by careering into their opponents wheelchair when they are in possession of the ball. The objective, like in the rugby codes is to get the ball over a line.

Wheelchair Basketball is another brilliant sport and very similar in sheer physicality to Wheelchair Rugby and as mentioned previously is practically identical to everyday Basketball but with the added difficulty of shooting for baskets from a sitting position in a wheelchair.

BROADCASTING OF THE PARALYMPIC GAMES

The Paralympics will again be broadcast on television and radio by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who have been a strong supporter of the Paralympics and broadcast over 120 hours of content from the previous Paralympics in Beijing in 2008. There will be some live coverage and some highlights packages as there has been previously.

Both the opening and closing ceremony will also be televised by the national broadcaster.

SO THERE’S THE BACKGROUND

So with just 100 days to go before the London 2012 Paralympic Games commence, you now have a bit of a background (presuming you didn’t prior to reading) of just what the Paralympics are about and why they are so amazing and hopefully a million more reasons to take an interest and watch or listen to some phenomenal sporting performances of the highest level.

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