It’s Wednesday and that means only two more days of the parliamentary sitting week lie ahead for our federal politicians in Canberra jockeying for momentum going into the May budget. Question Time is likely to be a loud, argumentative and at times farcical affair. Many eyes will be on the Senate where the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, sworn in as a Senator and Minister yesterday will face his first Question Time in the role.
The Opposition without any shadow of a doubt will continue to focus their Question Time efforts on pursuing the Labor Government over its carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which has a parliamentary report handed down today.
While the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson still proceeds at snail pace, it can certainly be expected that there will be a question or two aimed at the Gillard Government over the issue.
The fallout from the Skype sex scandal in the Australian Defence Force may also get an airing in Question Time from the Opposition as it did yesterday in relations to comments from Major General John Cantwell.
Equally predictable is the government focus of their backbencher questions to Ministers, also colloquially known as the “Dorothy Dixer” or “Dorothy Dix”. Again these questions will likely focus on the economy through the spending related to the MRRT windfall as well as other spending allocations made by Prime Minister Gillard and her government.
In the Senate, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr will draw the most focus from interested observers, though not face the most questions as both the government and the Opposition are set to pursue different lines of inquiry. The new Foreign Minister is likely to get a question from his own side, but may also get a question or two related to the Defence Minister from the Coalition in the prism of overseas operations.
There is also a distinct possibility that the Coalition will attempt to suspend Standing Orders in an attempt to challenge the Government after not answering questions though that seems less likely than in recent days because of the exhaustion of content on that front.
Yesterday Question Time in the House of Representatives was quite feisty and resulted in a handful of ejections for one hour under Standing Order 94a, one of those being a Government MP. Two Ministers were also sat down for straying out of the ballpark of relevance in their answers and that is a positive development. So be watching today at 2pm AEDT where the drama that is the play called Question Time looks set to continue with loud interjections, irrelevant answers and plenty of name-calling.
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.
Another week in Australian politics and more sensational events which have overshadowed inter-party politics and policy for another seven day period. But this week has been different. A leadership challenge is now afoot
The week began with Kevin Rudd in Mexico G20 Foreign Minister talks followed by the now famous trip to the United States of America.
Little was said by Kevin Rudd about the G20 talks and the same went for his trip to the United States, though meetings he was there for were of a high-level nature, including meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
But then came that bombshell that changed the complexion of the rest of the week. Kevin Rudd called a late night press conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC with reporters over there covering the trip scrambling out of bed, rushing to get to what was sure to be a press conference of major significance, given the time and location. Kevin Rudd was resigning his post as Foreign Minister as the position had become untenable in recent weeks with colleagues openly and privately telling him to throw out his leadership ambitions and Rudd saying he did not have the support of his ministerial colleagues.
From the speech onward you knew that was far from the end of this epic story of a party in trouble not least because of leadership tensions in existence within the party- which usually do no de-stabilise this much. Kevin Rudd was to return to Australia on Friday where he would make a definitive statement on his future, which everyone knew, was almost certainly going to be a tilt for the leadership.
The Prime Minister then came out and announced that on Monday at 10am AEDT there would be a leadership spill and that she would be contesting that ballot. Senior Ministers then began filing out one by one in support of the Prime Minister even before Kevin Rudd confirmed he would contest the leadership vote.
That confirmation from Kevin Rudd came from the second press conference he held on Friday, after his return from overseas, where he outlined his vision for the future and canvassed some of the things he regretted from his past time in the Prime Ministership.
Prior to the official announcement by Kevin Rudd of his part in the ballot, ministers like Kim Carr and Robert McClelland gave their support to the former leader in the event he ran.
On another front, Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister under Prime Minister Julia and Assistant Treasurer under Prime Minister Rudd indicated that he would encourage the former Prime Minister to run, all but indicating formally that he would support Mr Rudd in the ballot.
But it was Saturday that saw the Rudd camp attract its most high-profile Cabinet supporter, in one Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and the Leader of the House, a day which also saw Senator Mark Bishop, a Gillard backer in the last ballot, switching sides.
The battle looks set to be a win for Julia Gillard to continue her Prime Ministership, looking like polling about 2/3 of the caucus vote on Monday. Though how this could really be seen as a win for Gillard, 30 odd is still a significant number that just contributes to the already toxic image of the Labor Party and damage done to Labor that will just be made even worse when it comes to light during the parliamentary week ahead.
In other news the Gonski Report into education funding was released this week but obviously completely overshadowed by the leadership tensions especially because the Gillard Government has not yet even committed to anything recommended in the report.
The only thing the government has said is that independent schools will not lose a dollar of funding and this would certainly add to the budget woes of the government were it to take immediate action which they need to do at least in the area of disability and indigenous loading.
The week has been dramatic, certainly the most dramatic since the leadership coup in 2010 in my relatively short time observing and commenting on politics from Canberra. Even after tomorrow the story will be far from over with Rudd seemingly likely to continue his campaign to become Prime Minister. I can smell the Labor Party rot from here.