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A Necessary Apology Delivered Too Soon

Today the Defence Minister Stephen Smith stepped up to the Despatch Box to apologise for decades of cases of reported abuse, mostly of a sexual nature, within the Australian Defence Force. The issue is as much about the fact that the abuse was institutionalised as it was about the response which has been found to have often been poor, even non-existent.

This morning too, in the wake of Stephen Smiths apology on behalf of the Department of Defence, the Chief of the Defence Force, David Hurley, made a similar televised apology.

In terms of significant political issues which have arisen, discussed or been implemented during this, the 43rd parliament, the response was sensibly bipartisan.

There was no questioning of the validity, the reasons and consequences of making the apology as their had been with the indigenous apology. The Opposition Defence spokesperson in the House of Representatives just rose and responded with an equally compassionate and heartfelt statement of regret for events that had transpired. That was followed by a pledge to stamp out institutionalised abuse and statement that all that can be done to cut down abuse will be done.

The apology itself was decades in the making. The delivery of the apology however, in the scheme of things, was swift. In fact the apology was made too fast. On the same morning the apology was announced, Mr Smith walked into the parliament to say sorry to those in the ADF that have been the victim of abuse over recent decades.

So often, issues around the timing of events and policies have plagued the Gillard Government. Again today, timing failed the Labor Party on this issue.

There is no debating  that an apology should not have been made. It is the least the government could do after a long period of institutionalised abuse that was either ignored or wrongfully accepted as part of the organisation’s culture. But that apology should certainly have not been made today, even though reports surfaced late last week that such a statement to parliament was firmly on the political agenda.

Victims and their families should have had days or weeks’ notice that an apology was being made, not just hours and an apology even later today should never have been contemplated. Those who have suffered should have been afforded the time to organise travelling to Canberra for the apology, just as those who have been apologised to in the past for other wrongs were.

If those who had endured abuse did not want to attend, they should have at least been given advanced notice that the apology was to be given, so that they could make arrangements to watch Stephen Smith’s speech at home or elsewhere or listen to it on the radio or internet.

Instead, numerous victims will arrive home today to find that their suffering was acknowledged without many of them knowing or having little time for necessary arrangements to be made in order to view Stephen Smith’s apology. Countless current and former members of the defence force will hear the words of Stephen Smith second-hand through sound bites or perhaps in full, though still in replay, on the news and on websites.

It is surprising too that the speech by Mr Smith came before all the inquiries into abuse in the Australian Defence Force had finished. We have already had three separate investigations into different yet related matters.

Today, the Minister for Defence announced that there would be an independent taskforce to investigate the 750 “plausible” claims of abuse which were made to the DLA Piper review. The review by the global law-firm was one of the three investigations set up in response to the Skype sex abuse scandal. The minister announced that the taskforce would investigate individual claims, including attempting to identify alleged perpetrators.

Compensation of up to $50,000 for each valid claim has been offered if claimants waive the right to pursue their claims through all other legal and judicial processes. If alleged victims decide not to seek compensation, the special group led by former WA Supreme Court judge Len R0berts-Smith would decide whether or not to refer individual claims to the authorities.

So the battle is not over for victims. The process continues, but is nearing an end for some. The emotional wounds however will remain forever more.

You cannot help think that an apology, at the very least should have been delayed for weeks, maybe months.

The one certainty is that apology was needed. It was however delivered too soon.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The first week back in the federal parliament has been and gone. The week started off with a bang with the expert panel on asylum seekers headed by former Australian Defence Force declaring that a variation of the Coalition’s former Pacific Solution, which is also the Coalition’s current policy, being deemed the best way forward in dealing with boat arrivals. This set the scene for the early part of last week  being dominated by attacks on the government over the issue and was all about the Opposition scoring some political points on this difficult and complex issue.

After a couple of days of political posturing and games over asylum seekers, the debated returned to the main-game in politics since the August 2012 election, debate over the carbon tax and there it stayed.

It’s likely, with the asylum seeker issue now muted politically, that debate will stay with and over the carbon price introduced by the Gillard Government which commenced on July the 1st.

The Opposition will continue to try and paint price rises, in particular power prices, as in large part down to the price on carbon which has been in operation for a matter of weeks. The Tony Abbott led Coalition will also likely during the week direct their questioning to industry specific areas and to the Treasury modelling done in the lead-up to the beginning of the policy. It is also entirely within the realms of possibility, in fact alm0st certain, that as has been done time after time, the Opposition will ask the Prime Minister to apologise for breaking her pre-2010 election promise.

It is possible that the asylum seeker debate will result in at least some questions during Question Time this week with the Coalition indicating that they would have liked the government to go further and reinstate Temporary Protection Visas (TPV’s) and begin towing boats back to Indonesia.

The government will, after having spent today talking about the Gonski Review and school funding, likely spend the bulk of the hour and ten minutes of Question Time with backbenchers asking questions of the Prime Minister and Education Minister on education reform.

The ALP Government, through their usage of the Dorothy Dixer will probably, in some small part, continue to sell the message of carbon tax compensation that they have been trying to prosecute. This message appears to be cutting through to the public with a big swing in the perception of the carbon price in the community.

Another policy area that the Labor Party may choose to highlight is the National Disability Insurance Scheme progress, particularly in light of recent machinations involving New South Wales and Victoria.

The only uncertainty of the week is just how well behaved our MP’s and Senators will be in parliament this week. Will they be loud and bickering with each other more than usual? Or will they act with a little more restraint than in recent times? I

f last week is any indication then there will be some improvement in the level of childishness that has infected our parliament. The issues that will be at play this week are not exactly new so our parliamentarians will just be going through the motions, but as always there will be at least one or two who find themselves on the wrong end of Standing Order 94a.

Oh, and then there’s also that ever-present possibility of a motion to suspend standing orders that we’ve sadly become accustomed to as a regular function of Question Time during this 43rd parliament.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Question Time in the lower house disappeared today, replaced by parliamentary debate on the bill introduced by Independent MP for Lyne and Gillard Government backer Rob Oakeshott to try to bring about the ‘Malaysian Solution’ and any other offshore processing option that the ALP would wish to introduce. The bill sparked over half a day of debate in the House of Representatives and in the end was passed, despite an amendment put by the Coalition, albeit with a sunset clause included after Independent MP for Denison, Andrew Wilkie moved his own alteration to the bill. However, the bill faces certain defeat in the Senate tomorrow.

Barring unforeseen circumstances Question Time will return to the political scene tomorrow with a vengeance with both sides trying to get as much media attention as they can before the long winter recess commences and the carbon price begins on Sunday.

Question Time is quite likely to start where it left off with the majority of focus being on the carbon tax, at least as far as the Opposition goes and almost certainly the same being the case for the Labor Party.

The Coalition will almost certainly continue coming at the issue from the direction they have taken since the idea was floated back in 2010 and that is to scour for any reports suggesting that price rises, particularly in electricity, but also other costs for individuals and businesses may rise above and beyond the modelling produced by the Treasury department when the carbon price legislation was drafted.

The Liberal and National Party Coalition could also ask questions as they have for a long time now in the parliament about the size of the carbon tax as compared with other pollution prices in force in different countries and regions across the world.

With the Oakeshott bill on asylum seeker processing having passed the House of Representatives we could expect a question or a number of questions from the Opposition over the bill, though that could be unlikely given that it will certainly not be passing the Senate tomorrow . The government for its part might try to raise it through government questions through the prism of its perceived importance to stop people smuggling and as a deterrent to asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boats.

The ALP will, wanting to be on the defensive and the attack simultaneously over the carbon tax, also likely focus on the carbon price again in parliament during the session. As has been their practice they will continue to use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt to highlight the compensation and tax cuts that will flow to low and middle income earners from the money raised by the price on pollution.

The Labor Government could also continue to raise in Question Time the payments and benefits from the budget, some of which have started and others which will come in the financial year ahead.

Whatever happens tomorrow it’s the last session of Question Time for six weeks so the political jousting is sure to be fierce, full on and full of invective and could result in a wider use of Standing Order 94a than we’ve seen recently. Lucky for some we’ve got more than a month break from the perils of parliamentary debate, but don’t expect much of a let-up because, well, the carbon price.

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

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

We are screaming, both literally and figuratively toward the end of another week of federal politics, or at least our politicians are. Tuesday was rather noisy and vitriolic after somewhat of a reprieve on Monday when Question Time lacked at least some of the bluster we’ve become accustomed to during this 43rd parliament.

In a sure sign that the derp still exists in Australian politics a Coalition MP was forced on Tuesday to withdraw the term “bullet-head”, made in relation to a Government Minister toward the end of Question Time, a very silly and immature interjection indeed.

On top of the level of immaturity creeping back up to a higher level of visibility, the Tuesday session of Question Time again went according to plan except for the government returning some of the political discourse to talking about the education payments announced by the Gillard Government in the May 8 budget.

The Gillard Government are still trying to cut through in relation to the carbon price/carbon tax, call it what you will. In particular the Labor Party are trying to assuage fears that the carbon tax will cost many families more than they have received and/or will get in compensation from the government. This will again be the dominant focus of questions from their own side of politics during Questions Without Notice today.

A second major focus, as it was yesterday will be the schoolkids bonus education payment which was one of the major elements of the budget delivered by Treasurer Wayne Swan just over a month ago. Other packages to families and low and middle income earners from the budget could also make an appearance in Dorothy Dixers.

A further feature, albeit smaller will be the marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke last Friday, with the government wanting to parade the announcement both domestically and internationally even though it hasn’t exactly been received well at home.

The Coalition will again mirror the government on at least one count, quite likely two, with questions on both the nearing carbon price and quite likely one or two, perhaps more on the announcement of new marine reserves by Tony Burke.

Tuesday saw a marked increase in volume from the Monday session of Question Time, with Standing Order 94a used on more than one occasion, including to remove the Member for Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop from the House after she stood to withdraw and said “I withdraw the term bullet head”, one of the more unfortunate interjections of recent times. This kind of behaviour looks set to continue right up until the winter recess, even if it comes in different levels of severity and will probably result in a number of hour-long sin bins over the next 5 sitting days.

Now a sufficient picture of how Question Time will play out exists in your mind you can avail yourself to other opportunities rather than sit through the hour and a bit of mere theatre, though I suspect most of you reading this may have already worked out better plans. If not and you don’t already know, it all kicks off from 2pm.

 

Question Time Ahead of Time

So it’s Tuesday in the first of two weeks in the federal parliament in Canberra before we can all thank our lucky stars that the news won’t be filled with noisy parliamentary soundbites and dodgy antics for a good month and a bit. Monday didn’t exactly go as predicted though the content was exactly what just about anyone who knows even a skerrick about the current parliamentary discourse even if the exact proportions of each debate ingredient turned out to be slightly different to what seemed likely. Nonetheless, the content of the debate itself was just as predictable as you could expect and today will be no different.

The Coalition have chosen, since of course, the breaking of the August 2010 election promise to focus their attacks on the carbon price which is fast hurtling toward us at warp speed. They’ve chosen to focus on the broken promise, the compensation and the costs, direct or knock-on effects and the perceived impact on the economy all at once and that will certainly be continuing today and right over the next two weeks of parliamentary debate which ends just two days before the carbon tax commences on July the 1st.

The government does not particularly surprise either these days with the policies they try to sell during Question Time through the use of the Dorothy Dixer largely mirroring or at least being similar to the ones that the Coalition tries to rail against every parliamentary sitting day from 2pm until 3:1opm even if the exact level of focus on each does come as a bit of surprise.

Today will be no different. The Gillard Government, with Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan fronting the parliamentary attack will continue to use Question Time to get soundbites into the media selling the household assistance package that is pegged to the carbon tax even though their advertisements fail to make that link.

They’ve been trying at the very least to tread water over the very idea of a carbon price since the promise was broken after the 2010 election and need to up the sell for the policy which is within weeks of operation. They also need to remind some voters that they’ve just received compensation payments for the imposte of the carbon tax beginning in July. They need to do that much just to maintain the status quo.

Although the use of Question Time by the ALP Government to market their plans for vastly more marine reserves around our coastline was not a surprise yesterday, it was quite a surprise the number of times it was raised, even if it was just a little more than expected. That is certain to continue with the government needing to persuade all parties that everything will be okay, even though many just aren’t listening anymore.

The Labor Party may also use the topic of marine reserves to try and score political points after the Opposition denied Tony Burke a pair to travel to Rio de Janeiro for the full Earth Summit to present the policy of his party to the world though the public seem increasingly weary of politicians doing this so this doesn’t bode too well for a party struggling for willing listeners.

So that’s how it’s going to play out, you don’t even have to watch Question Time now if you don’t  wish to subject yourself to it. The only question left now is who will find themselves in the “naughty corner”, likely the cafeteria or bar after finding themselves on the wrong side of the Speaker and the 94a. There could be a few.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The life of this tense, predictable and too unpredictable 43rd parliament enters another week as it screams even closer to the long winter recess with this week and then another two week sitting period left in June before over a months break. But for now there is still another 3 weeks of sitting before the parliamentarians and viewers of it get some respite from the rowdiness and almost formulaic approach to Question Time that has emerged over a period of time. Our parliamentarians might be having a winter break from parliament, but they won’t be going into political hibernation, the thirst for power and political momentum precludes that.

As always there is a small combination of areas which the Coalition will use in their pursuit of the Gillard Government during Question Time. It is quite likely to be full-on attack strategy today in the hour and a bit of Question Time, though shock and awe it will not be because the subjects of focus have been discussed and debated for some time in the broader political debate.

As has been said previously, the carbon price is nearing commencement, due to come into effect on the 1st of July, pretty much just a month away and will likely be the major focus during Question Time, perhaps, though this is the slightly unpredictable factor, being the matter of the focus of most Opposition questions.

Events surrounding Craig Thomson, the MP for Dobell are also likely to bear some focus during Question Time from the Coalition despite the fact that the subject and avenues of action around it have been exhausted and this goes to the very nature of this minority government with power being the main game in the halls of Canberra.

Leadership and confidence is also quite likely to enter the Question Time debate with whispers flaring up over the weekend, thanks to a policy announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday which has brought divisions in the caucus out into the sunshine again.

There were also reports over the weekend in relationship to the leadership issue that Joel Fitzgibbon, the Chief Government Whip, a Gillard supporter had openly been counting numbers for a Rudd return to the Prime Ministership, a post he lost so unceremoniously.

Further to these areas of debate, a question or two, perhaps more to mix things up and keep them slightly different may well be on the believability of the predicted budget surplus and the spending contained within the budget.

A question or questions from the Abbott-led Opposition in relation the operation of the Fair Work Act, as well as Fair Work Australia, not in relation to the Craig Thomson/HSU matter will also be a distinct possibility.

The ALP Government, for its part will almost certainly continue its effectively sole focus since the budget and that is, selling the budget. The government will use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt selling aspects of the budget that will provide low and middle income earners with extra money for educating their kids and for their families.

The Government may choose to talk about the Clean Energy Future (read, carbon tax, carbon price) but this is likely to have much less of a focus given the controversial nature of the policy and is likely to focus on the compensation package provided in an attempt to blunt the inevitable costs of such a policy.

Events will be borne out from 2pm today and they are not for the faint-hearted.  Indeed only the masochistic political wonks around this fair rock of ours should delve into the frustrating wonder that is Question Time. But seriously, politics is really cool.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Another parliamentary week is upon us after a one week break post budget week and it promises to provide fireworks from the very start with a statement from Craig Thomson, the embattled MP for the electorate of Dobell who stands accused in a report by Fair Work Australia of a list of alleged civil law breaches. Question Time as always will be a regular and theatrical feature which this week promises to be more of a saga than a short film, but still with plenty of comedy interspersed with the drama and political warring.

The Coalition will undoubtedly focus its week in Question Time on Craig Thomson, starting just a short time after his speech to the House of Representatives today which is set to provide his explanation for events that have landed him in hot water.

The Opposition will almost certainly seek a motion to suspend standing orders in relation to this matter today as they have done so previously and on such a day would be unlikely not to engage in the same political tactic.

For today at least, it seems that most, if not all questions from the Coalition to the Gillard Government will be about Craig Thomson and it seems very unlikely that the Opposition will seek to ask many, if any questions on the budget which was two weeks ago tomorrow.

If there are to be any questions on matters other than Craig Thomson and the HSU then it is likely it will be the carbon price through the prism of advertisements which have just started showing which promote the Household Assistance Package, read compensation for the carbon tax, which mention nothing about what the payment is for.

The ALP Government on the other hand are likely to focus on just that, the budget. 

In particular, the government will focus on the education and other payments announced or amended in the fiscal statement by Treasurer Wayne Swan and quite possibly the NDIS which has been the focus of some uncertainty in the last two weeks.

Returning to surplus will also be a broader focus in Question Time from Dorothy Dixer’s particularly with the Treasurer stepping up to the despatch box as Acting Prime Minister while Julia Gillard is overseas talking all things Afghanistan.

It too is entirely likely that the carbon price will get a look-in from the government as payments of compensation start to flow ahead of the starting date of the scheme.

Deputy Speaker Anna Burke is back in the chair as acting Speaker for the second week and the Coalition will want to be on their best behaviour or they will find themselves in the tense environment today with depleted numbers when they will be wanting to make moves which require all the votes they can muster and then some.

The statement from Craig Thomson commences at about midday and shortly after that at 2pm we will have Question Time which promises to be even more amped up than we have experienced in recent times and that says a lot.

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