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Harry Jenkins Leaving the House and Ending an Era

Henry Alfred “Harry” Jenkins entered the federal parliament in Canberra representing the electoral division of Scullin from February 1986. He replaced his father, Dr Harry Jenkins who served in the electorate from 1969 until his son replaced him in office. Today Mr Jenkins announced that his now 26 years in the parliament would be coming to an end at the 2013 federal election, one the ALP is almost certain to lose.

Harry Jenkins’ father after 14 years in the parliament rose to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives under the former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, serving in the role for 3 years from 1983 until his retirement in 1986 when his son took up the role of MP for Scullin.

It (the Speaker’s chair) appeared a place that Harry Jnr was destined for. Seven years after becoming the member for Scullin, Harry Jenkins, in 1993 under Prime Minister Paul Keating was Deputy Speaker for 3 years until the 1996 election when John Howard won government from the longest serving Labor administration of Hawke and Keating.

After the election of the Howard Government, Jenkins enjoyed the support of the lower house to become the 2nd Deputy Speaker during John Howard’s government, a role he stayed in until the end of the Howard Government in late 2007.

When Kevin Rudd was swept to power in a crushing defeat for the Howard Government, in office for over a decade, Harry Jenkins was elected by the house as Speaker, the role his father had enjoyed. He stayed in this role under both Prime Minister Rudd and his successor, PM Julia Gillard. The MP for Scullin served in the role until he left under interesting circumstances, suddenly one morning late in 2011 informing the parliament he would resign from his role to become a regular everyday MP.

It is widely acknowledged by both sides of parliament, Labor and Liberal alike that Harry Jenkins was a good and fair practitioner in the role of Speaker, helped along in the later years by changes to the Standing Orders, the rules that dictate how House of Representatives process is undertaken and policed.

Manager of Opposition Business and Liberal MP for Sturt, who enjoyed a run-in or two with the long-serving Speaker Jenkins said today that Mr Jenkins’ retirement would be “our loss, but his family’s gain”.

In acknowledging the bipartisan respect for the role Mr Jenkins played as Speaker, Mr Pyne also said “I always found Mr Jenkins a fair Speaker. It is a tough job and he did his best to perform with dignity.”

Mr Jenkins was also a Speaker known to take little nonsense from misbehaving MPs, with a healthy appetite for the usage of Standing Order 94a which allows for naughty MPs constantly interjecting or calling other MP’s names among other things to be sent from the chamber for one hour in what should become known as the “coffee order”.

Life largely away from politics beckons, about a year from now should all go to plan, for an MP who is the longest serving Labor MP in the House and the second longest serving MP currently in the parliament, behind Phillip Ruddock.

May his future be bright and his future dealings be with slightly less boisterous individuals than the MP’s he presided over.

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time: Budget Day Special

It’s that special day that comes around but once a year. It’s that day when the Treasurer strides to the despatch to spend a good amount of time outlining the budget priorities for the fiscal year ahead, what will be key priorities and what will be the focus of cuts. Undoubtedly too, in times like these deferrals also form a part of the budget.

Question Time and the House of Representative sitting itself today will be the first one out of the chair for Peter Slipper since taking the role while investigations continue into claims of misuse of Cabcharge and sexual harassment are investigated. This puts ALP MP for Chisholm and Deputy Speaker Anna Burke in the chair for Question Time and the all important budget address and could see fiery exchanges if the last time Ms Burke was in the chair for a brief period in Question Time is anything to go by.

The Coalition will quite likely not be focusing entirely on the budget in this sitting of Question Time, commencing just five and a half hours before the budget is delivered from the House of Representatives at 7:30pm. Aside from the budget and the new spending, cuts and budget tricks, the Coalition will still likely ask questions on the carbon tax, maybe the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and perhaps even Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper investigations, the latter of which reached a head yesterday with a Fair Work Australia report yesterday naming him hundreds of times in relation to alleged wrongdoing of a civil nature.

The Gillard Government will likely focus all of their efforts in Question Time through the Dorothy Dixer on key aspects of the budget that they believe will be items which have electoral benefits for them. To this end, questions from their own side will likely focus on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the aged care reforms  and the cash handouts for education.The government will also likely focus on the fact that they are trying to return the budget to surplus for financial year 2012-13.

Question Time as always begins from 2pm and can be caught on your television, radio or computer.

The Weekend Labor Will Wish They Never Had

Normally the weekends are a very quiet affair in terms of politics, whether it be local, state or federal developments. Saturday and Sunday are usually the domain of our newspapers in the realm of politics, debating and discussing the major events of the week, as well as the occasional under-reported event that doesn’t make the headlines on any given day. This weekend, as with a few over the term of the 43rd parliament at the federal level has been the exception to the rule. Couple that with council elections across Queensland and a by-election in the seat of a former Premier and you have all the trimmings for digestion of a full political meal in the 48 hours that are usually relatively free of politics and the political process.

On Saturday night the LNP, fresh from an astonishing win at the March 24 state election, where they won 78 seats of the 89 seat parliament  and Labor just 7, the LNP Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and his team fought a campaign to remain in the mayoralty and to keep a majority of councillors in the City Hall chamber.

Last night Graham Quirk and his LNP Council colleagues did just that, winning both the race for mayor in Brisbane and the contest to maintain a majority of wards won by former Lord Mayor, now Premier Campbell Newman.

The LNP Lord Mayor of Brisbane City in two-party terms has achieved nearly 70% of the votes on offer against just over 30% for ALP mayoral hopeful Ray Smith. This result means approximately a 2.5% swing to the LNP Mayor on top of the previously strong vote for the very popular former Lord Mayor Newman.

In terms of winning wards, the LNP last night won an additional three seats in the council chambers with their victory last night to now control at least 18 of the 26 Brisbane City Council areas, a strong majority.

Elsewhere, the South Brisbane by-election, for the seat occupied by former Premier Anna Bligh was also run last night, but as yet has not been won, or at least not yet conceded. The contest sees Labor’s Jackie Trad ahead at present with just over 52% of the two-party-preferred vote compared with Clem Grehan of the LNP on just under 48% of the vote. The Labor leader in the parliament last night claimed victory for the ALP, but as yet Mr Grehan of the LNP has not conceded defeat.

It appears that the ALP will reclaim the seat, a normally very safe Labor seat, with a margin prior to the March state election of 15%. But it should not provide for much celebration in Labor circles. The LNP have come very close, albeit in a by-election which are notorious for going the other way, to claiming a sensational victory.

But if that was an ordinary night for Labor electorally in Queensland, Sunday for the federal ALP has been extraordinary in the saga that is the Craig Thomson and in the realm of the recently emerged allegations against the Speaker, Peter Slipper.

Today, weary Australians awoke to the news that there would be a press conference where Craig Thomson, the member for Dobell subject to a Fair Work Australia investigation which has now concluded would announce that he would ask the ALP to temporarily suspend his membership of the party and he would move to the crossbench as an Independent MP.

This move came after over 3 years of investigation in the matter and just as much time spent by the Prime Minister and the ALP putting their support behind the MP from NSW.

But just how much will the temporary move, meant to clear some air for the Prime Minister and her party actually mean? The answer frankly is none. The  MP, for as long as he can remain in the parliament will undoubtedly continue to fully support the Gillard Government in every policy and political move it makes and importantly also for the Labor Party, in matters of supply and no confidence motions.

As if that wasn’t enough drama to base an epic political drama on, or comedy as you could just as easily argue, the Prime Minister also indicated that now, after days of saying the opposite, the Speaker, facing criminal and civil allegations should remain out of the chair until all the allegations have been resolved.

This move will see Anna Burke, the Deputy Speaker of the parliament and ALP member sitting in the Speakers seat when parliament resumes on May 8th for the handing down of the budget by Treasurer Wayne Swan

These two moves were just mere political opportunism, a smokescreen, a reactionary decision in the face of what seemed more and more likely to be a permanent loss of the Speaker if the matter went unresolved until parliament resumes on budget day.

Labor federally and in Queensland will certainly be hoping it can all be up from here, but as they have proved, that is far from certain to the extent that it is extremely unlikely.

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