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Travel Ban Might be Just the Ticket

A Coalition meeting was today told by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that overseas travel is a no-no from now until the election. It is an interesting strategy and could tell us more about the political situation in Canberra than we think. It could also be just as much the case that the move is a prudent strategy in terms of connecting with the Australian electorate.

In announcing the overseas travel ban to his colleagues, Mr Abbott cited the possibility of an election at any time as reason enough to prevent his MP’s from  journeying around the world. Of course Prime Minister Gillard has already announced that the election will be on September 14, which leaves plenty of time for travel between now and polling day. So  it does appear a little odd, the alternative Prime Minister putting a stop to the jet-setting travel habits’ of MP’s.

But stranger things have happened. A Rudd return might actually have slightly more chance than Buckley’s. Kevin Rudd has ramped up the PR assault over the early part of 2013 and that has escalated spectacularly over the last 24 hours. Of course the chances are still remote, but it’s politics and a lot of intriguing things have happened over the last 5 years.

If there were to be a second stint from Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, Labor would want to make a quick transition from a Rudd return to a federal election. If a Prime Ministerial switch were to happen, calling an election would likely be an immediate move. In that event, the Coalition would want to have all MP’s ready and available to hit the campaign trail from the moment the election is called.

The move also has a not insignificant subtext. N0 overseas travel also implies a focus on promoting domestic policy concerns rather than “learning” about obscure nations that mean little to nothing for us in a diplomatic and political sense. Also, international travel is far from necessary for all MP’s. Indeed, most MP’s do not need to engage in travel.

Blocking overseas travel may be a prudent move, not just in terms of electoral readiness, but in terms of cutting down the potential for a public relations disaster which might annoy the public. The general public is at the very least suspicious, even downright against politicians embarking on ridiculously blatant junkets and so-called “study tours” overseas.

Okay, banning travel for a short period of time is probably not a massive vote winner, but it is a sensible move that might translate into some votes on election day.

A limited group of Liberal and National Party MP’s should however be exempt from any travel ban. Those in mind are the Opposition Leader himself, his deputy Julie Bishop who also happens to be Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, any other MP with a shadow portfolio which has an overseas focus, and parliamentarians on committees which require travel that would be in the national interest.

Restrictions on these representatives should still exist, but some reasonable leeway given.

In fact, while they are at it, the Coalition should plan to introduce tougher restrictions on MP travel. But of course they will not. The travel bug is a virulent thing. Politicians are struck down by it constantly. In many cases they could avoid the illness by not exposing themselves to so many perks. But why would they want to change that? The consequence is that they will continue to be infected.

We now see the underlying intent to focus on domestic issues. The next step is to put the policy meat on the bone. This should be a gradual thing as we move toward September.

That will be easier communicate with politicians’ feet firmly planted on Australian soil.

Warming to the Slipper Speakership, Well Aspects of it…

Last year as I was out buying groceries I learnt of an amazing event unfolding in Canberra which seemed to take even the most seasoned political commentators by surprise. This was the resignation of much loved Speaker Harry Jenkins and the subsequent installation of Peter Slipper as Speaker. This event left the Coalition by surprise and many as it did many of their supporters and the general public. It also caused widespread anger from those in the same quarters. Anger at the decision and defection aside, no matter what party it is aimed at, the debate has now moved on to the actions of the new Speaker at the end of the first parliamentary sitting week of 2012.

I must say that I held very low hopes for a fair and balanced Question Time after the events of the last parliamentary sitting day in 2011. Notwithstanding the fact that the events would have caused the loud anger that ensued, it appeared that Coalition MPs would become the subject of a brutal political vendetta.

This seems to have changed this year and my expectations of the Slipper Speakership have subsequently become favourable to the Speakership. I say this as there have only been two ejections of Coalition MPs under the much loved Standing Order 94a during the 3 days of Question Time this week.

The new Speaker has also embarked upon instituting some parliamentary reforms of Question Time which I view with a reasonable level of favourability.

To further shorten the length of both questions and answers, further than those under the agreement beginning the “new paradigm” is a very positive development. This has seen the length of time allowed for answering a question in Question Time down to 30 seconds, 15 seconds shorter than under the previous agreement reached between the Government, Opposition and the rural Independents. Further, answers have been reduced by one whole minute, down to 3 minutes.

Now, those who know me and what I stand for in relation to this area will know that I do not find this ideal, it is true, I think it could be reduced even further to cut down some of the rubbish which can all too often invade questions and answers. However, it must be said this is a positive development and not at all one I expected.

A further change under Peter Slipper as Speaker is the removal of a warning before the booting of an MP being too loud or un-parliamentary. This is neither here nor there. There are some circumstances where I believe more leeway should be granted, such as if a member is plainly being loud on one or a small number of occasions. There are plenty of times under any Speaker where some being loud are caught and others not so it is a bit unfair to them. On the other hand for more serious infractions such as language deemed inappropriate or for defying the Speaker then an automatic ejection is an entirely sensible outcome.

On renaming of the Main Committee, to the Federation Chamber, I see it as just a name change to part of our parliamentary democracy. It is if anything an homage to federation we are and in that way somewhat of a tribute to the founding fathers of our nation Australia.

There is no doubt the new Speaker is growing on me, in the performance of his new role anyway…

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