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The Tale of Thomson and the Two Questions

The allegations surrounding Craig Thomson have never been far from the headlines. In fact the Thomson saga has been one of the most constant topics raised during the 43rd parliament. Today, the long-running investigation took a dramatic turn, as we all know, with the Member for Dobell arrested by New South Wales police on 149 charges of alleged fraud. The former Labor MP  was arrested at the request of Victorian police and was today bailed before being required to appear next week in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Of course today’s events triggered a flurry of discussion about just what the arrest and charges will mean, not just for Craig Thomson himself, but for the Labor Party, the parliament and the election. Much of this debate has played out in the past, particularly after the Fair Work Australia report was released and when the police investigations commenced. But it does seem that some of us have forgotten the state of play.

First and foremost it is extremely important to reiterate that today the NSW MP was charged, and, like every Australian, is entitled to be subject to due process. That means that the Member for Dobell is innocent until proven guilty, regardless of what our personal opinions and political predilections are.

There were two common questions being asked today as the debate ensued after Thomson’s arrest. The first was: ‘what will this mean for Labor now and in terms of the election?’ The second questions was ‘hmm, is it just a coincidence that Julia Gillard called an election yesterday and now, today Craig Thomson is facing criminal charges?’.

The answer to the first question remains exactly the same as it was when it was first raised as the investigations into the matter began. The Australian Constitution has this to say in s44 (ii):

“Any person who –

(ii.) Is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer…

shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

So that makes things pretty clear for those who have missed the point again today. A conviction needs to be recorded against Craig Thomson first before his parliamentary future is affected in any way. Further, the offence has to be punishable by imprisonment for one year or more. Well, there is no problem with the latter if the MP is convicted.

In terms of the election, Craig Thomson’s arrest is likely to mean absolutely nothing except, as you would imagine, certain electoral defeat. It is extremely unlikely that any trial involving the now Independent MP will be concluded before the 2013 election which we now know will take place on September 14th. The only way it would be possible for action to be required under the provisions of s44 is if Mr Thomson were to plead guilty and he has already indicated that will not happen.

In terms of the election and Labor’s prospects, even the charges alone will surely prove to be yet another nail in the electoral coffin for Labor. They will add to the narrative, already well constructed, of distrust.

Above all, Labor will survive until the election.

The second question is an interesting one. It posits that the Prime Minister knew of the impending arrest of Craig Thomson and therefore decided it would be best to call an election.

It is entirely possible that the Prime Minister knew that Craig Thomson was going to be arrested. The media were indeed tipped off so it is understandable to question whether or not the PM was aware of the imminent charges against Craig Thomson. Julia Gillard denies that she was made aware of the arrest before it happened.

Even if Prime Minister Gillard was aware that charges were about to be laid against Mr Thomson, and then decided to call an election as the conspiracy theory posits, one simple fact remains – there is absolutely no benefit, political or otherwise, to be gained from the PM calling an election early because of the Craig Thomson matter.

The charges are a sensational development, but frankly, almost nothing changes.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Yesterday was an abnormally quiet and subdued day by recent parliamentary standards with tempers comparatively subdued and the shoutyness of Parliament House at a more reasonable level. Probably helping the matter was the comparative lack of focus on the Craig Thomson/Health Services Union matter which, while prosecuted during Question Time, didn’t reach the proportions that we have become accustomed to in parliamentary and political debate.  The fact that there was again no suspension of Standing Orders motion for the entire hour and ten minutes or so of Question Time today probably served to help quell tempers and give the parliament at least the appearance of a modicum of modesty.

But alas my friends, tomorrow is another day and in this very minority parliament we have learnt that just about any depth will be plumbed and no stone left un-turned.  We have also learnt that this 43rd parliament has in it the innate ability to surprise, even if that is rare and surprises cannot be discounted for Question Time today.

But this is probably how it will unfold:

The Coalition have used Monday and Tuesday in Question Time to pursue the matter of the Enterprise Migration Agreement that was struck between the Gillard Government and Gina Rinehart and endorsed today, with further safeguards inserted, by the Labor caucus. They have done so because of the reported divisions and lack of consultation between the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister in the matter so there is a chance that they will continue to pursue this matter in Question Time tomorrow in the House of Representatives, possibly until the end of parliament on Thursday.

A return to an intense focus on  the carbon tax by the Opposition is a real possibility, with questions related to the matter rarely being displaced from the main forum of Question Time, especially when the commencement date nears and the compensation has commenced flowing.

It is not unreasonable and indeed completely likely that the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson will again be the subject of a question or two, perhaps three when Questions Without Notice commences tomorrow. It is likely that there will be a question or questions related to a memo that was sent three years ago by Fair Work Australia which suggested that the authorities should be called in to inquire into the Health Services Union as there were questions on the matter yesterday.

For the ALP Government the narrative will be just as predictable with it beyond all doubt that the majority of questions tomorrow and on Thursday most likely being all about selling the budget delivered on the 8th of May and also about trying to quell fears about price rises under the carbon tax with the Dorothy Dix being used to outline just what payments particular areas of the population have and will continue to receive as the policy rolls along from July the 1st.

The stage is set, the roles devised and the complexion of Question Time pretty much a certainty except for the exact number of questions focused on each issue and dependent upon there being no left field questions that pretty much nobody saw coming.

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.

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

The end of the parliamentary week is upon us and hasn’t it been an extraordinary one? The hostilities have persisted throughout the week, not letting up even in the days after the speech to parliament by the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson in relation to allegations of misuse of union funds. Indeed the week in Canberra is far from over though only a matter of hours remain in probably the biggest, most acrimonious week Australian politics has seen in a long while.

One more day of parliament for the week means another testy hour or so of Question Time ahead from 2pm this afternoon, perhaps even less if the now regular feature, the suspension of Standing Orders gets another run, which you’d have to say on the balance of probabilities is almost a sure bet.

The Coalition will almost certainly continue with their two-topic attack which has tended to be the way forward in Question Time for the Opposition for a very long time indeed. This strategy will see the Abb0tt-led Coalition almost certainly proceed full-steam ahead with questions surrounding the carbon price which with each day that passes nears its commencement date of July 1 this year.

The Coalition will also, despite moves this week to quell the matter, including allowing the referral of Craig Thomson to the Privileges Committee be likely to pose a not insubstantial number of Craig Thomson related questions to the Gillard Government. It is also incredibly likely that despite the Thomson matter being referred to the Privileges Committee that a further suspension of Standing Orders related to the matter (and it has been the subject of a few) will occur.

The ALP Government’s Question Time strategy is completely predictable too and has been regularly based around the same broad topic, albeit in different guises also over a significant period of time.

The overwhelming focus of the Gillard Government in Question Time has been the state of the economy, both in domestic and internationally comparative terms and that has been outlined and worked on over many months.

The current specific focus in relation to the economy is all about the budget and the spending associated with it that Labor says will assist low to middle income earners  and their families particularly with the cost of education through the taxes reaped from the mining boom.

The government in also prosecuting a projected return to surplus of the budget that Wayne Swan handed down just over two short weeks ago amid what almost equated to  acceptance that the government had already returned the budget to surplus when it has not in fact done so and will not in fact do so until the end of fiscal year 2012-13 on June 30 next year and we may not know for sure until even later than that.

There is also a very real possibility, with unforeseen spending requirements and further revenue write-downs among other factors that the idea of a $1.5 billion surplus a bit of a struggle.

Question Time as always begins at 2pm and promises to be a heated contest that will offer no respite until about 3:10pm when the Prime Minister will ask that “further questions be placed on the notice paper”, unless of course the suspension of Standing Orders has brought questions to an earlier close.

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s State of Origin Wednesday and although that doesn’t matter to many in Canberra you should still expect to see a few Queensland and New South Wales MPs trotting around parliament in the appropriately coloured tie or supporter pins, perhaps arriving adorned in maroon or blue scarves. But I digress. It really will be just another Wednesday in Parliament House with two days left in the parliamentary week to try and land blows and for the government to deflect a few and try and land some themselves though that is, to say the least beyond difficult at the moment. That means two days of Question Time, about 2 hours and 20 minutes to cause as much political trauma for each other as the two sides possibly can. Oh, and some badly acted theatre.

The Coalition will be set to continue with the same two-pronged strategy that they have engaged with over an extended period of time in the Australian political discourse.

The Coalition seem set to continue to focus on the carbon tax, carbon price, however you’d like to refer to it as has been the strategy pretty much since that now infamous promise was broken nearing two years ago in the wash-up of an election that delivered the first minority parliament Australia has seen for decades.

The pricing of carbon begins on July 1st and the Opposition will use any report of purported damage to individuals and to the economy of having the carbon price in place that they can find.

But amongst the debate over the carbon tax lies a debate over the future of the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson who just at the start of the week finally made his long-awaited statement to the parliament over the allegations of civil wrongdoing which have been made against him. The Opposition though, while having some small wins in the debate since the speech on Monday are running out of and also being starved of opportunities  in the matter, with the statement to go before the Privileges Committee.

The Gillard Government will also be continuing their theme from the post-budget sittings of parliament and continue to try to sell aspects of the budget which contain extra spending for families  and low and middle income earners.

More broadly in relation to the budget too, the ALP Government will undoubtedly use Question Time to try and sell the idea of returning to surplus, though this might just prove a significant challenge.

With just two days left to go in the parliamentary week and with the state of affairs as tense and troubling as they have been in this 43rd parliament, you can expect the 94a to be rolled out and whacked across the noses of offending MPs and Senators.

As always, Question Time begins from 2pm and you can catch it pretty much anywhere you are as long as you at least have a laptop and an internet connection. The countdown to Question Time begins!

Question Time Ahead of Time

It’s Tuesday in a two week parliamentary session before parliament rises again for a short break and then sits for another two week period in mid June and the parliamentary tensions have amped up after the speech by Craig Thomson to the parliament disputing the claims against him. The carbon tax commencement date is also nearing and has been a major focus of debate outside the Thomson issue. If the history of this 43rd parliament is any indication then the verbal warring will not let up and could even continue to escalate even further.

The Coalition, despite the Thomson speech to parliament yesterday looks set to continue with their focus, as it has been for  a prolonged period of time now, on the carbon tax which will commence in just over one months time on July 1st. This attack has been central to the campaign strategy for the Abbott-led Opposition and will continue to be the major facet of the political attacks from the Coalition.

The speech by Mr Thomson just 24 hours ago  will continue to take much of the Coalition focus outside of the parliament and a significant focus inside both parliamentary chambers. The scope of that focus is limited now that Craig Thomson is sitting as an Independent (though Labor voting) MP suspended from the Labor Party, thereby limiting the questions that can be asked of the government on the matter.

The Gillard Government, as they have tried to since the budget two weeks ago will focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on trying to sell elements of the budget which provide payments for low-to-middle income earners including the education payment and family tax benefit increases. The importance of returning to surplus will also almost certainly remain a part of that strategy as it has been used during Question Time.

Parliament looks set to be rowdy with all members in high tension mode and all the action of Question Time begins from 2pm. Will the 94a get a workout? Find out in just a few short hours.

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Today marks the last day of budget week from the hallowed halls (yes, a stretch at times I know) and is set to be another full-on day in Australian politics where the predictable has of late been met with just as much unpredictability. The budget is now out and the government in a flutter trying to sell it in order to gain back the key constituencies they have managed to shed like fur and the Coalition are trying to shoot holes in it. But the week hasn’t been all about the budget, the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper issues continue to hang around like that guy you don’t really like but are too afraid to say “bugger off”. Oh and then there’s also the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

In the last hour and ten minutes (or thereabouts) of Question Time for the week the Coalition will likely focus on a combination of budget items, the carbon and/or mining tax and quite possibly the allegations surrounding Peter Slipper, though that is far from certain given that the Speaker issue has in a way been mollified with Mr Slipper standing aside.

It is also much the same case with the pursuit by the Liberal Party of Craig Thomson, the temporarily Independent, but still unashamedly Labor MP who is also facing allegations of wrongdoing after being under investigation for over 3 years. The matter was rather spectacularly and completely unexpectedly brought to a head during a motion to force the Member for Dobell to make a statement to the House of Representatives, giving him the ability to use parliamentary privilege to tell his side of the story.

The motion failed, but the Member for Dobell leapt up toward the end of the motion to inform the parliament that he would, in the next sitting week make a full statement to the House on the allegations against him that were investigated by Fair Work Australia. This will probably mean that the Coalition will at least hold back the dogs on the matter, but perhaps not call them off completely.

The Gillard Government will be continuing to try to sell the budget, both for its social spending and for its purported surplus, even though the latter claim is incredibly dubious, especially given the small number of the projected surplus, $1.5 billion dollars.

As always the tantrums and name-calling are set to continue, after all it wouldn’t be Question Time without them would it? The tolerance of the Deputy Speaker seems low and Standing Order 94a may well get a good workout.

As always, it starts at 2pm AEST tomorrow and you can catch it on television, the radio or your computer, but don’t expect to win too many friends if you choose to view it somewhere public.

Question Time Ahead of Time: Post-Budget Day

The budget we all knew was coming and was practically announced before it was formally read out in parliament last night has now passed and today is the day when the Gillard Government will sell the package as a a whole and the Opposition forensically analyse the detail. Question Time will play a big part in that sell for the government and for the Coalition it must be a time to test the government on both spending priorities, cuts and those sneaky deferrals that have been made overnight.

The Coalition will almost certainly not focus all its questions on items from the budget papers, but put up a mix of previously broached subjects as well as mixing those with questions on the budget.

To that end, the Coalition will almost certainly place a focus on the Craig Thomson issue which, despite the budget, continues to be a feature of the day, thanks in large part to the Fair Work Australia report findings that Mr Thomson must answer to a  list of allegations.

The Liberal and National Party Coalition would quite possibly also ask questions on the allegations surrounding the Speaker, Peter Slipper, especially after attempts yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives to replace him in the chair with the previous Speaker, Harry Jenkins.

However, the budget will probably be the major focus of the Opposition during the session of Question Time today. Expect to see questions on the purported surplus, the spending and deferrals which cast doubt upon the forecast surplus actually achieving its real end.

The lack of business assistance will likely also be put to the government.

For the ALP Government, the focus will be on the social spending programs that have been announced as much as it will be trying to convince the public that the budget will actually finish in surplus by the end of fiscal year 2012-13, a slightly easier task than convincing the parliament.

Undoubtedly, as previous statements have done, the government will focus on talking up the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which now has a monetary figure attached to it: $1 billion over 4 years.

A further focus will also likely be other social spending areas in the budget which includes education payments which will now be directly paid into the accounts of eligible families, a new aged care allocation and an increase to some families in Family Tax Benefit A.

Today will also be the second day with Deputy Speaker Anna Burke occupying the Speaker’s chair during Question Time and looks set to be a noisy one for all involved and Standing Order 94a will probably get quite a workout.

It all begins from 2pm AEST.

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