Yesterday was an abnormally quiet and subdued day by recent parliamentary standards with tempers comparatively subdued and the shoutyness of Parliament House at a more reasonable level. Probably helping the matter was the comparative lack of focus on the Craig Thomson/Health Services Union matter which, while prosecuted during Question Time, didn’t reach the proportions that we have become accustomed to in parliamentary and political debate. The fact that there was again no suspension of Standing Orders motion for the entire hour and ten minutes or so of Question Time today probably served to help quell tempers and give the parliament at least the appearance of a modicum of modesty.
But alas my friends, tomorrow is another day and in this very minority parliament we have learnt that just about any depth will be plumbed and no stone left un-turned. We have also learnt that this 43rd parliament has in it the innate ability to surprise, even if that is rare and surprises cannot be discounted for Question Time today.
But this is probably how it will unfold:
The Coalition have used Monday and Tuesday in Question Time to pursue the matter of the Enterprise Migration Agreement that was struck between the Gillard Government and Gina Rinehart and endorsed today, with further safeguards inserted, by the Labor caucus. They have done so because of the reported divisions and lack of consultation between the Prime Minister and Immigration Minister in the matter so there is a chance that they will continue to pursue this matter in Question Time tomorrow in the House of Representatives, possibly until the end of parliament on Thursday.
A return to an intense focus on the carbon tax by the Opposition is a real possibility, with questions related to the matter rarely being displaced from the main forum of Question Time, especially when the commencement date nears and the compensation has commenced flowing.
It is not unreasonable and indeed completely likely that the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson will again be the subject of a question or two, perhaps three when Questions Without Notice commences tomorrow. It is likely that there will be a question or questions related to a memo that was sent three years ago by Fair Work Australia which suggested that the authorities should be called in to inquire into the Health Services Union as there were questions on the matter yesterday.
For the ALP Government the narrative will be just as predictable with it beyond all doubt that the majority of questions tomorrow and on Thursday most likely being all about selling the budget delivered on the 8th of May and also about trying to quell fears about price rises under the carbon tax with the Dorothy Dix being used to outline just what payments particular areas of the population have and will continue to receive as the policy rolls along from July the 1st.
The stage is set, the roles devised and the complexion of Question Time pretty much a certainty except for the exact number of questions focused on each issue and dependent upon there being no left field questions that pretty much nobody saw coming.
Last night former New South Wales Premier and current NSW Opposition backbencher provided some interesting advice to the ailing federal Labor Government headed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That advice, given on a political program on Sky News last night by the once Premier of the state of New South Wales was for the federal parliamentary party to completely revoke, or at least water down the controversial carbon tax which is set to come into force from the 1st of July this year after passing both houses of parliament.
The intervention and advice in this is as surprising as it is late, coming well after the passage of the carbon tax bills through the parliament and just months before the legislation takes effect and well after the political damage has been done.
In the first instance, the political damage inflicted by the instigation of the carbon tax has already been achieved with the broken promise after the August 2010 election which delivered a minority government that has been a source of much political drama.
Secondly, the political woes of the Gillard Government certainly started and are based in a significant way on the carbon price legislation sprung on unwary Australians thanks to the minority government situation in Canberra. However, since that time, the woes of the ALP Government have extended well beyond just the broken promise on the carbon tax package.
They now include other scandals involving the ALP including the Health Services Union scandal that has enveloped the Member for Dobell under a cloud of allegations, as well as the recent allegations against the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, the former Liberal Party MP and Labor choice to replace Speaker Harry Jenkins.
The Prime Minister has over the weekend made moves to distance the government from Mr Thomson and Mr Slipper, with the former agreeing to being suspended from the ALP, to sit on the crossbenches until the allegations have been resolved and the latter agreeing to stand aside longer, until allegations have been dealt with fully.
But these alas are just paper fixes. They will make very little difference to the functioning of the tiny government majority, with it reduced by 1 but still with Mr Thomson admitting that he will vote with Labor on the floor of the parliament.
But back to the calls from Kristina Keneally.
Were the Gillard Government to remove the carbon tax fully they would willingly open themselves up to further attacks from the Opposition similar to attacks being made now over the legislative package,
By moving to not implement the Clean Energy Future package in full, the Prime Minister would in effect be arguing that the Opposition attacks were all correct, that the costs are too extreme and damaging to Australia.
The second option offered up by Ms Keneally would likely cause the same arguments from the Opposition. That is, by offering more compensation and making the tax less severe in other aspects, the government would again be acknowledging that there is much pain within the policy a matter of weeks away from fruition.
The Greens in this whole affair, were it to take place would be in a very difficult position. They wouldn’t support it being watered down, let alone removed altogether before it even started but at the same time, they certainly wouldn’t be getting anything remotely like the current package under the Coalition if they were to become government.
In all this, the government has come out and said that they will not be pursuing the pathway that the NSW politician Kristina Keneally has suggested would help. They are wedded to it.
Changes to the package or its non-start may save some big scalps from humiliation next election night, but alone would not prove enough to reverse the electoral fortune that continues to be told month after month.
In all this, the simple fact remains that the Gillard Government would have to perform an amazing feat on top of removing the carbon tax to get close to winning government, including reversing history which might just prove quite difficult for the ALP to achieve.
There are only two more days left in the last parliamentary sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan on behalf of the Gillard Government in May. As a result, the ALP Government will be competing hard with the Coalition for the remaining two days in Canberra this week to try to create momentum going into what will have to be a very difficult fiscal tightening if the government are to reach the surplus they have promised. All this and more points to a big two days of Question Time before parliament rises late tomorrow.
The Coalition look set to continue pursuing the government over questions about the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) and to significantly focus on the already passed carbon tax which comes into force in just a matter of months. Both the carbon tax and the MRRT look like they will focus of a High Court challenge and this will play out in the coming months.
The Opposition may also decide in small part, to continue to pursue matters related to Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia investigation into alleged improprieties at the Health Services Union which have already seen a recommendation that 3 former officials in Victoria face Federal Court action.
The government look set to continue to focus on the economy specifically through the revenue raised by the MRRT and how it will fund programs and tax cuts for business.
There looks set to be less and less “Opposition bashing” during the answers to Dorothy Dixer’s in particular but also in responses to questions from the Coalition thanks to very strict policing of the “direct relevance” Standing Order which saw the Treasurer kicked out of the parliament under 94a for one hour yesterday and others effectively warned to become relevant.
The noise, with two days in parliament to go will surely be at a high, with temper tantrums flaring up from time to time throughout the hour and ten minute session of Question Time. A number of MPs will surely be removed for an hour under Standing Order 94a. Who will they be and just how entertaining or frustrating will Question Time be? Find out at 2pm AEDT.
The day is Thursday, the last day in a sitting week in the Parliament of Australia in Canberra and that usually means fireworks as parliamentary politics winds down for the week. Yesterday it was the unexpected topic of customs and their role in gun control which stole the show in Question Time in the House of Representatives. Today the proverbial battle lines should be much clearer with the Fair Work Australia investigation into the Victorian branch which has just concluded the sure focus of Coalition questions to the Gillard Government.
The Fair Work Australia Investigation into Victoria Number 1 branch has reached a conclusion and was reported yesterday and will see 3 former officials from the union seeking possibly pecuniary penalties as a result of their alleged actions in the Federal Court of Australia. The officials will not be subjected to criminal prosecution.
At the same time the Commonwealth Ombudsman has commenced an investigation into the actions of the General Manager of Fair Work Australia, Bernadette O’Neill over the 3 years of the investigation into the Health Services Union. The complaint seeks an imminent end to the investigations into the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, in addition to answers over the snail-like pace of the overall investigation into the union
The Coalition, likely led in the questioning by Tony Abbott and key front-bencher’s like Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop will continue to pursue the government over the issue focusing on the length of the investigation and seeking help to draw the remaining examinations to a close in the very near future.
The Opposition may follow up with a few questions following on from yesterday where it launched an attack on the Government over the importation of firearms and government cuts to customs.
The ALP Government will certainly continue to highlight the spending that is associated with its mining tax, the MRRT in particular, but also the carbon tax. The government is also likely to draw attention to the Coalition and the Greens blocking the big business tax cuts, albeit for different reasons with the Greens blocking it because big business in their mind shouldn’t receive cuts and the Coalition, because the cuts are associated with the mining tax which they say they will rescind.
There is a high likelihood that the tensions which have been exhibited all week, including yesterday when more than a handful of Coalition MPs were booted for an hour under Standing Order 94a will continue today. This would likely see a comparative number of MPs booted, again heavily expected to be from the Coalition side.
A motion to suspend Standing Orders is also a high possibility, likely in relation to the Fair Work Australia investigation into the HSU and Craig Thomson, a focus of Opposition questions for some time now.
All will be revealed and debated with nothing held back from 2pm AEDT
The last day of Question Time for the week in the House of Representatives is upon us and promises no less than has been delivered over the last two sitting weeks in Canberra. Both sides have firmly dug themselves in to their respective attack and defense positions and have not let up except to vary their posturing within those areas. This does not look set to change at least for the day with positions so set in stone that if budged their positions may shatter into countless shards.
The Coalition has been heavy in its attack on three fronts, two of which fit into the broader narrative of economic management which both sides of politics seem intent to capture ground in this area, a traditional strength of the Liberal and National Party Coalition. Over the last two weeks the interrogation of economic matters has centered around the carbon tax, with the mining tax taking somewhat of a backseat for the moment. There is no doubt this line of questioning will continue today, being a central tenet of a future Abbott-led Coalition Government.
The Opposition has also been brutal in its pursuit of Craig Thomson and the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation that has been looking int0 allegations involving Thomson and the Health Services Union. In the recent sitting days questions on the matter have tended to focus on the length of the investigation rather than the MP who is a subject of the investigation. Estimates yesterday showed that the case may be drawing to an end but there is little doubt that the Coalition will want to continue its pursuit of the matter despite the angry and frustrated words of the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday in relation to the saga.
There is also another possible line of enquiry in Question Time which the Coalition may take and that is to ask questions of the Government in relation to the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing which passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
The Government will undoubtedly continue to try to paint themselves as the better economic managers, not for the budget position, but for the funds that they hope to raise through their new taxes to provide for Australians in different areas. As I have also repeatedly said, the Gillard Government will also focus on the economic position relative to other nations.
The Government will also surely direct some Dorothy Dixer’s toward the means testing of the Private Health Insurance Rebate which, as already noted has passed the House of Representatives.
The Speaker looks set to continue using Standing Order 94a for rowdy Opposition MPs without let-up, though we have seen Government MPs being booted from the House for one hour, particularly in recent days.
The real interest as far as the Speaker goes will be how much of a leash Mr Slipper will give the Treasurer who has tested the patience of Coalition MPs and supporters with repeated infractions this week particularly.
You know the drill, 2pm today on the TV and on the radio or in the wee hours of the morning for a replay on your TV. Enjoy the show!