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It’s Not All Bad Mr Mathieson

Australia’s first man told a joke today and it did not go down at all well. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson was speaking at a function welcoming the West Indian cricket team to Canberra, the topic: prostate cancer. You could just how rapidly the Prime Minister’s facial expression changed. Very quickly Ms Gillard’s expression shifted from a wide smile and a twinkle in her eye to a look of ‘oh my this is going to create headlines’.

The so-called joke, went a little like this:

“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to have, to get a correct reading on your prostate so make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a small, female Asian doctor is probably the best”

What Mr Mathieson said was wrong on a few levels, but it is entirely possible that his ill-conceived joke may have drawn more attention to prostate cancer than if the speech had just reached its Canberra audience. At least in some oblique way, the topic of prostate cancer prevention has been aired in the general community. Perhaps the joke might have even made some men feel more at ease with the whole process and could lead to them having their prostate checked at the recommended intervals.

What was completely right about the short quip from the first bloke was telling the audience, and now Australia, just how easy the testing process can be. We all knew that a prostate examination is important, but perhaps fewer people would have been aware that there is a blood test for the cancer, though of course doctors already know that. But some men probably do not.

There are three elements of the gag which were wrong and completely unnecessary.

The first being the use of a stereotype: that women, particularly Asian women, are small. Not entirely untrue, but a needless generalisation.

The second unfortunate element of his public service message was the unnecessary reference to a particular gender: women. Male doctors can and do give prostate examinations if you are comfortable with that.

Finally, the gaffe would almost certainly fit into the category of casual racism. There was no need to single out a particular group of people. There are small people in all races.

What the Prime Minister’s partner should have said was something like this:

“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on the health of your prostate. So make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a doctor with smaller hands, because it might feel a little uncomfortable”

There you have it, a non-racist, non-sexist gag without any silly generalisations. Hey, the little joke at the end would have probably made the PM laugh a little.

Today’s blunder should serve as a reminder of the need for the spouse of our nation’s leader, whomever it may be in the future, to be a little more dignified in the way they approach speaking in public. Australia’s reaction was probably rather muted to what would have happened if the same tasteless and tactless verse was used elsewhere in the world.

But hey, if it got the message across then it’s not all bad.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time for Monday has now passed. A wide array of issues were examined in general. But first, the parliament spent the first half of Questions Without Notice expressing their condolences for the loss of six Australians since parliament rose for a short break. Those who died were 5 soldiers across two incidents in Afghanistan and the Prime Minister’s father who passed away suddenly at the weekend while Prime Minister Gillard was at the APEC Summit in Russia.

But just after 2:30pm, questions began in the lower house with spending priorities and the federal budget the main focus of the Tony Abbott led Opposition as well as asylum seekers early on.

The Gillard Government, with Wayne Swan as Acting Prime Minister breached a wider selection of issues including the economy as compared with the world, infrastructure and education.

Tomorrow of course presents the the very high possibility, indeed certainty of exactly the same kinds of issues being brought up during Question Time, with perhaps slight differences in the amount of time dedicated to each issue. But nonetheless, the same general formula and topics will be used to frame questions for Tuesday’s session of Questions Without Notice from Canberra.

Again, the Coalition will probably focus a large part of Question Time on the new and existing big spending items that the Gillard Government has announced. This includes the NDIS, the new dental health plan and the as yet undisclosed contribution to be negotiated with the states and territories to fund the Gonski recommendations in education.

The Liberal and National Party Opposition too, could decide to return to asking questions of the government over the carbon tax which recently saw the floor price dropped by the government as well as plans to purchase five power stations, crucial to combating polution, being scrapped last week.

In fact, it was quite a surprise given these developments and the fact that attacking the price on carbon has been a long-term strategy of the Coalition in and outside of the federal parliament. Perhaps the Opposition Leader did heed the words of Malcolm Turnbull last week, though the variety of issues that questions were asked on did remain narrow despite the slight change.

The ALP through the Dorothy Dixer will continue the strategy of examining a wide selection of government policy areas. That is likely to again include a mix of at least some of the following including carbon price compensation, the economy compared with others around the world, health, education, infrastructure and workplace relations.

We were blessed with comparatively improved behaviour, though a few MP’s did manage to test the patience of the Acting Speaker, the usual suspects really. Will they be as lucky tomorrow?

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s almost curtains for Question Time this week. We’ve been through Questions Without Notice for Wednesday without much of the ridiculously over-the-top behaviour we’ve almost grown to expect from our politicians. It wasn’t great though, there was still loud interjections and points of order that continued a little longer than they should have. But that’s Question Time and some level of misbehaviour will seemingly always be tolerated, no matter who occupies the Speaker’s chair.

There was a bit more variety than usual in the hour and ten minute session today, but only just.

The Coalition of course continued to ask questions of the Gillard Government on the carbon price during the Wednesday outing. They again focused around businesses in a number of Opposition MPs’ electorates. Again the attacks were largely over power prices applying to small businesses who are not compensated under the ALP’s price on carbon. At the very start of Question Time, the Shadow Treasurer rose too, in order to ask about business confidence, profit and investment under the carbon tax.

The Coalition also asked, again through Joe Hockey at the start of Question Time, just how the Labor Party propose to pay for their recent big spending commitments without raising taxes and with less revenue than during better economic times.

There was also time from the Coalition devoted to asking the government about union rorting and that topic was breached toward the end of Questions Without Notice.

The Labor Government were again varied in the number of topics they chose to highlight during Question Time. Backbenchers asked questions on the economy, infrastructure, carbon pricing, families as well as education and health.

So what’s to come during the last day of parliament for the week? Well, to be honest, much of the same from both sides of the political fence.

The Liberal and National Party Opposition have hitched themselves to the carbon price wagon and it would be laughable to suggest that the parliamentary attacks over this policy are not set to continue. The only question here will be which businesses take the focus on Thursday? We do know that it will be centred around small businesses who are not compensated for carbon price cost flow-ons.

We know first it was fruit and vegetable producers and related businesses, followed by meat producers and associated businesses and then on Wednesday, a variety of small businesses. So the indication is that it’s probably the latter, though you get the impression that the Olympic Dam project, now not going ahead will be co-opted into the debate.

It is quite possible, indeed almost certain, that the Shadow Treasurer will stride to the despatch box, early in Question Time to ask the Treasurer or the Prime Minister just how they plan on funding their spending commitments of late.

As was shown on Wednesday, the unions might just find themselves back in Question Time, courtesy of perhaps one, maybe two questions from the Opposition benches.

The ALP Government will again highlight a number of areas of government action. They’ll still talk about the perceptions and realities of the price on carbon, that’s a given. But they’re also just as likely to visit education, workplace relations, infrastructure, health and families and health.

It will be interesting to see if the National Disability Insurance Scheme is again conspicuously absent or only mentioned in passing.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Parliament has now returned to Canberra after six weeks break and so has the associated noise and lack of courtesy and decency during Question Time. Things were looking up. There were wonderfully heartfelt speeches in the chamber at the commencement of Question Time in expressing the condolences of the parliament to the families of both Sargeant Blaine Diddams of the SAS and art critic and writer Robert Hughes who both passed away during the winter recess.

But that is where the respect and decency ceased. After over half an hour of speeches paying respect to Sgt. Diddams and Robert Hughes, which included a brilliantly animated and well-spoken speech by Malcolm Turnbull Question Time began.

Somewhat surprisingly at least, Question Time was dominated by asylum seeker politics. It was surprising insofar as it meant that the carbon price, the major battleground of this parliament did not even get even a skerrick of attention from the Coalition, nor for that matter from the government through their usage of the Dorothy Dixer.

What was also surprising about this is, given the outcome of the expert panel on asylum seeker policy, is that the government also used Questions Without Notice to heap attention on the issue. Now, it wasn’t a complete win for the Coalition. Nauru and Papua New Guinea will be used, but in a slightly different capacity than the outright detention under the Pacific Solution. But at the same time, asylum seekers that go there will likely languish for a very long period.

It would appear likely that the Coalition strategy from today, to focus on the half backflip of the Gillard Government on this area of policy will continue in Question Time on Wednesday. Not wanting to give up the opportunity, the Coalition will almost certainly continue to highlight the recent history of the ALP in asylum seeker and refugee policy. This should continue even though the new amendments will be supported by the Coalition. This attack will also likely continue even if the bills pass the House of Representatives before Question Time at 2pm.

What is far from certain regarding this policy shift on asylum seekers is whether the government will continue to highlight the importance of implementing the policy when the Coalition have agreed to support it in parliament.

Electricity prices were raised during Question Time, once, just to break up the monotony for the briefest period of time and this could again make an appearance in Dorothy Dixer’s and maybe in questions from the Coalition if refugee policy doesn’t completely dominate.

Failing asylum seeker policy dominating Question Time again, it is within the realms of possibility that the parliament could return to the tried and tested debate over the carbon price with the Abbott-led Coalition attacking the policy and the Gillard Government attempting to highlight the compensation package associated with the price on carbon.

Another likely inclusion, at least as far as the government’s questions to itself goes is the High Court case on plain packaging of tobacco products. This case today ruled in favour of the government, allowing them to proceed with their legislation. It’s almost certain that the Labor Party will dedicate at least one question to this matter.

Whatever the fuss that’s focused on, it all begins from 2pm Wednesday.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Everyone grab your HAZMAT suits, batten down the hatches, go out an purchase earplugs or earmuffs. Yes, after a month and a half break that institution we call Question Time returns to our television screens and radios on Tuesday. The winter break has flown by and as promised by our politicians, there has been little let-up in the political to-and-fro with the carbon tax and asylum seeker issues dominating the debate during the winter recess.

That seems the way that things will play out in Canberra this week during Question Time with carbon tax and asylum seeker politics set t0 be responsible for most of the noise during Questions Without Notice.

Power prices have been the debate over the last week with both the federal government picking a fight with the states over power bills which also brought in the federal Opposition with varying contributions from different MP’s to the debate, but the main ones being tied back to the carbon price.

It’s hard to see that electricity prices as they relate to the carbon tax will not be the major political battleground this week from the Coalition. The Abbott-led Opposition have dug in on this issue and will likely continue to prosecute the case of electricity related to the carbon price.

It’s also just as likely that, failing an electricity price specific attack on the Gillard Government related to the carbon tax, that other price rises associated with the price on carbon will form the basis of Coalition questions to the government.

The Labor Party too, through the use of the Dorothy Dixer will likely continue to try and hammer home the message of compensation for the price on carbon which commenced just weeks ago.

The Opposition, fresh from a fairly wide victory over immediate asylum seeker policy recommendations will likely turn up the heat on the Prime Minister and her government over the issue with the recommendations arguing the need to establish processing on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea as soon as possible.

The government will likely be fairly silent on the issue having been told by the expert panel on asylum seekers that their deal with Malaysia requires further work, so questions from the government benches on policy in this area will probably be scarce, perhaps non-existent.

The only major opportunity the government would have taken to get on the offensive over this policy area would be if the Opposition were going to oppose the legislation to be introduced into the parliament during the Tuesday sitting.

It will be interesting to see just how fired up both sides of parliament are after such a long break and whether or not this leads to the Speaker sending out one or two MP’s for an early coffee and cake.

Rest assured it won’t be such a quiet affair.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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 Ahead of Time

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

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.

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

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.

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