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Question Time Ahead of Time

Today marks the last sitting day of the parliamentary week and the last day of parliament before the budget is announced in Canberra on Tuesday May 8 by Treasurer Wayne Swan. Consequently economics will continue to be the focus of the day in Question Time and the energy of our politicians will be at an almost anxious high as they try to get attention on their programs for Australia and the Opposition throw everything at the Gillard Government in trying to hold them to account.

The focus of the Opposition will continue to be on the two or three key areas that the Coalition have pursued for some time now  in their Question Time and broader political strategy. The two main focal points of the Abbott-led Opposition questions today will continue to be both the carbon tax and the mining tax which have had varying degrees of focus since both have been announced. They have both now been passed by the government and the Coalition will continue to pursue them as they come into force and for any negative impacts they have.

The Coalition also may ask some questions of the ALP Government about Fair Work Australia and its investigation into Craig Thomson, a long-running affair which has provided much political and parliamentary material for the Liberal and National Party Coalition.

The Opposition is likely to also ask questions of the government about the deal announced today to keep Holden producing cars in Australia for the next 10 years at least.

The government, as has been its strategy all parliamentary year will be to focus on their big programs, at the moment the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and how the revenue from it is projected to benefit the community, including low income individuals and small and big business. Some Dorothy Dixer’s, as has been the case this week may be devoted to other topical or even less discussed policies, like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan which received questions in the House of Representatives yesterday.

The Gillard Government will certainly use some Dorothy Dixer’s to ask ministers associated with the car industry about the deal with Holden to keep car production in Australia for at least 10 years and to highlight the benefits of this for the local and national economy.

The usage of the motion to suspend Standing Orders is another eventuality that cannot be discounted, particularly as we head toward a grand total of 50 of them for this the 43rd parliament of Australia. The motion however is less likely to occur as the topics discussed have been the focus of the motion in the past.What may work in favour of a suspension of Standing Orders is another topical issue presenting itself before Question Time today, likely not the Holden issue, or the fact that it is the last session of Question Time until the parliamentary week beginning the 8th of May.

Look for fireworks and restless pollies slanging remarks across the chamber today in the Lower and Upper House. Expect to see a high number of ejections from both sides and even Ministers sat down by the Speaker for not being “directly relevant” to questions asked by the Coalition and even their own side as they attempt to use Dixer’s for having a go at Coalition policy rather than explaining their own. Get your last fix for over a month from 2pm AEDT today

In a Year of Decision and Delivery is it the Number of Bills or the Reform Nature of the Bills That Matters Most?

Much has been made of the frankly dreadful year that the Gillard led ALP Government have endured in 2011 against the Abbott led Coalition. The Government has claimed that Tony Abbott is a “wrecker”, but the evidence just does not stack up on that, in fact it points to him having not succeeded in that at all. The only bill shelved so far has been the so called ‘Malaysia Deal’ and that would have been an absolute shame to have seen it go through the parliament.So what matters most when deciding whether the “year of decision and delivery” has been a successful one for the Government? Is it the quantity of bills passed by the parliament (apparently 250 when parliament adjourned for 2011) or is it the quality? In other words depth and reformatory nature of the bills passed.

As just mentioned, no less than 250 bills have been passed by this Labor Government in this sitting year of parliament. A pretty impressive number one would have to admit on the face of it, meaning that a lot of work was certainly done by the Government in the relatively few sitting weeks of parliament.

What the 250 bills passed does not tell is the nature of the bills or the complexity of the legislation that was put before the house. Indeed, the sheer number of bills passed indicates to me that the absolute vast majority were not of a major policy shift or innovation. It indicates that the vast majority were indeed lacking in controversy and by nature, mostly amendments and additions to existing legislation.

So then we must look at the amount of bills of a major nature that made it through both houses of  parliament or those that have gone through the Lower House and are likely to pass the Senate early in 2012.

This year saw the passage of the National Broadband Network (NBN) related bills, the Carbon Tax legislation (all 18 related bills) and the bills for plain packaging of cigarettes through both houses. The Minerals Resource Rent Tax went through the Lower House just last week and will be off to the Senate early next year.

The sheer number and complexity and indeed controversial nature of the major bills passed means some credit should be given for getting them through the parliament at least.

The carbon tax however, is still at this stage a major political problem for the Gillard Government with the public not at all expecting a carbon tax from our current Prime Minister and getting one after a blunt promise was made that Australia would not have one. So effectively, you could cross that off the list.

The NBN is an extremely expensive proposition that will continue to cause some problems but is more popular than the carbon tax and therefore unlikely to see votes seep from the ALP. However, if cost predictions blow out or there are roll-out problems this could cause major headaches the the Labor Government.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax looks fairly certain to pass parliament, perhaps with further amendments from the Greens in the Senate and is a popular policy with the wider electorate. The Government though will have to watch that the revenue predictions are correct and that a hole doesn’t open up when the Government begins to fund some of the tied in schemes.

The plain-packaging laws are an entirely new proposition globally with the Australian Government being the first to embark upon them. On the face of it, the idea seems to be a very sound one given the immense costs to the health budget from the deadly product. There will be a worry though about trademark infringement which may end up costing the ALP Government significant money.

So the Government you can safely say has completed a fair volume of work in 2011, which if you are of the same ideological bent as me, is not always a good thing, in other words, likely created even more regulation. There are also cautious congratulations due for plain packaging of cigarettes for fear of court challenges and a ‘watch this space’ for the cost and revenue impacts of the NBN. The Carbon Tax and mining tax, well you have heard enough anger about those already.

So clearly it is more about the depth and complexity of bills  far over and above the sheer weight of numbers which are often just a ‘quick fix’ amendment or addition. By any estimation though, the Gillard Government has had a truly awful year, a large blame for that the carbon tax broken promise, but that was not the only thing.

Coalition Gambling Intervention Proposals Go Two Ways

Today the Coalition announced proposals in a discussion paper for how they would deal with the major issue of problem gambling. The discussion paper proposes voluntary pre-commitment as opposed to the mandatory pre-commitment scheme put forward by the Government. Furthermore, the Coalition scheme proposes better targeted and increased counselling. The discussion paper further proposes the possibility of a ban on the broadcast of live-betting odds during sporting events on television.

It is my argument that these major proposals from the Abbott-led Coalition go two ways, one consistent with Liberal Party ideology and one not so much.

First, we start with the proposal of a voluntary pre-commitment scheme. This is a scheme where the gambler will volunteer freely as to whether or not they sign up to putting a limit to their gambling on poker machines.

The idea of voluntary pre-commitment technology is based on giving the consumer a choice in their activities, to decide for themselves whether or not they are causing themselves harm. This is arguably very consistent with the ideology of the Coalition which believes in a free market and choice.

The proposal of a voluntary pre-commitment scheme also comes with an increased level of targetted psychological support and better education about the issue of gambling.

Then we have the proposal to ban live-odds being broadcast on the television during sporting events. This is where odds for sporting matches are displayed on the television in graphic or oral form throughout the match, where the odds fluctuate according to the score and status of the game.

This proposal, unlike voluntary pre-commitment is not based on the ideology of choice, but may be able to be argued as preventing harm to others. In any case it advocates a ban of a market created mechanism and therefore is not entirely consistent with the ideology.

However, the idea does seem like a very smart and perceptive proposal in the gambling debate occurring in Australia at present. I cannot remember the last person I encountered not to visibly or indeed verbally cringe at the incessant broadcast of live odds, particularly during recent football matches.

This indicates to me, along with the fact that the Coalition have put it up for discussion, that it would be a very popular idea to put forward with likely widespread community support throughout Australia.

The Coalition proposals for gambling are an interesting mix, some of which will come under consistent fire from opponents and potentially there own side of politics and some which will be welcomed by fellow politicians and the broader Australian community. It is worth reminding ourselves that these are just proposals, but in any case they are positive policy responses being put into the political sphere for debate.

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