‘Ruddvention’- a word to describe the all-too-common intervention of Kevin Rudd in matters of national and/or international importance. These dalliances with the media, above and beyond those of any other lowly backbench MP, have taken place a number of times since the former Prime Minister was deposed. And the latest display of self-important politicking, surprise surprise, takes place just after Prime Minister Julia Gillard reached a rather uncomfortable milestone, perhaps for both of them- the same amount of time in office as former PM Rudd.
At least this time Mr Rudd picked an area of policy close to his heart and that is foreign affairs. The former PM and one-time Minister for Foreign Affairs today released a statement on the Syrian conflict, now two years old. Rudd believes now that the Syrian rebels must be armed in order to bring a more swift end to the internal conflict which has seen approximately 60,000 die.
The problem with Kevin Rudd coming out and pleading with everyone to realise just how smart he, in his mind believes he is happens to be two-fold. There is the policy-based disagreement with the official Labor line on Syria and then there is the distraction that it provides and the cannon-fodder it gives the Coalition, as if they were in need of any more election year ammunition. In the scheme of things both effects are minor. But the point is that in an election year, both impacts are unnecessary from someone who should release he needs to further the Labor cause, not his own selfish interests.
In terms of the policy itself, former PM and Foreign Minister Rudd, as stated earlier, believes that the Syrian opposition forces must be armed. Kevin Rudd has pointed out, quite rightly, that the situation in Syria is already far beyond a humanitarian crisis. The Assad regime has clearly perpetrated crimes against humanity, mind you, opponents of his regime appear to have engaged in much the same brutish and barbaric, downright inhumane behaviour too. This position is very similar to the viewpoint he pushed in the international community regarding the civil war in Libya, while Minister for Foreign Affairs
It is here where his position and the government’s are at loggerheads. With the UN Security Council unable to reach an agreement on any meaningful action, and with Australia no longer willing to get so involved in a far-off internecine battle- the Gillard Government, along with the rest of the world, is continuing to try to tread carefully yet meaningfully down the diplomatic pathway. Senator Bob Carr and the government want both the Syrian Government and the opposition to talk to each other. They want, in a case of vain hope, some kind of amicable end to the scenes of chaos and devastation.
This latest disagreement between Rudd and his party, though slight in the scheme of politics, will add to the library of election material that the Liberal Party has surely amassed over the past two-and-a-half years. Added to the litany of examples, it all amounts to a story of internal division. It’s the kind of thing the Labor Party do not need in an election year. Labor do not need distractions. The ALP need discipline and at least an air of togetherness and harmony, whatever the real story within the caucus.
It might be lucky for Labor that the latest Rudd flirtation with the media has occurred at the start of the year. All but the most politically attuned are paying attention to the political discourse at present. However, the story has already been written on the Rudd problem and any future Ruddvention, like that today, can easily be added to the election 2013 plot, no matter how insignificant. Any undisciplined and self-serving plea for media attention after the middle of the year would be a big problem.
It’s Wednesday and that means only two more days of the parliamentary sitting week lie ahead for our federal politicians in Canberra jockeying for momentum going into the May budget. Question Time is likely to be a loud, argumentative and at times farcical affair. Many eyes will be on the Senate where the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, sworn in as a Senator and Minister yesterday will face his first Question Time in the role.
The Opposition without any shadow of a doubt will continue to focus their Question Time efforts on pursuing the Labor Government over its carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which has a parliamentary report handed down today.
While the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson still proceeds at snail pace, it can certainly be expected that there will be a question or two aimed at the Gillard Government over the issue.
The fallout from the Skype sex scandal in the Australian Defence Force may also get an airing in Question Time from the Opposition as it did yesterday in relations to comments from Major General John Cantwell.
Equally predictable is the government focus of their backbencher questions to Ministers, also colloquially known as the “Dorothy Dixer” or “Dorothy Dix”. Again these questions will likely focus on the economy through the spending related to the MRRT windfall as well as other spending allocations made by Prime Minister Gillard and her government.
In the Senate, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr will draw the most focus from interested observers, though not face the most questions as both the government and the Opposition are set to pursue different lines of inquiry. The new Foreign Minister is likely to get a question from his own side, but may also get a question or two related to the Defence Minister from the Coalition in the prism of overseas operations.
There is also a distinct possibility that the Coalition will attempt to suspend Standing Orders in an attempt to challenge the Government after not answering questions though that seems less likely than in recent days because of the exhaustion of content on that front.
Yesterday Question Time in the House of Representatives was quite feisty and resulted in a handful of ejections for one hour under Standing Order 94a, one of those being a Government MP. Two Ministers were also sat down for straying out of the ballpark of relevance in their answers and that is a positive development. So be watching today at 2pm AEDT where the drama that is the play called Question Time looks set to continue with loud interjections, irrelevant answers and plenty of name-calling.
That wonderful institution that we know as Question Time returns today with a vengeance in both chambers of Parliament House in Canberra today for a two week sitting period before the much anticipated budget gets handed down in May. This sitting period promises much of the same that we have been exposed to for some time as far as behaviour and content goes, with both parties likely focusing on much less than a handful of topics for the Opposition to pursue and the Gillard Government to attempt to highlight in a positive manner. The Senate will be a focus this week with a very interesting addition.
Question Time this week in the Upper House will be the focus of much political attention with the newly confirmed Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate, Bob Carr entering the federal parliament for the first time as part of the federal government. For Question Time today the former NSW Premier will warm the backbench, being sworn in this afternoon.
The Tony Abbott led Opposition are set to continue their attacks on the economy through the prism of the carbon tax, nearing commencement and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which the government will aim to get through the Senate before parliament rises in anticipation of the budget to be announced in May.
The Opposition will also likely decide they need to continue to pursue the Craig Thomson saga and Fair Work Australia over recent allegations of the independent body stonewalling, even flatly refusing to cooperate with police attempting to investigate claims of wrongdoing.
The Government will certainly continue to utilise the “Dorothy Dixer”, that wonderful free kick opportunity to spend more time talking about the Opposition than their own policy on also talking about the economy. This will continue to be about the comparative strength of the economy versus that of other major developed nations rather than the individual circumstances of the Australian economy. Dixer’s from the government benches will also focus on the economy, as they have done for some time, on perceived benefits of government spending packages, particularly related to the MRRT.
Another regular feature of Question Time that cannot be ruled out, in fact, that the good money would be on, is the high likelihood of the Opposition pursuing a suspension of standing orders to debate a censure motion.
How many MPs will be booted under Standing Order 94a? Will any government minister be sat down for “irrelevance”? How much noise will there be? Will Bob Carr ask a Dixer before hitting the front bench tomorrow? All questions will be asked and answered at 2pm AEDT. Will you be watching?
New Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate has used his first trip overseas to visit our long term ally in the far reaches of Earth, New Zealand. The incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs headed there this week to meet with parliamentary colleagues while he finds his feet in the crucial role.
But is it smart for our new Foreign Minister to visit New Zealand ahead of all other nations in the region, some of whom we share a strong or growing relationship with and others with whom we have struggled in recent years, think Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the latter with their own political strife in recent times.
Nobody doubts the importance of New Zealand to our defence interests in particular with our southern partners across the Tasman being a long-time ally, particularly since the ANZUS Treaty was signed, but harking as far back as when the ANZAC legend was born on the shores of Gallipoli.
New Zealand are our strongest friends but also the most stable of nations in our immediate international region and a growing trade partner with whom we share a great history in realms other than defence relations. This is precisely why the wisdom of New Zealand being the first port of call for Bob Carr above all other neighbours in our dynamic Asia-Pacific region.
There are multiple countries in our immediate vicinity where our diplomacy is required for reasons including political stability, security and action on people smugglers and asylum seekers.
Think most recently of Papua New Guinea, a country where in recent months and years there has been some very serious political instability at the very top tier of government, with former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare at loggerheads with the parliament and his own party, aspects of the police and the military and even senior officials of the judiciary.
Thankfully there has not been a successful coup in the country over the power struggle, although a temporary “mini coup” of sorts by a small part of the security forces in one part of the country shows that the country is far from stable, even if tensions have been suppressed since that moment.
Fiji is another country requiring some serious attention from the Australian Government, even though this has been made all the more difficult by the expulsion of the acting Australian High Commissioner to Fiji.
The coup where Fijian Commodore Frank Bainimarama was just one in a serious of military overthrows of democratic government in the country over the last twenty plus years and has led to freedom of speech being completely overrun with foreign-owned media expelled, making it harder for reporting of human rights violations.
There are positive signs with consultations on a new Fijian Constitution initiated, to be completed in 2013, but it remains to be seen whether the deeds will meet the words of another Fijian dictator.
Further, the Commodore has stated that 2014 will be the year when democratic elections will return to the small multi-island nation in our region so our work in the region, through multilateral bodies and non-government organisations will be to help ensure, albeit from a distance, that this timeline will come to fruition and be met at the earliest possible opportunity, with 2014 still being too far away.
Indonesia is another nation in the Asia-Pacific that deserves our ongoing attention at an intense level with security concerns post the Bali bombings continuing to be an issue not just for Australians travelling to the country for holidays and business, but also for a regional response to people smuggling which runs rife in the country and the broader asylum seeker issue.
A large number of Australians travel to Indonesia, particularly the capital Jakarta and Bali for both business and leisure activities each year so this requires intense diplomatic efforts in mutual security support in an attempt to make sure that our two nations do all they can to stamp out terrorism activities in the south-east Asian nation.
Australian attention is also needed with our partner Indonesia, to ensure that people smuggling is combatted at the source in Indonesia in efforts to stem the flow of boats which can lead to the drowning of asylum seekers. This can be done on a bilateral basis, but also as part of the so-called Bali Process of nations in the region. This must mean that all nations in the region sign up to the UN Refugee Convention and agree to take on their share of asylum seekers.
In the broader Asian region there are other countries which need to become more open, democratic and free, such as Malaysia and Singapore, so focusing an initial trip on peace-loving New Zealand, whilst important must not neglect those nations in our region where there is much work to be done to ensure they enjoy the freedoms that both our nations have enjoyed.