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Question Time, Suspension of Standing Orders, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

A new Speaker is in the chair and by Thursday will have completed three weeks in the big chair of the House of Representatives this coming Thursday. This Speaker, Peter Slipper has brought in some small, but welcome changes, shorter questions and shorter answers, the scope for more supplementary questions and a shorter Question Time for those whose health is at risk from too much exposure to the stressful event which takes up just over an hour of the political day. However, Ministers still struggle to be “directly relevant” to any question, even Dorothy Dixer’s involve a major focus on the Opposition. The motion to suspend Standing Orders to censure has also become a bit of a joke, being used too often and knowingly to no avail.

The parliamentary reforms of the Slipper Speakership add to those agreed to between the Gillard Government, the Opposition and the rural Independent MPs. They were an improvement on business as usual, seeing questions limited to 45 seconds and answers to 4 minutes, rather than being unlimited as they were prior to this minority government.

Questions under the new Speaker are limited to 30 seconds, a fifteen second drop on the previous agreement and answers to 3 minutes, a further one minute drop on the original reforms, but still the bullshit that turns people off continues.

The new Speaker has done a fair job of attempting to bring Ministers into line, to try and at least get them in the same postcode of “direct relevance” to the question, short of jumping out of the chair and strangling offenders. Many Ministers continue to be in defiance of these rules and today the Prime Minister was sat down for being irrelevant to the question asked, a very positive development indeed.

Answers also continue to be full of vitriolic rubbish attacking Coalition policy more than outlining why their policy is the preferred option, maybe because they aren’t so confident of directly defending their own.

Wayne Swan is one of the main offenders, reprimanded for making the same old, unoriginal and flat “jokes” about the Coalition economic team being the “three stooges”. Perhaps if he quit with the nonsense, people would not have been advocating today for his removal from the Treasury portfolio because of an inability to sell the economic message of the government.

The sad but true fact is that people would probably have the time of day for Question Time if the stupidity was dispensed with and the government focused on selling their policies, sans hyperbole and without so much name-calling and stuff that primary school kids would be envious of. Along with that goes the shouting across the chamber during answers of contention , though that has been a fixture for as long as the parliament has existed and would always occur to some extent.

But that is not all that is grating and making Question Time become redundant and in the interest of fairness, the suspension of standing orders to debate why a censure motion is essential, is becoming a too regular occurrence.

It is not becoming ridiculous because the Abbott led Opposition are using it to try and highlight the failures of this government and the discord and disunity that has been rife since mid 2010.

The censure motion is becoming ridiculous because of the amount of times it is being used to pursue the ALP Government, who are admittedly failing badly at being relevant at most times and making Question Time an almost redundant farce.

There is one real reason why it is a pointless exercise and that is because two of the rural Independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are so wedded to this Labor Government, along with the Greens MP Adam Bandt, that it would probably take a Government MP committing murder before they were willing to consider supporting the need for a censure motion. Unlikely…

S0 can we please dispense with all the rubbish in Canberra, our health has suffered enough as mere observers of the Canberra zoo. I would like to be able to increase my “Bio-Age” again. My government must be held to account in the strictest of ways, with the Speaker continuing to be strong and building on that. Ministers and their counterparts must also take it upon themselves to dispense with some of the theatrics, thinking less about getting on the news for 15 seconds and more about trying to develop and sell good policy and while I understand the merits of suspension motions,  let’s cool it on this.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Parliament resumes today for the second parliamentary sitting week of the year and the same areas of debate are set to continue but other policy areas will be added to the the mix. As well as the economy, Craig Thomson and Fair Work Australia (FWA), the carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) you can expect the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing and the introduction of two bills on gay marriage will spark debate.

The Opposition will certainly continue to focus on the FWA investigation into Craig Thomson which has taken too much time to conclude. The Abbott led Coalition will also likely focus questions around the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, the latter two in the prism of an economy which could be in strife were Europe to collapse again this year.

The Government will again focus the deployment of the Dorothy Dixer to prosecute what they view as their strong-point, the economy. These questions will undoubtedly focus on policy measures which have provided or will provide in the near future for the electorate rather than on the budgetary situation itself, unless in comparison to the world.

Marriage equality is not likely to result in a question from the Opposition or the Government, with both sides not fully behind the idea, but we may see an Independent MP, likely Andrew Wilkie or the Greens MP Adam Bandt if they are allocated one of the questions for Independent MPs in Question Time today. This comes on the back of two different bills being put to the House today on marriage equality, one from Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie and the other a Private Members Bill from ALP MP Stephen Jones.

The unknown factor is, as always whether there will be any ejections during Question Time, especially since the warning has been removed by the Speaker, Peter Slipper, though if last week is an indication, there will not be a large number warming  the parliamentary cafeteria seats early.

The one thing we do know is, like always Question Time will be loud and even though there isn’t supposed to be, likely also debate. We will look to about 3pm AEDT to see if the Abbott censure motion creeps in just in time for the end of Question Time. That is also a distinct possibility.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Day 3 of federal parliament is upon us and will bring with it another rambunctious hour and a half of Question Time from the House of Representatives. We know what the issues will be but not from what angle they will be approached by either side, but the lines are drawn and both sides firmly mired in their respective positions of attack.

The Opposition will again focus on the economy in their attacks of the Government, as they have in the two sessions previous, basing their interrogation around perceived impacts of the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), to not do so would work against much of the poll gains made.

It is also likely that events surrounding the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson will be brought into question, again, as they have this week, not so much attacking the man, but attacking the glacial pace of the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation. It does so because FWA is the Prime Minister’s baby where under Kevin Rudd Prime Minister, workplace relations was in her portfolio, beginning the post WorkChoices era.

The Government will again focus on the economy from their viewpoint of comparative strength to other economies in relation to jobs, debt and deficit. The overwhelming percentage of Dorothy Dixer’s will focus on these areas from one angle or another.

The Government is also likely to take the opportunity through the Dorothy Dixer to talk about either the perceived benefits of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the NBN, perhaps even both as they try to establish credibility in delivery, albeit expensive action.

The new shorter questions, shorter answers, shorter Question Time has now been delivered thanks to Speaker Peter Slipper coming to the chair with his own thoughts on the way Question Time and the House of Representatives procedure more broadly should run. The much shorter questions and shorter answers are a good start but could be strengthened further as they have appeared to have little difference on the quality of Question Time, except to herd it into a slightly shorter package.

The final factor to keep an eye on for the final Question Time of the week will be the ever-present spectre of the censure motion being brought to bear by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott or perhaps Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne. With the almost routine manner  in which we have seen the motion appear it would be remiss of me to not include the eventuality, especially with the Gillard Government failing in so many areas.

Be listening or watching at 2pm AEDT to see what plays out in the theatre that is Question Time. Who will take the upper hand at the end of the first parliamentary sitting week, hoping to convert it into ongoing momentum for the political year?

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