Monthly Archives: June 2012
Question Time in the lower house disappeared today, replaced by parliamentary debate on the bill introduced by Independent MP for Lyne and Gillard Government backer Rob Oakeshott to try to bring about the ‘Malaysian Solution’ and any other offshore processing option that the ALP would wish to introduce. The bill sparked over half a day of debate in the House of Representatives and in the end was passed, despite an amendment put by the Coalition, albeit with a sunset clause included after Independent MP for Denison, Andrew Wilkie moved his own alteration to the bill. However, the bill faces certain defeat in the Senate tomorrow.
Barring unforeseen circumstances Question Time will return to the political scene tomorrow with a vengeance with both sides trying to get as much media attention as they can before the long winter recess commences and the carbon price begins on Sunday.
Question Time is quite likely to start where it left off with the majority of focus being on the carbon tax, at least as far as the Opposition goes and almost certainly the same being the case for the Labor Party.
The Coalition will almost certainly continue coming at the issue from the direction they have taken since the idea was floated back in 2010 and that is to scour for any reports suggesting that price rises, particularly in electricity, but also other costs for individuals and businesses may rise above and beyond the modelling produced by the Treasury department when the carbon price legislation was drafted.
The Liberal and National Party Coalition could also ask questions as they have for a long time now in the parliament about the size of the carbon tax as compared with other pollution prices in force in different countries and regions across the world.
With the Oakeshott bill on asylum seeker processing having passed the House of Representatives we could expect a question or a number of questions from the Opposition over the bill, though that could be unlikely given that it will certainly not be passing the Senate tomorrow . The government for its part might try to raise it through government questions through the prism of its perceived importance to stop people smuggling and as a deterrent to asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boats.
The ALP will, wanting to be on the defensive and the attack simultaneously over the carbon tax, also likely focus on the carbon price again in parliament during the session. As has been their practice they will continue to use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt to highlight the compensation and tax cuts that will flow to low and middle income earners from the money raised by the price on pollution.
The Labor Government could also continue to raise in Question Time the payments and benefits from the budget, some of which have started and others which will come in the financial year ahead.
Whatever happens tomorrow it’s the last session of Question Time for six weeks so the political jousting is sure to be fierce, full on and full of invective and could result in a wider use of Standing Order 94a than we’ve seen recently. Lucky for some we’ve got more than a month break from the perils of parliamentary debate, but don’t expect much of a let-up because, well, the carbon price.
Tuesday’s Question Time has come and gone and Wednesday’s hour or so of Questions Without Notice is fast approaching a politically weary public who will be looking forward to the winter recess in two days time. Unfortunately for those in that category who still watch the news there will be little let-up in the loud debate over the long winter break, especially with the carbon price commencing this weekend which means so much to both major parties and their strategies, albeit for different reasons.
Question Time on Tuesday was all about the carbon tax again for the Coalition with little surprise there. For the government Tuesday was just as predictable being almost all about budget allocations for low and middle income earners and families, including trying to sell the compensation package for the carbon price which gets closer and closer. There were other issues too which played a minor role but Questions Without Notice was again extremely predictable for the most part.
Question Time tomorrow will of course most likely continue the air of predictability with the carbon tax almost completely dominating the debate in one form or another.
For the Opposition the majority of questions will undoubtedly be about the price on carbon which starts this weekend. The questions will continue to be based on a combination of the Treasury modelling, what lobby groups, companies and other organisations are reporting may be carbon price impacts above and beyond that modelling and perhaps still about the pre-election statement from the Prime Minister on the matter.
As far as the Gillard Government goes, there will also be a large focus again on the carbon tax but from a different angle. The direction the ALP will come at the issue with the use of the Dorothy Dixer during Question Time will be the way they’ve used for some time now and that is to outline the compensation and other benefits that will flow to low and middle income earners and families as a result of the carbon price.
The government, not content with a focus on just one issue could again broaden that out to a wider focus on another area as they have since the budget and that is also about payments and benefits to low and middle income earners. This time we’re talking measures from the budget, of which the Schoolkids Bonus is already flowing to eligible families, but other payments and benefits which include tax concessions are nearing.
It is possible that both sides will mention at some stage the asylum seeker issue though this has been a rather muted subject in Question Time since the tragedy late last week despite the actions and words that have recommenced in earnest outside of Question Time, although the drownings have been raised this week during the afternoon session.
It is also entirely possible that the Peter Slipper case and its developments, particularly over the last 24 hours will get a bit of an airing from the government side again though this will be limited because of sub judice rules as it was when raised yesterday.
That’s likely to be how Question Time will go tomorrow at least as far as the House of Representatives will go. The Senate has more parties and is susceptible therefore to a broader range of topics in the political discourse that is Question Time. One thing is certain: both major parties don’t do surprises particularly well.
Question Time on Monday was a bit of a shock, in a positive way, with the expected debate over asylum seekers not eventuating within the hour and ten minutes in the lower house. Instead we were back on the familiar ground where we’ve been mired for some time with a major focus of questions over a new tax from the Gillard Government, the carbon tax and in a very minor way the Minerals Resource Rent Tax which also made a brief appearance today.
The ALP Government used Question Time again to highlight payments and tax benefits that have been made to and will be made to people as a result of the May 8 federal budget and through the carbon tax compensation package.
It’s hard to imagine that Tuesday will see any change, major or minor in the make-up of the political discourse during Questions Without Notice in both houses of parliament at least as far as the strategies of the major parties go. With the asylum seeker issue having not reared its head during Question Time yesterday it seems highly unlikely that it would become part of the debate in any big way on Tuesday afternoon, but stranger things have happened in politics lately.
The Coalition will certainly continue to focus attention on the incoming carbon price, now less than a week away. They will, as they have lately comb for any report of any company, organisation or government body saying that the carbon price, beginning on Sunday will result in, particularly power prices, but also all other costs rising above and beyond the carbon price modelling produced by Treasury.
The Labor Party for their part, through the use of the Dorothy Dixer will continue to focus on a slightly broader array of policy but all in the form of payments and benefits to low and middle income earners. This has been the case particularly since the budget was delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan on May 8, announcing payments for education purposes and family tax benefit changes.
But there has also been another message that the government have been trying to break through with and having no success doing so according to recent polls and that is convincing the public that one, many will receive compensation and two, compensation will at least fully recompense for any price effects of the incoming carbon tax and in some cases provide extra funds.
That’s the way the Question Time cookie will crumble.
The last week of the federal parliament of Australia before the winter recess has swiftly come around and will come to pass just as quickly to the relief of many with the politically inclined the exception to that rule. The sixweek break will mean the news will feature less loud, hysterical grabs for that period of time though the saturation of politics in the media will certainly continue with the carbon price coming into effect at the very beginning of the parliamentary holiday.
The year has so far been dominated by less than a handful of issues: the carbon tax, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), the Craig Thomson investigation and asylum seeker p0litics.
In recent weeks it has been basically all about the carbon price for both the Coalition and also the government. It would be a completely incredible, indeed miraculous situation if the Coalition did not in the last week before the price begins, continue to use the majority of Question Time in both chambers of parliament to pursue the government on the carbon tax. The Opposition will continue this week, as has been regular practice, to jump on any report by any organisation on predicted price impacts of the incoming price on carbon.
The ALP Government, for its part will also likely continue to focus on the carbon tax through the Dorothy Dixer, the difference here being they will continue to try and sell the message of compensation to low and middle income earners and their families, though if recent poll results are to be believed, that battle for public belief in the compensation package has been well and truly lost.
Late last week and over the weekend another asylum seeker boat tragedy unfolded with a significant loss of life. While the horrific events unfolded debate on the issue was held back. The embers of that debate are now beginning to smoulder again and will likely spark again and become another major element of the Question Time mix for both the Abbott-led Opposition and the Gillard Government as the politics of the issue begins to creep back in after an all too brief let-up. This is the only thing which looks likely to knock the carbon price off its perch in political debate this week.
Environmental issues could creep into Question Time again in a small way with the possibility that debate of the marine reserves may return for the week ahead.
That’s basically the way Question Time is likely to go for Monday, even the week with the major battle-lines having long been drawn by both sides and their approach to just an issue or two, maybe three or four at a time if we’re lucky absolutely relentlessly unless extra topical issues rear their head during the political week.
This morning the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put out a statement calling on Australia particularly, as well as the international community to assist more in providing humanitarian assistance options to help stop asylum seekers taking “dangerous and exploitative boat journeys”.
The UNHCR, tasked with overseeing the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Refugees made these comments in response to the terrible tragedy overnight where an asylum seeker vessel capsized en route to Australia, with 3 confirmed dead, 110 rescued and approximately 9o people still missing.
This most recent tragedy again emphasises the need, like the refugee agency points out, for countries like Australia to do more and in some cases, at least something to cut down on the need for these desperate people to make the seriously dangerous journey in craft often not much more seaworthy than a large esky.
It is important to recognise that the refugee situation begins long before people reach Australia and while we can and should do more, we cannot be expected to take all of the burden, particularly after refugees who seek asylum by boat have made their journey often through and past other nations before arriving in Australia.
But this is only part of the story and but a part of the solution needed in an attempt to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives trying to find a better, safer life in places like Australia.
The High Commission for Refugees is itself part of the problem with processing though admittedly difficult, in many cases actually being very slow and leading to many refugees being stuck in limbo, whether that be in refugee camps dotted around the world in conflict zones or stuck in limbo in other ways.
The UNHCR do need more resources and time deployed in major conflict zones and countries facing humanitarian crises, but this is only the first step, however it is an undeniable aspect of the refugee situation that cannot be ignored.
It is also true the asylum seeker/refugee conundrum of refugees in camps within and near countries in turmoil is not just down to the slow action of the UNHCR in processing refugee claims.
Countries around the world that have signed the Refugee Convention are obviously too dragging the chain with absorbing the number of refugees currently awaiting relocation and asylum seekers that wish to seek protection in another country. This could be down to many reasons and the cost burdens particularly after the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and the continuing Euro crisis are factors that cannot be denied in the current debate over refugee relocation as far as some nations go.
This does not excuse the chain dragging prior to the financial events that have negatively impacted on economies around the world. There are obviously issues that have meant that prior to the financial events that have devastated countries around the world that as a result countries have not taken up the massive amounts of refugees around the world.
The scale of the refugee problem is massive and borders on the unsolvable at the very least at a political level with, as of 2010 a total of 43.3 million people worldwide who were either identified as refugees, internally displaced people (IDP’s), asylum seekers, returnees or stateless people.
No one government, no series of governments, no agencies, organisations, no one person or people will be able to guarantee that in the future nobody will get onto boats in desperation and head to various countries in the world. That is the sad reality. The potentially deadly situation can only be minimised.
The first part of any reduction to the refugee problem is that the remaining 50 odd nation states not signatory to the convention should be persuaded to sign on the dotted line, though some of these nations are where the asylum seeker situation begins and others are middle destinations where asylum seekers and genuine refugees can languish for years before making the journey to places like Australia.
Obviously another response to the issue is for nations around the world that are signatories to the convention, but not to the protocol to sign that and enshrine it in their respective domestic law and then make appropriate arrangements in accordance with those provisions too.
Obviously too, many nations could and should increase their intake of refugees and seek to undertake with the UNHCR to help with the massive processing task which stymies the refugee process from the outset and leaves many in desperation within their own countries or in other nations in their region.
These last two points need to include, in particular Malaysia and Indonesia signing and adopting the Refugee Convention provisions and the protocol into their own law because these two nations are often the final stopping point and often the destinations from which asylum seeker vessels embark on the perilous journey towards Australia.
Other countries in our region that are signatories to the Refugee Convention and its protocol must also increase their share of the processing of asylum seekers and refugees and we must continue to work harder under the Bali Process as a region to deal with the movement of people who have found themselves in dire circumstances.
Another ingredient in the global recipe to cut down on the deaths of asylum seekers is for nations to truly tackle people smuggling. But this alas is made all the more complicated by the immense coastlines of the nations from where refugees come to Australia. It is also made difficult because of levels of police corruption and complicity in the criminal act which have been found to exist in the region when it comes to the asylum seeker trade plied by these individuals and groups.
The final part of the puzzle is that Australia must increase our intake of refugees, at least by a similar extent to the increase we would have taken in under the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’. This simply has to be seen as a reality if we really view people drowning at sea as a problem and we should.
The problem is not just an Australian one and becomes a bigger situation for Australia to deal with once refugees and asylum seekers reach our region and that needs to be recognised by other nations and the UNHCR before implying Australia above others particularly in our region needs to bear responsibility for stopping people getting on boats and coming here. Other nations in our region simply go close to ignoring the asylum seeker plight and the people smuggling that comes with it altogether.
Sadly, the scale of the task that is dealing with refugees in a fast, efficient and orderly way is astronomical and the process time consuming with the sheer numbers already seemingly well beyond reach of being able to deal with. However, we have to as a nation, a region and as an international community all try to minimise the risks of asylum seekers dying at sea.
We’re just a day away from the end of another political week in Canberra and it has been a very predictable one as so many have been for as long as can be remembered. It’s also been a fairly tense week with the political tension building as the carbon price nears commencement and both sides dig in for what has been and will be the biggest political battlefield regardless of each sides respective reasons for fighting it. The week has even seen breakouts again of visible vitriol above and beyond the normal cut and thrust of politics and that is a shame.
It’s certain that the carbon tax will continue to be the main game until it is introduced on July the 1st and will continue to be at the top of the political agenda and discourse right up until the 2013 election in one form or another.
The Coalition as they have this week will continue to focus on reports from different organisations which point to differing cost burdens which happen to be above and beyond the Treasury modelling of the carbon price. Their questions will likely again cite reports from these different groups which include peak bodies and lobby groups as well as councils.
As it has since the announcement last Friday, the planned marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke is also likely to draw at least a little of the focus of the Opposition, with the member for Dawson in Queensland having asked questions this week on the matter, citing a long list of groups unhappy with the moves.
Immigration matters around Cocos Island after recent arrivals as well as the case of ‘Captain Emad’ have crept into the parliamentary debate again over the first three days of this parliamentary sitting week and could again in some small part during Questions Without Notice.
For the government too it is almost all about the carbon tax, but for them of course it’s all about the compensation payments to low and middle income earners which are to make up for the expected price rise impacts around the carbon tax and the government are fighting a losing battle just trying to get that message out despite the specific focus during Question Time recently.
The ALP Government have also been focusing this week on the Schoolkids Bonus handout which removes the need to keep receipts for tax time and instead provides eligible families with a lump sum payment meant to help with the costs of education. This program has just commenced rollout so likely will result in some questions during the hour and a bit of questions.
The economy in a broad sense, both domestic and comparatively against other nation worldwide has also been a broad theme of Question Time for a while now and that broad theme will continue in an overarching narrative.
As it’s the end of the parliamentary week our politicians will either be too tired to cause much of a fuss or wanting to make waves at the end of a parliamentary week by being the loudest they possibly can, my money’s on the latter and that would be pretty smart money.
In one of a string of highly anticipated High Court judgements this year the Canberra-based court ruled by a majority of 6-1 that the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) is unconstitutional because it goes beyond the powers of the commonwealth enshrined in the Constitution. The court reached this decision despite the commonwealth arguing that it was able to provide the funding for the policy under s61 of the Constitution which says that executive power “extends to the execution and maintenance” of the foundation document as well as “the laws of the commonwealth”.
There was no legislation governing the agreement.
On the other hand, the court ruled against the plaintiff based on s116 of the Australian Constitution which deals with religious freedom, saying that the program was not an affront to the freedom to practise, or not practise religion.
The court said that while there was a religious test involved in the hiring of school chaplains, a test not required by the commonwealth to hold a government position, the state was not involved in the direct provision of these services and so that section of the Constitution was not breached by the chaplaincy program.
The High Court ruled that the program, delivered in Queensland by the Scripture Union of Queensland did not constitute holding a commonwealth office under s116 as the state was not a party to contractual agreements with the school chaplains employed under the program.
The first major thing to point out is that it is a potentially very positive decision for the devolution of power from the executive branch of government, the ministry, which made the decision on the National School Chaplaincy Program under former Prime Minister John Howard.
The future of the program as a whole is unsure though it would seem quite likely that legislation could be put through which gives either the commonwealth or the states the power and funding to provide for the continuation of the chaplaincy services, though legal experts have said that it is far from clear that accompanying legislation would properly remedy the constitutionality of the NSCP.
But arguments against the pr0gram as it stands also go well beyond the legal and constitutional aspects as judged today by the High Court of Australia and common sense rather than legal argument should lead to a determination that the idea as it stands does not give students real choice when needing to seek the assistance and counsel of suitably qualified adults.
Changes to alter the NSCP which were put forward by the Labor Government to amend the policy had been inserted to give schools a choice as to whether or not they provided a religious or a non-religious chaplain to offer counselling services to students.
What any good program should do in the counselling area is to provide the parents, not the school with the choice of whether or not their sons or daughters are able to seek the confidence of a chaplain or a counsellor. That is, the programs should give the opportunity to provide both, rather than one or the other at the very least.
An even better option would be to provide students, particularly the older ones with the ability to decide what is best for themselves the opportunity to choose who they seek to get advice from.
The High Court judgement in this way is half good at least as far as power concentration goes but where the court did not judge in favour of choice there should be common sense moves to allow greater choice for the students or their families in all cases with a preference towards offering professional counsel above and beyond that which religion provides.
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.