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.
Normally the weekends are a very quiet affair in terms of politics, whether it be local, state or federal developments. Saturday and Sunday are usually the domain of our newspapers in the realm of politics, debating and discussing the major events of the week, as well as the occasional under-reported event that doesn’t make the headlines on any given day. This weekend, as with a few over the term of the 43rd parliament at the federal level has been the exception to the rule. Couple that with council elections across Queensland and a by-election in the seat of a former Premier and you have all the trimmings for digestion of a full political meal in the 48 hours that are usually relatively free of politics and the political process.
On Saturday night the LNP, fresh from an astonishing win at the March 24 state election, where they won 78 seats of the 89 seat parliament and Labor just 7, the LNP Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and his team fought a campaign to remain in the mayoralty and to keep a majority of councillors in the City Hall chamber.
Last night Graham Quirk and his LNP Council colleagues did just that, winning both the race for mayor in Brisbane and the contest to maintain a majority of wards won by former Lord Mayor, now Premier Campbell Newman.
The LNP Lord Mayor of Brisbane City in two-party terms has achieved nearly 70% of the votes on offer against just over 30% for ALP mayoral hopeful Ray Smith. This result means approximately a 2.5% swing to the LNP Mayor on top of the previously strong vote for the very popular former Lord Mayor Newman.
In terms of winning wards, the LNP last night won an additional three seats in the council chambers with their victory last night to now control at least 18 of the 26 Brisbane City Council areas, a strong majority.
Elsewhere, the South Brisbane by-election, for the seat occupied by former Premier Anna Bligh was also run last night, but as yet has not been won, or at least not yet conceded. The contest sees Labor’s Jackie Trad ahead at present with just over 52% of the two-party-preferred vote compared with Clem Grehan of the LNP on just under 48% of the vote. The Labor leader in the parliament last night claimed victory for the ALP, but as yet Mr Grehan of the LNP has not conceded defeat.
It appears that the ALP will reclaim the seat, a normally very safe Labor seat, with a margin prior to the March state election of 15%. But it should not provide for much celebration in Labor circles. The LNP have come very close, albeit in a by-election which are notorious for going the other way, to claiming a sensational victory.
But if that was an ordinary night for Labor electorally in Queensland, Sunday for the federal ALP has been extraordinary in the saga that is the Craig Thomson and in the realm of the recently emerged allegations against the Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Today, weary Australians awoke to the news that there would be a press conference where Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell subject to a Fair Work Australia investigation which has now concluded would announce that he would ask the ALP to temporarily suspend his membership of the party and he would move to the crossbench as an Independent MP.
This move came after over 3 years of investigation in the matter and just as much time spent by the Prime Minister and the ALP putting their support behind the MP from NSW.
But just how much will the temporary move, meant to clear some air for the Prime Minister and her party actually mean? The answer frankly is none. The MP, for as long as he can remain in the parliament will undoubtedly continue to fully support the Gillard Government in every policy and political move it makes and importantly also for the Labor Party, in matters of supply and no confidence motions.
As if that wasn’t enough drama to base an epic political drama on, or comedy as you could just as easily argue, the Prime Minister also indicated that now, after days of saying the opposite, the Speaker, facing criminal and civil allegations should remain out of the chair until all the allegations have been resolved.
This move will see Anna Burke, the Deputy Speaker of the parliament and ALP member sitting in the Speakers seat when parliament resumes on May 8th for the handing down of the budget by Treasurer Wayne Swan
These two moves were just mere political opportunism, a smokescreen, a reactionary decision in the face of what seemed more and more likely to be a permanent loss of the Speaker if the matter went unresolved until parliament resumes on budget day.
Labor federally and in Queensland will certainly be hoping it can all be up from here, but as they have proved, that is far from certain to the extent that it is extremely unlikely.
Peter Slipper, the Speaker of the House of Representatives stands accused of both civil and criminal wrongdoing, with claims of sexual harassment of a staffer being aired, coupled with accusations of rorting Cabcharge vouchers. The Gillard Government has moved from trouble to trouble during its short tenure from mid 2010 to the present day but the ALP minority government has rarely looked like it would be allowed to crumble, either by their own actions or by those MPs who have agreed to support it for a full three year term in parliament.
The Prime Minister and her government in the time shortly after the accusations were levelled at the scandal-prone refused to withdraw support for Peter Slipper to continue in the Speaker’s chair in the Lower House. The tenuous situation of the 43rd parliament made it necessary for political survival, whether right or wrong to stand by the man that both sides of politics knew could drag them into trouble.
Shortly after returning from a trip, Mr Slipper did the right thing offered to stand aside while the criminal allegations are investigated by police although he did not extend the self-suspension to also cover the prosecution of the civil proceedings against him by a staffer who alleges sexual misconduct on the part of Peter Slipper.
After the Speaker stood aside, the Prime Minister on behalf of her party admitted after the fact that Slipper standing aside was the right and honest thing to do, a strange change of heart.
Thanks in large part to the strong support of the two rural Independent MPs, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, Prime Minister Gillard and the ALP have been able to maintain a fairly stable government regardless of the very tight numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives.
However, in recent days, it would appear to the naked eye that cracks in that support are appearing, with Mr Oakeshott, the MP for the electorate of Lyne leaving the door ajar at least for the possibility of a no confidence motion on the floor of the Lower House chamber.
Also trailing closely behind Mr Oakeshott in his thoughts on the matter, Mr Windsor, the Independent MP for the seat of New England has today indicated that he would like Speaker Slipper to stand aside until both the criminal and civil proceedings have been investigated and prosecuted to an exhaustive end.
The distinct possibility of a no confidence motion appears to be growing, hour by hour, day by day in this dramatic period in the history of parliament in Australia with the New England MP appearing to suggest that the besieged Mr Slipper stand aside until both matters are concluded or he would potentially face a vote on the floor of the parliament.
The Labor Government, under a new Speaker, likely Anna Burke, would stare in the face an even more unstable majority of just 1 vote in the House of Representatives chamber.
Theoretically, a vote against Mr Slipper could be used by the government and its supporters, particularly Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott to take some of the focus off the government which is slowly drowning as stagnant polls, hovering around the same numbers for some time seem to show.
A vote of no confidence in the Speaker could be brought by the government or any of those MPs it relies on for support to remove some of the stench that lingers around the Labor caucus, a middle ground of sorts to show to the naked eye, the untrained political eye, that Gillard and her party are willing to take on some of the rot eating away at the parliamentary party.
But alas, the rural Independents are not the great illusionists that they think themselves to be. Any “compromise” move would be as obvious as having a brick strike you in the head.
But it would ameliorate some of the dead-weight that is slowly but surely pulling the government, strapped to its numbers so firmly.
The Opposition obviously, as an other would be in this situation want the government down and out and removed and will put as much pressure on the government as they can, on any issue of contention, to try and make this happen. That’s the reality of politics and the ALP would certainly be reacting to crises in the same way were they in the position the Coalition is.
All the while, the government, by removing Slipper will have deflected some of the attention away from the other major distraction they face, the allegations against Craig Thomson, the former HSU official and now Member for the seat of Dobell. Gillard and her government have continued to support their own MP to the fullest while the allegations have been investigated.
By no means will acting on the Slipper allegations fix the electoral mortality of the Labor Government, but to perform some feat of illusion will serve to nullify one point of contention and in the process keep the Gillard Government on track to go full term, unless and it is entirely plausible, another allegation of wrongdoing or some other unforeseen mishap or misadventure decides to rear its head.