That wonderful institution that we know as Question Time returns today with a vengeance in both chambers of Parliament House in Canberra today for a two week sitting period before the much anticipated budget gets handed down in May. This sitting period promises much of the same that we have been exposed to for some time as far as behaviour and content goes, with both parties likely focusing on much less than a handful of topics for the Opposition to pursue and the Gillard Government to attempt to highlight in a positive manner. The Senate will be a focus this week with a very interesting addition.
Question Time this week in the Upper House will be the focus of much political attention with the newly confirmed Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate, Bob Carr entering the federal parliament for the first time as part of the federal government. For Question Time today the former NSW Premier will warm the backbench, being sworn in this afternoon.
The Tony Abbott led Opposition are set to continue their attacks on the economy through the prism of the carbon tax, nearing commencement and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which the government will aim to get through the Senate before parliament rises in anticipation of the budget to be announced in May.
The Opposition will also likely decide they need to continue to pursue the Craig Thomson saga and Fair Work Australia over recent allegations of the independent body stonewalling, even flatly refusing to cooperate with police attempting to investigate claims of wrongdoing.
The Government will certainly continue to utilise the “Dorothy Dixer”, that wonderful free kick opportunity to spend more time talking about the Opposition than their own policy on also talking about the economy. This will continue to be about the comparative strength of the economy versus that of other major developed nations rather than the individual circumstances of the Australian economy. Dixer’s from the government benches will also focus on the economy, as they have done for some time, on perceived benefits of government spending packages, particularly related to the MRRT.
Another regular feature of Question Time that cannot be ruled out, in fact, that the good money would be on, is the high likelihood of the Opposition pursuing a suspension of standing orders to debate a censure motion.
How many MPs will be booted under Standing Order 94a? Will any government minister be sat down for “irrelevance”? How much noise will there be? Will Bob Carr ask a Dixer before hitting the front bench tomorrow? All questions will be asked and answered at 2pm AEDT. Will you be watching?
New Senator for New South Wales and Foreign Minister designate has used his first trip overseas to visit our long term ally in the far reaches of Earth, New Zealand. The incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs headed there this week to meet with parliamentary colleagues while he finds his feet in the crucial role.
But is it smart for our new Foreign Minister to visit New Zealand ahead of all other nations in the region, some of whom we share a strong or growing relationship with and others with whom we have struggled in recent years, think Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the latter with their own political strife in recent times.
Nobody doubts the importance of New Zealand to our defence interests in particular with our southern partners across the Tasman being a long-time ally, particularly since the ANZUS Treaty was signed, but harking as far back as when the ANZAC legend was born on the shores of Gallipoli.
New Zealand are our strongest friends but also the most stable of nations in our immediate international region and a growing trade partner with whom we share a great history in realms other than defence relations. This is precisely why the wisdom of New Zealand being the first port of call for Bob Carr above all other neighbours in our dynamic Asia-Pacific region.
There are multiple countries in our immediate vicinity where our diplomacy is required for reasons including political stability, security and action on people smugglers and asylum seekers.
Think most recently of Papua New Guinea, a country where in recent months and years there has been some very serious political instability at the very top tier of government, with former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare at loggerheads with the parliament and his own party, aspects of the police and the military and even senior officials of the judiciary.
Thankfully there has not been a successful coup in the country over the power struggle, although a temporary “mini coup” of sorts by a small part of the security forces in one part of the country shows that the country is far from stable, even if tensions have been suppressed since that moment.
Fiji is another country requiring some serious attention from the Australian Government, even though this has been made all the more difficult by the expulsion of the acting Australian High Commissioner to Fiji.
The coup where Fijian Commodore Frank Bainimarama was just one in a serious of military overthrows of democratic government in the country over the last twenty plus years and has led to freedom of speech being completely overrun with foreign-owned media expelled, making it harder for reporting of human rights violations.
There are positive signs with consultations on a new Fijian Constitution initiated, to be completed in 2013, but it remains to be seen whether the deeds will meet the words of another Fijian dictator.
Further, the Commodore has stated that 2014 will be the year when democratic elections will return to the small multi-island nation in our region so our work in the region, through multilateral bodies and non-government organisations will be to help ensure, albeit from a distance, that this timeline will come to fruition and be met at the earliest possible opportunity, with 2014 still being too far away.
Indonesia is another nation in the Asia-Pacific that deserves our ongoing attention at an intense level with security concerns post the Bali bombings continuing to be an issue not just for Australians travelling to the country for holidays and business, but also for a regional response to people smuggling which runs rife in the country and the broader asylum seeker issue.
A large number of Australians travel to Indonesia, particularly the capital Jakarta and Bali for both business and leisure activities each year so this requires intense diplomatic efforts in mutual security support in an attempt to make sure that our two nations do all they can to stamp out terrorism activities in the south-east Asian nation.
Australian attention is also needed with our partner Indonesia, to ensure that people smuggling is combatted at the source in Indonesia in efforts to stem the flow of boats which can lead to the drowning of asylum seekers. This can be done on a bilateral basis, but also as part of the so-called Bali Process of nations in the region. This must mean that all nations in the region sign up to the UN Refugee Convention and agree to take on their share of asylum seekers.
In the broader Asian region there are other countries which need to become more open, democratic and free, such as Malaysia and Singapore, so focusing an initial trip on peace-loving New Zealand, whilst important must not neglect those nations in our region where there is much work to be done to ensure they enjoy the freedoms that both our nations have enjoyed.