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.
Finally that one night of the year where the government of the day outlines the broad priorities (and not so much priorities) to be focused on in the coming fiscal year has come and gone. It has been an extraordinary period leading up to and including the budget with leaks and announcements far outstripping those of previous years, probably down to the fact that the government, so badly suffering in the polls needs as much clear air and momentum as they can get, if only to simply keep treading water.
So what is the state of play with some of the projections on the state of the budget for 2012-13 and beyond?
Well, the Gillard Government, through Treasurer Wayne Swan announced this that after year after year of deficits the fiscal year ahead would see a surplus achieved of $1.5 billion according to their word anyway. Not only that, but according to projections, the next 3 budgets after that would also be in surplus, with the leftover funds growing year by year over that period.
The budget papers announced that over $33 billion would be cut from the budget to make way for the very slim $1.5 billion dollar surplus with defence spending a massive loser, being cut by approximately $5.5 billion
For all the fuss over the cuts and deferrals of spending announced in the fiscal statement, there was also a number of new announcements outlined in the papers, not least of which includes a $3.2 billion package for aged care and $1 billion over four years for the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the latter a much talked about but until now lacking in detail initiative.
But alas the exercise tonight for the Gillard Government was more about political ends and achieving a budget surplus in an attempt to regain at least some political favour. Journalists tonight by and large certainly seemed more than willing to assist the Labor Party in their quest to be widely celebrated for the budget, with many consistently referring to the budget, which won’t see its final results until mid next year at the earliest, constantly referring to the budget actually being back in surplus when that is so far from certain.
Indeed, with a wafer thin surplus of only $1.5 billion and with still uncertain global conditions and the possibility of future domestic shocks, not to mention new and necessary spending requirements, the idea that the budget would even be in surplus when the time comes is at best incredibly iffy.
The budget has been and will be viewed as a win for many low and middle income earners, with the odd exception mixed in and a loss and letdown for business who had hoped for and expected much more from the government given the rhetoric.
The big sell begins now. The Government have certainly tried to buy back some votes, but it seems incredibly unlikely that the budget will be a game-changer when the players are not even listening anymore and have stopped participating in some cases.
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.