The day is Thursday, the last day in a sitting week in the Parliament of Australia in Canberra and that usually means fireworks as parliamentary politics winds down for the week. Yesterday it was the unexpected topic of customs and their role in gun control which stole the show in Question Time in the House of Representatives. Today the proverbial battle lines should be much clearer with the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Victorian branch which has just concluded the sure focus of Coalition questions to the Gillard Government.
The Fair Work Australia Investigation into Victoria Number 1 branch has reached a conclusion and was reported yesterday and will see 3 former officials from the union seeking possibly pecuniary penalties as a result of their alleged actions in the Federal Court of Australia. The officials will not be subjected to criminal prosecution.
At the same time the Commonwealth Ombudsman has commenced an investigation into the actions of the General Manager of Fair Work Australia, Bernadette O’Neill over the 3 years of the investigation into the Health Services Union. The complaint seeks an imminent end to the investigations into the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, in addition to answers over the snail-like pace of the overall investigation into the union
The Coalition, likely led in the questioning by Tony Abbott and key front-bencher’s like Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop will continue to pursue the government over the issue focusing on the length of the investigation and seeking help to draw the remaining examinations to a close in the very near future.
The Opposition may follow up with a few questions following on from yesterday where it launched an attack on the Government over the importation of firearms and government cuts to customs.
The ALP Government will certainly continue to highlight the spending that is associated with its mining tax, the MRRT in particular, but also the carbon tax. The government is also likely to draw attention to the Coalition and the Greens blocking the big business tax cuts, albeit for different reasons with the Greens blocking it because big business in their mind shouldn’t receive cuts and the Coalition, because the cuts are associated with the mining tax which they say they will rescind.
There is a high likelihood that the tensions which have been exhibited all week, including yesterday when more than a handful of Coalition MPs were booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a will continue today. This would likely see a comparative number of MPs booted, again heavily expected to be from the Coalition side.
A motion to suspend Standing Orders is also a high possibility, likely in relation to the Fair Work Australia investigation into the HSU and Craig Thomson, a focus of Opposition questions for some time now.
All will be revealed and debated with nothing held back from 2pm AEDT
In an ideal world, with ideal adherence to governance and independence standards, Allan Asher should have resigned from his role immediately. The Ombudsman, at the moment the situation came to light, to save face for the Office of the Ombudsman in the eyes of the wider Australian community, should have resigned last week, before appearing at committees and making other statements of apology as has happened since.
Furthermore, as the Ombudsman is independent, the argument that the Government were shirking accountability on the issue of asylum seekers, while a grave allegation, could have been circumvented in part by a press release or series thereof, being put to the media.
However, the Ombudsman was not the only party involved, nor the only party or individual to take blame for the situation. The Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the Senator who met with and accepted and then used the list of questions provided must also share blame for her part in the situation.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young should not have accepted, in any case, the list of questions provided by the Ombudsman. This whole event smacks of Australian Greens hypocrisy given their stance over the Godwin Grech affair, which resulted in the Greens putting up a list of standards to meet and which have been flouted in this case.
Ideally, an MP or Senator involved in such a situation under Westminster accountability standards should at least stand aside from their portfolios responsibilities, shadow or not and at best, resign from parliament. However, with precedents set against such an occasion, in this day and age that level of accountability is unlikely to be reached and at times could be unworkable.
The Australian Greens, in the wake of this imbroglio, will put forward an idea of an oversight function for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. In any case, coming from a party not involved in the recent events, this would be a welcome development. However, in this case it smacks of a diversion from the involvement of Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in what has led to this quite sensible announcement.
In the end today, we have reached basically the right outcome, with the Ombudsman eventually, under considerable pressure, being somewhat nudged into resignation from his post. Furthermore, we have learnt that as far as accountability goes, no party is fully immune from errors of judgement and when confronted by the facts, will attempt to put forward a solution to distract from their original involvement in not so smart encounters.