So, South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi overnight said something incredibly dumb and offensive, the second time in just a couple of days in fact. He’s been hauled into the office of the Leader of the Opposition and offered, or was perhaps in reality nudged, to offer his resignation as Parliamentary Secretary to the Opposition Leader himself and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families. That would be a huge relief to a great majority of the party who might share some of the same general beliefs on the matter of marriage equality, being against it, but not for the frankly both hilariously stupid, but at the same time downright offensive reasons offered up in the Senate last night.
Senator Bernardi in speaking on marriage equality, which has just been through the lower house where it was soundly defeated, last night said that allowing marriage equality would lead to polyamory and bestiality. This echoes some of the more insane and hurtful thought-bubbles that people from the Australian Christian Lobby and the like offer up as pseudo reasons for masking, though not successfully, their downright bigotry and hatred of same-sex couples.
If Senator Bernardi had not been sacked for this latest indiscretion, the outcry would have been massive. These were not only highly discriminatory comments, but as many have pointed out before and indeed after this entry into the debate by Senator Bernardi, they were also based on fairy tale assertions, they are urban myths. No government is going to ever, no matter how progressive, legalise bestiality and even the lesser of the two evils, polyamory. Those changes to marriage simply will not be tolerated by anyone in the Australian community, let alone those that represent or will ever represent us in the parliament.
But this whole matter raises another interesting question, a question that could have been answered with the sacking of Bernardi prior to these remarks, though he certainly would have made them as a lowly backbench MP too. The question that is raised is of vocally condemning what is largely bipartisan policy, though the extent of the agreement from time-to-time faces small tests and the policy does face questions, however brief.
Multiculturalism, since its official adoption as government policy in the 1970s has been largely bipartisan policy though the strength and depth of that commitment has come into question briefly, particularly in response to violent events like the Cronulla riots and the scenes in Sydney at the weekend as well as in the ongoing asylum seeker debate. But largely and broadly, that commitment to continuing a policy of a multiculturalism in a broad sense has never really disintegrated.
Early in the week, along came Cory Bernardi with ill-thought out comments, lacking any critical thought as he often does, about multiculturalism. He used the events in Sydney at the weekend, the truly horrific and disturbing actions as proof that there is a problem with the official government policy. This is plainly not the case and as has been pointed out by a number of commentators, it is a problem with society and human nature. His was, as argued yesterday, a crass generalisation, painting a violent few as representative of the whole of Islam and the Muslim community in Australia.
So could Senator Bernardi have been sacked over his insensitive comments in relation to government policy, a policy that mostly enjoys some level of support from the Coalition? The answer is yes. Generally, you could sack someone that didn’t agree with party policy, even if commitment to that policy within the party is a little iffy. It is especially the case that he could have been sacked or forced to resign on this matter alone for making those views known publicly in parliamentary proceedings, official government business. This is especially the case as Senator Bernardi was effectively a junior minister in a shadow portfolio.
Certainly, as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and responsible therefore for sensible commentary in the area of familial relationships, his decision to stand aside was the right one. This is true whether he was quietly pushed to save what little face he had left or made the decision for himself.
Again in politics, the question is asked- ‘did it really need to come to this first?’. The answer is at worst, not really and at best, definitely not. But then parliamentary processes and traditions are well and truly blurred now.
Question Time for Monday began almost entirely as predicted, with the protests by some members of the Islamic community in Sydney being the first thing mentioned in Question Time after procedural matters. Both the Acting Prime Minister, Wayne Swan and the Acting Opposition Leader, Julie Bishop rose, on indulgence to condemn, in no uncertain terms, the actions of a violent minority of demonstrators who caused mayhem in Sydney on the weekend. But the actions on the weekend did not result in any questions as predicted prior to the commencement of parliament. There were simply the statements by the two leaders and then Questions Without Notice began for the day.
Question Time on Monday, as far as the Coalition was concerned, was pretty evenly split between two issues. There was the return of the usual prominence of the anti-carbon tax campaign, which has taken somewhat of a backseat and then there was a number of questions in relation to the visa of a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group, who spoke at a conference here.
The Gillard Government through the Dorothy Dix pursued, as has become their strategy for some time now, a much broader range of policy areas in an attempt to highlight positive differences in policy and perceived shortfalls of the Opposition in these policy areas. There were questions on the economy, taxation, duplication of the Pacific Highway, disability, healthcare and school education, all now regular features in questions from Labor backbenchers.
Question Time on Tuesday looks like it will play out in a similar fashion to Monday. It now seems likely that the Coalition will return to asking questions related to the carbon tax, around power bills quite likely, as it was today. Questions on the carbon price could also centre around the dropping of the floor price as well as the decision to not seek the closure of the 5 biggest coal-fired power stations and the impacts of the policy on businesses not compensated for price impacts.
Questions about the Hizb ut-Tahrir conference matter may continue tomorrow, but if this occurs it seems likely to not be as prominent as it was today.
Another issue which may compete for top billing, but was non-existent during Question Time today during Opposition questions would be matters related to spending priorities and the budget and what services would be cut, or taxes increased to pay for the significant new policy promises from the ALP.
Even more certain is the broad range of areas that the government will ask questions of itself on during Question Time. This will likely included comparative economic performance, healthcare and school education reform and could just as likely include infrastructure. taxation, the environment and families and community services questions.
Nobody was asked to leave the chamber under Standing Order 94a, but that could all change tomorrow as our parliamentarians begin getting back into the parliamentary groove.
It’s almost curtains for Question Time this week. We’ve been through Questions Without Notice for Wednesday without much of the ridiculously over-the-top behaviour we’ve almost grown to expect from our politicians. It wasn’t great though, there was still loud interjections and points of order that continued a little longer than they should have. But that’s Question Time and some level of misbehaviour will seemingly always be tolerated, no matter who occupies the Speaker’s chair.
There was a bit more variety than usual in the hour and ten minute session today, but only just.
The Coalition of course continued to ask questions of the Gillard Government on the carbon price during the Wednesday outing. They again focused around businesses in a number of Opposition MPs’ electorates. Again the attacks were largely over power prices applying to small businesses who are not compensated under the ALP’s price on carbon. At the very start of Question Time, the Shadow Treasurer rose too, in order to ask about business confidence, profit and investment under the carbon tax.
The Coalition also asked, again through Joe Hockey at the start of Question Time, just how the Labor Party propose to pay for their recent big spending commitments without raising taxes and with less revenue than during better economic times.
There was also time from the Coalition devoted to asking the government about union rorting and that topic was breached toward the end of Questions Without Notice.
The Labor Government were again varied in the number of topics they chose to highlight during Question Time. Backbenchers asked questions on the economy, infrastructure, carbon pricing, families as well as education and health.
So what’s to come during the last day of parliament for the week? Well, to be honest, much of the same from both sides of the political fence.
The Liberal and National Party Opposition have hitched themselves to the carbon price wagon and it would be laughable to suggest that the parliamentary attacks over this policy are not set to continue. The only question here will be which businesses take the focus on Thursday? We do know that it will be centred around small businesses who are not compensated for carbon price cost flow-ons.
We know first it was fruit and vegetable producers and related businesses, followed by meat producers and associated businesses and then on Wednesday, a variety of small businesses. So the indication is that it’s probably the latter, though you get the impression that the Olympic Dam project, now not going ahead will be co-opted into the debate.
It is quite possible, indeed almost certain, that the Shadow Treasurer will stride to the despatch box, early in Question Time to ask the Treasurer or the Prime Minister just how they plan on funding their spending commitments of late.
As was shown on Wednesday, the unions might just find themselves back in Question Time, courtesy of perhaps one, maybe two questions from the Opposition benches.
The ALP Government will again highlight a number of areas of government action. They’ll still talk about the perceptions and realities of the price on carbon, that’s a given. But they’re also just as likely to visit education, workplace relations, infrastructure, health and families and health.
It will be interesting to see if the National Disability Insurance Scheme is again conspicuously absent or only mentioned in passing.
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.
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.
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.